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The Southern States of America
Biographies - The Henrys of Virginia

HENRYS OF VIRGINIA, The. About 1730 there came to Virginia John Henry, son of Alexander Henry and Jean Robertson, of Aberdeen, Scotland. John Henry was a friend of Robert Dinwiddie, who became governor of Virginia in 1752. On reaching Virginia, John Henry settled in Hanover county and resided for a time in the family of Col. John Syme of that county. To the same Henry family belonged David Henry, who was a journeyman printer in the same office with Benjamin Franklin in London, and was afterwards an associate editor of the Gentleman's Magazine. John Henry's mother was a sister of William Robertson, the well-known historian and divine. Soon after John Henry's arrival in the colony, Colonel Syme died, and a few years later his widow Sarah (nee Winston), daughter of Isaac Winston of Hanover, was wed to him. From this union were born nine children, two sons and seven daughters. The oldest son was William, and the second son was Patrick, named after Rev. Patrick Henry, a brother of John Henry, who, coming to Virginia from Scotland, had become rector of St. George's parish in Spotsylvania county in 1733, but moved to Hanover in 1736. Of William Henry there are no descendants, but of Patrick Henry there are many. By his first wife, Sarah Skelton, Patrick had six children; and by his second wife, Dorothea Dandridge, he had ten children. From these are some descendants by the name of Henry, but most of those who claim Patrick Henry as an ancestor are descended from one of the six daughters of Patrick Henry, or from one of his granddaughters. Generally speaking, the sons of Patrick Henry had female issue rather than male. Among the prominent families of Virginia who have intermarried with the descendants of John Henry are the Fontaines, Dan-dridges, Boltons, Ayletts, Roanes, Cabells, Wallers, Deencans, Fitzhughs, Christians, Curtises, Gren-shaws, Catletts, Millers, Campbells, Carringtons, Bealles, Harrisons, Sardwells, Rossers, Dabneys, Marshalls, Armisteads, Mendiths, Whiteheads, Madisons, Breckinridges, Prestons, Woods, Johnstons, Egglestons, Spencers and many others.

HENRY, Patrick, statesman and orator: b. Hanover county, Va., May 29, 1736; d. Red Hill, Charlotte county, Va., June 6, 1799. He was the second son of John Henry, of Hanover county, Va., and became the well-known orator of the Revolutionary period. His early life was spent in Hanover county, about twenty-two miles from Richmond. At a common English school, and under the tuition of his father, he learned English, Latin and some Greek and mathematics. He was fond of reading and of the classics; it was his custom to read through Livy once a year. The customary statement that Patrick Henry was "illiterate" is incorrect, as his education was the equal of that given at the best academies in the days immediately preceding and following the Revolution. At the age of twelve Patrick fell under the influence of Samuel Davis, the eminent Presbyterian preacher, who preached at Fork church, of which Patrick's mother was a member. Patrick took Mr. Davies as an example of eloquence, and also admired his boldness of speech. At fifteen he began life in a country store, and at nineteen he married Sarah Skelton. He then undertook to farm and conduct a small store of his own, but in neither was he very successful. In 1760 he closed out his mercantile business.

About 1760 Mr. Henry determined to study law. He borrowed Coke Upon Littleton and a Digest of the Virginia Acts. After a careful study of them for six weeks, he applied for a lawyer's license. It has been said that the examiners hesitated about granting his request, but did so because Mr. Henry argued so well on the natural rights of man. Mr. Henry's success as a lawyer was phenomenal, and in three years he had probably been counsel in more than one thousand suits in Hanover and adjoining counties. It seems certain that but for his previous success he would not have been employed in the "Parsons' Cause." In this case Mr. Henry represented the people in defending the suit of the clergy for recovery of salary withheld under an act of the general assembly of Virginia, said act having been declared void by the King of England. In other words, it was a case of the will of the people of Virginia against royal authority. The "parsons" had the law on their side, but Henry had the sentiment of the people with him. In December, 1763, the question of damages to be paid the "parsons" was argued before a jury in the county court of Hanover. Mr. Maury, who had previously had the case for the people, having retired, it devolved upon Henry to make the argument when the case was called. There is no doubt that Henry had studied it with care, and to him the main question was the right of the people to manage their own affairs without interference from England. Along this line he made an impassioned appeal, and to some his remarks concerning the English government seemed treasonable, but the jury agreed with him and brought in a verdict of only one penny damages for the plaintiff. The fame of this case went through Virginia and the neighboring colonies, and Mr. Henry's reputation lawyer and orator was made. His practice increased greatly, and within the next year he booked 555 fees. In nearly every important case in Virginia, from this time till his death, Mr. Henry was employed, as he was considered the most eloquent advocate in the commonwealth. He usually took the side of right, and in the case of one Baptist preacher imprisoned for violating the law as to religious assemblies, he not only defended him without charge, but paid his jail fees.

In the spring of 1765 a vacancy occurred in the house of burgesses from Louisa county. Though not a resident of the county, Mr. Henry was elected to the vacancy. Having practised regularly in the Louisa courts, he was well known to his constituency. At the time the stamp act was under consideration by the house of burgesses, it was composed of the most distinguished men in the colony, among them: John Robinson, Peyton Randolph, Edmund Pendleton, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington and Richard Bland. The burgesses, however, were not inclined to take any action, whereupon Mr. Henry introduced his famous stamp act resolutions, the fifth of which said: "That the general assembly of this colony have the only and sole exclusive rights to levy taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony." In advocating his resolutions, Henry made an impassioned speech, of which Mr. Jefferson said: "He appeared to me to speak 'as Homer wrote' "; and they were adopted by a bare majority. By this Henry became leader of the revolutionary movement in Virginia. The effect of the passage of these resolutions was the defiance of British government in Virginia by the citizens generally. In 1766 the English parliament repealed the stamp act, but by its assertion of the right to tax the colonists, the breach grew wider. Mr. Henry's claim was that taxation by the British parliament was unconstitutional, and his contention became the basis of resistance to the English government. Henry was a member of the new house of burgesses elected in 1769, representing Hanover county.

