Those Northern cities closest to the South experienced the largest growth. By 1860, Cincinnati, just across the Ohio River from slaveholding Kentucky, was essentially a Southern city in a Northern state. Its black population was much smaller than those in New York or Philadelphia but it was overwhelmingly Southern-born. Of Cincinnati's 3,700 African Americans, 70 percent were Southerners.
Interestingly, demographic studies show that African Americans in Cincinnati's black neighborhoods clustered together in a manner largely determined by the color of their skin. By 1860, mulattos, who made up more than half of the city's black population, were over represented in three of the five districts with the largest numbers of African Americans. In two of those districts - a substantial distance from the worst areas of black poverty - they comprised 63 percent and 85 percent of the population. On the other hand, darker African Americans constituted 60 percent and 70 percent in other, less attractive areas, and were concentrated most heavily in "Bucktown," a poor, undesirable neighborhood with little sanitation and a generally unhealthy environment.
In cities more distant from the South than Cincinnati, the number of Southern-born blacks grew steadily during the antebellum years. By 1860, 65 percent of Detroit's African American population had been born in the South. In other Northern cities, too, southern migrants were becoming a more significant proportion of the African-American population. In Boston, almost 30 percent of the city's blacks were migrants, as were more than half in Chicago, almost one-third in Philadelphia, and close to 40 percent in Buffalo. Migration from their Southern homes was not easy, but as the antebellum period wore on, more and more African Americans made the move.
Some, like the Hodges family from Virginia, maintained households in both the North and South. In the early 1830s, William Hodges, a free man, left his home in Virginia bound for the North. He traveled all the way to Canada before retracing his steps, finally settling in New York City. William kept in close contact with his brother Willis in Virginia through letters and messages delivered by friends. Shortly after William settled in New York, five of his nephews arrived and were enrolled in school, an opportunity they would have been denied in Virginia. Willis and his wife soon followed.
Their travel between the Virginia and New York homes was so frequent that various family members might be found living together in either location at any given time. They not only depended on one another for room and board during their extended stays, but William, who lived in New York semi-permanently, also helped other members of the family find employment. Willis remembered that his first impressions of New York came when his brother took him on a tour of the city, pointing out the various jobs available to African Americans.