Race, Nationality, and Religion

In 1816, however, the Rev. John Montieth arrived and founded the First Protestant Society, an all-inclusive organization for the city's non-Catholics. As the tide of Yankee immigration increased, Montieth's group quickly began to divide along denominational lines. In 1821 Detroit's Methodists formed their own society. The Episcopalians formed St. Paul's Church in 1824, and in 1825 Montieth reconstituted his society as the First Presbyterian Church. In 1827 the Baptists formed their own community and, interestingly, in 1836 a group of thirteen African Americans left this Baptist Church to form the Second Baptist Church.

The founding of Second Baptist Church reminds us that there were blacks in Detroit. Many had come as slaves. Slavery was common in both French and British Detroit. Both blacks and Indians were made slaves. In 1773 a British census counted ninety-three slaves in Detroit. Over the next decade the number of slaves in the community grew to almost two hundred. Although slavery would officially end, it lingered on through a curious set of circumstances.

In 1787 Congress banned slavery in the Northwest Territory, and equally important, in 1792 the ruling British authorities determined that no new slaves could be introduced to Detroit. When the Americans finally took control of the city, a legal question occurred as to whether or not the Ordinance of 1787 meant that all the slaves in Detroit were free. It was not until 1807 that Judge Woodward ruled on the question. Woodward concluded that slavery was illegal and that slaves were to be freed, with the exception of slaves held by British citizens prior to the American occupation of Detroit in 1796. This exception was based on a clause in Jay's Treaty, which guaranteed British subjects full possession of their property when the American authorities took control of Detroit and the other British held forts in the Northwest. As late as 1830, the federal census found a few slaves in Detroit but by the time Michigan was admitted to the union all the remaining slaves in the state had either died or been voluntarily freed.

As English-speaking Americans came to vastly outnumber the descendants of the French inhabitants the disdain that Hull and Woodward held for the French remained. Occasionally, some accommodation was made to the French. The first regular newspaper published in the community, begun in 1817, summarized its primarily English text in a French section. Similarly a law in 1827 established the principle of local control of schools and purposefully authorized instruction to be carried on in either English or French. But these accommodations tended to be superficial. Basically the Americans saw the French as a community more interested in a lifestyle than in economic development. Lacking the Yankee drive for profit, the French were regarded by the relocated New Englanders, even those who had sympathy for the French, as "quaint" or picturesque. More commonly, the New Englanders simply condemned the French as lazy or worse.

The Indians fared little better. At best, sympathetic Yankees labeled the Indians, as they had the French, a remnant of a bygone era that deserved a modest understanding and accommodation. But more commonly Indians were simply pushed out of the way by economic progress. Detroit society would henceforth be run along New England models with little understanding of and even less tolerance for alternate viewpoints.