Broken Shackles: Old Man Henson From Slavery to Freedom

Front Cover
Peter Meyler
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.
 

Contents

1 A Letter from Home
3
2 The Long Long Ago
8
3 Stars and Scars
13
4 The Missis
16
5 A New Master
23
6 Josh
29
7 The Picket
35
8 The Ridgelys
38
23 Visiting Virginia
127
24 Sold Again
131
25 A Wedding
134
26 The Star of Freedom
138
27 The Escape
142
28 Over the River
151
29 Stephen Girard
162
30 Flight to New Jersey
166

9 John Hall
41
10 Trade in Slaves
45
11 Big Bob
49
12 Amusements
56
13 In Search of a Wife
69
14 The Cruelty and Vices of Slavery
74
15 Sophy and her Baby
81
16 A Tragedy
85
17 Still in Search of a Wife
94
18 Emily
98
19 Corn Husking
101
20 Wonderful Meetings
110
21 A Camp Meeting
115
22 Turning Over a New Leaf
124
31 The Underground Railroad
170
32 A Discussion on Freedom
174
33 John Brown
180
34 The Fugitive Slave Law
183
35 A Second Declaration of Independence
186
36 Off for Canada
188
Epilogue
199
Appendix
201
Notes
205
Selected Bibliography
212
Illustration Credits
213
Index
214
About the Editor
221
Copyright

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About the author (2007)

Editor Peter Meyler is the co-author of A Stolen Life: Searching for Richard Pierpoint, which tells the story of one of Ontario's first African settlers. He has written numerous articles about Ontario's black history, which have appeared in such publications as The Beaver, the Toronto Star, Share and Families.

Peter operates his own business providing forms management, graphic design and writing services to both the private and public sector. He was born in Fergus, Ontario, along the banks of the Grand River, and went on to study graphic design at Sheridan College in Oakville. Currently, Peter lives in Orangeville, Ontario, with his wife, Wendy, and daughters Lacadia and Laynna.

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