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Frank Demas Earns His Freedom
Michigan History Center Staff
Frank Demas was born in Kentucky in 1818. He was born into slavery, a system by which a person is forced to work without pay and doesn’t have freedom. His enslavers, people who enslave another person, worked in the shipping trade, and so did Frank. Frank had to load and unload ships that traveled along rivers from Kentucky to Pennsylvania.
In 1846, Frank Demas earned his freedom. He had a certificate of manumission to prove he was a free man. Manumission means to set free from slavery. There aren’t many documents that tell us what happened next. However, it is believed that Frank stayed in Kentucky to be near his wife, Mary, who was still enslaved. In 1850, Mary and Frank had a daughter named Mahala. Mary and Mahala soon escaped from slavery by traveling north on the Underground Railroad.
Once Mary and Mahala were safe, Frank Demas changed his name to Thomas Willis, probably to protect Mary and Malhala from being found. Together, they lived in Lenawee County in southern Michigan where Thomas worked on a farm. In 1859, Mary and Thomas had a second child, a baby boy named James.
By 1870, the Willis family lived in Mason, Michigan where Thomas worked on another farm. While in Mason, Thomas and Mary had two more children. Unfortunately, a short time after moving to Mason, Thomas Willis died. His family continued to live in the area for many years.
Frank Demas Manumission Paper
Don't take our word for it. This the manumission Frank carried with him to prove his freedom.
An Anti-Slavery Society
In 1832, in a simple wood meetinghouse near Adrian, Michigan, the first anti-slavery society in Michigan was formed. Some of the people in this meeting were Quakers, a religious group that spoke out against slavery. One of the Quakers was Elizabeth Chandler.
Elizabeth wrote… Read More
The Underground Railroad was not a real railroad. It was a network of people, both black and white, who helped enslaved people, people forced to perform labor and services against their will, escape from their enslavers, people who enslave another person. This network was called “Underground”… Read More
Adam Crosswhite and his family escaped from slavery, a system by which a person is forced to work without pay and doesn’t have freedom, in Kentucky. They traveled north and settled near Marshall, Michigan. Adam feared that slave catchers from Kentucky might come to Michigan… Read More
There were people for and against slavery in Michigan before it was completely banned by the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. You can read a quick history about those who opposed slavery in Michigan below.
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Henry Bibb, a formerly enslaved person, spoke out about the horrors of slavery. After freeing himself, he urged enslaved people to “break your chains and fly for freedom.”
Henry was born enslaved in Kentucky in 1815. His mother was enslaved and his father was his enslaver… Read More
The Michigan History Center specifies the subject area of Defining Michigan from 1787 with the creation of the Northwest Territory via the Northwest Ordinance to 1855 after the last of a series of treaties that effectively removed large numbers of Anishnaabic people from Michigan. The… Read More
In this subject, you can find biographies of the innovative, resilient, and resourceful people of Michigan. For example, find stories of Indigenous people fighting to keep their land. In addition, learn how people traveled and settled in Michigan. Moreover, discover the conductors of the… Read More