While some have expressed concern over Josiah Henson being the model for Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, the life of Henson is nevertheless inspiring. Born enslaved in Maryland, Henson saw members of his family sold. Later, he served with his mother and became both a trustworthy administrator and a preacher.
His role in escorting a group of enslaved persons to the farm of his owner's brother made some question him. While in transit, they could easily have escaped and made themselves free, but Henson believed his owner's offer of potential manumission (ownership of himself). So, he would not allow the escape and was sorely disappointed when he realized that his owner had no intention of giving him his freedom.
Henson was forced to run away with his wife and family, settling near Dresden, Ontario. With his leadership skills, he was able to command the support of abolitionists who helped him create the Dawn Settlement. It was Henson's belief that Blacks needed to learn skills within their own community. Later, his biography The Life of Josiah Henson Formerly a Slave Now an Inhabitant of Canada was written and sold to raise funds for the continuation of the Dawn Settlement. Because the connection of Henson with the Uncle Tom figure helped to keep him in the spotlight, he allowed it to continue.
Josiah Henson and his wife Nancy
This photograph of Josiah Henson and his wife Nancy appears on the Virtual Museum of Canada website.
From Midnight to Dawn: The Last Tracks of the Underground Railroad
See page 21 for an account of Josiah Henson's escape from enslavement in the US and his founding of a settlement called Dawn in southwestern Ontario. Also examines controversies associated with the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. From Google Books.
Josiah Henson - Birth of a Leader
An illustrated feature about Josiah Henson, a farmer and community leader who formerly had been enslaved. From the Parks Canada website.
An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson
Read an online digitized copy of the book An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson. From Google Books.
A biography of Josiah Henson, fugitive slave, Methodist preacher, author, and founder of the settlement at Dawn (near Dresden), Canada West. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Dawn Settlement Tour
An online tour guide for the Dawn Settlement in Dresden, Ontario. Features information about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, First Baptist Church, and other historic structures. From the dresden.ca website.
A profile of Dresden, Ontario, the location of the British American Institute, established in 1841 by Reverend Josiah Henson. From The Canadian Encyclopedia.
A profile of Josiah Henson, founder of the historic Dawn Township and British-American Institute in Ontario. From The Canadian Encyclopedia.