19th Century History

The Riley/Bolten House

South of Rockville, along the Great Road (today’s Rockville Pike), were woods and farms, and the land that is now Luxmanor was one of these farms.  The farmhouse that was the center of Luxmanor still stands at 11420 Old Georgetown Road.  According to legend, the house was constructed after the Revolutionary War by a young soldier.  [HSR] It was initially owned by the Riley family and their name can be seen on the 1865 map below, just southwest of Montrose Post Office.

Detail from 1865 Martenet and Bond Map of Montgomery County - the Matilda Riley house is labeled on Old Georgetown Road, southwest of Montrose P.O. [MB]

We would know little about these early years if it were not for Josiah Henson, who was enslaved by the Riley family that lived in this main house.  Henson’s 1849 autobiography, which he narrated, was purchased and read by writer Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Stowe’s imagination was stimulated by this and other slave narratives and, as a result, she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was published in 1852.  It was a bestseller and, when Stowe revealed that Tom was modeled on multiple enslaved men including Henson, Henson’s autobiography became a bestseller, too. Importantly, Henson was entirely unlike Uncle Tom — he was a strong-willed leader who was deeply concerned about helping his enslaved compatriots.

When the farmhouse and its remaining one-acre property were sold to Montgomery County in 2006, the County undertook a careful historical analysis that provides a rich understanding of what Luxmanor was like in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  This analysis was published in a June 2008 report entitled Historic Structure Report for The Riley House / Josiah Henson Site.

Josiah Henson (Library of Congress)

The following are excerpts from the Historic Structure report that are germane to Luxmanor:

[The Luxmanor area] ... was originally part of a 3,697 acre parcel of land patented with the name “Dan” (also spelled as “Dann” in some of the early deeds). As early as the 1760s, a small portion of Dan contributed to a larger plantation that deed records first associate with William Collyer (the name is also spelled Collier or Collyar in various records). According to deed records, the Colliers owned numerous tracts of land in this area in the 1700s. Sometime prior to 1797, the property was transferred from William Collyer to his son James Collyer. On October 26, 1797, ownership of the property was transferred from James Collyer (the son of William Collyer) to George Riley. The deed includes the following description,

all that part or parcel of land known by the name Dan, also all that party or parcel of land known by the name Elder’s Delight, also all that party or parcel of land known by the name Collyar’s Resurvey corrected adjoining the above-mentioned part of Dan... (Montgomery County Deed Records; October 26, 1797)

In 1792, prior to purchasing the property, George Riley married Sarah Wilson .... At the time of their marriage, Sarah had inherited land from her father’s estate. Although historical documents identify George Riley as a planter, he also served as a Montgomery County Commissioner and as a member of the House of Delegates .... Following Sarah’s untimely death in October 1810, George married Mary Richards. George died five years later, leaving Mary with their three young girls. In 1818, she married Arnold Thomas Windsor. ....

By the time of George Riley’s death in 1815, Isaac Riley, a younger brother, is believed to have been residing on the property. Isaac was the executor of George Riley’s will, and apparently he continued to operate the farm in that capacity after his older brother’s passing. It is evident that Isaac Riley remained on the property until his death in 1850.

Even before he had any claim to the land, Isaac did have title to enslaved workers. Before 1818, while still a bachelor, Riley family documents and census records indicate that he resided with a sister and several slaves .... Census records from the 1820s indicate that the plantation had at least twenty enslaved workers, plus additional enslaved children. The produce, which included wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, corn, tobacco, hay, fruit, and butter, was sold at the local markets in Washington and Georgetown. Animals on the plantation included sheep, pigs, and chickens.

Josiah Henson ... was separated from his mother at age five and was sold to [Rockville] tavern owner, Adam Robb, who lived approximately four miles from the Riley plantation. When he fell seriously ill, arrangements were made by the tavern owner to reunite the young Josiah with his mother[, who was owned by Isaac Riley]. Henson was approximately six years old when he was reunited with his mother; for the next thirty years he was enslaved on the Riley plantation.

