Henry Bibb

This Day in History: May 10th

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Orator and Abolitionist, Henry Bibb, Was Born

Abolitionist Henry Walton Bibb, was born into bondage on May 10, 1815, in Shelby County, Kentucky to a white father and an enslaved mother. Before Harriet, there was Henry. Not only did Bibb fight for his freedom, but he also assisted many others in their journey toward freedom. 

Bibb was the oldest of his mother’s seven sons and he was often loaned out as a laborer to neighboring farms. After being sold to a family that treated him poorly, Bibb started developing a plan to escape. He would run away for days at a time. He would get caught and beaten. But he would not stop running, so he was returned to his original “master.”

At 18, Bibb met his first wife who was also enslaved. The two married but Bibb was disturbed by all of the abuses taking place around him and made another escape attempt. On the Underground Railroad, he made his way to Canada.

He later returned to the United States to rescue the family he left behind. The escape did not go as planned and he was captured. During this time his wife had moved on and was now living with someone else. 

Bibb escaped again and took an active role in the abolitionist movement and became a known orator. In 1848, he married Mary Miles, a free woman that he met at an anti-slavery convention in New York. The following year, Bibb wrote his autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave

After the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted in 1850, the Bibbs relocated to Canada out of fear of re-enslavement. While in Canada, Bibb and his wife helped to establish a safe space for those on the run and a day school that Mary Bibb operated. 

Just one year later, Bibb published the first copy of his bi-monthly abolitionist newspaper, Voice of the Fugitive. The paper included interviews with newly arrived escapees and served as a resource for those to understand the workings of the Underground Railroad. 

At the height of Bibb’s influence, he died from an illness on August 1, 1854. Mary Bibb continued her husband’s legacy and operated a successful learning institution. 

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