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Alexander Henry papers


Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Alexander Henry was born in Philadelphia in 1823 into a prominent Philadelphia merchant family, the son of John Snowden Henry (1795-1835) and Elizabeth Ingersoll Bayard Henry and a grandson of Alexander Henry (1763-1847). He graduated from Princeton University with high honors, and was admitted to the Philadelphia Bar in 1844.

Henry established a large law practice, and in 1856-1857 represented the Seventh Ward in Philadelphia City Council. In 1858, Henry was nominated for mayor by the "People's party," which had been founded by Whigs and Republicans, and defeated the incumbent Democratic mayor, Richard Vaux. Henry survived a difficult re-election in 1860, and he defeated Daniel M. Fox in 1862 for a third term. The mayor's term of office was extended from two years to three during the Civil War, and in 1865, Henry decided not to seek re-election.

Henry is known for strengthening Philadelphia's police force and supporting public transportation. He also led the city throughout the Civil War, playing key roles in the recruitment of troops from Philadelphia, planning for the defense of the city, and more.

After Henry stepped down from office, he served as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, a member of the Park Commission, and an inspector of the Eastern Penitentiary, among other things. He also was actively involved in preparations for the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, and served as chair of the exhibition's Executive Committee.

Henry died of typhoid fever in 1883 at his home in Germantown. He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery.

This collection contains correspondence and a small amount of other miscellaneous papers of Alexander Henry, primarily from his work as mayor of Philadelphia from 1858-1865. This collection was processed according to the "more product, less processing" model, and is not arranged into series. The materials are arranged chronologically.

The bulk of the correspondence is from mayors of other cities regarding various city management topics, including the fire department, police, Philadelphia's "street railways," and more. Some of this mayoral correspondence contains typical letters of introduction or inquires about a particular citizen of Philadelphia. At least one letter from a mayor in Salshing, France, is written in French. Constituent letters are rare. Henry saved occasional copies or drafts of his responses to incoming letters, and those are interfiled by date.

The Civil War is a major topic in Henry's correspondence, and correspondents discuss the recruitment of troops, the transfer of wounded, rumors of spies and impending threats, recent battles, etc. The collection includes a flurry of telegrams from Governor Andrew Curtin in September 1862 and June 1863 regarding the defense of Pennsylvania's capital, as well as a series of telegrams and letters in June 1863 regarding the recruitment and deployment of African American troops from Philadelphia and chronicling the advance of Robert E. Lee into Pennsylvania. Telegrams from Secretary of State William H. Seward concern a rumored plot to burn Northern cities.

Another notable topic in Henry's correspondence relates to a planned lecture by writer George William Curtis, scheduled to be held in Philadelphia on December 13, 1860 (Box 1, Folder 4). Curtis's previous lecture in December 1859 on the merits of John Brown had attracted a large, riotous crowd outside, and Henry urged the lecture organizers to cancel this repeat event. Curtis himself decided to withdraw.

A single folder of correspondence (Box 2, Folder 2) dates to after Henry's term as mayor, and primarily concerns the Centennial Exhibition of 1876. The collection also includes August 1871 ledger pages from the Centennial Board of Finance for building Memorial Hall (Box 2, Folder 4).

The collection includes two volumes. Volume 1 lists marriages completed by Henry while serving as mayor, including the text of the ceremony and a list of the couples' names, hometowns, locations and times of ceremonies, etc. Volume 2 is a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and printed ephemera, dating to circa 1875-1879 and covering a variety of topics, including business, politics, musical and theatrical performances, obituaries, the Centennial Exhibition, and Germantown.

Campbell, John Hugh. History of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and of the Hibernian Society for the Relief of Emigrants from Ireland; March 17, 1771-March 17, 1892. Philadelphia: The Hibernian Society, 1892. “Obituary. Alexander Henry.” The New York Times. December 7, 1883. Weigley, Russell F. “The Border City in Civil War, 1854-1865.” In Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, edited by Russell F. Weigley, 363-416. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Gift of Mrs. Bayard Henry, 1928.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Dana Dorman
Finding Aid Date
The Digital Center for Americana pilot project was funded by the Barra Foundation and several individual donors.
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Collection Inventory

Correspondence, including correspondence related to Curtis lecture (1860-1861) and purchase of arms (1861), (1858-1864).
Box 1
Correspondence; Centennial Board of Finance ledger pages; miscellaneous papers; printed ephemera, (1851-1879, undated).
Box 2
Marriage book, (May 24, 1858-Dec. 6, 1861).
Volume 1
Scrapbook, (circa 1875-1879).
Volume 2

Print, Suggest