Henson’s experiences are related in his autobiography and in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  According to Henson, George Riley typified the, good, kind-hearted slave holder.  However, George Riley’s overseer, Bryce Litton, Stowe’s model for Simon Legree, did, in fact, administer the brutal beating that left Henson’s shoulders impaired for life.  Henson wrote, “My sufferings after this cruel treatment were intense.  Besides my broken arm and the wounds on my head, I could feel and hear the pieces of my shoulder-blades grate against each other with every breath ....”  [H]

According to Henson, as he wrote in his autobiography (1881 edition) –

We lodged in log huts, and on the bare ground.  Wooden floors were an unknown luxury.  In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women, and children.  All ideas of refinement and decency were, of course, out of the question.  We had neither bedsteads, nor furniture of any description.  Our beds were collections of straw and old rags, thrown down in the corners and boxed in with boards; a single blanket the only covering.  Our favourite way of sleeping, however, was on a plank, our heads raised on an old jacket and our feet toasting before the smouldering fire.  The wind whistled and the rain and snow blew in through the cracks, and the damp earth soaked in the moisture till the floor was miry as a pig-sty.  Such were our houses.  In these wretched hovels were we penned at night, and fed by day; here were the children born and the sick — neglected.  [H]

The Historic Structure Report continues –

As a young man, Josiah Henson was entrusted with the management of the plantation; he identifies himself as superintendent of farming operations .... His responsibilities included oversight of the production and sale of produce [in Georgetown and Washington, D.C.], as well as the oversight of his owner’s other slaves.  At age 22, Josiah Henson married Charlotte, a slave from a neighboring plantation called Williamsburg. 

In 1818, at age 44, Isaac Riley married Matilda Middleton.  Approximately eighteen years old at the time, both of Matilda’s parents had passed away.  At the time of their marriage, Isaac was appointed guardian of Matilda’s younger brother, Francis, who also came to live at the Riley plantation.  In his autobiography, Henson describes his new mistress as “a young woman of eighteen, who had some little property, and more thrift.  Her economy was remarkable, and she added no comfort to the establishment” ....

As noted, Isaac Riley’s sister-in-law Mary Richards Riley had a second husband, Arnold T. Windsor.  Windsor claimed that Riley had been dishonest in the management of the George Riley property and filed a series of lawsuits on the basis that Isaac Riley was not managing the estate properly.  The lawsuits dragged on for many years ....  By the time of his death, Isaac and Matilda Riley apparently had a clear enough title to the remaining land to leave (or in the case of one daughter, to sell) a tract of 49 or more acres each to six of their children.

The lawsuits filed by Windsor led to a declining financial situation for Isaac Riley.  In 1825, fearing the loss of his entire estate, Isaac Riley instructed Josiah Henson to take his slaves to his brother, Amos Riley, in Kentucky.  According to documents produced by extended members of the Riley family, Amos had established a large plantation in Daviess County, Kentucky.  Under the leadership of Henson, the slaves traveled to the Riley plantation in Kentucky, passing through Ohio along the way.  Residents of Ohio, a free state, tried to persuade Henson not to continue to Kentucky.  Feeling committed to the journey, having given his word to Isaac Riley, Henson continued to lead the group to Kentucky.  According to Henson’s autobiography, the traveling group consisted of twenty-two people, including his own wife and their two children ....

Josiah Henson (and other Riley slaves) remained in Kentucky until 1828.  Unable to relocate his family to Kentucky as initially intended, Isaac Riley had sent an agent to his brother’s plantation to arrange for the sale of his slaves.  Isaac gave the agent instructions not to include Henson and his family in the sale, hoping for their return to Maryland. 

While his slaves were in Kentucky, Isaac Riley had been struggling to recover from the ruinous lawsuit against him.  [According to Henson,] “His best farms had been taken away from him, and but a few tracts of poor land remained, which he cultivated with hired labour... month by month he grew poorer and more desperate” ....  In 1828, Isaac wrote to Amos requesting that Henson be returned. After sending his slaves to his brother’s plantation in Kentucky, Isaac Riley had used hired labor to cultivate his remaining land.  Eventually, Isaac had acquired additional slaves to work the land. 

