James Clinton Dent was born into slavery in 1855 in Charles County, Maryland. It is believed that he gained his freedom after the United States’ abolition of slavery in 1864. In the 1870s, Dent moved to Washington, D.C., where he took up residence in a part of the city known as “the island” that was separated from the rest of D.C. by the Washington and James Creek canals.
Dent married his wife Mary and worked as a laborer for several years. In 1885, Mary Dent was one of 26 parishioners at Rehoboth Baptist Church who broke away to establish a new congregation called Mr. Moriah. Ten months later, at the age of 30, James C. Dent stepped in to replace the founding minister after he had moved on. Over the course of 22 years, Reverend Dent expanded Mr. Moriah from a small group meeting in a private home to a larger church building near 2nd and M streets.
In 1906, Reverend Dent purchased a lot just a few blocks from his church and hired architect William James Palmer, who was praised by the Washington Post for buildings he had built in Mount Pleasant, to design a two-story freestanding brick house. Sadly, Dent died two years later, after which Mary Dent made a living renting out rooms to boarders.
Today the James C. Dent House serves as a living classroom, dedicated to providing educational services for both youth and adults living in the neighborhood. The freestanding house still sticks out prominently as a beacon of the giving spirit that Dent embodied during his lifetime.
Though the original church building was bought by the D.C. government and razed as part of an urban renewal project, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church lives on at 1636 East Capitol Street in northeast D.C.
Know Before You Go
James C. Dent House sits across from Fort McNair in the Buzzard Point neighborhood of southwest Washington, D.C.