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Caesar and Sally's Love Story Lessons

By Antoine J. Davis
On February 23, 2022

Prof. Roy E. Finkenbine

History Professor Roy E. Finkenbine spent Valentine’s Day bringing to life the love story of a former slave and a Shawnee woman for both a virtual and live audience at Detroit Mercy’s McNichols campus library.

The story centers on a man named Caesar, who after fleeing his enslaver’s home in Virginia in the late 1700s, sought refuge among the Shawnee tribe of Native Americans that settled in the Ohio River valley. He eventually married a woman named Sally and the two went on to start a family.

Aside from the Valentine’s Day tie-in, Finkenbine said their tale is an important part of understanding the history of the period.

“This family highlights the importance [of the role of] Native Americans and the Underground Railroad in the Midwest by allowing their villages to become places of refuge for freedom-seekers,” Finkenbine said.

There was a reason Caesar sought out the Shawnee: While his father was of African descent, his mother, born in Bermuda, was half-Spanish and half-Shawnee.

“One must surmise that his mother’s partial Shawnee ancestry played a role in his decision,” Finkenbine said.

In 1774, shortly after his adoption into the Shawnee tribe, Caesar met and married Sally, who was 14 at the time.

Sally was the daughter of a Shawnee father and a white mother. Their union produced several children.

Caesar became fully entrenched in the Shawnee way of life, fighting in several battles and conflicts over the years, before moving the family west to Missouri.

The area was the couple’s final resting place.

Two of the couple’s sons did not make the move out West with the rest of the family.

In historical records, the two sons are referred to as Sally’s Black son and Sally’s white son.

They, like their father before them, became warriors, fighting alongside the likes of Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief, and others to preserve tribal lands.

The sons and grandchildren relocated to Canada around 1813 after the tribe suffered critical losses in some decisive battles.

In 1825, Sally’s Black son returned to Ohio, only to later relocate to Oklahoma as part of the forced displacement of thousands of Native Americans by the federal government known as the Trail of Tears.

Caesar, Sally, and their children became part of the Native American culture called “Black Indians,” Finkenbine explained, which is an important, if underexamined, element to the time period.

He said it’s important that their experiences remain part of the historical record.

“American history isn’t complete until we find ways to tell everybody’s story,” Finkenbine said. “In the story of the Underground Railroad and social justice movements, they’re often told from the white perspective…Native Americans and African Americans are still fighting for their rights and their existence.

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