Josiah Henson (1789-1883) spent 41 years as a slave. He was a dynamic, driven man with exceptional intelligence and unyielding principles who overcame incredible odds to escape his cruel masters and improve the lives of hundreds of freed people throughout his long life. Though immortalized by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her seminal, society-changing novel Uncle Tom's Cabin and catapulted to international fame in 1852, his story has been largely lost to history. Until now.
In THE ROAD TO DAWN: Josiah Henson and the Story That Sparked the Civil War, author and documentarian Jared A. Brock delivers the full narrative of a great man’s great life—a life that symbolized the definitive triumph of the human spirit over the brutality of slavery. In this excellent biography, Brock chronicles Henson’s 41 years in bondage, his eventual escape to freedom, and his rise as a great preacher and orator who used his freedom to uplift his fellow man for the entirety of his life.
In THE ROAD TO DAWN, we witness Josiah as a child separated from his father and siblings; we see him beaten as a young man for trying to learn to read and write, and see how this haunts him both physically and mentally all the days of his life. We watch him work hard for wicked, deceitful men in Maryland and Kentucky, and are relieved when he escapes to freedom and survives the 600-mile journey with his wife and 4 young children—two of whom he carried on his aching back—to settle as a free man across the border in Canada. But rather than simply lead a comfortable and safe life in a new nation, Josiah understood his deep responsibility to his community. Throughout the course of his 93 years, he would go on to rescue 118 slaves, including his own brother, and purchase land to build what would become one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad, a 500-person freeman settlement called Dawn.
THE ROAD TO DAWN travels through Baltimore, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Boston, and Buffalo, to Canada and England where Josiah shares the gospel and his life’s story. He is surprised and humbled when Harriet Beecher Stowe confirms that he is the inspiration for the titular character in her bestselling novel despite his polite protests. Readers follow as Josiah encounters many recognizable people throughout his life including the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, President Rutherford B. Hayes, Frederick Douglass, the prime minister of Great Britain Lord John Russell, the archbishop of Canterbury, and even Queen Victoria. Josiah lives to see the Civil War and the emancipation of his brothers and sisters in slavery. And at 71 years of age, regretting that he is too old to fight, he takes it upon himself to care for the families of the men of Dawn who take up arms.
Dawn, in present-day Dresden, Ontario, was more than a plot of land with defined borders. It was a spiritual idea and refuge. It was a place where ex-slaves could farm for their own profit and go to school. It’s a place that is still home to hundreds of descendants of slaves who first settled in Henson’s time and where Josiah’s house is now a museum. To this day Josiah has over 200 descendants, many of whom still meet for the Henson family reunion in Michigan each year.