Friday, July 3, 2009

"Uncle Tom's Cabin": Riley House, the Josiah Henson Home

By: Kris Lasko
HS 129, Summer 1 2009

On May 27, 2009, I visited the Riley House located at 11420 Old Georgetown Road in Rockville, MD. More commonly, this house is known as Uncle Tom’s Cabin from the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I found this house by searching Google for: “African-American Historic Sites in Montgomery County Maryland.” Google lists a map of many historic sites in Montgomery County.

In the late 18th century and early 19th century, Josiah Henson lived in the Riley House. Josiah Henson was a slave whose master was named Isaac Riley. A narrative describing Josiah Henson’s life and living conditions is available online at

On page twenty-three Josiah describes his living quarters, “We lodged in log huts, and on the bare ground…In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons…We had neither bedsteads, nor furniture of any description.” The cabin was occupied by Josiah Henson from 1795 until 1825. After living in the cabin as a slave for about thirty years, Josiah Henson escaped and managed to make his way to Canada where he was safe from harsh laws against fugitive slaves (Maryland Historical Trust).

These pictures depict a very small cabin attached to a larger and much more modern house. It’s not clear whether or not an old house was attached to the cabin or not. The cabin seems to be a pretty nice cabin for a slave. According to the Washington Post, after Josiah and his master moved out of the house, the cabin has since been privately owned until 2005. During this time period the inside of the house had been renovated, and the former slave cabin was used as a study and temporary bedroom by the family living in it. Many slave quarters were not attached to the owner’s house. More importantly, these pictures depict that slavery was prevalent during the 19th century in Montgomery County.

I was interested in visiting this site because it is very well-known throughout the country because Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a novel based on the autobiography of Josiah Henson (Maryland Historical Trust). Future generations should realize the importance of the Riley House. This house is a great part of American literature of the 19th century. The novel written that takes place at the Riley House was the second most purchased book in the United States. The only book to sell more copies was the Bible (Book Rags). Future generations should also realize that African-Americans lived as slaves here in Rockville. It’s hard to believe that we have come so far in civil rights since then. The fact that according to the Washington Post, Montgomery County spent one million dollars to purchase the Riley House proves that Maryland is very interested in preserving African-American history.

The future of the Riley House seems to be bright. It is currently owned by the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission. The MNCPPC is renovating the Riley House and will not allow visitors on the grounds. By 2012 the MNCPPC states that the house will be open to the public, and until then “there will be limited seasonal openings of the site.” Although I volunteer for the MNCPPC, I was not allowed to get up close to take clear pictures due to safety concerns. Volunteering with this organization provides opportunities that others cannot get. I have had access to numerous training opportunities and helped to keep the sites that they own safe. Not only does the MNCPPC own the Riley House, but there are many other historical sites they own that are available at .

Works Cited: -This website has a list of local historical sites and is where I found the Riley House.

Fisher, Marc. "Unique Montgomery County Property for Sale: Uncle Tom's Cabin." Washington Post 13 Dec. 2005. The Washington Poast. 13 Dec. 2005. 16 June 2009

"Josiah Henson Site (Uncle Tom's Cabin)." Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission. 28 May 2009

McGuckian, Eileen. "Uncle Tom's Cabin (Historic Site Survey)." MARYLAND HISTORICAL TRUST. Dec. 1978. 27 May 2009

"Uncle Tom's Cabin Study Guide." Book Rags. 27 May 2009

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