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Henry Family 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

William Henry (1729-1786) was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, the oldest son among four children, one brother and three sisters, to John and Elizabeth Henry. Wanting his children to have sufficient training, in 1744 John Henry sent William, aged fifteen, to Lancaster County to apprentice under Matthew Roesser, a leading gunmaker. After his apprenticeship, in 1756, Henry married Ann Wood, and the couple eventually had six children. Henry pursued many business ventures before the start of the Revolutionary War, including partnering with Joseph Simons to run a hardware business from 1759 to 1773. In addition to this business, Henry was a dealer in supplies to Indian traders.

While he was involved in many activities and politics in Lancaster County, Henry was also interested in science and engineering. In 1761, Henry traveled to England in order to meet with engineer and inventor James Watt. During his time there, Henry witnesses Watt's steam engine in action, and this fueled his curiosity. Upon returning to Lancaster, he began his own experiments with steam power. He is credited with being among the first inventors to place a steam engine on a boat.

Henry also had an active military career. He participated in expeditions led by British military officers Edward Braddock (1755) and John Forbes (1758) to capture Fort Duquesne from the French. During one of the expeditions, he saved the life of an Indian chief, Killbuck, and the two remained close friends. During the Revolutionary War, Henry was a strong proponent of independence and was appointed to many public offices. He served on the board of war, was named the superintendent of arms and accoutrements, and held the office of assistant commissary general to the Continental Army to help supply arms. In Lancaster, he was also the fiscal agent of Pennsylvania and the United States and later served nine years as county treasurer.

While participating in a congress in New York in 1785, Henry developed lung disease and was forced to return home. He died from the illness on December 15, 1786, and is buried at the Moravian Graveyard in Lancaster. After his death, his wife Ann carried on in the position of Lancaster Country treasurer. Ann was a diligent housewife and mother, and she had watched over her family’s and William’s affairs while he was away during the Revolutionary War. Her familiarity with household business and William’s work made her an ideal candidate to take over the office. When she did, she became the first woman in Pennsylvania to serve as a public official.

Not much is known about William and Ann's children save for one of their sons, John Joseph, who enlisted in the army without his father's knowledge. He served under Captain Matthew Smith, and his company accompanied Benedict Arnold’s expedition to Quebec, where John Joseph was captured. He was later released and eventually became a circuit judge in Harrisburg.

The Henry family papers are comprised of nine volumes that contain numerous documents of the family dating from 1759 to 1914. Volumes 1 and 2 contain the bulk of the family-oriented and business papers, with a mix of personal letters, household financial records, and papers highlighting Henry's military involvement. Additional records of Henry's work during the Revolutionary War can be found in Volume 4, while later family correspondence from the early nineteenth century is house in Volume 5. Volume 3, "John Joseph Henry’s Journal of Campaign against Quebec" details John's experience as a prisoner of war in Quebec in 1775. Volumes 6, 7 and 8 were reportedly compiled by Matthew Shropp Henry (1790-1862), William Henry's grandson, and contain extensive details on the names given to rivers, creeks, stream, and other places and landmarks by local Indian tribes. The final volume in the collection, Volume 8, is a portfolio that contains prints of Ann Wood Henry.

Sixteen letters dating from 1777 and 1783 written to William Henry were published in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 22 (1898): 103-113.

Gift of John W. Jordan, 1889.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Gabrielle Varano.
Finding Aid Date
; 2012
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Collection Inventory

Mixed documents and accounts, 1759-1812.
Volume 1
Scope and Contents note

This volume contains receipts for taxes owed to Lancaster County, to other people for mending clothing and shoes for the troops, and for money given to committees or people for use of their property. All of these were directed to Henry as county treasurer. There is also a list of supplies that were delivered, such as pork and flour. Also, there are letters that ask for the exchange of cattle for leather and reimbursement for the delivery of too many hides. Personal items in the volume include records of the Henrys' taxes and letters from family members including Matthew Henry to his brother John Joseph on his trip to visit Killbuck. Since Henry was on the committee that drafted the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, there are also ordinances of the western expansion of the U. S. and legislation on government. In addition the volume contains the Lancaster County Illustrated Intelligencer (1873-1874), which contains mention of Henry’s role as the county treasurer during the building of the Court House and his accounts in this position.

Mixed papers, 1763-1914.
Volume 2
Scope and Contents note

This volume contains receipts or acknowledgement of payment for various items. Some are for work done on munitions, payments due to the militia or other people, and personal receipts of Henry family members. Among other papers in the volume are letters that discuss the need for wagons to prepare Philadelphia for the arrival of the British army, as well as correspondence concerning Henry's work as a land purchasing consultant for Joseph Reed, president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. Family history items in this volume include John Joseph’s genealogy writings; a letter on the family from Anne Mary Smith, daughter of John Joseph; images of William Henry; and a monument to John Joseph Henry from William Henry in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

John Joseph Henry’s Journal of Campaign against Quebec, 1775.
Volume 3
Scope and Contents note

This volume documents John Joseph Henry’s participation in the Battle of Quebec and his capture. The entries vary but often include weather reports, descriptions of his surroundings, and names of other prisoners. He occasionally discussed his interactions with General Thomas Carlton, brother of the governor of Quebec. In addition to Henry's journal, this volume also contains an account by Francis Nichols, a lieutenant and captive in Quebec, describing the battle that took place in December 1775.

Ledger, 1777-1779; Disbursements of the Hide Department, 1779-1783; Lancaster Docket, 1774-1781, 1774-1783.
Volume 4
Scope and Contents note

This volume is made up of three smaller volumes. The first is Henry’s ledger documenting expenditures for arms and accoutrements. The second is a ledger with similar information that also contains references to money owed for the army's supplies. The last volume is a docket that contains scant information on various court cases. It lists court dates, plaintiffs, defendants, and the payment of debts.

Correspondence, 1801-1810.
Volume 5
Scope and Contents note

In this volume are mostly personal letters between William Henry’s sons, William, John Joseph, and James Henry. There are also scattered letters from other family members. These letters reference political and current events, family matters, and legal and financial issues.

Notes on Indian names of places, Undated.
Volume 6
Scope and Contents note

This volume was written by William Henry's grandson, Mathew Shropp Henry, and lists American Indian names of rivers and creeks mostly in the Philadelphia area. Some of these names are translated into their "modern" name and accompanied by information on where they were located. Some of the listings are annotated with Henry's original sources.

Additional Indian names of streams, places, etc., 1856.
Volume 7
Scope and Contents note

Similar to Volume 6, this volume expands upon the listings of American Indian names of rivers and creeks with details on name origins and events that took place near the landmarks. Additionally, Volume 7 contains lists of Indian chiefs and their tribes.

Indian names of rivers, streams, etc., Undated.
Volume 8
Scope and Contents note

This is yet another of Mathew Shropp Henry's accounts of the American Indian names of local rivers and creeks. Information in this volume further expands upon that which is given in Volumes 6 and 7, and it contains maps of Pennsylvania counties. This volume also contains a brief history of the Iroquois tribe and a description of American Indian geographical terms. Additional information is given about mountain ranges, county rivers, creeks, hills, forts, and lakes in each county.

Ann Henry portrait, Undated.
Volume 9
Scope and Contents note

This volume contains multiple copies of an engraving of William Henry's wife, Ann Wood Henry, during her service as the treasurer of Lancaster County from 1786 to 1787. The print is after a painting by artist Benjamin West.

Print, Suggest