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Henry Bibb, a formerly enslaved person, spoke out about the horrors of slavery. After freeing himself, he urged enslaved people to “break your chains and fly for freedom.”

Henry was born enslaved in Kentucky in 1815.  His mother was enslaved and his father was his enslaver. At a young age, Henry was taken from his mother and forced to work. He would later write that he learned many things during this time, including “the art of running away.”

At the age of eighteen, Henry married Matilda, an enslaved girl from a different farm. They had a daughter, but had to live apart.  Being separated from his family was difficult for Henry. But so was his life as an enslaved man. He escaped many times, but each time he was caught and returned.

At least twice when he was free, he tried to rescue his wife and daughter. As hard as he tried, he could not rescue them. One time he was caught and punished so harshly that he almost died.  He was never able to free his wife and daughter.

In 1842, Henry came to Detroit.  He traveled around Michigan telling others about being an enslaved man. He was also a leader on the Underground Railroad. In 1848, Henry married a woman named Mary. Together they traveled speaking out against slavery. They moved to Canada where they stared the first black newspaper called Voice of the Fugitive.

Henry died in 1854 when he was 39 years old.

This story was adapted from an article in the Winter 2008-09 Michigan History for Kids Magazine, a publication of the Michigan History Center.

Black and white print, 3/4 length portrait of a man (Henry Bibb) standing in front of drapery.
Image Credit: Smithsonian Institute

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