Researchers have recently realized that a property Bethesda, MD officials purchased for $1 million at the height of the housing bubble is not, in fact, the site of the 'real' Uncle Tom's Cabin. While Josiah Henson -- a Maryland slave who escaped to freedom in Canada, founded a runaway communitee, and penned a memoir that inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel -- did live in the vicinity of the house (i.e. in the slave quarters on the surrounding plantation), he did not live in the house itself or in the attached cabin (see below). The 'cabin,' in fact, is not a cabin at all. Built in 1850, years after Henson had escaped slavery, the 'cabin' was initially used as a kitchen.
As we speak, Montgomery County is -- according to the Washington Post -- looking for ways to turn this boondoggle into a boon for the greater DC area and for students of history everywhere. Henson's cabin or not, I feel this might be an excellent opportunity to bring the history of plantation slavery to the Nation's Capital and its many vistors. While a former plantation (i.e. Arlington) is among the DC area's most visited sites, many visitors quite understandly overlook this aspect of the site's history. Looking out from the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, it's difficult to register a parallel sense of historical grief and remember that that people were held here as chattel slaves. Among those who do know its history, many are so intoxicated by the Lee Mystique that they fail to consider the nastier dimensions of slave life that took place on and around the scattered graves.
That said, a new site -- unburdened by another body of history and another set of connotations -- might be a great asset to the many wonderful historic sites in and around DC. With more funding, more research, and more support, Bethesda might make something great from their mistake. A recognition of the history of slavery located just outside the Beltway would be a huge step forward.