Margaret Henderson

198 Clarence Street


Margaret Henderson came to London as a fugitive slave prior to the Civil War and moved with her husband to 198 Clarence Street in 1868. After her husband’s passing, she worked as a laundress and continued to live at this location. Her story comes from Benjamin Drew’s 1856 book, The Refugee: Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada.


I was born of a slave mother in Washington, D.C., and raised in that city. I was to be set free at the age of thirty. When my old mistress died, I was sold for the balance of the time to an Irish woman. When I first went there, I was the only slave they had ever owned; they owned afterwards a man, a woman, and a male child. The man went out to get someone to buy him. He left word at the grocery: the grocer was not particular to report the one who would purchase him to the old man by himself, but let on before the folks. This provoked the Irishman and his wife, and as the old man was taking out ashes from an ash-hole, the master went down, and as the slave raised his head, the man struck him about the temple, with a long-handled scrubbing-brush. The old man never spoke afterwards. I saw the blow struck. The old man died the next morning. An inquest was held. I was afraid, and told the jurymen I knew nothing about it. The white girl said the boss wasn’t at home – she swore a false oath, and tried to make it out that the old man fell and hit his head against the bake-oven door. The man was bound over, not to put his hand on a servant any more. Mistress used to pinch pieces out of the boys’ ears, and then heal them with burnt alum. She dared not do much to me, as my former owners were in the city, and would not suffer barbarity. Her husband was under bonds of two thousand dollars to treat me well. But she treated the others so badly that some of my friends told me I had better leave. A friend to our plight was there then with some persons who were going to travel north with him, and I joined and came away.

I like liberty, and if Washington were a free country, I would like to go back there – my parents were there. There are so many congressmen there that the slaves are not treated so badly as in other parts.