Thornton Blackburn and his wife Lucie (also went by the name Ruth or Ruthy) were escaped slaves from Louisville, Kentucky. The two had settled in Detroit, Michigan for two years. But, it was not long before their owner and Kentucky slave hunters showed up looking for them. The Blackburns were re-captured, arrested, and jailed. They were allowed visitors with allowed Lucie the opportunity to exchange her clothing and incarceration with Mrs. George French. Lucie was quickly taken across the Detroit River to safety in Amherstburg, in Essex County, Upper Canada.
It was too impossible for Thornton Blackburn to escape the same way because he was bound and shackled. However, the day before he was to be returned to Kentucky, African Americans living in the Detroit community rose up to protest the return of Blackburn. A crowed of at least 400 men stormed the jail to free him. During the commotion that ensued, two individuals called Sleepy Polly and Daddy Walker helped Thornton escape and eventually find safety in Essex County, U.C. The commotion turned into a two-day riot during which the local sheriff was shot and fatally wounded. It was the first race riot in Detroit, resulting in the first ever Riot Commission formed in the U.S. Thornton was able to escape and with the help of people in the community able to board a boat near the mouth of River Rouge to cross the Detroit River to join his wife.
He was jailed briefly but released. Thornton went on to work a s a waiter in the city of Toronto. He eventually so the need for a taxi service and soon constructed a red and yellow box cab named “The City”. It was drawn by a single horse, and was able to carry four passengers, and the driver at a time. It became the nucleus of a taxicab company, the city’s first, a successful venture that had others soon following his example. Thornton died February 26, 1890, leaving an estate of $18,000 and six properties, and is buried at Toronto’s Necropolis Cemetery. Lucie died five years later, on Feb. 6, 1895.