Tiya Miles Lecture on “The Dawn of Detroit” (Indigenous Peoples’ Day)

The book page is here. The blurb:

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 colonial 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 hidden past, The Dawn of Detroit is a powerful and elegantly written history, one that completely changes our understanding of slavery’s American legacy.


ICT Profile of Tiya Miles


Tiya is one of our favorite scholars.

An excerpt:

Miles is best known for her study of the relationship between African and Cherokee peoples in American history, and her two books on the topic: Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom and The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story. Her newest research project is leading her on an interesting journey through the history of early Detroit: “I’m finding that Native Americans were slaves in the Detroit area and also participated in the captivity and trade of [black and Native] slaves in Detroit,” she says.

Interview with Tiya Miles on NPR’s Tell Me More

Prof. Miles was yesterday interviewed about the history of the Cherokee Nation and Freedmen here.

MILES: Well, I think that those legacies remain with us. And I think that in the case of the Cherokee Nation and other native nations, there’s a felt conflict between the sovereignty of those nations and the question of what the role should be, what the place should be of minorities in those nations.

So, whereas the United States can and has at times protected the status of minorities and not felt itself threatened by Canada, for instance, about what it does. Native nations definitely feel themselves threatened by the United States government. They are concerned that their sovereignty, the right to make decisions for themselves, is going to be undermined by the U.S. government as it has been so many times in the past.

But what I feel is a real problem here is that the Cherokee Nation is taking its definition from what really has been a white supremacist U.S. nation that fought to – I’m sorry. Go ahead, Michel.

She also recounts what she was doing when she found out she won a MacArthur Genius Grant:

MARTIN: So before we let you go, we always have to ask. Where were you and what were you doing when you got the call? For people who are unaware of the MacArthur so-called Genius Grants are not things you can apply for. You have to be nominated. People generally don’t find out that they’ve won until they get the call. So, what were you doing when you got the call?

MILES: I was at home cleaning the kitchen when I got the call. And this was something that was so completely out of the blue and so completely overwhelming that I actually had to just sit down. I was on the staircase in our house. I had to sit on the steps just to kind of get my bearings and to let this sink in.

MARTIN: Any idea what you’ll do with the grant?

MILES: Well, I’ve never actually contemplated so much money, but I do have a couple of ideas. One thing that I’m really excited about is continuing my research and taking it into other areas within the U.S. and Native American history. So, I’ve worked so far on the South and Indian territory. But now, I want to really look at slavery in the north and in particular in Detroit and in Michigan, because this is a place where we also don’t really think about slavery existing, but it did. And the slaves in Detroit and in Michigan and Ontario were African-American and also Native American.

MARTIN: Well, I hope you’ll get a nice bottle of wine, too, in there, maybe.

MILES: Maybe. Maybe I’ll do that.


Tiya Miles Wins MacAurthur Foundation Genius Grant

Here, from the NYTs:

This year three fellows came from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. They are Tiya Miles, 41, a public historian and history professor who has researched the relationships between African and Cherokee people in colonial America; Melanie Sanford, 36, a professor of chemistry whose research on organometallic synthesis has implications for pharmaceuticals and other products; and Yukiko Yamashita, 39, a developmental biologist who studies the mechanisms that regulate stem cell division.

NYTs “Room for Debate” — Tribal Rights vs. Racial Justice (Cherokee Freedmen Expulsion)

The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” series has published a series of articles on the Cherokee Freedmen controversy.


Tiya Miles on The Narrative of Nancy, a Cherokee Woman

Tiya Miles (University of Michigan) has published “The Narrative of Nancy, a Cherokee Woman” in the recent issue of Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies (H/T Legal History Blog). From the intro:

On November 24, 1801, Nancy, “by appearance an Indian woman,” gave testimony at Fort Southwest Point, a garrison in eastern Tennessee established in 1792 to defend white settlements against Indian attack.1 In a statement recorded under the title “The Narrative of Nancy, A Cherokee Woman,” Nancy claimed that she had been wrongfully held as a slave in Virginia since the year 1778. At the time of her testimony, Nancy was approximately thirty one years old and living with a white man named, incredibly, Captain John Smith. Smith had purchased Nancy from John Fulton, who had bought her from William Kennedy. Nancy described the crime of her capture in graphic detail in the narrative, testifying that

[S]he was taken when a child from her mother, that the white people afterwards boasted that they held their guns over her mother’s head to frighten her when they took her away: that sometime afterwards she was carried a great way on horseback to a place where there were a number of houses . . . that she had two masters before Mr. Fulton bought her, that she had brothers and sisters when she was taken away from her mother, that she never saw any waters larger than the Tennessee and Clinch Rivers.

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