Henson, Josiah

Henson, Josiah,

1789–1883, black slave, reputedly the basis of the character of Uncle Tom in Uncle Tom's Cabin, b. Charles co., Md. In 1825 he faithfully led a party of his master's slaves from Maryland, across free territory in Ohio, to Kentucky. Tricked out of the freedom he had purchased and threatened with being sold in the South, he escaped with his wife and children in 1830. He became a leader of the community of escaped slaves at Dresden, Upper Canada (now Ontario). Henson, who had become a Methodist Episcopal preacher while in Kentucky, traveled widely, visiting England three times. His autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson (1849), was enlarged in 1858 as Truth Stranger than Fiction and in 1879 as "Truth is Stranger than Fiction"; the later editions contained introductions by Harriet Beecher Stowe.


See B. Gysin, To Master—a Long Goodnight (1946); H. Blesby, Josiah, the Maimed Fugitive (1873, repr. 1969).

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Henson, Josiah

(1789–1883) social activist, minister; born in Charles County, Md. He was sold at auction at an early age and endured great hardships in slavery; nonetheless, he became a land superintendent and a Methodist preacher while still in slavery. He and his family escaped north to Canada (1830) and settled in Ontario; there he tried to develop a community for African-American escapees but it failed to attract a significant number. He returned to the south and liberated other slaves. He told his story to Harriet Beecher Stowe and was the reputed original for her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852). He published his autobiography in 1849. He made three trips to England and was honored by Queen Victoria (1876).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.