Josiah Henson

From enduring the cruelties of a Maryland plantation to meeting the Queen at Windsor Palace, Josiah Henson possessed deep determination, perseverance and a desire to resist racism and oppression.

The Archbishop of Canterbury inquired, “at what university Sir, did your graduate?” “I graduated, your grace”, said I, in reply, “at the university of adversity.

Henson, Uncle Tom's Story of His Life, London, 1876, pp.141-2

Josiah Henson (1789-1883) was born enslaved in Maryland. He was often severely punished, and witnessed extreme acts of violence – his father was brutally whipped over one hundred times and his ear was nailed to a whipping post.

Picture of Josiah Henson Josiah Henson (source)

Henson saved money from odd jobs he performed whilst being loaned to plantations, and attempted to buy his freedom. His master set a price at $450, but when Henson presented the money, his master refused and increased the price more than twofold ($1350). Henson decided to escape to Canada succeeding in 1830, where he established a school for labourers and wrote an autobiography of his life.

Henson was believed to be the inspiration behind the character of ‘Uncle Tom’ in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and attracted great celebrity in America and in Britain because of it. He travelled to Britain several times, exhibited some of his carpentry in the internationally famous Great Exhibition in 1851 and met Queen Victoria in 1877.

Henson died in 1883. He is the first African American to be put on a Canadian stamp.

he had for a long time a great desire to see Her Majesty [so he could convey his] private thanks for the honour which she had conferred upon herself by granting the United States slaves an asylum from the hand of the cruel oppressor.