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Essay: Josiah Henson

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  • Subject area(s): History essays
  • Reading time: 6 minutes
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  • Published: 15 November 2019*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 1,590 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 7 (approx)

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Slavery has been well known for one of the most brutal and inhumane events in history. Men, women, and children are being stolen from their homes, treated like properties, and served their non-materialistic masters from all around the world. Sold to the unknown world, they were forced to work in harsh conditions with no freedom and were being treated like animals. Their lives are filled with nothing but cruel words from their master and eventually, their brains are washed. Despite the emptiness in their hearts and souls, they continued to pushed through, hoping and praying, that they’ll be freed one day. Little do they know, an unlikely hero was about to transform all that. A man named Josiah Henson was born into the unfortunate period of slavery and had gone through a miserable childhood. His father Mason Henson, was being beaten halfway to dead and lost his right ear as a punishment for struck a white male. Henson grew up and lived the life of slavery like many others, but had made a decision that not only changes his family’s lifestyle, but also many other’s. Josiah Henson embodies a hero because he had the courage to help his fellow slaves, his family escape, and build a school specifically for new coming slaves.

Born around 1789 in Charter, Maryland, Josiah Henson was first sold to the man named Francis Newman. Coldly separated from his mother and brother, his mind was filled with sadness and sorrow. He later got sick and was sold off to another man named Isaac Riley who happened to brought his mother at the auction. As he grew a little older, he began to show great skills and intelligence on the field. Henson worked for a countless number of hours, trying to get his master attention and impression. Despite the long hours of working in a rough condition, his master uncaring heart stayed the same. However, Henson chose to look on the positive side of the problem instead. He also helped out his friends with the work whenever he gets the chance to. Shortly, he figured out the way to get more food by stealing from his master. Back then, if a slave got caught stealing, he or she will face brutal punishments. From public whipping to starvation, the injuries from these punishments can last up to months. A lot of slaves took the risks anyways because they have no wills and did not have a care for their lives. Henson took the risk and stole from his master and shared them with his fellow slaves. Henson did everything in his power to ease off the burden of his fellow friends. In a short amount of time, he soon gained his fellow friends’ trust. Henson’s determination and hard work to Riley’s farm had turned him into a machine that could do any type of work on the farm. It took a while for Henson to get his master’s attention but in the end, Josiah Henson was the only slave that was well fitted to Riley’s eyes. Working rapidly every single day, he soon gained the master’s trust and became the head of Riley’s farm. Around the age of eighteen, his mother inspired him to Christianity as she forced him to asked the master to let him go to one of the service meetings. As he was fascinated by the preacher’s words, he soon found the strength, compassion, and joy in his grating life. He started to preach to his fellow friends at night and encouraged them to have faith in God and themselves. One day, he met a girl named Charlotte and fell in love with her. Henson decided to marry Charlotte and had Riley’s permission to let her moved into the cabin. The life of the Josiah Henson couldn’t get any better until one day, Riley’s plantation falls into financial issues. In order to keep his slaves, he sent Henson and his family to Kentucky where his brother lived along with his other eighteen slaves. On the way to Kentucky, they passed by the free state, Ohio, where other free blacks were trying to convince them to stay. The sound of freedom was like a magical word that got everyone in the group wanted to join stay and experience it with them. However, Henson remained loyal to his master and persuaded his people to get back on the boat. Little did he know, he had made a wrong decision that will change his life forever.

When they got to Kentucky, Henson had the thinking of wanting to buy his freedom. Worked at Amos Riley’s place for about three years, the living condition was better than the old cabin on Isaac Riley’s farm. For Isaac, the debt started to piled up on him, caused him to sent an agent to Kentucky to sell off all his slaves except for Henson and his family. As Henson watched his fellow friends being auctioned off, he felt horrible for his action. He had taken away the chance of freedom from these men and women. He always believed that it was God’s will that African should be slaves. He soon realized it was wrong but it was too late. It became more clear to Henson when a preacher introduced him to the idea of buying himself. He asked his new master, Amos Riley if he can take a trip to visit Isaac Riley. Trusting Henson, Amos Riley let him go visit his old brother with a transportation pass. Henson packed his bag and head towards Maryland, where his freedom lies ahead. During his journey, he made most of his money out of preaching to churches and families. When he got to Isaac’s place, he brought up the idea of wanting to buy himself. Isaac wasn’t happy with the idea but still agreed with selling him for $450. He told Henson to make down payment of $350 and he can pay back the leftover $100 later when the manumission paper arrived at Amos’ place. However, it turned out to be a trick, Isaac had raised the price up to $1000. Filled with despair and grief, Henson also later found out that he was about to be sold off to the south. As he begs the young master Amos Junior to not sold him away from his family and tell him stories about his fellow friends and father, he didn’t shake the Amos’ heart one bit. The day after the auction, Amos became extremely ill. He begged Henson so stick with him and apologized for trying to sell him off. When they both made it back to Kentucky, what Henson’s service to Amos Junior didn’t impress the family at all. After 41 years as a slave, Henson has had enough and started on plotting an escape for his family from Kentucky. It took days for Henson to convinced Charlotte to agree with the plan and they took off on Saturday, September 18, 1830. Carrying two smallest children in a bag on Henson’s back, the journey full of exhaustion and hunger. They later ran into the Native American who had helped and show them the way to the right direction. On the morning of Thursday, October 28, 1830, the family of Henson had successfully made it to Canada.

After a good night rest, Henson went out first thing in the morning to look for a job. He later found out a man named Mr. Hibbard was hiring for labor. Not only Mr. Hibbard has warmly welcomed him, but he also had a place for Henson’s family to stay. Impressed by Henson skills, knowledge and experience, Hibbard soon favors him. After a while, Hibbard enrolled Henson’s first son to school. Later on, Henson’s first son started teaching him how to read and write. Though the frustration, Henson started thinking about all the other slaves that are suffering in the United States and how he is in a much better position than them. Henson wants people like him to experience the things he was experienced. The feeling of having freedom and rights. After a period living in Hibbard’s place, Henson took off to find a new home. When Henson came across Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River, he felt the soil’s fertility was way better than the ones he had ever experienced with before. He named the place Dawn. Families started to move to that piece around spring of 1836. As more slaves came to Canada, cheap labors were a big demand. Henson eventually came back to the United States to help more slaves, but he felt like it wasn’t enough. He felt like something was missing. He started to suggest ideas to new slaves about growing your own crops to make a little more profits. As more slaves were coming, more housing is being required. Henson came up with the idea to build an institute that can be a home to the new coming slaves and a school for black and Canadian children in 1841. Started out with just twelve students, the British American Institute (BAI) began to rapidly grow and still is to this day.

All in all, the achievements, courage, and an illustrious warrior that Josiah Henson showed throughout his life embody the definition of a hero. From risking his life to freedom and risk his life again to save other, Josiah Henson has made himself one of the most influential men in the United States history

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