This February, Montgomery County celebrates Black History Month by honoring the African-American heroes of our nation’s past. Through trial and tribulation, these brave men and women rose to inspire a whole new generation of free-spirited dreamers and doers. Montgomery County has its own special place in the annals of African-American history with the life story of the Reverend Josiah Henson.
A Story of Freedom
Josiah Henson was born into slavery in June of 1789. He lived and worked all of his life on historic Isaac Riley Farm in North Bethesda, Maryland. His father, brothers, and sisters were sold off when he was still a boy, but his mother pleaded with Isaac Riley not to sell him. Riley never regretted that decision, as Henson grew up to be the best worker on the plantation. Riley entrusted Henson with the management of his estate until the farm fell on hard times and Riley was desperate to save his farm. When Henson tried to buy his freedom, Riley cheated him out of his life’s savings. As a result, Henson stole his wife and 4 children into Canada.
They finally settled in Kent County, Upper Canada, in an all-black settlement that prospered with the exportation of black walnut lumber. Henson later became a Methodist preacher and abolitionist, speaking at venues from Ontario to Tennessee. In the Rebellion of 1837, he served as an officer in the Black Militia of the Canadian Army. He recounted his life’s many ventures in his 1849 autobiography The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. Harriet Beecher Stowe based her famous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, on the trials and tribulations Henson wrote about.
A Celebration of Life
Montgomery Parks is proud to host this year’s events in honor of Black History Month at Josiah Henson Park, the site of the plantation where Henson was enslaved. The National Park Service recognizes the park as a part of its National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program and during the celebration, guests can retrace the life of Josiah Henson through guided tours.
Rediscover history through the eyes of archaeologists in the PBS documentary The Search for Josiah Henson. Time Team America and Dr. Meg Watters dig deep into Riley Plantation and unearth tools, pottery, and everyday items that retell the life and times of Josiah Henson.
Finally, conclude this year’s celebration with a few words of inspiration. “Lyrical Rhythms: The Sound of Freedom” is the theme of this year’s spoken word poetry hour. Participants of all ages and races are welcome to join and share their original works of art in a celebration of life and freedom. Don’t miss this year’s festivities and events in Montgomery County on February 27th and 28th.