My boss ordered a free desk copy of The Road to Dawn for his class, and when it didn’t arrive on time, he bought it himself. As usually happens, the desk copy ended up arriving at the same time as the Amazon book, and he gave me the free copy. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf behind my desk at work for four years and I’ve never cracked the cover. It’s not that it didn’t interest me, but more that I put it away and forgot about it until I needed reading material while proctoring a whole day of exams.
I don’t know why I waited so long to read this. The Road to Dawn is, in so many ways, life-changing. I’d never heard of Josiah Henson before reading this, and after spending 300 pages in his life story, I put it down and ranted for an hour about why this book isn’t required reading. Brock’s biography is incredibly researched, highly comprehensive, and most importantly, written in an easy and accessible manner.
In short, Josiah Henson escaped slavery in the 1830s with his family in tow, and traveled on foot and via canal boats from Kentucky to Canada where he helped set up one of the first ex-slave settlements. Called “Dawn,” Josiah worked with white benefactors and abolitionists to set up a school for black children, and built a farming community to elevate ex-slaves and give them the ability to be financially independent. He also became a professional preacher, opened a sawmill who’s wood earned him a spot in London’s World’s Fair, and he went back to the U.S. in the 1850s to rescue over 100 slaves and bring them to Dawn. He dictated his memoir and had it published in the 1850s, and then again twice more over the course of his life, met and was given two personalized gifts by Queen Victoria, and spent the majority of his life fundraising for Dawn. He died at 94 years old. The man was, in a word, remarkable.
If you’re looking for a good biography, definitely check this book out!