Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Historic Elmwood Cemetery & Foundation

Where Detroit's History Endures

Elizabeth (Lisette) Denison

Elizabeth Denison, the daughter of slave parents, was born into slavery in 1786. She was born on the William Tucker farm along the Huron River of St. Clair, now called the Clinton River. In a legal battle, Denison vs. Tucker, Lisette failed to obtain freedom through the Supreme Court of Michigan Territory. She did achieve freedom later by establishing residence in Canada, returning to Michigan around 1815. For the next period of time, she was employed by several prominent families in Detroit. It is interesting to note that even after she received her freedom, she chose to continue to do housework for others.

In 1827, she was married to Scipio Forth. The marriage is entered on the records of St. Paul’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Detroit. Seemingly, Lisette became a widow within three years after the marriage.

In 1831, she was employed by Detroit Mayor John Biddle and spent the next 30 years working for the family. John Biddle bought an estate downriver which he named Wyandotte. Wyandotte is where Lisette spent most of her time with the Biddles until 1849 when the Biddles returned to Philadelphia. Once they were settled, they sent for Lisette to join them in Philadelphia. Later, while in France, Mrs. Biddle requested that Lisette join the Biddle’s in Paris. This must have been an extraordinary experience for Lisette. Lisette returned to Grosse Ile, Michigan in 1856 where she joined William Biddle, eldest son of John, and cared for his two oldest children for nearly three years.

Lisette and Mrs. John Biddle shared their Episcopal faith. Lisette was motivated by a donation to Mariner’s Church and wished to do the same in the downriver area. She made her wishes known to William Biddle. Since his mother also wished to have a chapel built, William consulted with brother James to determine how this could be done. James contributed some land. William had money from his mother and $3,000 from Lisette to build the chapel. It is believed he contributed some of his own money also. The chapel was named St. James Episcopal Church. It is positioned on East River Road, facing Canada, on Grosse Ile. The area is surrounded by many expensive homes.

Neither of the two women was alive when the chapel was completed. They never saw it. Mrs. Eliza Biddle died in Philadelphia on November 3, 1865. She was buried in the Biddle Family Plot at Elmwood Cemetery on November 8, 1865. Nine months later on August 7, 1866, Lisette died and was buried in Stranger’s Ground also at Elmwood Cemetery.

Born: 1786
Died: August 7, 1866