Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Caleb Bentley (1762-1851)
MSA SC 3520-15889


Born at "Concord" in Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1762. Son of Joseph Bentley (1725-1778) and Mary Bentley (nee Thatcher) (1727-1799). Married Sarah Brooke (d. 1805) in 1791. Married Henrietta Thomas (1782-1860) on August 6, 1807. Three children: Mary Thomas Bentley (b. 1808); Sarah Brooke Bentley (b. 1814); and Richard Thomas Bentley (b. 1819). Died in Montgomery County, Maryland on July 13, 1851.

A wealthy merchant and land speculator, Caleb Bentley was a prominent resident and active community member of Brookeville, Maryland throughout the last decade of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century. Bentley moved from Chester County, Pennsylvania to Montgomery County, Maryland in his early adulthood. By 1798, Bentley owned several hundred acres of land throughout Montgomery County. Along with other notable figures such as Isaac Briggs and Thomas Moore, Bentley played a crucial role in the founding of the Montgomery County mill town of Triadelphia.1 By 1800, Bentley occupied a home in Brookeville; a home that would host President James Madison and his entourage in 1814, shortly after the British burned Washington, D.C. The "Madison House" still stands to the present day. 

In 1791, Bentley married Sarah Brooke, daughter of wealthy landowner Roger Brooke IV. Although they had no children, the couple raised an orphaned child and a young African American girl until Sarah's untimely death in 1805.2 In 1807, Bentley married Henrietta Thomas, the niece of Richard Thomas Jr., who initially owned most of the land which comprised the town of Brookeville.3 They had three children, all of whom would survive until adulthood; Mary Thomas Bentley, who was born on August 29, 1808; Sarah Brooke Bentley, who was born on November 16, 1814; and Richard Thomas Bentley, who was born on July 22, 1819.4

Bentley was appointed to the position of Postmaster of Brookeville in 1802, a duty which he carried out in his home from 1802 to 1815, and again from 1816 to 1818.5 Bentley also served as one of the founding trustees of the Brookeville Academy, which was incorporated in January of 1815.6 Bentley gained wide notoriety as a silversmith in 1793 when he was commissioned to construct one of the four cornerstones of the United States Capitol.7 In addition to his work as a silversmith, Bentley's artisanal trades also included watch and clock making.8

In 1809, shortly after his second marriage, Bentley and his brothers-in-law, Isaac Briggs and Thomas Moore, founded the mill town of Triadelphia. At the time, Briggs was a fervent supporter of domestic manufacturing, and he feared that the increase in the importation of textiles and other goods would soon destroy the United States economy. Because of this concern, Bentley, Moore, and Briggs patented the land that would become Triadelphia, and swiftly constructed a cotton mill and other structures, including housing and outbuildings, that were needed to support the mill. Bentley was the largest contributor to the founding of Triadelphia, investing nearly $10,500 in the company by 1814. By 1815, Bentley had become the president of the Triadelphia corporation, and was making an annual salary of $1,000. Triadelphia flourished for several decades, but would experience sudden hardship as the result of floods in 1868 and 1889. The town would eventually meet its ultimate downfall in 1943, when the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission flooded the area in order to construct a reservoir that would serve the suburbs surrounding Washington, D.C.9

As one of the most wealthy residents in Brookeville, Bentley was often involved in selling or renting property to various residents of the town and the surrounding areas. In addition to the lot on which his own house was located, Bentley owned several other improved lots, both residential and commercial. Bentley co-owned an improved residential property with his nephew Joseph E. Bentley, who most likely lived in the home that was built by Greenberry Murphy between 1807 and 1809. He also owned a corner lot with a store that was run and later owned by George Gassaway, the son of Brice John Gassaway, a former Revolutionary War militia captain and fellow Brookeville resident.10 One of Bentley's most notable tenants was Ceaser Williams, who rented farmland from Bentley for over a decade. Bentley provided an important deposition on behalf of Williams in a landmark Chancery Court case in which Ceaser fought for custody of his mentally challenged brother, Robert Williams.11

