There hasn’t been a lot written about the Howard side of Robert E. Howard’s family. Despite its inaccuracies (the first of his American line appear to have landed in Virginia, not Georgia, for example), all we ever really had was the following, from Howard’s “The Wandering Years,” which all the biographies have used as their source for background information:
My father, Dr. Howard, was the son of William Benjamin Howard, of Georgia. The first of the American line came to America in 1733, with Oglethorpe’s colony, and helped build the settlement of Savannah, in southeast Georgia. As Georgia was itself a frontier state, the westward drift of the Howards was slow. In 1849, Henry Howard, my great-grandfather, a planter and a school teacher, was living on a farm in Oglethorpe County, in what I would describe as the middle northeastern part of the state, no great distance from the Savannah River. As far as I know, my grandfather, William Benjamin Howard, was born on that plantation. In 1849 he started for California with two of his brothers. At Pine Bluff, Arkansas, cholera struck the party, wiped out most of them, and so weakened my grandfather that he was forced to turn back. One of his brothers went on to California and the other returned to Georgia. William Howard did neither. He turned southward, into Mississippi, and obtained the position of overseer on the plantations of Squire James Henry, whose daughter, Louisa, he married in 18–.
- The family Bible has his birth date as July 23, 1827; the 1830 U.S. Census for “Capt Lumpkins District,” in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, has a Henry Howard listed with four children, two of these were boys under five years of age, William Benjamin and his brother, Isaac.
- The 1850 Census for Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, lists James Henry, 39, born in South Carolina, as a farmer with real estate valued at “800”; his household includes wife Mary, 35, from Georgia; Louisa, 15, born in Alabama; and six other children.
- The last two digits are not provided in the typescript; the Howard family Bible records the wedding date as December 16, 1856.
From there, Howard pivots to the Henry family and then peters out, leaving the document unfinished. Just one short paragraph is devoted to the Howard line, and this after pages on the Ervin clan, his mother’s side of the family. It seems that REH didn’t have much to say about his Howard ancestors. Unless I missed something in my quick search (entirely possible), there are only a couple of vague mentions in his correspondence:
Letter: REH to Harold Preece, circa early April 1930
A man has too many grand-parents to be pure blooded anything. One of my great-grandfathers was born somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean between the coast of Kerry and New York — I mean, my great-great-grandfather — he was of the old Gaelic family of the MacEnry. He married Anna O’Tyrrell, who was born in Connaught. Another of my great-great-grandfathers was born in Georgia of Anglo-Irish parents. Another was born in Virginia of Scotch-Irish parents. Another was born in Denmark and he married an Irish-American woman in Mississippi.
- In a short biography of Dr. J. T. Henry, Goodspeed’s Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas mentions his grandfather: “James Henry, was of Irish descent, a farmer by occupation, and died in Bibb County, Alabama.” Another volume, 1962’s Our East Tennessee Kinsmen by Aurelia Cate Dawson, has James Henry’s offspring, but all it provides for him are the barebones: “born May 7, 1765, died May 1, 1845 in Bibb Co., Ala. Married in S.C. Jan. 4, 1796 to Anna or Ann.” There is a James Henry in Bibb County on the 1830 Census with a male and a female in the household who are the correct ages, but on the 1840 Census, the same household (apparently) no longer has either of them. If this is the correct household, where did they go?
- I assume, based on his comments elsewhere, that REH is referring here to his great-great grandfather Howard, but everything I’ve found points to a Virginia birth for Mordecai Howard, who appears to have moved to Georgia around 1805.
- Isaac Collier, father of Elizabeth Ann “Betsy” Howard nee Collier, was in fact born in Virginia. Here’s his information from a historical marker: “Isaac Collier, June 6, 1769 – Sept. 4, 1848. Pioneer settler of Upson County. Born in Brunswick Co., VA, removed from VA to Wilkes (now Oglethorpe) Co., GA with his father CA 1780. Served as Clerk of Court for Oglethorpe Co. Elected to Georgia Legislature 1830-1833. Brought his family to Upson County, GA about 1835. The large mound of stones marks his grave. Isaac was one of the thirteen children of Vines Collier, a veteran of the French & Indian War and a Patriot of the American Revolution, and Elizabeth Williamson Collier. The children of Vines & Elizabeth were pioneers and prominent citizens throughout Georgia.”
- Here Howard must be referring to the only great-great grandfather he has left on the Howard side, and that would be David Walser. Someone on Ancestry.com has done a fairly extensive Walser family tree, and it has Walser born not in Denmark, but in North Carolina. My minimal excursions into this have only verified that location. In fact, not only was David Walser not born in Denmark, neither was his father (Pennsylvania), nor his father (Switzerland).
Letter: REH to HPL, circa early October 1930
My branch of the Howards came to America with Oglethorpe 1733 and lived in various parts of Georgia for over a hundred years. In ’49 three brothers started for California. On the Arkansas River they split up, one went on to California where he lived the rest of his life, one went back to Georgia and one, William Benjamin Howard, went to Mississippi where he became an overseer on the plantations of Squire James Harrison [sic.] Henry, whose daughter he married. In 1858 he moved, with the Henrys, to southwestern Arkansas where he lived until 1885, when he moved to Texas. He was my grandfather.
- Again, as far as I can determine, REH’s line of Howards came to Georgia from Virginia in the early 1800s. His great-great grandfather (Mordecai Howard) appears on Georgia land auction records as early as 1813; and one of his daughters, Nancy Howard, was married there in 1808.
- Isaac Mordecai Howard (REH’s grand uncle, not father), is established in Sonora, California, by 1866.
- Most likely John Hubbard Howard, Henry Howard’s fourth oldest son.
- The earliest I can place him there is 1855; neither he, nor the brothers mentioned above, have been found on an 1850 Census. William B. is mentioned in an Upson County, Georgia, “Indenture,” dated January 30, 1855, as being “of the State of Mississippi.”
And that’s about it. Luckily, we no longer have to rely solely on what REH has to tell us. Thanks to court documents, transcriptions of records found online, scans of books at Google Books, and various records available on Ancesry.com and other genealogical websites, we can now paint a slightly fuller picture of those early Howards.