Montgomery County was right to buy 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Regarding the Oct. 4 Metro article "Confusion over history of Md. cabin museum," about whether a slave named Josiah Henson lived in the building known as Uncle Tom's Cabin:

The Montgomery County Riley Farm/Uncle Tom's Cabin Park is not called "Josiah Henson's Cabin" for an obvious reason: Its value to the history and understanding of slavery is tied to "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the book written by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe depended heavily upon Henson's memoir of living in slavery in Montgomery County to show the ignorance and evils that perpetuated slavery. Stowe's inflammatory book brought these issues to the forefront and helped lead this nation to civil war.

The much-visited Uncle Tom's Cabin national sites in Canada and Kentucky do not have authentic structures, or even period structures, connected to the story. Kentucky built a replica cabin, and Ontario has a museum.

Henson did not have to sleep in the log kitchen on the Riley property to make this site historically valuable; he left us his observations and experiences of nearly 30 years.

Montgomery County acted upon a public-spirited offer from the owners when it purchased this acre and gained the opportunity to eventually correctly interpret the stories of county slave owners and slaves. Generations will benefit from public ownership of this significant property, and by any name, it will be worth the price.

Judith A. Christensen, Gaithersburg

The writer is executive director of Montgomery Preservation.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company