"Uncle Tom" picture blog and call for information on Shirley Bassey - 1 March 2018
Picture Blog #9: "Uncle Tom" c. 1870-1910
In July 2017 we released a picture blog which focused on the above sepia photograph of a Black gentleman with the caption "Uncle Tom" printed at the bottom (read our original blog post). We sadly concluded that although this image was part of the Hull Museum's collections and handwriting on the back mentioned Hessle Road, the image raised more questions than answers and without knowing more information it would be difficult to conduct additional research. However, last month we were unexpectedly contacted by a lady in America who identified the man as Josiah Henson, who it is believed was the inspiration for the title character of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Further research has revealed that Josiah Henson was an African American slave born on 15 June 1789 in Charles Country, Maryland.  He had a torturous life enslaved in America and in 1828 tried to buy his freedom, but his master Isaac Riley cheated Henson of this 'privilege' by changing documentation to ensure that the cost was more than the African American could afford. However, in 1830 Henson escaped to Canada his wife Nancy and four children where they regained their freedom. 
In Canada, Henson founded a settlement and labourer's school for fugitive slaves at Dawn, Kent Country, Upper Canada and became a Methodist preacher.  Henson travelled to Britain in 1851 to raise money for the educational institution collecting approximately £1000.  Unfortunately, there is no evidence he came to Hull on this visit. In 1876, he travelled to across the Atlantic once again, this time to raise money for the Wilberforce Educational Institute at Chatham, Ontario which opened in 1873 after the Nezrey Institute and British American Institute in the Dawn Settlement had merged.  This facility was for the benefit of children of African descent.  It was reported in the Hull Packet that at the age of 87 years old, Josiah Henson had arrived in Britain for another visit of the country.  Henson travelled extensively giving lectures in London in September and November then Canterbury and Nottingham in December 1876.  In January 1877, he spoke to audiences in Loughborough and then Sheffield.  Henson went on to give talks in Scotland between February to April he taking a very short break in March to meet the Queen at Windsor Castle.  Henson then made his way from Scotland to Liverpool to board the China steam ship on 27 April 1877 to return to Canada.  Although the educational facility he was collecting funds for was named after William Wilberforce and he toured Britain extensively, there is no evidence to suggest that Josiah Henson visited Hull or East Yorkshire. Thus, how Hull Museums came to have his photograph remains a mystery.
Sadly, Henson died at the age of 93 in Dresden, Ontario on 5 May 1883. His life has been documented in three editions of his autobiography. The first, 'The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself' was published in 1849.  Nine years later an extended version of the narrative of his life entitled 'Truth Stranger Than Fiction: Father Henson's Story of His Own Life.'  In 1876, after the clamour to know more about his life, Henson published an updated version of his life, Uncle Tom's Story of His Life from 1789 to 1875. 
From the beginning of our project we have been repeatedly informed that Shirley Bassey performed in Hull, Bridlington and Scarborough in the 1950s and 1960s.  However, although people have generously come forward and shared their recollections of going to see the world-renowned performer, we have found it difficult to pin point when and where exactly Bassey performed.
The only evidence we have found placing her in the East Yorkshire is a newspaper article that featured in The Stage advertising Bassey's performance with Ronnie Aldrich and the Squadronnaires at Scarborough's Flora Hall on 4 June 1960. 
If you have any information, pictures or promotional material relating to Shirley Bassey in Hull or East Yorkshire please contact us.
Last week we released the story of James Clinton Jordan, an airman in the US Air Force (USAF) based at Holme-on-Spalding Moor. Last year we were notified that African American airmen were stationed in East Yorkshire in the 1950s. They travelled to Hull in their free time and enjoyed the array of entertainments in the city. However, we know very little about them.
If you have any information or pictures of African American airmen in Hull and East Yorkshire, please contact us.
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