A history of the Michigan metropolis as a center of the Northern slave trade.
“We tend to associate slavery with cotton in the commercial crop heyday of the southern ‘cotton kingdom,'" writes MacArthur Fellow Miles (American Culture/Univ. of Michigan; The Cherokee Rose, 2015, etc.), “but in the northern interior space, slavery was yoked to the fur industry.” In this connection, slavery enfolded Native Americans, putting individuals in thrall and binding communities in a network of trade obligations. When recently ascendant Americans imposed the Treaty of Detroit in 1807, they cleared several such well-entrenched communities both to create military defenses and to enhance the “processes of surveillance and recapture for American slaveholders” whose property—in this case African-Americans—tended to disappear into Native realms before the advent of the Underground Railroad. African-Americans were also bought and sold in Detroit, Miles writes, though this story is little known and unrecorded by any memorial. Whether those African-Americans were in personal service or worked as trappers or freighters, whether they were claimed by French Canadians, British, or American owners, they were just as unfree as if in New Orleans. Drawing on archival records and a thin scholarly literature, Miles pieces together a story in which African-Americans were used “like railroad cars in a pre-industrial transit system that connected sellers, buyers, and goods.” At times, the narrative takes turns that push it away from general readers into the hands of postmodern-inclined academics: “There is perhaps one space in the American-Canadian borderlands in which a radical alterity to colonial and racialized complexity existed.” But for the most part, the author’s account is accessible to anyone with an interest in local history as well as the larger history of world systems in the time of the Seven Years War and beyond.
A book likely to stand at the head of further research into the problem of Native and African-American slavery in the north country.