Canadian History for Kids!
Sketches of Canada for October 28th!

Canadian History for Kids

On October 28, 1830, Josiah Henson arrives in Upper Canada from Maryland with his wife Nancy and four children on the Underground Railway. This Canadian History for Kids, Sketches of Canada, looks at this remarkable man.

Josiah Henson gained sudden popularity because his life experiences were an inspiration for Harriet Beecher’s 1851 anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or Life Among the Lowly.

This Canadian History for Kids article begins when Henson was born to slave parents on June 15, 1789 in Charles County, Maryland. He was given the first name of his first master, Dr Josiah McPherson, and the surname of his master’s uncle.

Henson was sold to three owners before he escaped to Canada in 1830. He was separated from his family when he was first sold away at the age of five. But he was reunited with his mother when he was sold to his third owner, Isaac Riley.

From an early age, he witnessed the prejudice and cruelties of slavery. In his autobiography, Henson recounts that when he was about three or four years old, his father had his back whipped 100 times and his right ear cut off for having defended and beaten a white supervisor who had assaulted Henson’s mother.

Henson became a trusted slave who travelled at length for his master’s business. This Canadian History for Kids article continues in 1825 when, due to economic problems, Riley transferred his slaves to the farm of his brother in Kentucky. During his three years in Kentucky, Henson became a Methodist preacher. In 1828, Henson used a trip to see his owner in Maryland as an excuse to tour the country as a preacher and earn money to buy his freedom.

This Canadian History for Kids article continues in 1828 when Henson became a preacher for the Methodist Episcopal Church and was able to earn money to buy his freedom. His master took the $350 he had saved, but then raised the price to $1,000.

His owner then sent him off on a trip to New Orleans in an attempt to sell him. Luckily, his master’s son, who was transporting him, fell ill and they had to return to Kentucky. Henson then decided to escape with his wife and four children, and thanks to the Underground Railroad they reached Upper Canada on Oct. 28, 1830.

This Canadian History for Kids article continues on October 28, 1830, when Henson and his family settled in Dresden, Ontario. For the next four years, Henson worked as a farm labourer and preacher in the area, and had his oldest son teach him how to read and write.

He also became involved in the Underground Railroad, leading over 200 slaves to freedom. In 1849, Henson published his autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself.

This Canadian History for Kids article continues in 1852, when Harriet Beecher Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a fictional portrayal of slavery in America. Beecher later revealed that one of the novel’s main characters, Uncle Tom, was based on Josiah Henson.

Henson’s involvement with the Underground Railroad and his role in the settlement of blacks in Canada earned him a place in the history of North America.

The following century, in 1983, Josiah Henson was featured on a Canadian stamp. He was the first black person to appear on Canadian postage.

And that’s this weeks Canadian History for Kids, Sketches of our Canada.

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Canadian History for Kids!