Black History 365: Henry Walton Bibb

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Henry Walton Bibb (May 10, 1815 in Shelby County, Kentucky – 1854) was an American author and abolitionist who was born a slave. After escaping from slavery to Canada, he founded an abolitionist newspaper, Voice of the Fugitive. He returned to the US and lectured against slavery.[1][2]


Bibb was born on May 10, 1815[3] to an enslaved woman, Mildred Jackson, on a Shelby County, Kentucky, plantation. His father was Senator James Bibb,[4][5] a relative of George M. Bibb, a Kentucky state senator.[6] Williard Greenwood, a slaveholder, sold his six siblings away to different buyers. Bibb was hired out by his father for his wages. He received some education at a school operated by Miss Davies, until the school was shut down by locals.[4]

In 1833, Bibb married another enslaved mulatto, Malinda, who lived in Oldham County, Kentucky. They had a daughter, Mary Frances.[6] Malinda’s slaveholder forced her into prostitution.[4]

Around 1837, Bibb escaped to Cincinnati, Ohio. Six months later he returned to free his wife, but he was captured and enslaved again. Bibb and his daughter were sold to a slaveholder in Vicksburg, Ohio. After a failed attempt to escape, Bibb was sold to Cherokees on the Kansas-Oklahoma border.[4]

In 1842, he managed to flee to the Second Baptist Church in Detroit, an Underground Railroad station operated by Rev. William Charles Monroe.[4] He hoped to gain the freedom of his wife and daughter.[6] After finding out that Malinda had been sold as a mistress to a white planter, Bibb focused on his career as an abolitionist.[7] He was taught to read and write by Monroe.[4]

Bibb traveled and lectured throughout the United States[6] with Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown. He supported the Underground Railroad. In 1846, he guided Lewis Richardson across the border and to Amherstbur, Canada. Bibb was a member of the Liberty Party.[4] In 1849-50 he published his autobiography Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, Written by Himself,[6] which became one of the best known slave narratives of the antebellum years.[8] The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 increased the danger to Bibb and his second wife, Mary E. Miles. The act made it illegal to help escaped slaves. To ensure their safety, the Bibbs migrated with his mother to Canada and settled in Sandwich, Upper Canada, now Windsor, Ontario.[4][8] In 1851, he set up the first black newspaper in Canada, The Voice of the Fugitive.[6][9] The paper helped develop a more sympathetic climate for blacks in Canada as well as helped new arrivals to adjust.[10]

Henry and Mary E. Bibb managed the Refugee Home Society, which they helped found in 1851 with Josiah Henson. Mary established a school for children.[4][11]

Due to his fame as an author, Bibb was reunited with three of his brothers, who separately had also escaped from slavery to Canada. In 1852, he published their accounts in his newspaper.[6] He died on August 1, 1854, at Windsor, Canada West, at the age of 39.[12]