Josiah Dent

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Josiah Dent
President of the Board of Commissioners of Washington, D.C.
In office
President Rutherford B. Hayes
James A. Garfield
Chester A. Arthur
Preceded by Seth Ledyard Phelps
Succeeded by Joseph R. West
Personal details
Born 1817
Charles County, Maryland
Died 1899
Berkeley Springs, West Virginia
Resting place Oak Hill Cemetery
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Profession Attorney, Politician

Josiah Dent (1817–1899) was the third president of the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia, serving from 1879 to 1882.


Dent was born in Charles County, Maryland, in 1817. His father was an Episcopal priest who served in a Maryland regiment during the Revolutionary War. He became an attorney in the 1840s and set up a practice in St. Louis, Missouri. In the following decade, a cholera epidemic broke out in St. Louis, and Dent became a prominent relief worker and organizer. He remained in St. Louis until 1861, when the Civil War began, at which time he moved to Washington, D.C. Dent never argued law in the D.C. courts, but had a thriving wartime practice as the custodian of absentee properties: because his strong sympathies for the Democratic Party were well known, Washington and District residents who joined the Confederacy would leave their property in his care to maintain and protect from government confiscation.

After the Civil War, Dent became the president of the board of directors of Linthicum Institute, an educational institution founded by a bequest of $50,000 in the will of Dent's father-in-law Edward M. Linthicum (a prominent socialite and philanthropist in Georgetown). The institute was an alternative educational institution for young men who could not otherwise afford college. It became host over its existence to hundreds of male students, making Dent's reputation as a deeply committed educator.

Dent was, in 1874, a member of the Congressionally mandated committee that recommended the disposal of the territorial government and the formulation of a three-member board of commissioners (one Democrat, one Republican, and one nonaffiliated planning engineer) for the District of Columbia. In July 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Dent as the Democratic commissioner on that board.

Dent became president of the board in the following year, after the resignation of Seth Ledyard Phelps, serving until July 1882. During his term as board president, Dent was noted for improving the relations between the capital city and the U.S. Treasury. After his term as commissioner expired, Dent lived in Georgetown until 1889, when he married his second wife and moved to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia where he died in 1899. He was buried in Washington's Oak Hill Cemetery.


Political offices
Preceded by
Seth Ledyard Phelps
President of the D.C. Board of Commissioners
1879 — 1882
Succeeded by
Joseph Rodman West