'When my feet first touched the Canada shore, I threw myself on the ground, rolled in the sand, seized handfuls of it and kissed them and danced around, till, in the eyes of several who were present, I passed for a madman.'
- Josiah Henson
Harriet Beecher Stowe, a small-town Connecticut woman whose family was known as the "Beecher preachers" for their long lineage of ministers, was so appalled by slavery, she penned a story about one fugitive slave's life and called it "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Her novel was based largely on the autobiography "The Life of Josiah Henson Formerly a Slave."
The acclaimed "Uncle Tom's Cabin" became America's first international bestseller. During its first year, it sold more than 1 million copies in England and 300,000 copies across the US, outselling even the Bible. The year was 1852.
"Uncle Tom's Cabin," which has since been translated into 62 languages, was used as a rallying cry for abolitionists during the Civil War. It's been said that President Lincoln, upon meeting Mrs. Stowe, remarked, "So this is the little lady who made this big war."
Josiah Henson, the model for Uncle Tom, was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church who, with his wife and four children, escaped from slavery in 1830, and spent six weeks on a journey to freedom in Canada.
Amid a thick grove of black walnut trees, Henson created the Dawn Settlement, a northern refuge for free slaves. In its heyday of the early 1850s, Dawn was home to 500 free black families. Henson also helped found the British American Institute, North America's first manual training school, which included a rope factory, brickyard, sawmill, grain mill, and a blacksmith shop. Since many free blacks only knew about harvesting tobacco and cotton, Henson yearned to teach them a variety of other farming methods and skills.
"Josiah Henson was a man of integrity and fortitude," says Barbara Carter, his great-great-granddaughter and a resident of Dresden.