... Henson first found religion ca. 1807 at age 18, while listening to a sermon at the Newport Mill on the bank of Rock Creek, Montgomery County ....  While living in Kentucky, he became a minister and was admitted into the Ohio Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church.  In March 1828, when he set out to return to Isaac Riley’s plantation in Maryland, he stopped to preach along the way back to Maryland. By preaching, Henson was able to earn $270, money he intended to use for the purchase of his freedom. [HSR]

Title Page of Henson’s Autobiography (1849) (Library of Congress)

Title Page of Henson’s Autobiography (1849) (Library of Congress)

It is during this brief visit to Isaac Riley in Maryland, ca. 1828, that Josiah Henson records sleeping on the floor of the kitchen.  Henson wrote in his autobiography –

After putting my horse in the stable I retired to the kitchen, where my master told me I was to sleep for the night.  Oh, how different from my accommodations in the free States, for the last three months, was that crowded room, with its earth-floor, its filth and stench!  I looked around me with a sensation of disgust. ... Full of gloomy reflections at my loneliness, and the poverty-stricken aspect of the whole farm, I sat down, and while my companions were snoring in unconsciousness, I kept awake, thinking how I could escape from the accursed spot.  [H]

The “kitchen” that Henson mentions is no longer standing; it is not the log structure that remains attached to the Riley/Bolten house, which was likely built several decades later. It is possible, however, that an earlier kitchen stood on the same location.

Subsequently, with the aid of Frances Middleton, Matilda Riley’s brother, Henson negotiated the purchase of his freedom. Henson wrote in his autobiography:

... he [Isaac Riley] agreed to give me my manumission-papers for four hundred and fifty dollars, of which three hundred and fifty dollars were to be in cash, and the remainder in my note. My money and my horse enabled me to pay the cash at once, and thus my great hope seemed in a fair way of being realised. [H]

Henson then returned to Isaac Riley’s brother Amos’ plantation in Kentucky, where he found that he had been duped. Isaac had sent Henson’s manumission papers in a sealed form, and in them, he had altered the bargain.  In his autobiography Henson reported:

Master Amos said I had paid three hundred and fifty dollars down, and when I had made up six hundred and fifty more I was to have my free papers.  I now began to perceive the trick that had been played upon me, and to see the management by which Riley had contrived that the only evidence of my freedom should be kept from every eye but that of his brother Amos, who was requested [sic] to retain it until I had made up the balance I was reported to have agreed to pay. Indignation is a faint word to express my deep sense of such villainy. I was alternately beside myself with rage, and paralysed with despair. [H]

Then, Henson was faced with being sold again and sent further south. According to the Historic Structure Report, “The threat of being sold into the Deep South was often one of the greatest fears of slaves.  In addition to the prospect of being separated from one’s family, living and work conditions on southern plantations were reportedly worse that what slaves of more northern locations experienced ....” [HSR]

In 1830, Henson, his wife, and their four children, escaped from Kentucky to Canada via the Underground Railroad.  Eleven years later, in 1841, he and his family moved to the outskirts of Dresden, Canada, where he established Dawn Settlement, a self-sufficient community which reached a population of 500 at its height.  Dawn was primarily a rural agricultural settlement where lumber was produced.  Many African Americans who escaped on the Underground Railroad settled there. Henson wrote an autobiography, “The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave,” which was published in 1849.

Isaac Riley continued to reside on the Old Georgetown Road property until his death in 1850, at which point the property was bequeathed to his wife Matilda.  [HSR]

To put this harrowing story into context, Josiah Henson was but one of thousands of enslaved African-Americans in the area.  According to the Historic Structure Report:

The 1804 Tax Assessment records are the earliest documents consulted in a preliminary attempt to gain an understanding of the numbers of children enslaved in District 4 in Montgomery County [the Luxmanor area was part of District 4; see the 1865 map detail above and the District 4 map below].  The Tax Assessment indicates that thirty-two percent of the enslaved populations in District 4 consisted of children less than eight years of age.  If children ranging from the ages of eight to fourteen are included, the percentage rises.  Nearly half (forty- nine percent) of the people held in bondage in County District 4 in 1804 were children under fourteen years of age.  District 4 slaveholders were taxed for a total of 1,202 people held in slavery in 1804 and for 1,179 held in slavery in 1820 ....

