Josiah Henson Museum & Park – North Bethesda, Maryland - Atlas Obscura

Josiah Henson Museum & Park

North Bethesda, Maryland

The location where the famed author and abolitionist began his journey to freedom.  


This superb museum and park stands on the former Isaac Riley plantation, where famed abolitionist Josiah Henson was enslaved between 1795 and 1830.

Henson suffered unthinkable abuse while living on Riley’s plantation. He escaped to Canada in 1830 and established the Dawn Settlement, a community for fugitives who had escaped enslavement. He even returned to the United States on several occasions between 1831-1835 as a conductor of the Underground Railroad.

Henson’s remarkable life was a major inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s record-breaking novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The book sold half a million copies between its publication in 1852 and 1857. Stowe’s tale fanned the flames of the abolitionist movement and has been cited as a catalyst for the American Civil War.

Visitors are received through a sleek and modern visitor center, whereupon they will find interpretive displays both inside and outside the center.

The historic Riley-Bolten house with an attached log house kitchen is extant and offers a unique experience as the only public structure still standing that is associated with Reverend Josiah Henson’s life in his native land. There is also a theatre where visitors can watch a short film about Henson’s life.

Know Before You Go

Parking is available at the Kennedy-Shriver Aquatic Center located across the street, one and a half blocks away at Wall Local Park, 5900 Executive Boulevard, N. Bethesda. Limited accessible parking is available on site.

Riley-Bolten House was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 30, 2011.

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November 22, 2022

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