Dresden /The Dawn Settlement

The term “Uncle Tom” has come to mean someone who is not true to his or her cultural roots, but the man who was actually Uncle Tom left a proud legacy. Josiah Henson was born enslaved, and became a highly valued person who was placed in charge of other slaves. On one occasion, he was entrusted to transport a group of enslaved Africans to his owner's brother. Passing very close to the free states, he was advised to make a break for freedom, but he did not. He believed what his master had told him, that he would be given his freedom, and that the others would be well treated. It was only when he realized that his owner was not prone to telling the truth, and in fact planned to sell him, that Henson sought freedom, ensuring that his wife and family came away with him.

Upon entering Canada, he was able to establish a settlement, with the support of anti-slavery workers that offered an industrial training school, which included a mill and a sawmill, for Black people. Henson was convinced that it was necessary to live apart from others and build up skill levels before trying to live in an integrated way. At one point as many as 500 people lived there. The Dawn Settlement was an attempt to provide a means to catch up, since enslavement often deprived people of developing a range of skills that would allow them to become self-sufficient.

An autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson
Read an online digitized copy of the book An autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson. From Google Books.

Josiah Henson and his wife Nancy
This photograph of Josiah Henson and his wife Nancy appears on the Virtual Museum of Canada website.

From Midnight to Dawn: The Last Tracks of the Underground Railroad
See page 21 for an account of Josiah Henson's escape from enslavement in the US and his founding of a settlement called Dawn in southwestern Ontario. Also examines controversies associated with the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. From Google Books.

Josiah Henson - Birth of a Leader
An illustrated feature about Josiah Henson, a farmer and community leader who formerly had been enslaved. From the Parks Canada website.

An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson
Read an online digitized copy of the book An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson. From Google Books.

Josiah Henson
A biography of Josiah Henson, fugitive slave, Methodist preacher, author, and founder of the settlement at Dawn (near Dresden), Canada West. From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

Dawn Settlement Tour
An online tour guide for the Dawn Settlement in Dresden, Ontario. Features information about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, First Baptist Church, and other historic structures. From the dresden.ca website.

A profile of Dresden, Ontario, the location of the British American Institute, established in 1841 by Reverend Josiah Henson. From The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Josiah Henson
A profile of Josiah Henson, founder of the historic Dawn Township and British-American Institute in Ontario. From The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Uncle Tom
A profile of the Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site in Dresden. Check the Uncle Tom's Cabin link at the bottom of the page for more. From the Ontario Heritage Foundation.