Josiah Henson was born into slavery on a plantation in Maryland in 1789. Soon after, he was sold to Isaac Riley who was a particularly cruel slave owner. When Henson tried to buy his freedom but was tricked out of it by Riley, he fled with his family on the Underground Railroad to Canada.
Henson settled in Dresden and set about establishing a school to teach former slaves to read and write. It became known as the British American Institute and opened its doors in 1842.
In 1849 Henson’s autobiography was published, which Harriet Beecher Stowe used when she wrote her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe’s book launched Henson into celebrity and also helped to bring about the civil war.