Besides land sales and rentals, Bentley also used his substantial wealth to act as a lender in Montgomery County. One of his most prominent debtors was David Newlin, the owner of a mill in Brookeville, and a fellow founding trustee of the Brookeville Academy. Although his mill was successful for several years, by 1835, Newlin had acquired several thousand dollars in debt from Caleb Bentley and several others throughout the area. This massive amount of debt prompted Bentley to take legal action against Newlin, quickly forcing Newlin into insolvency, and eventually into debtor's prison.12 In addition to Newlin, Bentley lent aid to many other Brookeville residents in the form of cash, mortgages, and tenancy on the various pieces of property that he owned. In return for his aid, Bentley would often accept collateral, such as certain percentages or total ownership of the crops of his debtors, or their personal property, such as tools, furniture, or livestock.13 When collateral was not given in return for loans, Bentley would often take legal action through the Montgomery County Court system in order to be compensated.14

Although the majority of Bentley's business endeavors seemed to be successful, not all of them came to fruition. One of the most noticeable examples of this was a failed attempt at establishing the Sandy Spring Boarding School on a parcel of land just outside of Brookeville, near the local Quaker church, the Sandy Spring Meeting Hall. Bentley, along with Thomas Moore and William Stabler, had acquired the parcel of land under the assumption that it would be paid for once the school was established. However, there is no existing indication that the school was ever constructed, or that students and faculty members had ever been gathered in order to commence school operations.15

During his time in Montgomery County, Bentley became active within the Sandy Spring Quaker community. He quickly became a prominent member of the Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting, which was located only a few miles from his home in Brookeville. Bentley performed multiple duties within the meeting. These included several appointments to attend the Quarterly Meeting in Baltimore, a gathering of many Quaker representatives from throughout Maryland. He also periodically acted as clerk of the meetings, keeping a written record of the monthly meeting minutes.16 Bentley was also one of the elders of the Society of Friends, meaning that he would have played an important administrative role within the meetings.17 Bentley's wife, Henrietta, played similar roles in the Sandy Spring Women's Meeting, and was herself appointed several times to attend the Baltimore Quarterly Meeting. She also played a part in several committees designed to ensure that the Monthly Meetings were successful and well documented.18 Caleb embraced certain Quaker ideologies, particularly the love which Quakers held for their family and friends. He would often correspond with his family members outside of Brookeville, expressing love and fondness for all of them, and showing genuine concern for the health and safety of both family and friends alike. Though Bentley owned at least two slaves, likely an inheritance, he seemed opposed to slavery. In 1815 he freed both of his slaves on the conviction "that natural freedom is the right of all men."19 In fact, Bentley was involved in aiding free blacks in both business and personal endeavors. However, Bentley was involved in the sale of slaves, acting several times as a lender or co-signer on loans for Montgomery County residents meant specifically for the purchase of slaves.20 In addition, the cotton that was processed in the Triadelphia mills was likely provided in part by slave labor.

In the last decade of his life, Bentley sold a significant portion of his land holdings, and invested a large portion of his monetary savings into various public works and bank stocks in Washington, D.C. and other nearby areas. These investments included the Washington Turnpike Corporation, the Bank of the Metropolis, the Farmers & Merchants Bank of Georgetown, and the Baltimore and Frederick Turnpike, for a total investment principal of $10,813. Including his private savings, which totaled $1,274, Bentley had a net worth of approximately $12,087 in 1850, which was a large sum during his lifetime.21 By the time he passed away, Bentley had willed the majority of his real and personal estate to his son Richard T. Bentley, leaving only between $2,000 and $5,000 per person to his wife Henrietta, his two daughters Mary and Sarah, his daughter-in-law Edith, and his grandson Louis Marshall Warfield. He also willed small pieces of his property holdings to his daughters.21 Bentley had remained a faithful and active Quaker throughout his entire adult life, and as such, he was buried at the Sandy Spring Meeting House cemetery upon his death on July 13, 1851.23

