Henson family papers, 1818-1943, bulk 1830-1900
Digitized Content

Summary
Collection ID:
ACMA.06-030
Creators:
Henson family
Dates:
1818-1943
bulk 1830-1900
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
0.18 linear feet
1 box
Repository:
Anacostia Community Museum Archives
The Henson Family papers, which date from 1818 to 1943 and measure 0.18 linear feet, document the activities of Tobias Henson and his descendants. The papers are comprised of booklets, correspondence, legal documents, and receipts.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
This collection documents the activities of Tobias Henson and his descendants between 1818 and 1943. It contains materials related to the Hensons' financial and legal activities. Included in the collection are booklets, correspondence, deeds and titles, legal documents, and receipts.
Arrangement The papers are organized into four series. The content of each series is arranged alphabetically. The series are arranged as follows:
Series I: Financial Records Series II: Legal Records Series III: Printed Materials Series IV: Miscellaneous

Arrangement note
Arrangement note
The collection is arranged by series: 1) Financial Records, 2) Legal Records, 3) Printed Materials, 4) Miscellaneous.

Biographical/Historical note
Biographical/Historical note
The history of the Hensons begins with the family's patriarch, Tobias Henson. Mr. Henson was a slave in the Washington, DC area during the 18th and 19th centuries and, given his family's history, it is apparent that he was a man with an ambitious mission: to attain the American dream. He had two tasks to accomplish if he were to see his dream realized. First he had to gain freedom for himself and his family. Second he had to purchase property upon which he could build a home, and from which he could earn a living.
He took the first step in 1813 when he purchased himself from his slave master, thus gaining his freedom. Next he purchased his wife, Elizabeth. In April of 1832 Mr. Henson purchased his daughter Matlinda Smith and her three children. In May of the following year he purchased his second daughter Mary Anderson.
With these purchases, Tobias Henson became a slaveholder, with his wife and children his slaves. Ever resourceful, Mr. Henson used this to his advantage; he rented out his daughters for income and used them as collateral for loans. With the income he generated, he purchased the freedom of his other family members. In fact, he used his daughters, Matlinda and Mary, as collateral for a loan he acquired to purchase Mary's freedom.
In addition to purchasing his freedom in 1813, Tobias Henson entered into an agreement to buy land in the Anacostia section of Washington, DC. The land, named the Ridge, consisted of twenty-four acres located in the Congress Heights section of Anacostia. He made payments on the Ridge until 1826, at which time he made the final payment and became the legal owner. Initially Mr. Henson farmed the land, but as his family grew he subdivided the acreage so that the members of his family could experience their own American dream.
Over the subsequent decades members of the Henson family continued to purchase land in the area surrounding the Ridge; at one point they were one of the largest landowners in the Anacostia section of Washington, DC. The family maintained residence on various parts of the land from the time of its purchase until the middle of the 20th century. Title records filed with the District of Columbia show that, in 1931, the portion of the Ridge that Tobias Henson gave to his grandson, Richard Smith, was still in possession of his descendants. But that was the exception. Most of the Henson family's real estate was either sold or "taken" by the government under the auspices of eminent domain. Just a decade after this title was filed, the federal government made plans to take what remained of the Ridge.
The family did all they could to save the legacy of Tobias Henson. They contacted local and federal government officials in an attempt to stave off what would amount to the destruction of an important piece of black history dating from antebellum Washington, DC. When they had exhausted all of the possibilities, they made a last ditch appeal to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. In a 1943 letter they pleaded,
At the present there are some thirteen or fourteen families living on this land, which is still designated as the Ridge, and with only one or two exceptions, these families are the direct descendants of Tobian [sic] Henson…we do not feel that taking our homes will aid in the War Effort or in the Ideals of Democracy.
Unfortunately, their plea went unanswered; the land was taken by the government and the houses thereon where razed.

Digital Content

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Access note
Use of the materials requires an appointment. Please contact the archivist to make an appointment: ACMarchives@si.edu.
Preferred Citation note
Henson family papers, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Dr. Myrtle Henson.

Related Materials
Anacostia Historical Society Records.

Custodial History note
Custodial History note
The Henson family papers were donated to the Anacostia Community Museum in 2004 by Dr. Myrtle Henson.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Leaflets Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Slavery -- United States Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African American soldiers Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Financial records Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Free blacks Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African Education Society Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Colonization Society Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Newsletters Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Public housing Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Eminent domain Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African American neighborhoods Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Freedmen Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Account books Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African American families Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Receipts Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Washington (D.C.) Place Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Legal documents Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Anacostia (Washington, D.C.) Place Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Henson, Tobias Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Henson family Family Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Anacostia Community Museum Archives
1901 Fort Place, SE
Washington, D.C. 20020
ACMArchives@si.edu