At the end of the Underground Railroad- Part Two

Today we visited the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site and Museum in Dresden, Ontario​. It is on the 200 acres of land purchased in 1841 to establish the British American Institute, a trade school where Black refugees could learn trades and start a new life of independence. The school had a grist mill, a saw mill, brick yard, iron works and rope factory.

These black walnut chairs are examples of work done by students st the Institute, where caning and chair making were taught.

The settlement that grew up around the school was called Dawn, At least 500 Black freedom seekers made their home at Dawn. One of the Institute’s founders was Josiah Henson, an enslaved freedom seeker from Maryland who was a Methodist preacher, community leader, farmer, author and leading abolitionist. He was recognized internationally for his contribution to the abolition movement.

Reverend Josiah Henson

Henson’s vision for the Institute was “every tree which was felled, every bushel of corn we raised, would be for ourselves, in other words [we] could secure all the profits of our own labour.”

You can read Henson’s autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson: Formerly a Slave first published in 1849.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, ​Uncle Tom’s Cabin​ ‘s title character is based on the life of Josiah Henson. Henson capitalized on this fact his whole life to bring recognition and funding for the British American Institute. We learned that the derogatory Uncle Tom stereotype comes from the minstrel shows after the book was published, not the character in the book itself.

The Josiah Henson Interpretive Centre​, located on the site, houses a collection of 19th-century artifacts and rare books pertinent to the abolitionist era, as well as displays highlighting Reverend Josiah Henson’s life.

Josiah Henson’s House
Steve Cook, museum Site Manager gave us a tour and was most informative. It is interesting to note that Steve is a fifth generation descendent of one of the original Dawn settlers.

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