Born into slavery in 1789 in Maryland, Josiah Henson fled to Canada where he founded the Dawn Institute, a settlement house which taught trades to fugitive slaves. A Methodist preacher, he traveled throughout the United States and Great Britain lecturing against slavery. With the underground railroad he assisted over two hundred slaves in their flight to Canada.
Longfellow’s journal entry of June 26, 1846, vividly describes Josiah Henson’s visit to the House: “In the evening Mr. Henson, a Negro, once a slave, now a preacher, called to get subscription for the school at Dawn, in Upper Canada, for education of blacks. I had a long talk with him, and he gave me an account of his escape from slavery with his family.” Longfellow’s account books record that he gave money to “Father Henson” many times over the next thirty years.
Three years after Henson’s visit to the House, he published his autobiography entitled The Life of Josiah Henson.
Harriet Beecher Stowe modeled her Uncle Tom character on Henson.
Did You Know?
Charles Sumner, the orator and senator from Massachusetts, was one of Henry Longfellow's best friends and a frequent visitor to the house on Brattle Street.