Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)


Henrietta Thomas Bentley (1782-1860)
MSA SC 3520-15907

Biography:

Born on December 9, 1782 in Montgomery County, Maryland. Daughter of Samuel and Mary Thomas. Married to Caleb Bentley on August 6, 1807. Three children: Mary Thomas Bentley (b. 1808); Sarah Brooke Bentley (b. 1814); Richard Thomas Bentley (b. 1819). Died on May 10, 1860 in Sandy Spring, Montgomery County, Maryland.

Henrietta Bentley was born in 1782 in Montgomery County, Maryland. She was the daughter of Samuel and Mary Thomas.1 Samuel was the brother of Richard Thomas Jr., who was the principle founder of the town of Brookeville, Maryland. She married Caleb Bentley in August of 1807, two years after the death of his first wife.2 Bentley was a notable silversmith, creator of one of the cornerstones of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., Postmaster of Brookeville, and co-founder of the town of Triadelphia. Henrietta was the mother of three children; Mary Thomas Bentley, Sarah Brooke Bentley, and Richard Thomas Bentley.3 Henrietta and Caleb Bentley's home in Brookeville would gain notoriety during the War of 1812 with the arrival and overnight stay of President James Madison.

Though little is known of her life before adulthood, on August 26, 1814, Henrietta Bentley briefly stepped into the national spotlight. By this date, the War of 1812 had been raging on for over two years. By August of 1814, British troops had begun to make their assault on Washington. They burned many public buildings, including the White House and the Capitol Building. During this assault, President James Madison fled the city with several members of his cabinet, as well as a military guard. By August 26, he had arrived in Brookeville, which was only approximately eighteen miles from Washington. 

According to local legend, Madison had a difficult time finding respite upon his arrival in Brookeville, which was a largely Quaker town. One of the main tenets of the Quaker faith is a dedication to pacifism, an ideal that Madison could not meet easily, since he had ultimately perpetrated the War of 1812. Local lore holds that Madison and his party were turned away by the first two homes in which they sought shelter, due to the owners of the homes not wishing to house members of the military. The third house that he and his party sought shelter at was the home of Caleb and Henrietta Bentley. The Bentleys were initially unaware of the fact that President Madison was a member of the party that was seeking shelter, but they were soon made aware of his presence after they accepted the party into their home. The following day, the president and his party left Brookeville to return to Washington. Henrietta's home, which has since come to be known as the "Madison House," acted as the White House for one single day, and thus, Brookeville has since become known as the "United States Capital for a day."4 

Henrietta was an active member of the local Quaker community in Sandy Spring. Even though she owned as many as six slaves before her marriage to Caleb Bentley, Henrietta joined with the Society of Friends' when they declared slavery to be morally wrong. She manumitted all six of her slaves in 1801.5 During her lifetime, she was appointed several times to attend the Baltimore Quarterly Meeting, a large gathering of several local Quaker communities that occurred once every three months, where administrative matters within the church were discussed. She also held service positions within the Sandy Spring Women's Meeting, serving on a board that was responsible for recording the meeting minutes, as well as preserving the minutes that had already been recorded.6

Aside from a short period of time in the 1830s when their family moved to Georgetown, Henrietta and Caleb Bentley spent the majority of their married life in Montgomery County, Maryland. Over the first half of the 19th century, Caleb acquired a considerable amount of wealth through the buying and selling of land throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, various investments in local business and public works projects, and through his work as a silversmith and as the Postmaster of Brookeville.7 Upon his death in July of 1851, Henrietta inherited $5,000 of her late husband's wealth, with the rest being willed to her children and grandchildren.8 By this time, Henrietta and her children were no longer living in Brookeville, but had relocated within the Sandy Spring region. Henrietta died on May 10, 1860 at the age of 77.9 She willed all of her property to her son, Richard.10

Kyle Bacon, DAR Research Fellow, 2012.

Notes:

  1. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting: Births, Deaths, and Membership: Birth Records, pp. 1-2 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3]. 
  2. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting Church Records: Membership Records, pp. 17-18, Marriage of Caleb Bentley and Sarah Brooke, death of Sarah Brooke [MSA SCM 2250].; Monthly Meeting at the Clifts Collection, marriage certificates from Sandy Spring, West River, and Indian Springs meetings, marriage certificate, Caleb Bentley and Henrietta Thomas, August 26, 1807, pp. 248-250 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 639-1].
  3. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting: Births, Deaths, and Membership, 1730-1895, Birth Records, pp. 25-26 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3].
  4. 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), pp. 37-40.
  5. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) 18 Feb. 1801, Liber I, p. 363, Manumission, Henrietta Thomas to Negro Janny and others [MSA CE 148-10]; Montgomery County Court (Land Records) 24 March 1801, Liber I, p. 385, Manumission, Henrietta Thomas to Negro Andrew and others [MSA CE 148-10].
  6. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting: Minutes, Women: April 19, 1811 meeting minutes [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3].
  7. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE TAX (Assessment Record) 1852 Tax Assessment, District 4 [MSA C1110-4, 1/18/14/20]. 
  8. MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Estate Record), Liber HH 3, p. 262. Will of Caleb Bentley, 1851 [MSA C1138-32].
  9. Sandy Spring Monthly Meeting: Births, Deaths, and Membership:, Death Records, p. 11 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 667-3]. 
  10. MONTGOMERY COUNTY REGISTER OF WILLS (Wills) 1860, Will of Henrietta Bentley, Liber JWS 1, p. 56.  [MSA T1736-1, 1/17/8/46]
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