For many reasons, I’ve always held Patrick Henry in a special place. Perhaps it is because of his captivating speech. Maybe it is for the energy his viewpoints produced inciting other patriots during the early days of our country. He, like many others during that time, were larger than life.
After studying him, I have even greater admiration. Imagine: you are a staunch believer of revolution nagainst an oppressor and your wife dies leaving you with six children to raise. Yes, times were very different and he did have slaves to support these endeavors and responsibilities. Even so, this is a difficult passage for anyone. No wonder he was so passionate about having “liberty or death.”
Recently, while researching wills and testaments related to probate genealogy, I paused to read his parting message in his last will and testament. What impressed me is how he delineated between the boys and the girls. It came to light that he directed that his wife make the decision of which two sons would inherit and share the family land where they lived. He had six sons who lived to adulthood. Talk about an interesting family reunion after that decision, especially since she was his second wife and she was deciding about his fist wife’s children. You’d think he would have spared her that, but I am sure he had his reasons. Additionally, he also made the stipulation that if his wife remarried, all her inheritance from him would divert to his children. Is it any wonder his widow married his cousin who was the executor of his will. His will is slated for posting in a future in deference to focusing on his family structure in this article.
HIS TWO WIVES:
Patrick Henry was born 29 May 1736 at Studley and died at “Red Hill” on 6 June 1799 at age 63. He is buried at “Red Hill,” Charlotte Co., VA.
He married his first wife, Sarah Shelton in 1754. She was born at “Rural Plains” and died at “Scotchtown” in Hanover Co., VA in 1775. She is buried in Hanover Co., VA.
Patrick married Dorothea Dandridge 25 Oct 1777. She was born 25 Sept 1755 (or 1757) at “Chelsea” and died 14 Feb 1831 at age 73 at “Seven Islands”, Halifax Co., VA. She is because of inclement weather, she is interred at “Red Hill” beside Patrick Henry. Dorothea did remarry to Judge Edmund Winston. He was his first cousin and served as Henry’s executor. She was Martha Dandridge Custis Washington’s first cousin.
We live in a day and time when life expectancy is the longest it has ever been in history. During these early days of our country, it was not all that lengthy. A healthy life was a precious commodity, as it is today, but then it was a much more delicate proposition.
Patrick Henry and his wives gave birth to 17 children total. Several did not live to adulthood; many died rather young leaving small children and wives behind; others lived to rather ripe old ages. All this seems like the usual mix of events, but I can’t help but feel sad for this family. Not only did six children lose their mother when his first wife, Sarah Shelton Henry, died in 1775 in the throws of preparing for the American Revolution, Patrick lived longer than six of his own children. People expect that they may lose a spouse, but burying your children nearly goes against natural law.
PATRICK HENRY’S FIRST FAMILY WITH SARAH SHELTON:
- Martha “Patsy” - d. 1818, age 63
- John – d. 1791, age 34, predeceased Patrick by 8 years
- William - d. 1798, age 35, predeceased Patrick by 1 year
- Anne – d. 1799, age 31, predeceased Patrick by 15 days
- Elizabeth – d. 1842, age 73
- Edward – d. 1794, age 23, predeceased Patrick by 5 years
PATRICK HENRY’S FIRST FAMILY WITH DOROTHEA DANDRIDGE:
- Dorothea – d. 1854, age 75
- Sara – d. 1856, age 76
- Martha Cathrina – d. 1801, age 19
- Patrick – d. 1804, age 21
- Fayette – d. 1813, age 27
- Alexander Spotswood – d. 1851, age 65
- Nathaniel West – d. 1851, age 61
- Richard - d. 1793, age 17, predeceased Patrick by 6 years
- Edward Winston – d. 1872, age 78
- John – d. 1868, age 71
- Jane Robertson – d. 1798, predeceased Patrick by 4 days
For most people, it is difficult to relate to having this many children. During those times it is imagined that having a large family was more common. Illness claimed countless children as life was more fragile and less protected by medicine. Even acknowledging that, it is noteworthy that Patrick was still expanding his family during his 50s and 60s. Since finding out about more about his family has illuminated more about this man than I ever anticipated before starting. Everyone deserves this insight into their own ancestry.
To read Patrick Henry’s last will and testament, please refer to this link:
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