Henson, Josiah

Josiah Henson (1789-1883) has long been credited as the man who inspired the character of Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. His autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, was published in 1849, three years before Stowe's novel. Henson's autobiography recounts forty-two years of bondage, from his birth in Maryland, where he was sold three times, to a perilous escape to Canada with his family - they left because he feared he was going to be sold away and separated from his loved ones - through the Underground Railroad. As a fugitive activist, Henson risked his life by returning to the U.S. to help others escape and later utilized the acclaim of his book to fund programs for the advancement of runaways. For some time Henson, who had become a Methodist minister, ran Dawn, a settlement for runaways, and the British-American Institute, a training school for blacks, both located near the town of Chatham in Canada. Henson lectured in Canada and the U.S. until the end of his life. In 1983 Josiah Henson became the first person of African descent featured on a Canadian stamp.