Francis Henderson

248 Grey Street


Francis Henderson escaped slavery and settled in London as a clothes repairer. He lived on this block with his wife, Margaret, in 1863. His story comes from Benjamin Drew’s 1856 book, The Refugee: the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada.


I escaped from slavery in Washington City, D.C., in 1841, aged nineteen. I was not sent to school when a boy, and had no education advantages at all. My master’s family were Church of England people themselves and wished me to attend there. I do not know my age, but suppose thirty-three.

I worked on a plantation from about ten years old till my escape. My father was mulatto, my mother dark; they had thirteen children, of whom I was the only son. On that plantation mulattoes were more despised than the whole blood blacks. I often wished from the fact my condition that I had been darker. My sisters suffered from the same cause. I could frequently hear the mistress say to them, “you yellow hussy! You yellow wench!” Things like that. The language to me generally was, “go do so and so.” But if a hoe-handle were broken or any thing went wrong, it would be every sort of a wicked expression – so bad I do not like to say what – very profane and coarse.

I belonged to the Methodist Church in Washington. My master said, “you shan’t go to that church – they’ll put the devil in you.” He meant that they would put me up to running off. Then many were leaving; it was two from here, three from there, perhaps forty or fifty a week. Master would say, “Why don’t you work faster? I know why you don’t; you’re thinking of running off!” and so I was thinking, sure enough. Men would disappear all at once: a man who was working by me yesterday would be gone today – how, I knew not. I really believed that they had some great flying machine to take them through the air. Every man was on the look-out for runaways. I began to feel uneasy, and wanted to run away too. I sought for information – all the boys had then gone from the place but just me. I happened to ask in the right quarter. But my owners found that I had left the plantation while they had gone to church. They took steps to sell me. On the next night I left the plantation. At length I turned my back on Washington, and had no difficulty in getting off. Sixteen persons came at the same time – all men – I was the youngest of the lot.

There is much prejudice here, in Canada West, against us. I have always minded my own business and tried to deserve well. At one time, I stopped at a hotel and was going to register my name, but was informed that the hotel was “full.” At another time, I visited a town on business, and entered my name on the register, as did the other passengers who stopped there. Afterward I saw that my name had been scratched off. I went to another hotel and was politely received by the landlady: but in the public room – the bar – were two or three persons, who as I sat there, talked a great deal about “niggers,” – aiming at me. But I paid no attention to it, knowing that when “whiskey is in, wit is out.”