Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Joseph E. Bentley (1789-1865)
MSA SC 3520-15904


Born on June 21, 1789 in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Son of Ellis (b. 1749) and Alice Bentley (b. 1753). Married Anna Briggs on August 26, 1812 in Montgomery County, Maryland. 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 October 27, 1865 in Columbiana County, Ohio.

Joseph E. Bentley was a member of the Bentley family, a large family of Quakers throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland. Although several members of his family, such as his uncle Caleb Bentley, were prominent figures on both a local and national scale, Joseph was never able to reach the elite status of his family and community members, and would lead a life fraught with hardship and financial despair. He and his family moved frequently throughout Maryland, and when the realization set in that no true job prospects existed for Joseph in Maryland, he moved his family to the frontier lands of Ohio, where they would finally settle as farmers in the Quaker community of Columbiana.

In 1809, at the age of 20, Bentley moved from his birthplace in eastern Pennsylvania to the town of Brookeville in Montgomery County, Maryland.1 His uncle, Caleb Bentley, had been living in Brookeville for several years, and was the Postmaster of the town by the time of Joseph's arrival.2 In 1810, Joseph bought a home in downtown Brookeville with Caleb's assistance, only a few houses down from Caleb's residence.3 Two years after becoming a property owner, Joseph married Anna Briggs, the daughter of nationally renowned surveyor and engineer Isaac Briggs.4

Although it seemed at this point that Joseph was on the right track to starting a family and becoming successful, his financial situation began taking a turn for the worse. Even before his marriage, Joseph was involved in several land purchases that appear to be attempts to take out loans from Caleb Bentley, as the land was often sold back to Caleb on the very same day, often for the same price.5 Although the circumstances are unclear, Joseph drove himself into major debt with several creditors during his time in Brookeville. In several letters between Isaac Briggs and his wife, Hannah, Isaac expressed deep concern for Joseph's financial well being. Isaac worried about having Joseph publicly address any of his financial obligations, because it could potentially draw the attention of Joseph's creditors and cause them to call in his debts, which implied that Joseph was neglecting his payments. 

The same correspondence indicated that Joseph was having a rather difficult time finding employment. Isaac had attempted on several occasions to give Joseph a job as an assistant during his time engineering the James River Canal in Virginia, but was unsuccessful since Joseph lacked any formal education in any specific trade.6 In 1821, Joseph's debts finally caught up with him. In January of 1821, Joseph was unable to repay his debts and petitioned the courts declare him insolvent. By February of 1821, Joseph was imprisoned for failing to repay his debts which amounted to over $2361. His father-in-law Isaac Briggs posted his bail and pledged to pay $4000 if Joseph failed to return to court.7 In 1822 John Kilgour, one of Joseph's creditors, forced Joseph to relinquish all of his real estate, and apparently all of his personal belongings, in order to repay the thousands of dollars in debt that he had acquired over the course of several years.8

After Joseph and Anna lost everything they had, Isaac Briggs continued to attempt to support them. In many letters to his family, Briggs requested that certain items such as oxen and other farm supplies be purchased for Joseph, so that he might be able to at least feed his family. By 1824, Joseph had taken up a post as Superintendent of the Triadelphia Cotton Factory, founded and run largely by his father-in-law. Joseph and Anna lived there with their young family, boarding farm-hands and factory employees in their home.9 However, this support was not enough to ensure that Joseph and his family would stay close to "Sharon," the Briggs's estate in the rural area surrounding Brookeville. In a letter to Isaac, Hannah Briggs expressed a deep concern for Joseph's "unsettled roving disposition," and her dislike for his propensity towards moving her daughter and their family around Maryland and Virginia as often as he did. During this difficult time in his life, Joseph lived in several different cities in search of employment, including Fredericktown, Maryland and Richmond, Virginia.10

By 1826, Joseph had exhausted all of his efforts to find employment in Maryland and Virginia. During that same year, many Quakers were uprooting themselves and establishing new settlements in what was then the American frontier lands. Joseph, Anna, and their children decided to leave their lives of debt and despair in Maryland behind and move to the Quaker community of Columbiana, Ohio. The first several months in Ohio were difficult for Joseph and his family, because they had no actual home to stay in while they constructed their permanent residence. As such, the family resorted to staying in a small shack near their property. However, once their house was finished, Joseph was able to begin farming his land, and he eventually became much more successful than he ever had in Maryland.11 Despite Anna's reports of various bouts of sickness and minor hardships within their family, Joseph and his family led a seemingly contented agricultural lifestyle in the Ohio frontier. By 1860, Joseph had relieved himself of his debts, and had acquired over 3,000 dollars in real estate, as well as several hundred dollars in personal property.12 However, by 1865, Joseph had become physically exhausted from the many years of toiling on his farm. He passed away at his home in Ohio on October 27, 1865, at the age of 76.13

Kyle Bacon, DAR Research Fellow, 2012.


  1. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) November 5, 1809, Liber O, p. 376. Deed, Thomas Moore to Joseph E. Bentley, section of tract of land called "Charley's Forest" [MSA CE 148-15].
  2. United States Postal Service. Postmaster Finder, Postmaster by City: Brookeville Post Office, Montgomery County Maryland.
  3. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) February 19, 1810, Liber O, p. 440. Deed, Greenberry Murphy to Joseph E. and Caleb Bentley, Lot 17 in Brookeville [MSA CE 148-15].
  4. 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, pp. 265-266 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 639-1].
  5. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records)1809-1810, Liber O, pp. 376, 378, 440. Deeds, Joseph E. Bentley purchasing land and lot 17 in Brookeville, Maryland, and part of a tract called "Addition to Charley Forrest" [MSA CE 148-15]; Ibid., December 31, 1811, Liber P, p. 413. Deed, Caleb Bentley to Joseph E Bentley, lot 56 in Brookeville [MSA CE 148-16]; Ibid., October 17, 1819, Liber U, p. 594. Mortgage, Caleb Bentley to Joseph E. Bentley, several household items [MSA CE 148-22].
  6. Isaac Briggs, et. al. Briggs-Stabler Papers, 1793-1910. Maryland Historical Society collection no. MS 147, Box 2, 1819 folder, July 11, 1819. Letter from Isaac Briggs to his wife and children.
  7. MONTGOMERY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Insolvency Papers) 1819-1949, 17 Jan. 1821, Petition and Bond of Joseph E. Bentley [MSA T940-1].
  8. MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) March 11, 1822, Liber W, p. 1. Deed in Trust, Joseph E. Bentley relinquishing real estate and personal property to John Kilgour [MSA CE 148-24].
  9. 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.
  10. Briggs-Stabler Papers. Box 2, 1819 folder, May 29, 1819. Letter from Hannah Briggs to Isaac Briggs; Ibid, 1821 folder, April 3, 1821. Letter from Isaac Briggs to Hannah Briggs requesting that Hannah purchase a pair of oxen for Joseph.
  11. Emily Foster, ed., American Grit: A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier. (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2002). This book includes a large collection of letters from Joseph's wife, Anna Briggs Bentley, who had relocated with her family to Ohio by 1826, to her family in the Sandy Spring region of Montgomery County, Maryland.
  12. Ibid.; Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, Population Schedule, West Columbiana, Ohio, Roll M432_669, p. 404B, Image 812; Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, Population Schedule, West Columbiana, Ohio, Roll M653_948, p. 155, Image 314.
  13. Emily Foster, ed. American Grit, p. 293.

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