Black History Month In Canada… Josiah Henson

Josiah Henson was born into slavery in Maryland and escaped to Upper Canada in 1830.

Josiah Henson – Spiritual Leader, Author, Founder

Josiah Henson, spiritual leader, author, founder of the Black community settlement at Dawn, Upper Canada/Canada West (born 15 June 1789 in Charles County, Maryland; died 5 May 1883 in Dresden, ON). Born enslaved, Henson escaped to Canada in 1830. He founded the Dawn Settlement near Dresden, Upper Canada, for American fugitives from enslavement. He and a group of associates organized a trade-labor school, the British-American Institute. He was active on the executive committee until the Institute closed in 1868. Henson served as Dawn’s spiritual leader and patriarch and made numerous fundraising trips to the United States and England. He published his autobiography in 1849, and he was allegedly Harriet Beecher Stowe’s model for the lead character in her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).

Henson first tried to buy his freedom in 1825. His owner, Isaac Riley, needed money and sent Henson to escort a group of 18 enslaved persons to Kentucky. While in transit, the group could easily have escaped to Ohio and made themselves free, but Henson believed his owner’s offer of manumission (ownership of himself). Consequently, he would not allow the escape and was later disappointed when he realized that his owner had no intention of giving him his freedom. He was taken, along with his wife and four children, to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1829 to be sold. Henson and his family fled to Upper Canada, reaching the Niagara Peninsula on 28 October 1830.

Henson and his family settled near Dresden, Upper Canada. With his leadership skills, he was able to command the support of abolitionists who helped him create the Dawn Settlement, a place for refugees from enslavement to gain the education and skills necessary for self-sufficiency and self-determination. It was Henson’s belief that Black persons needed to learn skills within their own community. In 1841, Henson and his partners purchased 200 acres of land, and in 1842, they established the British-American Institute. A central focus of the settlement, the school was created for students of all ages and was sustainably designed to train teachers while providing general education and trade-labor instruction to members of the community. The community of Dawn developed around the Institute, with many residents farming, attending the Institute, and working in sawmills, gristmills and in other local industries.

After the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, some members of the community returned or moved to the United States, though many remained at Dawn.

Henson’s autobiography The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada (1849) was published in order to raise funds for the continuation of the Dawn Settlement. Many consider Henson’s autobiography to be the inspiration for the lead character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Some have expressed concern over Josiah Henson as the model for the Uncle Tom character in Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Though written and published as an anti-slavery text, the book portrayed Black persons in a stereotypical manner.

Uncle Tom's Cabin-located in Dresden Ontario. The cabin was owned by Josiah Henson (former slave, author, abolitionist, minister) and the inspiration for Harnet Beecher Stowe's title character
Uncle Tom’s Cabin-located in Dresden Ontario. The cabin was owned by Josiah Henson (former slave, author, abolitionist, minister) and the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s title character (panoramio.com)

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                            http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                            http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/josiah-henson/

Black History Month In Canada… Mary Ann Shadd Cary

Mary Ann Shadd Cary, born free in Delaware played an important role in the Underground Railroad in Windsor and Chatham, Canada West / Ontario.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary – Educator, Publisher, and Abolitionist

Mary Ann Camberton Shadd Cary, educator, publisher, abolitionist (born 9 October 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware; died 5 June 1893 in Washington, DC). The first Black female newspaper publisher in Canada, Shadd founded and edited The Provincial Freeman. She also established a racially integrated school for Black refugees in Windsor, Canada West. In 1994, Shadd was designated a Person of National Historic Significance in Canada.

Born to free parents in Delaware, a slave state, Mary Ann Shadd was the eldest of 13 children. She was educated by Quakers and later taught throughout the northeastern United States, including New York City. Following in the footsteps of her activist parents, whose home was a safe house (or “station”) on the Underground Railroad, Shadd pursued community activism upon settling in Canada.

On 10 September 1851, at St. Lawrence Hall, Shadd attended the first North American Convention of Coloured Freemen held outside of the United States. The event was presided over by Henry Bibb, Josiah Henson, J.T. Fisher, as well as other prominent figures, and was attended by hundreds of Black community leaders from all over Canada, the northern United States, and England. Many Convention delegates encouraged enslaved Americans and refugees from enslavement to enter Canada. The year before, the United States had passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed slave owners to recapture escaped enslaved persons in states where enslavement had been abolished.

At the Convention, Henry and Mary Bibb, activists and publishers of the newspaper Voice of the Fugitive, met and convinced Shadd to take a teaching position near their home in Sandwich (now Windsor), Canada West. After settling there in 1851, Shadd set up a racially integrated school that was open to all who could afford to attend (education was not publicly provided at that time). The school was opened with financial support from the American Missionary Association.

Shadd wrote educational booklets that outlined the advantages of Canada for settlers moving north, including A Plea for Emigration; or Notes of Canada West (1852). About this time, Shadd, who opposed segregated schools for Black children, engaged in a heated debate with Henry and Mary Bibb, who favored segregation. The dispute informed many editorials written by the Bibbs and Shadd in Voice of the Fugitive. As a result of the public dispute, Shadd lost funding from the American Missionary Association for her school.

An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 freedom-seekers — born free or enslaved — reached Canada through the Underground Railroad. In 1850, over 35,000 Black persons lived in Canada West. To promote emigration to Canada, Shadd publicized the successes of Black persons living in freedom in Canada through The Provincial Freeman, a weekly newspaper first printed on 24 March 1853. This made Shadd the first Black woman in North America to publish a newspaper, and one of the first female journalists in Canada. “Self-Reliance Is the True Road to Independence” was the paper’s motto.

Co-edited by Samuel Ringgold Ward, a well-known public speaker and escaped enslaved person living in Toronto, the paper was published from Windsor (1853–1854), Toronto (1854–1855) and Chatham (1855–1857). While Ward was listed as editor on the paper’s masthead, Shadd did not list her own name or take any credit for articles written by her, thus concealing the paper’s female editorship. By 1860, the paper had succumbed to financial pressure and folded.

After spending the first few years of the American Civil War as a schoolteacher in Chatham, Shadd returned to the United States and began work as a recruitment agent for the Union Army. Later, she moved to Washington, DC, where she worked as a teacher. Years after, Shadd pursued law studies at Howard University and in 1883 became one of the first Black women to complete a law degree.

The BME Freedom Park, Chatham Picture: Close Up bust of Mary Ann Shadd
The BME Freedom Park, Chatham Picture: Close Up bust of Mary Ann Shadd (Kentake Page)

Note About This Image:

In response to the growing tensions surrounding slavery, Canadian members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Conference formally established Chatham’s BME (Black Methodist Episcopal) Church in 1856. On this site, American Abolitionist John Brown held his initial meeting to gain supporters for his attack on Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Also, the fight to end segregation in Chatham schools was led by a minister from this church. In 1983, the church was designated a heritage building by the City of Chatham due to its significance as one of the earliest religious institutions owned and governed by former slaves who escaped to and settled in Canada. In 1989, the BME Church was demolished due to disrepair. The lot was vacant until the establishment of the BME Park in 2009. Chatham – Canada West/Ontario – is located 83 km (52 miles) east of Windsor.

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                                  http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                 http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/mary-ann-shadd/?gclid=Cj0KCQiA2Y_UBRCGARIsALglqQ1EfTVAs6lx_QKPGjSlXdiTNiHiz-CG8-omYfzjM1I-jo9O-sa3KDwaAq17EALw_wcB

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