Kentucky Fugitives to Canada

Historical Marker #2072 in Louisville notes the escape of two slaves, Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, who made their way to Canada.

In 1831, newlywed slaves Thornton and Lucie Blackburn learned that Lucie was about to be sold to the Deep South slave market. Therefore, they planned a bold, daylight escape. Taking advantage of the hustle and bustle of the Ohio River wharf at Louisville, they took a ferry to Jeffersonville, Indiana. Shortly thereafter, they traveled on a steamboat to Cincinnati.

The couple eventually reached Detroit, Michigan, but their Kentucky owner finally captured them in 1833. Attempting to return the couple to the Bluegrass State, Detroit’s African American community rallied to their aid and rescued them. Taken to Canada, all attempts to extradite the couple to the United States ultimately failed.

In 1834, the Blackburns settled in Toronto, where Thornton worked as a waiter before starting a horse-drawn taxi service business. They worked closely with the Toronto African American community by assisting other fugitive slaves. A few years later, Thornton returned to Kentucky and brought his mother, Sibby, out of slavery.

Being an upper-South border state, Kentucky lost a large number of slaves to Canada throughout the antebellum years. In 1860, the Kentucky state legislature passed resolutions recommending that the United States government rethink its treaty with Great Britain (Canada) "for the reclamation and extradition of persons so escaping from labor or service." Canada remained steadfast in its refusal to extradite fugitives until slavery ended in the United States.