Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Ontario_401_map smallI delivered the major deliverable of my big project on Thursday. Like many deliveries, the last few days were busybusybusy, and I’m happy to be taking this long weekend to decompress from that. I turned my attention to some of the genealogy stuff that I’ve neglected for a few months. I took a stab at writing up a blurb about my line of Houles for that Houle/Houde family association that I found out about several months ago. They have a quarterly newsletter, and they were interested in the Houles of south-western Ontario. Anyway, that got me looking at the migration of family members, and the towns and villages around Sarnia

My biological grandfather was Walter Dynes. He died a dozen years before I was born, and he was from Dresden, Ontario. He was one of two children of Russell Dynes, both of whom died young. The Dynes family were grocers, operating the Dynes and Dynes Grocery in Dresden. When Walter Dynes married my grandmother (who was from Wallaceburg), they moved to Petrolia. Walter Dynes died not long after that move, and a few years later my grandmother married Don, who was a Petrolia local.

I visited Petrolia often as a kid, but I’ve never been to either Wallaceburg or Dresden. I think of Sarnia as small, but Wallaceburg and Dresden are tiny little podunk towns. Wallaceburg is the larger of the two, with a population over 10,000, but Dresden doesn’t even top 3,000. But here’s the thing I just learned today: Dresden has a fairly famous historical resident, and there’s a historic site there.

This resident was Rev. Josiah Henson, born a slave in Charles County, Maryland, who escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. He acquired land near Dresden and was a community leader for the black population there as well as becoming a conductor for the underground railroad. He wrote an autobiography of his life, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself and his life is widely believed to have inspired the character of George Harris from Beecher Stowe’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The historical site is known as Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historical Site, and it includes the cabin that Henson lived in for most of his life.

I can’t believe that this really interesting piece of history is less than 70km from Sarnia, and this never came up once in school. You’d think it’d make a really great school trip, or a great part of history class. But, no. History was all about mercantilism and the Fathers of Confederation and the British North America Act.

I’ve been half-thinking about doing a weekend trip to Dresden and Wallaceburg to hang out in cemeteries. Now I really want to see this site.

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