The Dawn of Detroit

A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits

The prizewinning, nationally celebrated account of the slave origins of a major northern city

“If many Americans imagine slavery essentially as a system in which black men toiled on cotton plantations, Miles upends that stereotype several times over.” —The New York Times Book Review

Winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize
Winner of the American Book Award

Winner of the Merle Curti Social History Award
Winner of the James A. Rawley Prize
Winner of the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award (Nonfiction)
Finalist for the John Hope Franklin Prize
Finalist for the Harriet Tubman Prize
Finalist for the Cundill History Prize
A New York Times Editor’s Choice selection

A brilliant paradigm-shifting book that “transports the reader back to the eighteenth century and brings to life a multiracial community that began in slavery” (The New York Times), The Dawn of Detroit reveals for the first time that slavery was at the heart of the Midwest’s iconic city. Hailed by Publishers Weekly in a starred review as “a necessary work of powerful, probing scholarship,” The Dawn of Detroit meticulously uncovers the experience of the unfree—both native and African American—in a place wildly remote yet at the center of national and international conflict.

Tiya Miles has skillfully assembled fragments of a distant historical record, introducing new historical figures and unearthing struggles that remained hidden from view until now. “In her eloquent account,” the Washington Post declared, “Miles conjures up a city of stark disparity and lives quashed.”

A message from the past for our troubled present, The Dawn of Detroit is “an outstanding contribution that seeks to integrate the entirety of U.S. history, admirable and ugly, to offer a more holistic understanding of the country” (Booklist, starred review).


“In this exemplary history that shows how slavery made early Detroit, Professor Tiya Miles demonstrates that Malcolm X (whose activist father was lynched in Michigan) was right when he insisted that all of the United States is south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Out of careful research, supple prose, deeply humane generosity to her historical subjects, and a knack for uncovering gripping family narratives, Miles has crafted a work from which any reader can learn new things. There is no finer writer among historians than Tiya Miles.”
—Edward Baptist, professor, department of history, Cornell University, and author of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
“Extracting seemingly lost lives from sparse records to recover the humanity of people regarded as property, Tiya Miles exposes the tenacity of slavery and forced labor, both black and Indian, in multiethnic and multicultural Detroit during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It is an often ugly—but also a revealing and surprising—story. She creates a pointillist account of a complicated borderland.”
—Richard White, Margaret Byrne Professor of American History, Stanford University, and author of The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815
“‘There is currently no historical marker acknowledging slavery in Detroit— revealing that people were bought, sold, and held as property . . .’ Tiya Miles tell us in her rich account, detailing Native American and African American slavery in that city and the surrounding countryside. The Dawn of Detroit is a brilliant telling of chattel bondage’s long and twisted history and the evolution of race relations in the . . . City on the Straits.”
—Ira Berlin, Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland, and author of Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America
“The Dawn of Detroit once again demonstrates that Tiya Miles is the rarest sort of historian: a brilliant and humane observer who can build an account of the terrifying difference of the past out of a series of observations that have the plain familiarity of family history.”
—Walter Johnson, Winthrop Professor of History, Harvard University, and author of Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market

News and Reviews

The New Press Wins Two American Book Awards

Two New Press titles, The Dawn of Detroit by

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