Triumph of Henry and Arabella Cook
Original Owners of the Keyes House
by Debbie Robison
January 21, 2008
Keyes House FrontHow did emancipated slaves rise from poverty to become successful? This article examines the lives of Henry and Arabella Cook who were likely slaves before the Civil War; both living near the southern Fairfax County/Loudoun County border.






Keyes House, ca. 1884/5
Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Places





In 1870, Henry Cook was living near Arcola, Virginia (in Loudoun County) with his seven brothers and sisters and his parents, Israel and Caroline Cook.[1] The actual location may have been closer to the Fairfax County border, near Pleasant Valley, Virginia. In 1874, Israel Cook purchased 6 acres of land in Fairfax County near the Frying Pan community from the Hanna family.[2] He was deceased by 1880, and his widow and two youngest children continued to live on the Fairfax County tract.[3]


Henry, born in October 1849, was the eldest of the children. He, his parents, and siblings were all born in Virginia. When he was 22 years old, he worked as a laborer. By then he knew how to read and write, though his parents were illiterate.[4] In 1872, Henry Cook married 18-year old Arabella Cook, who went by the nickname Belle. She was born in March 1854.[5]


The Cooks purchased 3 acres of land in 1878 from George L. Howard and A. B. Howard for sixty dollars near Henry’s parents’ property.[6] Their property is identified on the Hopkins Map of 1878 by the name “Hy Cook.”


Henry and Arabella Cook did not immediately build a house on the land. The census records of 1880 hint at the sacrifices made by the Cooks as they worked for a successful future. Though married, Henry Cook lived in A. B. Stowell’s household, and worked as a laborer, while Arabella Cook lived and worked nearby in Conrad Shear’s household at Sully as a servant.[7]


Rear of Keyes HouseLikely after saving up the funds through their separate employments, the Cooks had a house constructed on their three-acre farm by 1885, the first year the building was assessed for taxes.[8] The house was well constructed, and contained decorative hardware and moldings similar to houses constructed during that period in the nearby Floris area. Over the years, additions were constructed to the house. The house was originally two-stories high with the gable end of the house facing the street. The house was two bays wide in front, and two bays deep. Entrance into the house was through the four-panel front door located on the northeast corner of the dwelling. The first floor is composed of a large room dominated by a staircase on the southern wall that leads to the upstairs bedrooms. An interior-end chimney at the rear of the house allowed smoke from stoves to be carried away.


Fairfax County 1885 Road Case Map near FlorisThe location of the house is depicted on an 1885 road case map. [Note: The current house address is 2516 Squirrel Hill Road, and is owned by the Trustees of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. The house is listed on the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Places as the Keyes House. William Keyes purchased the house in 1925.[9]]


In 1900, Henry and Arabella Cook were living with Alice Goodwin in Washington, D.C. Henry worked at a Dry Goods Store, and Arabella worked as a cook.[10] By 1910, the Cooks were back home working their home farm.[11] The Cook’s may have owned and operated their own store near Floris, Virginia. In 1922 Annabelle Cook sold the store, previously known as Orrison’s Store, to Frances Shacklett, the same woman who would purchase the Cooks’ home two years later.[12]


Henry Cook was involved with the religious community, and very likely donated land for the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, located north of the present church. The land was part of the Israel Cook estate; Henry Cook sold off the balance of the estate lands in 1910.[13] Arabella Cook was also a church supporter. In her will, she donated $500 to have a kitchen/dining room building constructed for the Chantilly Baptist Church. This church was located on land purchased from Conrad Shear, for whom Arabella had worked as a servant.[14] The kitchen/dining room building exists, and bears Arabella Cook’s name.


Henry and Arabella Cook did not have any children, though they did have young relatives living with them for a time while they attended school. Alfonso Neal, a cousin, was twelve years old in 1910 when he was living with the Cooks. Mary F. Lee, another cousin, was thirteen years old in 1920 when she was living with Arabella Cook.[15]


Henry Cook died, possibly in early 1917. His will was probated February 14, 1917, and his list of heirs included his brother, Israel Cook, 6 sisters, and 15 nieces and nephews.[16] In 1920, his widow, Arabella, was sixty-five years old and operating the home farm. She owned her home free of a mortgage.[17] How many among us today can say the same?



Following is a list of Henry Cook’s heirs in 1917.[18]


Israel Cook, brother, full age, Cape May NJ

Mrs. Laura Delaney, sister, full age, 909 R N.W. Washington, D.C.

Mrs. Susie Harris, sister, full age, same address

Mrs. Cassie Devine, sister, full age, same address

Mrs. Kate Plummer, sister, full age, 3d & H. N.W. Washington, D.C.

Miss Lisha Cook, sister, full age, 9 Harwick Str. Boston, Mass.

Mrs. Augusta Washington, niece, full age, Herndon, Va.

Mrs. Mattie Hogan, niece, full age, same address

Miss Marian Lucas, niece, full age, same address

Miss Pinkey Lucas, niece, full age, same address

Mr. Zebedee Lucas, nephew, full age, same address

Miss Grace Ambrose, niece, full age, Falls Church, Va.

Miss Enla Ambrose, niece, full age, Falls Church, Va.

Mr. Henry Ambrose, nephew, full age, Falls Church, Va.

Mr. John Massey, nephew, full age, Falls Church, Va.

Miss Pauline Massey, niece, full age, Falls Church, Va.

Miss Effie Massey, niece, full age, Falls Church, Va.

Mr. Morton Grove, nephew, full age, address unknown

Miss Katie Grove, niece, full age, address unknown

Mr. James Cook, nephew, age not known, address unknown

Miss Susie Cook, niece, age not known, address unknown


[1] United States Federal Census, Arcola, Eastern District of Loudoun Virginia, 1870.

[2] Fairfax County Deed Book (FXDB) T4(98):320.

[3] United States Federal Census, 1880.

[4] United States Federal Census, 1870 and 1900.

[5] United States Federal Census, 1900.

[6] FXBD Z4(104):163, April 20, 1878.

[7] United States Federal Census, 1880.

[8] Susan Hellman, “Keyes House,” Fairfax County Landmarks Inventory Report, May 10, 2007.

[9] FX DB Q9(225):170, September 28, 1925.

[10] United States Federal Census, 1900.

[11] United States Federal Census, 1910.

[12] FXDB Z8(208):365, September 14, 1922.

[13] FXDB O9(223):68, April 29, 1910.

[14] Phyllis C. O’Neill, “Chantilly Baptist Church,” Voices of Chantilly, 1996, p. 154-157.

[15] United States Federal Census, 1910 and 1920.

[16] Fairfax County Will Book 6:112, February 14, 1917. Also, FXDB C8(185):544, February 14, 1917.

[17] United States Federal Census, 1920.

[18] FXDB C8(185):544, February 14, 1917.