From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Blackburn, Thornton and Ruth (or Lucie)

The Blackburns were an escaped enslaved couple from Louisville, KY. (Thornton was born in Maysville, KY in 1812.) They had been settled in Detroit, MI for two years when, in 1833, Kentucky slave hunters captured and arrested them.

The Blackburns were jailed in Detroit, but they were allowed visitors, which provided the opportunity for Ruth to exchange her clothes - and her incarceration - with Mrs. George French, and she escaped to Canada.

The day before Thornton was to be returned to Kentucky, the African American community rose up in protest. While the commotion was going on, Sleepy Polly and Daddy Walker helped Thornton escape to Canada. The commotion turned into a two day riot and the sheriff was killed. It was the first race riot in Detroit, and afterward the first Riot Commission was formed in the U.S.

Once in Canada, Thornton designed, built, and operated Toronto's first horse-drawn carriage hackney cab and cab company. Ruth died in Canada in 1895.

For more see The Detroit Riot of 1863; racial violence and internal division in Northern society during the Civil War, by A. S. Quinn; I'v Got a Home in Glory Land, by K. S. Frost; and Thornton and Lucie Blackburn House.

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Blackburn, Thornton and Ruth (or Lucie),” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 28, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-06-13 19:41:48