A panel from the Josiah Henson Museum in North Bethesda, Maryland.
A panel from the Josiah Henson Museum in North Bethesda, Maryland. Credit: Kelyn Soong

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Josiah Henson Museum & Park

Right off a busy stretch of Old Georgetown Road in North Bethesda sits a relic of pre-Civil War America. During that time, approximately a third of Montgomery County’s residents were enslaved, including a child named Josiah Henson, who was born into slavery on June 15, 1789, in Charles County, Maryland, and spent decades of his life enslaved at Riley Farm, a plantation owned by Isaac Riley. That area is now the site of the recently opened Josiah Henson Museum & Park, which aims to educate visitors about the life of Henson, an author, abolitionist, and minister whose memoir chronicling the horrors of slavery served as the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Inside the museum, visitors will learn about Henson’s extraordinary life through illustrations on panels by New York-based artist Kyle Baker. The exhibits cover everything from the violence Henson witnessed as a young child and his subsequent escape to Canada in 1830, where he helped establish the Dawn Settlement community for formerly enslaved Americans, to how racist portrayals of the fictional character Uncle Tom turned the character into a caricature and eventually a term of contempt. From the outside, visitors will see more remnants of the not-so-distant past as the home owned by Riley, renovated in the 1930s after new ownership, still stands. The log structure attached to the house referred to by some as “Uncle Tom’s cabin” is actually a kitchen built in 1850. Henson, who died at age 93 in Canada, lived in quarters elsewhere on the plantation, and archaeologists are still continuing to excavate and search for other structures. The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset, and the museum is open Fridays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are available at activemontgomery.org. $4–$5.