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Mon, 06.15.1789

Josiah Henson, a true abolitionist

Josiah Henson

This date marks the birth of Josiah Henson in 1789. He was an 18th century Black abolitionist.

The first anti-slavery law in Canada was passed in 1783 by then Ontario. For the next 68 years it is estimated that 50,000 Blacks entered Canada for safety and freedom. One of them was Josiah Henson, a former slave from Kentucky. During his lifetime, three masters owned Henson. Henson started preaching to raise money in the hope of buying his freedom. His master took the money that Josiah had earned, and then raised the price of Henson's freedom to $1,000.

He returned to his master's plantation after a plot to secretly sell Josiah fell through, where he informed his wife of his plan to escape. Soon after he, his wife, and their four children escaped to Canada. On their journey to freedom, the Henson family struggled through sickness, wolves, and starvation. A tribe of Native Americans assisted the family along the way. Finally on October 28, 1830, after many hardships, they reached freedom. He stayed in Canada only a short time before he decided to get involved with the Underground Railroad.

Henson made several trips and led over 200 slaves to Canada. During his time in Canada, Josiah Henson started the Dawn Institute in Chatham, Ontario, a refuge for fugitive slaves where they were taught trades to support themselves and their families. When Henson went to the World's Fair in London, he became the first ex-slave to be granted an audience with Queen Victoria. He is also believed to be the model for Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe's antislavery novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Josiah Henson was a true hero and humanitarian during the time of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The African American Atlas
Black History & Culture an Illustrated Reference
by Molefi K. Asanta and Mark T. Mattson
Macmillam USA, Simon & Schuster, New York
ISBN 0-02-864984-2

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