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THE TWO WIVES AND 17 CHILDREN OF PATRICK HENRY

 

For many reasons, I’ve always held Patrick Henry in high regard. Perhaps it is because of his captivating speech or it is the energy his viewpoints incited in others for the sake of forming a new country. While one-third of the people living in this new land were patriots, they were met by one-third remaining Loyal to the Crown, and one-third just wanting a new start without being politically involved.  The early days of our country presented new or enlarged critical challenges each day.  Patrick Henry, like many others during that time, was larger than life. After studying him, I’ve developed an even greater admiration.

This article focuses on The Henry Family structure. A link to the transcribed Will and Testament of Patrick Henry is at the end of this article

Imagine: you are a staunch supporter of rebelling against a world-class political oppressor and your wife dies, leaving you with six children to raise. Yes, times were very different in most households then.  Mr. Henry certainly wasn’t alone. He did have slaves available for taking responsibility of his children, home, and farm, so he could still  launch into his political endeavors. Even so, this domestic passage must have overwhelmed him during his time of grief.

Recently, while researching wills and testaments related to probate and genealogy, I paused to read his parting message in his last will and testament. What impressed me was how sharply he delineated between his sons and daughters. The law and the culture of the times favored sons; but, not all of them were treated equitably. Daughters were left to marry a man who could keep her or rely on her brother’s generosity.

In his will, Henry directed that his wife choose which two of his six sons would inherit his personal and business effects, and share the family land where they lived. If she selected the two oldest, perhap they may not be the two with agricultural and managerial skills. Regardless of which sons she may select, what would the balance of the children do?  His wife would need to weight the family’s future success while making her determination. Six of Patrick Henry’s sons happen to  live to adulthood.

Although Mrs. Henry was her husband’s designee for making this critical decision; she was Patrick’s second wife and, in an ironic twist, deciding the fate of his sons by his first wife. That would certainly make for an interesting family reunion the following year.   You’d think he would have spared his wife this unsavory duty by deciding himself; but, he must have had his reasons.  Additionally, he also stipulated that if this wife remarried, his property would revert entirely to his children.

Once the second Mrs. Henry was widowed, is it any wonder she married the executor of his will?  A bit of interesting information is her second husband was also Patrick’s cousin. I guess this is one way to keep them down on the farm.

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” in Charlotte County,  VA.

He married his first wife, Sarah Shelton in 1754. She was born at “Rural Plains”  and died at “Scotchtown” in Hanover County, VA in 1775.  She is buried in Hanover County, VA.

Patrick married Dorothea Dandridge on 25 Oct 1777.  She was born 25 Sept 1755. Although a few historians place her birth year at 1757 at “Chelsea” it is recorded that she died 14 Feb 1831 at age 73 at “Seven Islands”, Halifax County, VA.  Because of inclement weather, at the time of her death, she is interred at “Red Hill” beside Patrick Henry.  Dorothea did marry Judge Edmund Winston, Patrick’s first cousin and executor. She was also 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 were responsible for giving life to 17 children total. Several did not live to adulthood. A few who became adults, died young leaving their wives and small children to fend in a cruel world; others lived to rather ripe old ages. All this seems like the usual mix of events; but, I can’t help but feel empathy for this family. Not only did six children lose their mother when his first wife, Sarah Shelton Henry, died; at that time, Henry was overwhelmed preparing for the American Revolution. It is always sad when a parent outlives a child.  Patrick buried a wife and nine.  Losing a spouse can be shocking; but, it is more expected than burying nine children. That nearly goes against natural law.

PATRICK HENRY’S FIRST FAMILY WITH SARAH SHELTON:

  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

PATRICK HENRY’S SECOND FAMILY WITH DOROTHEA DANDRIDGE:

  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 relating to having this many children. During those times having a large family was 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.  Researching The Henry Family has illuminated more about this man than I ever anticipated before starting.

To read Patrick Henry’s last will and testament, please refer to this link:

Patrick Henry’s Last Will and Testament

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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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