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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.


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.


  1. Martha “Patsy” –  d. 1818, age 63
  2. John  – d. 1791, age 34, predeceased Patrick by 8 years
  3. William –  d. 1798, age 35, predeceased Patrick by 1 year
  4. Anne – d. 1799, age 31, predeceased Patrick by 15 days
  5. Elizabeth – d. 1842, age 73
  6. Edward – d. 1794, age 23, predeceased Patrick by 5 years


  1. Dorothea – d. 1854, age 75
  2. Sara – d. 1856, age 76
  3. Martha Cathrina – d. 1801, age 19
  4. Patrick – d. 1804, age 21
  5. Fayette – d. 1813, age 27
  6. Alexander Spotswood – d. 1851, age 65
  7. Nathaniel West – d. 1851, age 61
  8. Richard –  d. 1793, age 17, predeceased Patrick by 6 years
  9. Edward Winston – d. 1872, age 78
  10. John – d. 1868, age 71
  11. 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:


12 Responses

  1. Thank you for this info on his kids. I needed it for my report! Dont’t worry i’ll cite you!

  2. […] I was reading about Henry, I read this post at Brannigan & Murphy-Genealogy & Investigation:THE TWO WIVES AND 17 CHILDREN OF PATRICK HENRY, which truly makes Patrick Henry one of the […]

  3. I understand that first wife Sarah was considered insane and kept at the Scotchtown house. Do we know what sort of insanity she suffered?

    • Well according to the book “Or Give Me Death” by Ann Rinaldi, she had “the sight” or the ability to see into the future. I’m not sure how she suffered from it though, sorry.

    • If you read the book “Or Give Me Death”, by Anne Rinalde, it explains his first wive’s story, and the struggle with his children. I read it for school and it is a very good book.

  4. This was fascinating and so well written. A joy to share with my children, truly bringing history to life by fleshing it out!

  5. thank u for the
    information i needed it for my report at fletcher in 5th grade from christopher knight

  6. According to the information you provided, all three of Patrick Henry’s sons with his first wife, Sarah, predeceased him. That means that Dorothea would not have had to make any decisions regarding his sons from his first marriage and the disposition of the family land. Just thought I’d point that out. Something doesn’t add up.

  7. I thank you for posting this information. I found out in 5th grade, which I’m 30 now, when I had to do a report for social studies on a famous historical figure my mom was doing ancestral research for the family on her parent’s side and on her dad’s side she found out that I’m related to him by marriage of his first wife Sarah and by the way my name is Jon Shelton Rutland.

  8. Is life so dear,or peace so sweet,as to purchased at the price of chains and slavery? forbid it, almighty god! I may not no what course other may take;but as for me GIVE ME LIBRTY OR GIVE ME DEATH

  9. What was equally interesting, I believe that one of his descendants was at Pickett ‘ s Charge. Please correct me if I am wrong.

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