Broken Shackles: Old Man Henson From Slavery to Freedom
Dundurn, Jan 26, 2007 - Social Science - 240 pages
In 1889, Broken Shackles was published in Toronto under the pseudonym of Glenelg. This very unique book, containing the recollections of a resident of Owen Sound, Ontario, an African American known as Old Man Henson, was one of the very few books that documented the journey to Canada from the perspective of a person of African descent. Now, over 112 years later, a new edition of Broken Shackles is available.
Henson was a great storyteller and the spark of life shines through as he describes the horrors of slavery and his goal of escaping its tenacious hold. His times as a slave in Maryland, his refuge in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and his ultimate freedom in Canada are vividly depicted through his remembrances.
The stories of Henson’s family, friends and enemies will both amuse and shock the readers of Broken Shackles: Old Man Henson From Slavery to Freedom. It is interesting to discover that his observations of life’s struggles and triumphs are as relevant today as they were in his time.
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I need to respond to the inaccurate review from the Canadian Book Review Annual, particularly to the point that "Not a shred of evidence provided that anyone named Charlie Chance or Jim Henson ever existed.” I feel like Barack Obama needing to prove that he was born in the United States when there is a copy of his birth certificate on view. In the case of Broken Shackles there is a photograph of James “Old Man” Henson on the front cover. This photograph is in the collection of the Grey County museum.
Also, a quick search by any historical researcher of the Owen Sound census records will show James Henson listed in both 1871 and 1881. In addition, I noted in the epilogue of the book of a 1927 Owen Sound newspaper article that describes Henson’s return to the United States. New Jersey records list the death of James Hensen (sic) on November 8, 1891, as well as that of Catherine Henson on November 11, 1894, both in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. The name and location of Henson’s wife are the same as those mentioned in Broken Shackles. So yes Virginia, there was an “Old Man” Henson.
I wrote the following in my introduction to the new edition, “Broken Shackles was not written as a history book in the strictest sense, and that is one of its strengths. It is the personal and social chronicle of “Old Man” Henson, a collection of anecdotes, some of them told more than 80 years after the events described, all set in an historical context. The stories which record one man’s observations of life’s struggles and triumphs are as relevant today as they were over 100 years ago.”
For a more fulsome review, check out the one written by George Elliott Clarke for Books in Canada.
23 Visiting Virginia
24 Sold Again
25 A Wedding
26 The Star of Freedom
27 The Escape
28 Over the River
29 Stephen Girard
30 Flight to New Jersey
9 John Hall
10 Trade in Slaves
11 Big Bob
13 In Search of a Wife
14 The Cruelty and Vices of Slavery
15 Sophy and her Baby
16 A Tragedy
17 Still in Search of a Wife
19 Corn Husking
20 Wonderful Meetings
21 A Camp Meeting
22 Turning Over a New Leaf