Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)


Anna Briggs Bentley (1796-1890)
MSA SC 3520-15905

Biography:

Born on May 18, 1796 in Montgomery County, Maryland. Daughter of Isaac Briggs and Hannah Briggs. Married Joseph E. Bentley on August 20, 1812. Thirteen children (nine survived to adulthood): Granville Sharp Bentley (1813-1898); Franklin Hamilton Bentley (1815-1889); Maria Bentley (1817-1897); Edward Bentley (1819-1824); Thomas Moore Bentley (1821-1867); Hannah B. Bentley (1823-1866); Deborah R. Bentley (1825-1905); Aliceanna Bentley (1828-1880); Edmunds Bentley (1831-1842); Caroline Elizabeth Bentley (1834-1917); Alban Bentley (1836-1923); Margaretta Bentley (1839-1842); and Joseph Garrigues Bentley (1842-1842). Died on August 1, 1890 in Salem, Ohio.

Anna Briggs Bentley was the daughter of Hannah Briggs and Isaac Briggs. Isaac was a nationally renowned engineer, surveyor, champion of domestic agriculture, associate to both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and co-founder of the mill town of Triadelphia, Maryland. Anna was born near Sandy Spring, a largely Quaker community in Montgomery County, Maryland.1 She grew up near the town of Brookeville, Maryland, which had been founded by her uncle-in-law, Richard Thomas Jr. In 1812, she married Joseph E. Bentley, who had moved to Brookeville from Pennsylvania to live and engage in business with his uncle, Caleb Bentley.2 After experiencing financial difficulties throughout Maryland, Anna and her family moved to a Quaker community in Columbiana County, Ohio in 1826. In Ohio, Anna and her family struggled for several years to achieve stability, but eventually were able to do so, primarily through farming. Anna gave birth to a remarkable thirteen children, though only nine survived until adulthood, and of those nine, only six outlived Anna.3

During her childhood and early adulthood, Anna's father Isaac spent a great deal of time away from his family because of the nature of his employment. He spent several years surveying the Mississippi Territory acquired by Thomas Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase, as well as several months at a time acting as one of the chief engineers of the Erie Canal in New York, and the James River Canal in Virginia. Because of his frequent absences, Isaac urged his family to write him as often as possible. Anna and the rest of her family would write letters to Isaac nearly every week, discussing such matters as daily life at "Sharon," the Briggs family's homestead in Montgomery County, as well as strengthening their Quaker faith and keeping up with their studies.4 

One major issue that Anna often discussed with her father was the fact that her husband Joseph, who she married in 1812, was experiencing persistent financial troubles. Because he had not received any formal education, finding employment in Maryland proved to be extremely challenging. Anna and her family moved from town to town within the state looking for jobs, all the while acquiring a significant amount of debt in Joseph's name. Her father Isaac often tried to help Anna and Joseph by providing money, farming supplies, and even offering potential work, although Joseph was often unqualified for the positions being offered.5 By 1824, her husband Joseph had taken up employment at the Triadelphia factory as superintendent. Anna and Joseph lived at Triadelphia for a number of years, a time that their son Granville Sharpe Bentley would remember fondly.6 Joseph's unfortunate employment situation persisted until Isaac's death in 1825. By this time, Anna and her family had essentially run out of options in Maryland, and as such, they packed their belongings and headed to a Quaker community in Columbiana, Ohio.

Although the move from Maryland to Ohio was arduous, Anna and her family made it to Columbiana County without any major incidents. Upon their arrival, they established a temporary home in a small cabin near their newly purchased property with another family who had also recently moved to the area. In letters sent to her family in Maryland, Anna expressed apprehension towards her new life in Ohio, which was often exacerbated by the fact that she felt rather claustrophobic in the small cabin filled with two families. However, with the assistance of fellow community members, Joseph was able to clear several acres of their land and construct a formidable home for his family. Although Anna and her children struggled with sickness and injury for the first several years in Ohio, their neighbors and community members proved to be quite supportive of the Bentley family, providing them with food, clothing, support with labor, and friendship. Anna often wrote to her family about how fortunate and thankful she felt to have ended up in such a supportive community with people so willing to help, often not expecting anything but fellowship in return. 

