Monday, May 14, 2018

The Road to Dawn by Jared A. Brock

book cover
The Road to Dawn
by Jared A. Brock

ISBN-13: 9781541773929
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Released: May 15, 2018

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description from Goodreads:
This sweeping biography immortalizes the man who was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin in an epic tale of courage and bravery in the face of unimaginable trials.

Josiah Henson overcame incredible odds to escape from slavery and improve the lives of hundreds of freedmen throughout his long life. He found international fame--including visits to Windsor Castle and the White House--as the real "Uncle Tom" in the novel that fueled the abolitionist movement and ignited the Civil War. But his story has been mostly lost to history, until now.

A dynamic, driven man with exceptional intelligence and unyielding principles, Henson spent forty-one years in bondage before he was finally able to escape with his wife and four children, carrying the youngest two on his broken shoulders for 600 miles. He eventually settled with his family as a free man across the border in Canada. Once there, Henson agitated for racial equality, raised millions for the abolitionist cause, won a medal at the first World's Fair in London, and became a beloved preacher. He returned to America and rescued 118 more slaves, including his own brother, and helped purchase land to build what would become one of the final stops on the Underground Railroad, a 500-person freedman settlement called Dawn.

The Road to Dawn retraces Henson's improbable journey from slavery to freedom and restores a hero of the abolitionist movement to his rightful place in history.

My Review:
The Road to Dawn is a biography about Josiah Henson, who lived from 1789 to 1883. He was born a slave in Maryland and remained a slave for 41 years. In real danger of being sold to a brutal master in the Deep South, he ran away to Canada with his wife and four young children. This was before the Underground Railroad, so he had to forge his own way north with occasional help from kindly strangers. As a preacher concerned for his fellow ex-slaves, Josiah raised money and convinced other ex-slaves to build a town (Dawn) with a school (British American Institute) to help former slaves build a new, prosperous life. He created a successful farm out of wilderness, preached a circuit, encouraged the town's development, raised funds for the school, dictated a popular memoir, and told many famous people (including Harriet Beecher Stowe) his story and about the horrors of slavery.

The author used Josiah Henson's memoirs, newspaper articles, lawsuit records, and such to find details about his life. In addition to talking about Josiah's time as a slave, the author included stories about how cruel slavery could be in general. Even once free, Josiah had a hard life as people who resented his influence and his methods of helping others repeatedly tried to ruin his reputation. The author focused on Josiah's fundraising tours and the battles waged over who got to run the British American Institute--which Josiah never did, though he raised funds for it.

The author also talked about Harriet Beecher Stowe's books and the Civil War. Though Stowe loosely modeled Uncle Tom on Josiah Henson, Josiah's life was different than the character's in many ways. I realized this, but I also had expected an inspirational story. Instead, the first part was hard to read because the author wanted to paint a vivid, graphic picture of the torture slaves sometimes endured. The second part was just depressing. Rather than focusing on all the good done, it focused on a good man being torn down while giving his all to help others. Overall, I'd recommend this book, but just realize that the whole thing is a sad story.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

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