The Montgomery County population census for 1800 indicates that there were 6,288 people held in slavery and 262 free people of color.  When the white population of 8,508 is added to these figures, the total population for the County in 1800 totals 15,058.  By 1820, the number of enslaved residents rose slightly to 6,396 and the free black population tripled, rising to 922.  ... A total of eighteen percent of the people held in bondage in the County were held by slaveholders who lived within Montgomery County’s District 4 .... [HSR]

It is not clear exactly how many slaves lived in the Luxmanor vicinity.  The Historic Structure Report says that George Riley was assessed on the 1804 tax rolls for 20 slaves, six of whom were under the age of eight.  By 1850, the slave census for Isaac Riley showed five enslaved persons, four of whom were children.

The Roads

During the early 19th century, the Great Road was known as the Georgetown-Frederick Road.  The Washington Turnpike Company was founded to improve this and other thoroughfares, and the newly improved road was opened in 1828.  By 1848, however, it had nearly washed away.  [W]

By 1865, the road system in the county was fairly extensive, as can be seen in the map below.

1865 Martenet and Bond Map of Montgomery County [MB].

The Rockville area of the above map is detailed below:

Detail from 1865 Martenet and Bond Map of Montgomery County, Rockville, District 4 [MB].

The Civil War

During the Civil War, Montgomery County was subject to occupation by federal military forces.  The homes of suspected pro-southerners were occasionally raided.  Meetings held by Confederate sympathizers were monitored and vocal anti-Union speakers were arrested.  Printing of the local newspaper, the Montgomery County Sentinel, was interrupted several times when its pro-South editor was arrested.  [MCHS]

In June 1863, while traveling north toward Pennsylvania, Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart captured 150 Union wagons just south of what is now the corner of Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike.  A month later, Stuart passed through the county again, returning from raids in Pennsylvania.  [MCHS]

Jubal Early.jpg

Confederate General Jubal Early

Head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front [Between 1860 and 1870, photographed later] (Library of Congress)

A year later, in 1864, General Jubal Early attempted to lead Confederate troops on a raid of Washington.  At Monocacy Creek, Early’s troops defeated Union forces and then marched south through Montgomery County, stopping to camp in Rockville.  They then marched toward Silver Spring and their unsuccessful attack on Fort Stevens in the District of Columbia.  [MCHS]

As the 1865 map shows (see above), the Luxmanor area was still sparsely settled farmland at the time.  [MB]  According to Mrs. Levina Bolten, who refurbished the old Riley house in 1939, she had spoken with a neighbor who had been born in the house.  The neighbor related that her grandmother had also been been born there, and the grandmother had told the story that, as a young girl, she had climbed into the old loft above the kitchen and watched the Confederate soldiers of General Early’s army as they gathered calamus roots while camping on the land on their way to Washington.  [WS1]

During their retreat, Early’s force moved north again and the Confederate cavalry skirmished with Union troops in the streets of Rockville. 

As a result of the war, approximately 5,500 African American slaves in Montgomery County were emancipated in 1864.  [MCHS]

The Conclusion of the Josiah Henson Story

In the winter of 1878, Josiah Henson returned to the Luxmanor area. In his autobiography (1881 edition) [H], he wrote:

… [A] strange, inexpressible longing came over me to see again the home of my boyhood. … So, on the 24th of December, 1877, we started for the South. [H]

Henson and his wife first visited their family in Baltimore. He continued:

… [W]e then proceeded to Washington, where I visited many of the old haunts which were so familiar to me in the long-ago days when I used to bring hither my master’s produce.

Of course, we went to the White House. I called on his Excellency President Hayes, in his office, while Mrs. Hayes very kindly showed my wife through the house. The President was pleased to be very gracious, and when I rose to take leave, after a pleasant little chat …, he gave me a very cordial invitation to call again, should I ever pay another visit to the capital.

