Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Henson, Josiah

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HENSON, Josiah, clergyman, b. in Port Tobacco, Charles co., Md., 15 June, 1787; d. in Dresden, Ontario, in 1881. He was a pure-blooded negro, and was born and bred as a slave. The story of his life served as the foundation for Mrs. Harriet B. Stowe's novel of “Uncle Tom's Cabin.” When a young man and a preacher, he took all his master's slaves to a relative in Kentucky, to prevent their passing into the hands of creditors. There they were hired out to neighboring planters. He worked most of the time for a good-natured master named St. Clair, whose young daughter read to him. His arms were crippled, like those of Uncle Tom in the novel, the result of a blow from the Maryland overseer. He paid $500 toward purchasing his freedom, but was taken to New Orleans by his master's son to be sold, when the latter was attacked with yellow fever, and the slave accompanied him back to Kentucky and nursed him through his sickness. He finally escaped with his wife, carrying his two children on his back through the swamps to Cincinnati, where he had friends among the colored people, and then across the wilderness to Sandusky, whence they were conveyed to Canada by the benevolent captain of a schooner. “Uncle Si,” as he was called, settled with his family at Colchester, Ontario. He was the captain of a company of colored men during the Canadian rebellion. Subsequently he took up a tract of land on Sydenham river, where the town of Dresden was afterward situated. There he prospered as a farmer, and was the pastor of a church. At the age of fifty-five he began to learn to read and write. He met Mrs. Stowe, and described to her the events of his life. He also wrote an “Autobiography,” which was afterward published, with an introduction by Mrs. Stowe (Boston, 1858). In 1850 he went to England, and lectured in London. He visited England again in 1852, and a third time in 1876, on which occasion he lectured and preached in various cities, and was entertained at Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria.