Don’t miss the PBS Broadcast of Time Team America featuring Josiah Henson Park on August 19th at 8 p.m. (Check your local listings). Want to learn more about the Time Team America episode? Click here
The Josiah Henson Park (formerly called the Riley Farm/”Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) is a historic resource of local, state, national and international significance because of its association with Reverend Josiah Henson, whose 1849 autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Riley Farm was where Henson lived and worked as a slave from 1795 to 1830. The existing structure was the home of Isaac and Matilda Riley. The frame portion dates to 1800-1815, based on nail chronology. The log wing, built as a kitchen with a loft, dates to 1850-51 based on dendrochronology (tree ring analysis).
Many of Henson’s experiences of living as a slave on the Riley property are vividly depicted in his autobiographies and are recreated in Stowe’s novel. Henson eventually escaped to Canada in 1830, where he established a fugitive slave community called Dawn and became a minister, speaker and writer. He returned to the United States several times between 1831 and 1865 as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
The impact of Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, should not be underestimated. Published in 1852, it broke all sales records of the time and sold over half a million copies by 1857. It inspired and enflamed the abolitionist movement in the mid-19th century and many believe it helped to propel the American Civil War.
Because of the historical associations of the Josiah Henson Park there is perhaps no property in Montgomery County that conjures up images of slavery and the slave experience as much as this resource. The goal for the interpretation of the Josiah Henson Special Park is to accurately portray Henson’s life and the Maryland slave experience as well as to explore the impact of Stowe’s novel. The realization of this goal will have a permanent educational benefit.
The Josiah Henson Park had been in private ownership for its entire history, until it was acquired by the Montgomery County Department of Parks, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) in January 2006. The building and site are protected by public ownership and M-NCPPC is committed to excellent stewardship of this resource. The Montgomery County Planning Board held a Planning Board Work Session on December 2, 2010 where it approved/adopted the master plan and the recommended name change from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” Special Park to Josiah Henson Special Park.