And then we went to my old home.  Fifty years, lacking only a few months, had passed since I last saw the old place.  Fifty long years! since the day when I left the master’s house to return to my family in Kentucky, walking with a swinging step and a jubilant heart, because my great object in life was gained (as I thought in my credulity), my freedom papers being safely stowed away in my bag ...  I did almost unconsciously expect to see the old place somewhat as I had left it. Notwithstanding all I had heard of the great alterations which had taken place, since coming South, I still pictured to myself the great fertile plantation,with its throngs of busy labourers sowing the seed, tilling the ground, and reaping the valuable harvests as of yore.  I saw the “great house,” well furnished and sheltering a happy, luxurious, and idle family; I saw the outdoor kitchen, where the coloured cook and her young maids prepared and carried the dinners into the house; I saw the barns and storehouses bursting with plenty; the great cellars filled with casks of cider, apple-brandy, and fruit; and plainer than all I saw the little village of huts called the [n…s’] quarters, which used to be so full of life, and alas! so full of sorrow.

But the scales have fallen even from the eyes of my imagination, and I realise at last that a change, great and fearful, has indeed come over the land of the modern Pharaohs, who were visited with the Almighty's wrath because they refused to let His people depart out of their bondage.

The old place is situated in Montgomery County, Maryland, about twelve miles from Washington, and four from Rockville. Long before we reached the house where my old master used to live, I saw that it was indeed another land from that of my boyhood. The once great plantation is now but a wilderness; the most desolate, demoralised place one can imagine.

The fertile fields where once waved acres upon acres of tasselled corn, of blooming rye, and oats and barley; the once ploughed land where grew the endless rows of potatoes, which I have hoed so many weary hours; the rich pastures where great herds of cattles used to graze, — all these splendid lands are overgrown with trees and underbrush. The fences are all gone; the fruitful orchards worn out and dead; and when we drove at last up the grass-grown road to the house, I saw it standing there all alone, without a single barn or stable or shed to bear it company, and it was in such a dilapidated condition that the windows rattled and the very door sprang ajar as we drove up and stopped before it. [H]

Henson then conversed with Mrs. Matilda Riley, who still lived in the house. He continued:

Then I spoke of the last thing which was on my mind, the desire to visit my mother's grave. She said she knew where it was well, and directed her son-in-law to conduct me there. So we went out, and bent our steps toward a little collection of mounds, slightly raised above the surrounding level, but enough to show that they were the final resting-place of many who had passed away from this life and its sorrows. And there, a little removed from the others, was that of my poor, dear old slave-mother; of her who had first pointed me heaven-wards; whose early prayers were my salvation.

I bowed myself to the ground, and hid my face in the grass that grows thickly over that beloved form. I wept, and prayed, and made new resolutions that in the days which may yet be before me, I may so live as to honour the memory of her who bore me; and that in the death which cannot long tarry, I may fall asleep in the Lord, as peacefully and as righteously as did my sainted mother. [H]

The Historic Structure Report summarizes the next few years of the Riley house’s history:

* * *  When Matilda died, June 26, 1890, the property passed to her daughter Frances [Fannie] Ruben Riley Mace.  The Riley house and surrounding property remained in the family for three quarters of a century after Isaac Riley’s death.  In a pair of oral history interviews, Frances Mace Hansbrough, granddaughter of Francis Ruben Riley Mace, recalled visiting the property as a child, during the 1910s and 1920s.  Although the property was still owned by descendants of Isaac Riley, the house was rented out during this time.  While residing in Georgetown, Mrs. Hansbrough would travel with her family on weekends to Montgomery County in order to visit the family’s “home-place.” Her father, Samuel Viers Mace, continued to maintain a garden on the property .... [HSR]

In the next century, the Riley house was purchased and renovated by William R. and Levina W. Bolten, beginning in 1936 — which is why it is known today as the “Riley/Bolten house.” [RF]

“The Old Quarters,” a slave quarters on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda (Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, 1939)

Since the Historic Structure report was published in 2008, much additional research has been done. The Riley/Bolten house was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places and the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation; the registration form for the National Register nomination provides a detailed description of the property and its history. The site of the Riley/Bolten house is being developed into the Josiah Henson Park. An in-depth biography has been published called Sharp Flashes of Lightning Come from Black Clouds: The Life of Josiah Henson; it details the life of Reverend Henson based on his autobiography and primary source documents, written by Montgomery Parks’ Senior Historian, Jamie Ferguson Kuhns.