Truth Stranger than Fiction: Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life, by Josiah Henson

My copy: 9781435108387 (image from abebooks.com)

This particular work has sat on my shelf since I took my last Antebellum South class in school, but I hadn’t had the chance to read it yet. I find it more spiritual than other runaway-slave narratives, and it’s relatively short.

You’d have to be from another planet (or at least not the U.S.) to have not heard the names of Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass or Uncle Tom. Indeed, Josiah Henson is the basis for Uncle Tom’s character, but his path in the world of slavery differed widely from his better-known fictional counterpart…and is a much better story.

Truth Stranger Than Fiction is the autobiography of Josiah Henson, born into slavery and through circumstances–though he was loyal–sent between owners, learned how to preach even without being able to read, married, nearly separated from his family, nearly emancipated and cheated, and then his escape into freedom.

Well, the escape is only the middle of the story.

This book gives a great deal in Mr. Henson’s narrow experience about the trials of former slaves who have essentially had to learn about property ownership and not getting cheated from their wares from scratch. He also felt the itch to help others escape into freedom and once established in Canada, he made several trips south to take over a hundred to freedom in the north.

This book is only about 100 pages, and a definite keeper in my history shelves. It’s going to remain there with narratives by Harriet Jacobs, Sojourner Truth, and a few others I’ve found. I’d recommend this one to anyone wanting a better picture of the slave experience in the U.S., and a more diverse picture. It answers a lot of questions some may have about loyalty and how bad the situation could be…and his writing makes you feel his own personal anguish when he recalls things he wish he could’ve changed.

For a man who had to learn how to read in his 40’s from his 12 year old son, he has a remarkable grasp of language and uses it very effectively. Highly recommend.

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