Tobias Henson, a slave in the Anacostia area, purchased his freedom in 1813. Through the 1820s and '30s, Henson bought twenty-four acres of land called “The Ridge” located in the Anacostia Community known as Congress Heights. Making his final payment in 1826, Tobias transformed the land into a farm and family homestead.
He also bought the freedom of his wife and one daughter, Matilda. However, in order to purchase the freedom of his daughter Mary, Tobias was forced to take out a loan from the same slaveholder from whom he had purchased Matilda. To secure the $155 loan, Tobias had to put his daughter Mary Henson Addison up as collateral.. That meant that if through the slightest misfortune Tobias found himself unable to repay the loan, his daughter Mary would have been returned to the bondage of slavery. Tobias did not default on the loan. He also bought the freedom of five grandchildren.
Henson added to his landholdings, and although he died in the 1840s, by the 1870s his family was the principal landholder in the black community of Stantontown, established near what is now the intersection of Stanton Road and Alabama Avenue in Southeast, Washington, D.C.
They remained on the land until the 1940s, when THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONDEMNED THE COMMUNITY to build the Frederick Douglass public housing project.
An apartment complex on Savannah Street, S.E. was named after him. Then, at the turn of the 21st Century, Henson Ridge was constructed, a new 600-unit community replacing Frederick Douglass and Stanton Dwellings, two adjacent public housing developments located in the heart of Anacostia and Congress Heights. The new Henson Ridge development includes all new infrastructure -- streets, sidewalks, and alleyways -- a new community center, new parks and open spaces as well as significant investment in neighborhood schools with the building of a new elementary school. The development includes 320 home ownership units targeted to households with a range of incomes. The 280 rental homes serve a mix of public housing and moderate-income families.
The housing mix includes 42 senior bungalows, 28 stacked-flat apartments and 530 townhouses. An onsite adult training center was designed to provide education, job training, entrepreneurship and mentoring programs, a state-of-the-art computer-learning center, and self-sufficiency programs. The long-term plan for Henson Ridge includes a commitment for job referrals for DCHA residents who complete the requisite job training. The site is located on land previously owned by Tobias Henson.