Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Where Detroit's History Endures

Elijah Brush

Elijah Brush was born at Bennington Vermont. He came to Detroit in 1798. His father was a Revolutionary War Army Colonel and had taken part in the Battle of Bennington. Elijah a graduate of Dartmouth College had studied law and was admitted to the bar. He first practiced law in Detroit.

In 1803, within five years of coming to Detroit, he was elected a trustee of the town corporation, and in the same year served as a supervisor. In 1805 he was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the Legionary Corps of Territorial Militia, and under the Act of 1806 he was appointed the second Mayor of incorporated Detroit. He, in 1806, was also appointed Treasurer of the Territory and served in that post until December 13, 1813. He held the post of U. S. Attorney from 1811 to 1814.

It was in his capacity as Militia Colonel that Brush and others were forced into the capitulation of Detroit to the British during in 1812. The officers were forced to leave the city and territory for Toronto, Then known as York. He met his brother-in-law (Askin); a British officer and through his influence Brush was paroled, and sent behind American lines (to Ohio). He was then under General Harrison’s command. They re-entered Detroit in October of 1813. On December 14, 1813 Colonel Elijah Brush died.

Colonel Brush had married Adelaide Askin the daughter of John Askin, on February 17, 1802. In 1806 the Askin Farm in Detroit, became known as the Brush Farm. Elijah and Adelaide had four children who survived their father.

Brush was one of the first abolitionists in Detroit.  Prior to 1807, slave Peter Denison (father to Elizabeth Denison Forth) had been indentured to Elijah Brush for a year, after which Brush granted Denison his freedom. Apparently, Brush had taken this action without the knowledge or approval of Denison’s owner, Catherine Tucker. Tucker protested the emancipation and demanded Denison’s return, and a subsequent writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Denison forced the Michigan territorial government to decide on the slavery question. Judge Augustus Woodward ruled in the case that Denison remained Catherine Tucker’s property, that property rights would be upheld, and that all bondsman living in the territory as of May 31, 1793, and belonging to a slaveholder as of July 11, 1796—the day Britain turned the territory over to the United States—would remain a slave. Although the Northwest Ordinance had forbidden slavery in the territory after 1787, the lands the British turned over to the United States in 1796 fell under a different interpretation, and Denison technically remained a slave.  It is assumed that Brush helped the Denison family flee to Canada to freedom and assisted with their placement there.

Born: 17--
Died: December 14, 1813
Buried: Section A, Lot 73

Brush is listed in Elmwood’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Self-Guided Tour Map.


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This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), funded by the Department of the Interior, National Parks Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASALH or the Department of the Interior. Elmwood Cemetery’s Network to Freedom Application was completed by Dr. Carol Mull and Gabrielle Lucci. This biography was completed based upon the Application and records available through Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit Historical Society, Burton Historical Library, Military Records of the United States, Michigan Historical Center, and various information sources.