Josiah Henson

One of the most famous slaves in American history was smuggled through Richmond. The man would later be the title character in a book that Abraham Lincoln said helped generate the Civil War.

Josiah Henson was born into slavery in 1789. He was separated from his family as a young boy and sold as “property.”

Passing through the hands of three owners, he married and fathered children, and labored loyally for his “masters” for over forty years. Though he did not condone the mistreatment of his race, as a Christian could not ethically kill his owner.

After learning he might be sold away from his family, he escaped with them to Canada in 1830 and founded a settlement for fugitive slaves. He became a Methodist preacher and worked part-time as a conductor in the Underground Railroad.

He came through Richmond and wrote about it in his autobiography - “We succeeded in crossing the Ohio River in safety, and arrived in Cincinnati the third night after our departure. Here we procured assistance; and, after stopping a short time to rest, we started for Richmond, Indiana. This is a town which had been settled by Quakers, and there we found friends indeed, who at once helped us on our way.”

His 1849 memoirs inspired the title character for Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. She modeled “Uncle Tom” after Henson. The book had such impact that President Lincoln, at the start of the Civil War, called it “the book that made this great war.”

Richmond was hallowed ground to the real “Uncle Tom,” and to countless souls in a desperate bid for liberty. Just as the characters from the classic book live on, so does the spirit of Wayne County people who love freedom and will sacrifice to make it possible for others.

 

 

 


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June 19, 2012