Uncle Tom Lived Here

Historical Marker #1241 in Daviess County notes the location of the Riley family home place. The Rileys were the owners of Josiah Henson, a slave whom Harriet Beecher Stowe used to help model her main character in the famous novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Josiah Henson was born in Charles County, Maryland in 1789. His mother and father lived on different plantations and were owned by different men. One of Henson’s earliest memories was of seeing his bloodied father after he was beaten for defending Josiah's mother. As a child, Henson, his mother, and siblings were separated by sale, but Josiah was eventually reunited with his mother in Montgomery County, Maryland.

As a young man, Henson developed skills for coping with slavery and was known for his honesty, piety, and hard work. He became a manager on his owner's plantation and a minister to the community's slaves.

In 1825, Henson's master, Isaac Riley, asked him to transport a group of slaves to his brother, Amos Riley in Daviess County, Kentucky. Henson could have easily escaped, and was advised to do so by antislavery advocates in Ohio. Instead, Josiah did as he was told, completed the journey, and returned to Maryland. However, about five years later, after being promised the opportunity to earn his freedom, he learned he was to be sold in New Orleans. On the trip down the Mississippi River to sell Henson, Amos Riley became sick and requested that Josiah bring him back to Kentucky. When they arrived in the Bluegrass State, Henson escaped with his family.

The Hensons settled in Canada where they could not be returned to slavery. There, Josiah became a day laborer. He eventually helped start an antislavery community of former fugitives and a vocational training school in the town of Dawn, Canada. In his biographical narrative, originally published in 1849, he tells of making trips back to Kentucky to help other slaves escape to freedom. Novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe used Henson's narrative to help mold the identity of her main character, Uncle Tom, in her famous book "Uncle Tom’s Cabin," which was published in book form in 1852.