By the mid 1830s, Joseph and Anna had put enough work into their farm to make it profitable, not only with the produce that was grown, but also with a large coal deposit located on their property. With their increasing income, Joseph and Anna quickly compiled a considerable amount of livestock, including chickens, ducks, turkeys, cattle, and sheep. Aside from the farm, both Anna and Joseph had been chosen by the community to teach young children in school houses that were built near their property, which was an appointment that they both accepted and embraced.7

In the early years of their established life in Ohio, Anna would often take community members into her family's home for a variety of reasons. She took in elderly neighbors who had no other family to care for them, young children who had become burdens on their parents, or even distant family members who had unexpectedly arrived in the area in search of work. In keeping with traditional Quaker values of love and respect, Anna would often state in her letters to her family in Maryland that she loved each of her visitors as her family, whether it be an elder that she loved as a father or a distant cousin who she loved like a sibling.8

The decades following the establishment of Anna and Joseph's farm, which they aptly named "Green Hill" because of its fertile nature, would find Anna and the rest of her family falling into a familiar routine for the time period. Because Anna was in a near-constant state of mild infirmity, suffering daily headaches and body aches, frequent rashes, and generally mild cases of cold and flu, she was often confined to her home, leading a busy life of sewing, cooking, and caring for her many children, who were also subjected to frequent illness. However, she did sometimes find the inclination to visit with her community members. She often retreated to the homes of friends and neighbors for day trips or overnight stays and helped her close friends care for their children and attend to daily chores; a favor that her friends would often return by joining Anna and her family at Green Hill to provide any assistance they could. 

Anna had a considerable amount of children: thirteen in total. Eventually, Anna's oldest sons, Granville and Franklin, left home to pursue trades such as wagon construction, carpentry, and cabinet making, but would return annually to help their father with harvesting their various crops. Unfortunately, she would experience the loss of several of her children, some dying within days of childbirth, and others being lost to sickness or accidents in their youth. Despite these great losses, Anna was fortunate enough to see many of her children grow into thriving and successful adults, with many learning useful trades or sustaining successful marriages.9

By 1865, Anna's husband Joseph had become physically worn out after many years of working his farm. He died in October of that year at the age of 76. The following years would bring many more losses for Anna, including the loss of many of her fully grown children and their spouses, brought on by sickness, disease, or accidents. After Joseph's death, Anna remained at Green Hill, where Granville had come to live and assume agricultural responsibility. She grew rather frail in her later years, but nonetheless lived far beyond the life expectancy of the average female in her time period. She passed away peacefully on August 1st, 1890, at the age of 94. The author of her obituary reiterated Anna's kindness and generosity, stating that she and her family "were renowned for their hospitality and enjoyed the esteem of a large circle of friends."10

Kyle Bacon, DAR Research Fellow, 2012.

Notes:

  1. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting: Births, Deaths, and Membership: Births, pp. 23 & 29 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3]. 
  2. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes, Women, 1811-1824 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3]. In this segment of the meeting minutes for the early months of 1812, Anna and Joseph declare their intention to marry, and by August of that year, the marriage was declared a success; Monthly Meeting at the Clifts Collection, marriage certificates from Sandy Spring, West River, and Indian Springs meetings, marriage certificate, Joseph E Bentley and Anna Briggs, August 26, 1812, p. 265-266 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 639-1].
  3. Emily Foster, ed. American Grit: A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier. (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2002), pp. 317-320. This is a compilation of letters written from Anna Bentley to several of her family members in Maryland between 1826 and her death in 1891. It is an invaluable resource pertaining to Anna, as it contains nearly monthly insights into the events of her life in Ohio. In addition, it gives incredibly detailed physical and personal descriptions of each of her family members, including Joseph and each of her children, and provides photographs of Anna, several of her children, and several of her other various relatives.
  4. Isaac Briggs, et. al. Briggs-Stabler Papers, 1793-1910. Maryland Historical Society collection no. MS 147. This collection includes a variety of personal correspondence between Isaac and Hannah Briggs, as well as letters to and from several of his children, including Anna.
  5. Ibid., Box 2, 1819 folder, July 11, 1819. Letter from Isaac Briggs to his wife and children in which he expresses his concern for Joseph's financial situation, and the fact that he is unable to procure employment for Joseph due to his lack of trade skills; Ibid., 1821 folder, April 3, 1821. Letter from Isaac Briggs to Hannah Briggs requesting that Hannah purchase a pair of oxen for Joseph.
  6. Letter, G.S. Bentley to Dear Cousins E. and F., Green Hill, Ohio, 18 April 1889, Sandy Spring Museum, Sandy Spring, MD; Letter, Sarah Briggs to Deborah Briggs Boud, Sharon, 23 July 1824, Sandy Spring Museum.
  7. Foster, American Grit, pp. 38-39, 78.
  8. Ibid., pp. 21-308. Anna's propensity to speak of her love for her family, as well as her propensity to board friends and family is a recurring theme throughout her series of letters.
  9. Ibid., Anna speaks of the various illnesses that she and her neighbors and family experience in nearly every single letter that is featured in the compilation.
  10. Ibid., p. 293; "Death of Mrs. Anna Bentley" Salem Daily News [Ohio], August 4, 1890, p. 4.

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