The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself,
free from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Life
Henson was separated from his family as a young boy, when he was sold as property in an estate sale. Henson rose in his owners' esteem, and was eventually entrusted as the supervisor of his master's farm, located in Montgomery County, Maryland (in what is now North Bethesda). He escaped to Kent County, U.C., in 1830, after learning he might be sold again. There he founded a settlement and labourer's school for other fugitive slaves at Dawn, Canada West. Henson also became an active Methodist preacher, spoke as an abolitionist on lecture tours throughout Britain and British North America, and worked as a part-time conductor on the Underground Railroad along routes between Tennessee and Ontario. He also served in the Canadian army as a militiary officer, having led a Black militia unit in the Rebellion of 1837.
Henson crossed into Upper Canada via the Niagara River in 1830, with his wife and four children. Ontario had become a refuge for slaves from the United States after 1793, when Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe passed "An Act to prevent the further introduction of Slaves, and to limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude within this Province". The legislation did not end slavery in the province, but it did prevent the importation of slaves, meaning that any U.S. slave who set foot in Ontario was free. By the time Henson arrived, Blacks had already made Ontario home, including Loyalists from the American Revolution, and refugees from the War of 1812.
Henson first worked farms near Fort Erie, then Waterloo, moving with friends to Colchester by 1834 to set up a Black settlement on rented land. Through contacts and financial assistance there, he was able to purchase 200 acres in Dawn Township, in next-door Kent County, to realize his vision of a self-sufficient community. The Dawn Settlement eventually prospered, reaching a population of 500 at its height, and exporting black walnut lumber to the United States and Britain. Henson purchsed an additional 200 acres next to the Settlement, where his family lived.
Josiah Henson is the first black person to be featured on a Canadian stamp. He was also recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1999 as a National Historic Person. A federal plaque to him is located in the Henson family cemetery, next to Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site.
Matthew Henson, the arctic explorer who accompanied Admiral Robert E. Peary on his expedition to the North Pole in 1909, is Josiah Henson’s great-grand nephew. The state of Maryland named an undeveloped state park site in Montgomery County after Matthew Henson in 1991.
Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site—Ontario
Located near Dresden, Ontario, this cabin was home to Josiah Henson during much of his time in the area (1841 until his death in 1883). The cabin takes its name from the famous novel, and although it has been moved approximately three times, it has remained on the original Dawn Settlement lands. First opened as a museum in the 1940s, it was moved to its present location in 1964, and restored to an 1850 appearance in 1993–94. The site includes:
Josiah Henson's House (Uncle Tom's Cabin)
* Outbuildings: a sawmill, smokehouse, and a pioneer church—including the pulpit from the original church from which Rev. J. Henson preached in Dresden
* The Harris House—one of the oldest houses in the area, and one of several final stops on the Underground Railroad
* The Henson Family Cemetery
* The Josiah Henson Interpretive Center—A visitor center and museum containing 19th Century books and artefacts related to abolition and Henson's life. The North Star Theater offers educational films. Gift shop.
* The Underground Railroad Freedom Gallery—A geographic history, taking visitors on the path from Africa, through slavery in the United States, and on to freedom in British North America.
The historic site was first managed by individuals, eventually purchased by Kent County in 1984, transferred to the St. Clair Parkway Commission in 1992, before being acquired by the Ontario Heritage Trust in 2005.
The Henson Cabin—Maryland
The cabin in which Josiah Henson and other slaves were housed remains standing and is currently nestled amidst a residential development in Montgomery County, Maryland. The cabin is attached to a modern three-bedroom home at 11420 Old Georgetown Road in North Bethesda. After having remained in the hands of private owners for nearly two centuries, on January 6, 2006, the Montgomery Planning Board agreed to purchase the property and an acre of land on which it stands for $1,000,000. The Board plans to open the cabin to the public when possible.