Border Crossings: The Detroit River Region in the War of 1812

Detroit Historical Society
Detroit, MI

Border Crossings: The Detroit River Region in the War of 1812 is the result of a year-long collaboration between the Detroit Historical Society and Wayne State University to commemorate the conflict’s bicentennial. Border Crossings builds on the success of a similar community history project between the two institutions where University students dedicated themselves to educating the public about the area’s early history as a form of service learning. The resulting research and narrative is part of an ongoing conversation about a dramatic period in the history of the entire Great Lakes region.

Border Crossings is divided into three parts, Frontiers, War, and Legacies, which together trace border relations from peace to conflict to reconciliation. The de facto border of the Detroit River became reality in 1796 when Americans took control of Detroit for the first time. While the river became the dividing line to separate the United States and Upper Canada politically, families on both shores who had resided there for generations took little notice.

In most cases, the stories and individuals in Border Crossings have never before been researched and presented in such detail. Primary source materials revealed details about events that had remained elusive. For example, the analysis of a traditional Odawa oral history adds for the first time the Native American perspective to the military activity along the Detroit River in 1812. Additionally, new information about relations between American commanders and free black residents of Detroit illuminates how one of the nation’s first all-black fighting units was formed.

The book is not a historical account of battles and maneuvers, but instead details the lives of individuals and groups in southeastern Michigan and southwestern Ontario, touching on settlements throughout the region. It tells the colorful stories of individual lives influenced by the changing frontier, and connects current local residents to an event that shaped the entire great lakes region and beyond.