2018 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award (Nonfiction) Winner
2018 American Book Award Winner
2018 Harriet Tubman Prize Finalist
Longlisted for the 2018 Cundill History Prize
2018 Merle Curti Social History Award Winner
2018 James A. Rawley Prize Co-Winner
A New York Times Editor’s Choice selection
A Michigan Notable Book of 2018
A Booklist Editors’ Choice Title for 2017 “If many Americans imagine slavery essentially as a system in which black men toiled on cotton plantations, Miles upends that stereotype several times over.” New York Times Book Review
“[Miles] has compiled documentation that does for Detroit what the Works Progress Administration and the Federal Writers’ Project slave narratives did for other regions, primarily the South.” Washington Post
“[Tiya Miles] is among the best when it comes to blending artful storytelling with an unwavering sense of social justice.” Martha S. Jones in The Chronicle of Higher Education
“A necessary work of powerful, probing scholarship.” Publisher Weekly (starred)
“A book likely to stand at the head of further research into the problem of Native and African-American slavery in the north country.” Kirkus Reviews
From the MacArthur genius grant winner, a beautifully written and revelatory look at the slave origins of a major northern American city
Most Americans believe that slavery was a creature of the South, and that Northern states and territories provided stops on the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves on their way to Canada. In this paradigm-shifting book, celebrated historian Tiya Miles reveals that slavery was at the heart of the Midwest’s iconic city: Detroit.
In this richly researched and eye-opening book, Miles has pieced together the experience of the unfree—both native and African American—in the frontier outpost of Detroit, a place wildly remote yet at the center of national and international conflict. Skillfully assembling fragments of a distant historical record, Miles introduces new historical figures and unearths struggles that remained hidden from view until now. The result is fascinating history, little explored and eloquently told, of the limits of freedom in early America, one that adds new layers of complexity to the story of a place that exerts a strong fascination in the media and among public intellectuals, artists, and activists.
A book that opens the door on a completely hidden past, The Dawn of Detroit is a powerful and elegantly written history, one that completely changes our understanding of slavery’s American legacy.
Tiya Miles is the recipient of a 2011 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and is an award-winning historian and former chair of the Department of Afroamerican and African studies at the University of Michigan. She lives in Ann Arbor.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Coast of the Strait 1
1 The Straits of Slavery (1760-1770) 21
2 The War for Liberty (1774-1783) 65
3 The Wild Northwest (1783-1803) 97
4 The Winds of Change (1802-1807) 139
5 The Rise of the Renegades (1807-1815) 185
Conclusion: The American City (1817 and Beyond) 231
A Note on Historical Conversations and Concepts 247
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