Josiah Henson AKA Uncle Tom
Josiah Henson was a slave in Maryland during the late 1700s and early 1800s. As a child, he was separated from his mother and bought by Isaac Riley. Even though he was a youngster, he was still able to show his leadership abilities as well as his intelligence. He was so intelligent and resourceful, in fact, that even at his young age; Mr. Riley had given Josiah a superintendent’s position on his farm.
Josiah was so trusted by the people around him, including his master, that Mr. Riley also gave him the responsibility of being his market-man in the nation’s capital in addition to the superintendent’s position on the farm.
Later, Josiah was given permission to preach and give sermons at a local Methodist church. In spite of the fact he could not read and write, he learned to memorize verses in the Bible and often preached using a style and sense of humor that many of his churchgoers came to love and respect.
A white minister helped Josiah to secretly raise $350 in efforts to buy his own freedom, but when Isaac Riley found out, he swindled the money from Josiah. Because of the betrayal he felt, Riley planned to sell Josiah somewhere down south thereby separating him from his wife and children. Some reports indicate it was as far south as Louisiana where he would likely never see his family again.
In 1830, Josiah took his wife and children and fled into the night. They walked over 600 miles to reach Canada where he and his family would be considered free from slavery. It was at this time; Josiah Henson showed what an extraordinary man he truly was.
Once in his new land, Josiah learned to read and write - a freedom he was not afforded in the states. While doing so, he also became a prominent member of the “Afro-Canadian Community” in an area called, “Dawn” which was the last stop of the Underground Railroad.
During the Civil War, Josiah became a great pioneer traveling between Canada and the United States helping other slaves. He reportedly helped 118 slaves and families escape and claim their freedoms inside the Canadian borders. This act would have been punishable by death if caught. Still, he did what he felt he had to do to help his fellow man.
Josiah Henson went from being a slave; beaten, abused, separated from his parents, and sold off, to becoming a hero among the black community while earning respect from the people around him, including white men. Even Isaac Riley came to respect Josiah as never before.
Because he was such an extra-ordinary man who followed his beliefs and was willing to sacrifice his life for what he believed in, several books were written about him: Truth is Stranger Than Fiction, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, and of course, the most popular one, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
If being called an Uncle Tom in today’s time is the worse insult that can be slung, accept it and wear it like a badge. Josiah Henson, AKA Uncle Tom, was more than a freed slave, he was a true hero to all who knew him. He sacrificed everything for what he believed in.