I began to pray with them, and exhort them, and to impart to the poor slaves those little glimmerings of light from another world.
I can remember reading Uncle Tom's Cabin for fun when I was younger because it was never required reading for any school that I went to here in Florida (that's an entirely different subject) and wanting to know more about the author and the characters in the story. When I found out that the character of Uncle Tom was based on a real person, I did some research and found out that it was based on Josiah Henson, a black man who was born into slavery and who didn't take the many opportunities he had to gain his freedom because he'd given his word to his master, until he finally escaped with his wife and kids and headed to Canada, but who then helped over 200 slaves gain their freedom on the Underground Railroad.
Please join with me in honoring "Uncle Tom," truly a man worth honoring, Josiah Henson.
Josiah Henson was born into slavery June 15, 1789, in Port Tobacco, Maryland. In 1828, Henson became a preacher for the Methodist Episcopal Church and was able to earn money to buy his freedom. His master took the money, but then raised the price to $1,000. In 1830 Henson fled to Canada with his family where he became involved in the Underground Railroad, leading over 200 slaves to freedom.
I was delighted with the conviction that my children would have advantages I had never enjoyed, but it was no slight mortification to think of being instructed by a child of twelve years old. Yet ambition, and a true desire to learn, for the good it would do my own mind, conquered the shame.
Abolitionist, minister. Born into slavery June 15, 1789, in Port Tobacco, Maryland, Henson witnessed frequent abuses to his family. Henson's father received a severe beating for striking a white man who was trying to sexually assault Henson's mother. Henson's father never recovered from the incident, and was sold to an owner in Alabama. Henson's brother and sisters were also sold off one by one, as was his mother. Through several business exchanges made with various owners, Henson eventually landed in the hands of owner Isaac Riley in Maryland.
Riley saw Henson's potential, and moved him from laborer to market man. In this position, proved his morality and obedience to Riley, who allowed Henson to begin attending Christian sermons. During one particular sermon, Henson came into contact with an anti-slavery preacher, and was exposed to the abolitionist movement. In 1811, Henson was allowed to marry another slave, Charlotte.
In 1825, Riley went bankrupt and had to sell his farm. Henson and 22 other slaves were sold to Riley's brother, Amos, in Kentucky. Riley made Henson promise to deliver himself and the other slaves safely to Kentucky. Henson kept his word and all were delivered, even though they traveled through the free state of Ohio. In 1828, Henson became a preacher for the Methodist Episcopal Church and was able to earn money to buy his freedom. His master took the money, but then raised the price to $1,000.
As Henson tried to raise the money, his new master sold him to a new planter in New Orleans. While traveling to New Orleans with his owner to finish the transaction, the master's son got seriously ill. Henson was charged with bringing his master's son back home, and could have made a run for his freedom. Instead, Henson brought him safely home, with no reward or appreciation. This was the last straw for Henson, and in 1830 he decided to flee to Canada with his wife and children.
I will conclude my narrative by simply recording my gratitude, heartfelt and inexpressible, to God, and to many of my fellow-men, for the vast improvement in my condition, both physical and mental; for the great degree of comfort with which I am surrounded; for the good I have been enabled to effect; for the light which has risen upon me; for the religious privileges I enjoy, and the religious hopes I am permitted to cherish; for the prospects opening to my children, so different from what they might have been; and, finally, for the cheering expectation of benefiting not only the present, but many future generations of my race.
On October 28, 1830, Henson and his family settled in Dresden, Ontario. For the next four years, Henson worked as a farm laborer and preacher in the area, and had his oldest son teach him how to read and write. He also became involved in the Underground Railroad, leading over 200 slaves to freedom. In 1842, he developed his own Afro-Canadian community that taught practical skills to his fugitives. In 1849, Henson published his autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself.
In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin, a fictional portrayal of slavery in America. Beecher later revealed that one of the novel's main characters, Uncle Tom, was based on Josiah Henson. This made Henson famous, and for a few years afterward he made the lecture circuit as the "real Uncle Tom."
Henson died on May 5, 1883.
(*Josiah Henson. (2014). The Biography Channel website. Retrieved 12:06, Feb 16, 2014, from http://www.biography.com/people/josiah-henson-541392.*)