Josiah Henson was an important advocate in support of literacy and education for Black Canadians and a devoted fundraiser for the Institute. He travelled across Canada, the United States and, on three occasions, to England, in search of donations. He was also a committed conductor on the Underground Railroad and frequently made the dangerous trip to slave-holding southern states to encourage and facilitate the escape of enslaved Blacks to Canada.
Although maimed early in life, he helped to defend this country as captain of a Black militia group stationed at Fort Malden during the Rebellion of 1837. Henson also helped Black Canadians to join the fight against slavery during the American Civil War. At least 1,000 men joined the Union Army in different Black regiments after the ban on Black soldiers was rescinded in 1862.
To the schooner captain that had provided him and his family safe passage across the Niagara River so many years before, Josiah Henson had promised, “I’ll use my freedom well.” Prophetic words from a man of action. Henson indeed used his freedom well. From providing for his family to establishing a thriving community in the Dresden area, Henson leveraged his own personal freedom into widespread freedom for all who wanted it. In returning to the southern United States, Henson took the Underground Railroad in reverse. He risked everything – his years of work, his freedom, his life – to bring others north from bondage. Henson would eventually personally lead over 118 enslaved persons north – to a land of new opportunity, to freedom.
Be sure to visit the “I’ll use my freedom well” exhibit at Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site. Through featured artifacts, vivid imagery and interpretive panels, you will be given a fresh look at the life of Josiah Henson.