Thornton and Rutha Blackburn were slaves in Kentucky. Passing for free blacks, they escaped to Detroit. In June, 1833, slave catchers came to reclaim them and they were jailed. Rutha exchanged clothes with a free black woman who was visiting her; they separately escaped to Canada. Rioters from Detroit and Canada broke Thornton out of jail and he also escaped to Canada. He set up the first taxi business in Toronto, and apparently brought his mother out of slavery.