What if I were to tell you that Michigan once had slaves? Would you be surprised and appalled?
Before Michigan became a State it traded hands between French and English rule. Both the French and English owned slaves that were traded them by early Native Americans who had themselves captured them and used them as household servants. As far as we know there is no record of their number.
When Michigan was an official U.S. territory under the Northwest Ordinance it was declared in 1787 that “there shall be neither slavery nor
involuntary servitude in the said territory…” This sounded good on paper but who was to enforce these rules? Federal Censuses paint a different story.
The 1810 Federal Census was taken of the entire Michigan Territory. At that time Wayne County consisted of what we now call Michigan but was divided into four civil districts. There were 24 slaves (colored): 17 in Detroit, 4 in Erie, 2 in Huron, and 1 in Mackinaw.
Move 10 years forward and it would appear that Michigan had loosed itself of its slave problem as there were no slaves enumerated on the 1820 Federal Census. However, on the 1830 Federal Census there were a total of 32 enumerated slaves most living in what is now the State of Wisconsin. Only a single slave girl lived in Michigan… a female between the age of 10 and 23 belonging to an Edward H. Spencer of Oakland County.
Edward and his wife were between the age of 20 and 29 and the couple had a son under 5. Edward’s household consisted of 22 persons that included 18 free colored persons in addition to the 1 girl held in slavery.
Michigan became a State in 1837. The 1st State Constitution prohibited slavery: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever be introduced into this state, except for the punishment of crimes of which the party shall have been duly convicted.”
It would appear that Edward reluctantly gave up his girl slave and free colored persons and suffered the death of his son. He moved to Walton Township, Eaton County, Michigan where he was a farmer.
The girl was unnamed but she will go down in history as the last slave in Michigan.