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History

Josiah Henson
Josiah Henson

Early years

Josiah Henson was born into slavery in Charles County, Maryland about 1796. During his enslavement, he was separated from loved ones and endured unimaginable abuses. He was once beaten so badly at the hands of an overseer that both his shoulder blades were broken. As a result of these injuries, he was maimed for life. Throughout this time, Henson found comfort in his faith and the Methodist church. He began preaching and was eventually ordained a minister. In 1829, he arranged to purchase his freedom with the money earned from his preaching. But he was betrayed by his master and taken to New Orleans to be sold. He fled northwards along the silent tracks of the Underground Railroad to escape slavery.

Henson did not make the journey to freedom alone. He brought his wife and their four children, whom he would often carry on his back. The Henson family travelled on foot by night and hid in the woods by day. After a long and dangerous six-week journey, the Hensons arrived on the Canadian shore on the morning of October 28, 1830.

Henson quickly asserted his leadership as a preacher and conductor on the Underground Railroad. He worked with energy and vision to improve life for the Black community in Upper Canada (now Ontario). After this dramatic escape from slavery, “Father Henson” quickly attained the status of leader within the Underground Railroad community in southwestern Ontario.


Slavery to freedom
Slavery to freedom
During the 19th century, thousands of enslaved and many free African-Americans fled the United States and made their way to freedom in Canada. Ontario was one of their primary destinations.
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