The Josiah Project
In 2004 I happened upon a television documentary about a man named Josiah Henson. Up to that point I had never heard of him. As I watched I found myself becoming deeply entranced. Something about the man and his story touched me at my core. Why had I never heard about this man? How was he able to think as he did and behave as he did given the excruciatingly humiliating circumstances he endured as a slave? Who was this man? I had to know more about him. Thus began my exploration into the life of ‘Father Henson’ as he came to be known later in his life.
Any books about him, any books that mentioned him, all four published versions of his autobiography, any archival magazine and newspaper articles, anything and everything that I could find that would illuminate the life and achievements of this man did I devour. Reading his autobiography it dawned on me that his story should be better known in Canada. I began to wonder how I could bring his story to greater public awareness. The desire to tell his story as a stage play grew and I quickly realized, however, after dismal attempts to write it myself, that I am not a playwright. For over a decade I pitched the idea of presenting Josiah’s story as a theatrical stage play to anyone who would listen. Much like Josiah and his accomplishments, I needed outside assistance to achieve my goal.
In 2017, I had the wonderful good fortune to meet writer and director, Charles Robertson. Charles accepted the challenge and jumped on board quickly. We presented a play reading workshop of Josiah Henson: From Slave to Saviour in December of 2018 to positive feedback and constructive criticism, which lead to a staged workshop production at the Baby Grand Studio Theatre in Kingston in February of 2019. This, too, garnered encouraging feedback and positive criticism, which lead to a full production at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto in May of 2019. Again, the production received outstandingly positive feedback and exuberant acceptance. Our production journey was off to a promising start.
Our journey continues with presentations at the Kinston Storefront Fringe Festival in July 2019 followed by an Emancipation Day presentation in August at the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site in Dresden, Ontario. The museum sits on the remaining five acres of the original 300-acre site where Josiah was instrumental in helping to found the settlement of Dawn, which became a destination on the famed Underground Railroad. At Dawn, Josiah strove to educate Black, Native and White peoples together in the creation of a vocational school called the British-American Institute. He used his freedom to improve the quality of life for everyone; wholly inclusive; wholly “Canadian.” He is a Canadian hero.
There are plans to tour the production to as many venues as possible. The next full production presentation will be on the main stage of the Grand Theatre in Kingston in October of this year. Josiah Henson-From Slave to Saviour is the story of the early years of an inspiring figure in Canadian history. My hope is that the story of Josiah Henson touches the lives of others as it has touched mine. Our hope is that this play reaches the world.