Cross-Border Black Family Migration before, during, and after the U.S. Civil War: Revelations from the 1864 Windsor Census

Adam Arenson, Manhattan College

This project documents the lives of tens of thousands of Black North Americans who returned to the United States during the Civil War, Reconstruction, and in the decades that followed—while thousands of others migrated north into Canada. Having traced more than 100 family migrations and 6,000 matched migration records, I seek to create an accurate model of the migrations after the Underground Railroad, while telling the stories of individual families who shaped this migration. This particular paper highlights the off-year 1864 Windsor census, which includes states and cities of origin. By reconstructing individual family stories and the web of connections at this critical moment, we can see the political, economic, family, and community connections that Black families created through cross-border movements during and after the Civil War. To take one example, Frances and George Washington appear with their family in the 1864 Windsor census—with each child’s birthplace telling a story of their movements. George is recorded as born in Alabama, and Frances in South Carolina; their eldest two children are born in either New Mexico; their next daughter in Kansas; and then a daughter born in Windsor. The eldest daughter, Dora, moved to Detroit by 1870, and married; by 1901, she and her husband were in Hamilton, Ontario, living with her father-in-law. By 1910, they were living in Chicago, where Dora died in 1923. Why these movements, and what can it tell us about this history? Dora Washington will be our guide through these migrations. In the 1864 Windsor census and beyond, this collection of family stories demonstrates a sweeping vanguard of Black activism and leadership, in a generation too often hidden in the shadow of the Jim Crow resistance it faced. I hope to be part of Evan Roberts’s History of the Family Special Issue workshop.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 56. Approaches to Studying Migration in Historical US and Japan