Kyle Bacon, DAR Research Fellow, 2012


  1. Esther B. Stabler, "Triadelphia: Forgotten Maryland Town," Maryland Historical Magazine 43, no. 2 (1948), 108-120Although Stabler's article is poorly cited, her descendancy from the greater Brooke family, her ownership of primary documents, and her general accuracy with corroborative details makes her account of Triadelphia (the only scholarly one to date) fairly reliable.
  2. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting Church Records: 1824-1964, 1736-1969, 1758-1979. First set of memberships, births, and deaths in chart form, p. 1 [MSA SCM 2250]. See also Deborah Thomas for Hannah Briggs and Margaret Elgar, "account of Sarah Bentley's last illness and dying expression," Sandy Spring Museum, Sandy Spring, MD.
  3. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting; Births, Deaths, and Membership, 1730-1895; Minutes, Women, 1811-1824. Deaths, p. 4 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3].
  4. Ibid., Births, pp. 25-26.
  5. United States Postal Service. Postmaster Finder, Postmaster by City: Brookeville Post Office, Montgomery County Maryland.
  6. Laws of Maryland 1814, Chapter 12. Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 633 p. 10 
  7. William Charles Allen. History of the United States Capitol: A Chronicle of Design, Construction, and Politics. (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 2001), p. 24. 
  8. "100 Dollars Reward" Federal Republican [Georgetown, DC] March 15, 1813, p. 3. This advertisement pertains to a watch-making shop in Georgetown that was broken into and had several items taken. Among these items was a watch listed as being made by Caleb Bentley from Brook Meadow.
  9. Stabler, "Triadelphia: Forgotten Maryland Town." 
  10. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) February 19, 1810, Liber O, p. 440. Deed, Greenberry Murphy to Caleb and Joseph E Bentley, lot 17 in Brookeville [MSA CE 148-15]; MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) 1816-1817, Liber T, p. 101. Deed, George Thompson to George Gassaway, lot 47 in Brookeville [MSA CE 148-21].
  11. CHANCERY COURT (Chancery Papers). Anthony Smith, W. Murray, Isaac Owens, Philip J. Thomas, and O.S.S. Hawood vs. Robert Williams alias Negro Bob, 1805, MdHR 17,898-4015-1 [MSA S512-4133, 1/36/4/9].
  12. MONTGOMERY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Insolvency Record) 1827-1834, p. 357-361 [MSA T939-1, 1/13/9/34].
  13. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) December 27, 1808, Liber O, p. 207. Mortgage, Caleb Bentley to Greenberry Murphy, $200 for lot 17 in Brookeville [MSA CE 148-15]; Ibid., October 7, 1819, Liber U, p. 594. Mortgage, Caleb Bentley to Joseph E. Bentley, several household items [MSA CE 148-22]; Ibid., April 28, 1838, BS, Liber 8, p. 623. Mortgage, Caleb Bentley to William Bowen, $400 cash loan [MSA CE 148-34].
  14. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) March 10, 1825, Liber X, p. 582. Deed, Caleb Bentley calling in the debts of John McCauley [MSA CE 148-25].
  15. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) March 8, 1804, Liber L, p. 279. Deed, Caleb Bentley and others purchasing land near Brookeville to found the Sandy Spring Boarding School [MSA CE 148-12]. 
  16. Indian Spring Monthly Meeting; Minutes (Sandy Spring) October 23, 1801, Caleb Bentley appointed to attend Baltimore Quarterly Meeting [MSA SC 2978, SCM 638-1].
  17. Quarterly Meeting for the Western Shore; Minutes, Ministers and Elders, 1815-1891, March 10, 1829, p. 60 [MSA SC 3123 SCM 576-1]. See also: Catherine C. Lavoie. "Thomas-Bentley House (Madison House), 205 Market Street, Brookeville, MD," Historic American Buildings Survey Report (HABS No. MD-1375). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2011, p. 23.
  18. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes, Women: April 19, 1811 meeting minutes [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3].
  19. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) July 17, 1815, Liber S-19, p. 265. Manumission, Caleb Bentley to Negro Esther and others [MSA CE 148-19].
  20. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) February 11, 1802, Liber K, p. 135-136. Bill of Sale, Israel Leeke to Caleb Bentley and Samuel Leeke, several household items [MSA CE 148-11].
  21. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE TAX (Assessment Record) 1850 Tax Assessment, District 5, p. 383 [MSA C1110-4, 1/18/14/20].
  22. MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Estate Record) December 21, 1846, Last Will and Testament of Caleb Bentley (death reported July 22, 1851), Liber HH 3, p. 262 [MSA C1138-32].
  23. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting; Births, Deaths, and Membership: Deaths, pp. 11-12 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3].

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