On May 16, 1769, the burgesses passed resolutions reaffirming the position taken by Patrick Henry in 1765, that all taxes in Virginia should be laid by the assembly only. An address to this effect was sent to England, and Mr. Henry was one of the committee that drew up the paper.

In 1773 the Virginia assembly appointed a standing committee of correspondence and inquiry regarding the acts of Great Britain and of the other colonies. Peyton Randolph was chairman, and Henry a member. The other colonies were requested to do likewise, and thus was inaugurated a plan of cooperation among the colonies. In May, 1774, the Virginia assembly, with Mr. Henry leading, resisted the tyranny of Lord Dunmore, who immediately dissolved the assembly. Thereupon, on August the first, a Virginia convention met on the call of the people. By this convention Mr. Henry was elected as one of Virginia's delegates to the first continental congress at Philadelphia. At this congress, Mr. Henry remarked, "I am not a Virginian, but an American," and advocated the establishment of a government free from England. Thus Mr. Henry was stamped as a revolutionary leader. "While affairs were going from bad to worse in the other colonies, Lord Dunmore was getting into deeper trouble in Virginia. A new assembly containing the same members as the old was prorogued, whereupon the Virginians assembled in a second Virginia convention at St. John's church, Richmond, in March, 1775. It was here that Mr. Henry made himself famous the world over by his speech advocating the arming of the colony for defense. The measure was passed, and Henry was made chairman of the committee to carry out its provisions. Hardly had forces been collected before Henry had to use them against Dunmore, who had seized, at Williamsburg, the gunpowder belonging to the colony. On the approach of Henry towards Williamsburg at the head of Virginia troops, Dunmore agreed to pay for the powder and fled from Williamsburg.

In July, 1775, the third Virginia convention assembled at Richmond, and Patrick Henry was elected commander-in-chief of the Virginia troops, for Dunmore had determined to make war on the people. Under Henry's wise direction, Dunmore was driven from the state. While the struggle was being waged with the royal governor, a convention met at Williamsburg in May, 1776. A constitution was drawn up, and on June 29 Henry was elected governor of the new and independent commonwealth of Virginia For three successive terms (1776-79) Henry was Virginia's chief executive. During this period he had approved of the Clark scheme of conquering the Northwest, and thus a great territory was saved to the United States. On retiring from the governorship in 1779, he moved to Henry county, from which county he was returned to the legislature, of which body he was a member at the time of the invasion of the state by Cornwallis. He was responsible for the securing by legislature of the proper supplies for General Lafayette for conducting his campaign against Cornwallis. In 1784 Mr. Henry was again elected governor without opposition and served for two terms. On the calling of the Federal convention at Philadelphia in 1787, Henry declined to go as a member. When the constitution of the United States was submitted to Virginia for ratification in 1788, he became a member of the Virginia convention and violently opposed the adoption of the constitution on the grounds that it violated the rights of the states, or was not explicit, and would eventually produce trouble in our country. He was the prophet of the Revolution, and in a sense he was also the prophet of the War of Secession. When he saw that he could not defeat Mr. Madison, the great advocate of the constitution, he used his influence for ratification with amendments, so that to Henry, more than any other man, we owe the first ten amendments to the United States constitution.

Mr. Henry retired to the practice of law, declining a seat in the United States senate, and later refusing the secretaryship of state offered by Washington, and even rejecting so honorable a position as chief justice of the United States. However, when in 1798 Virginia and Kentucky adopted resolutions condemning Congress for passing the alien and sedition laws, Mr. Henry, who disapproved of them, stood for election to the Virginia assembly from Charlotte county (where he then resided) and was returned. He never lived to take his seat. "As long as our rivers flow or mountains stand, so long will your excellence and worth be the theme of homage and endearment" were the words of the Virginia Gazette in making the announcement of the death of the great Henry.

HENRY, William Wiet: b. Eed Hill, Charlotte county, Va., Feb. 14,1831, the last home of his grandfather, Patrick Henry; d. Dec. 5, 1900. His father was John Henry, youngest son of Patrick Henry. William Wirt Henry, having graduated from the University of Virginia in 1850 as master of arts, studied law, and three years later began its practice in Charlotte county. He served in the Confederate army. In 1873 he came to Richmond and was soon one of the leaders at the bar. Though a lawyer of merit, he is remembered more on account of his scholarly and historical works. His Life and Letters of Patrick Henry is his most important work, being a book of deep research. For many years he was president of the Virginia Historical Society and was for a term president of the American Historical Association. His address before the latter body on the Establishment of Religious Liberty in the United States is consulted by all students of this question. Besides being president of numerous other bodies, he was at one time president of the Virginia Bar Association and vice-president of the American Bar Association. On account of his scholarly attainments, he was honored with the LL.D. from both Washington and Lee University and William and Mary College. In 1854 Mr. Henry married Lucy Gray, daughter of Col. James P. Marshall, of Charlotte county. Of him it has been said: "Mr. Henry was a model of what we still love to call the old Virginia gentleman."

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