Uncle Tom’s Cabin name change honours Josiah Henson and his legacy

Josiah Henson Museum of African-Canadian History. (Photo via Ontario Heritage Trust)

One of Chatham-Kent’s most well-known Black historical sites has a new name.

It’s official, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is now the Josiah Henson Museum of African-Canadian History.

The museum unveiled its new name Saturday afternoon during its Emancipation Day celebration.

The name change is a step in the right direction as the Dresden museum moves away from the negative connotations associated with the term “Uncle Tom” while providing a more appropriate recognition of a key figure in the abolitionist movement.

According to the Ontario Heritage Trust, Josiah Henson is a celebrated figure known for his fight against American slavery.

He was a conductor of the Underground Railroad, who led 118 people to escape slavery and discover freedom in Canada, where he helped establish a community for refugees seeking a better life.

“Reverend Josiah Henson was a remarkable leader who embodied bravery and perseverance. After gaining his freedom, he spent his life empowering and uplifting his community, but unfortunately, his real-life story and achievements were overshadowed by the fictional Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” said Museum Manager Steven Cook. “During his lifetime, Henson expressed a desire to reclaim his name and legacy. We are honoured to help make this a reality here in Ontario where he chose to build a new life.”

The five-acre museum complex hosts Henson’s last home, a two-story cabin, as well as the church where Henson preached to his congregation.

Also on-site is the Josiah Henson Interpretive Centre, which houses a collection of artifacts associated with the abolitionist era and educational materials on the impact of slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

“The new name will better reflect the museum’s vision and mandate to educate the public about Josiah Henson’s legacy: Henson founded the Dawn Settlement near Dresden and helped establish the British American Institute, where the free Black population and recently settled refugees of slavery were provided education and taught trades skills,” said museum officials in a release. “Through his memoirs and speaking engagements, he helped put Canada on the map as a haven for freedom seekers.

The Josiah Henson Museum of African-Canadian History is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The museum will close for the season on October 21, 2022.

Tours will be available by appointment only from November 1, 2022, through April 30, 2023.

You can visit the website for more information about the museum and upcoming programs.