According to family legend, James Henry, Sr., was born on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He married Anna Terrell Grimes in South Carolina in 1796 and died in Bibb County, Alabama, in 1845, having produced eight offspring. His youngest son, James Jr., was the great grandfather of Robert E. Howard.
I don’t know just what year my people moved into the state of Alabama, but it was long ago. My great-grandfather, Squire James Henry, was born in South Carolina in 1811, and he was a small boy when they went into Alabama, so you see it was pretty far back, anyway. The Henrys and a family named Walser from Georgia settled in what is now the counties of Bibb and Tuscaloosa, near the Black Warrior River. James Henry married a Walser woman and most of their children were born in Alabama. In 1847 they moved to Choctaw County, Mississippi [William H. Henry was born in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, in 1850], and settled near the upper reaches of the Big Black River, immortalized in the legends of John Henry, the mythical black giant. Both the Henrys and the Walsers made the move. The Walsers remained in Mississippi until a year or so after the Civil War, and then moved to Texas and settled on what was then the western frontier. But the Henrys moved to southwestern Arkansas [. . .]Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, circa January 1935
Unlike the Howard line, the Henrys appear to have been financially stable. The 1850 census lists Henry’s real estate vale at “800”; the slave schedule lists five enslaved people aged 31 down to 2. The Walsers are next on the slave schedule with two slaves. It seems unlikely, though, that the Henrys were as well off as REH says they were, below. Sometime after the census was taken, one William B. Howard arrived at the Henry farm seeking employment. He secured a job and later married Henry’s oldest daughter and started producing children. And, it appears, when James Henry grew restless, the young Howard family hit the trail with him and the rest of the Henry family.
When my great-grandfather Squire Jim Henry started west he traveled in a regular caravan of great wagons, loaded with supplies, implements and furnishings, and negro slaves, and he took with him herds of oxen, steers, cows and horses, and a buckskin bag plump with gold coins. He was no broken man, seeking a place to hide. He was an adventurous soul, looking for new, unbroken and uncrowded land, because the wilds had more attraction for him than the teeming countries of men. And there were thousands and thousands like him.Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, circa July 1933
On September 20, 1860 the United States Census crew hit south-central Arkansas. There they enumerated the townsfolk of Carrol, Union, and Freeo townships in Ouachita County. One of the residents, James Henry, had only recently arrived, moving there in 1858 with his wife and nine children from Mississippi. Born in South Carolina, married in Alabama, a Mississippi resident for ten years, James Henry had been around. The Howard clan settled just over the Ouachita County line in Holly Springs, Dallas County, about three miles away.
Squire Henry was a typical pioneer. When the country about him began to settle up and grow tame, he grew restless and moved on. He was a man of great natural abilities, and managed to acquire considerable education. In his old age he had what was probably the most extensive private library in southern Arkansas, and would have been considered a well-read man, even in this day and age. In hewing homes out of the wilderness, he hewed out a fortune for himself that was considered large in those days. He had not even the proverbial shoe-string to start on, in the beginning, but he was well fixed financially even before he left Alabama. But he had recognized what few today realize; that the ever westward-receding frontier offered unparalleled resources, and that any man of guts and intelligence had the best chance in the world of building a successful career, or making a fortune.Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, circa January 1935
The 1860 Census reports that Henry’s assets had grown from “800” in real estate in 1850 to “3000” in 1860, with a “personal estate” estimated at “9350.” In 1860 he had seven slaves. While some might have been content watching their grandchildren grow up around them, not James Henry. After the Confederate Army seized weapons in Little Rock early in 1861, both the 50-year-old and his 23-year-old son, David T., enlisted that summer. [Side note: David T. Henry was promoted to Corporal, and even Lieutenant, before being killed in action in 1864, perhaps in Tennessee. I am tempted to say that the “T” stands for Terrell, after his mother, Anna Terrell Grimes, and that Louisa Henry Howard named her second son—David Terrell Howard, born in 1866—after this fallen brother.]
James was discharged on November 24—no reason is given on his paperwork, but in a short, 1890 biography of another of his sons, William Harrison, it is attributed to “ill health”:
Here [in Holly Springs, Arkansas] the father passed the remainder of his days, with the exception of two years during the war that he spent in Texas [. . .]. He was formerly a farmer, but the latter part of his days was spent in merchandising, at Holly Springs. He was justice of the peace for many years, and, during the late war, was in the Confederate army a short time, but was discharged, on account of ill health. He was in the Third Arkansas Cavalry.Biographies & Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas (Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890)
What Henry did in Texas is unknown, but his great-grandson Robert E. Howard thought that he went to raise cotton:
[James Henry’s] last venture was to the Texas frontier. Having been forced to retire from the Confederate Army in 1862 because of a wound, he took his slaves and went to Texas where he raised cotton until the end of the war, hiding the bales so cleverly that even the carpet-baggers couldn’t find them. Then he hauled them to Jefferson by ox-wagon and sold them at a tidy price — he was the only Southerner I ever heard of who had more money at the close of the Civil War than he had at the beginning. But he earned it, by three years of hard work, constantly threatened on one hand by a revolt of the slaves, and on the other by Indian attack.Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, circa January 1935
By the end of the war, James Henry was back in Arkansas. The 1870 U. S. Census has him farming in Freeo Township, with four of his children still living at home. Contrary to Robert E. Howard’s claims, Henry’s assets appear to have taken a hit after the war with his real estate value dropping from 3000 to 2000, and his personal estate from 9350 to 4000.
The Howards appear to have had some money problems later in the decade. On February 2, 1877, William Howard was in a pickle and had to borrow money from his brother-in-law, W. H. Henry. Howard owed M. A. Hairston $115 and convinced his brother-in-law to pay it off, in return for “three bales of cotton weighing 500 lbs each.” And this wasn’t just a gentleman’s agreement, the whole thing was written up in a Deed of Conveyance and filed for record at the county courthouse. A month later, March 9, 1877, Howard is back at it with another Deed of Conveyance. This time he owes $50 to Block & Feibleman and agrees to hand over “one spotted horse about ten years old and four head of cattle and ten head of hogs and marked as follows smooth crop and over bit in each ear.”
By the time of the 1880 Census, James Henry’s daughter Martha was the widowed mother of Lucy Chandler and was living back home with her parents. Daughter Mary had married a merchant, William J. Proctor, and lived nearby. Another daughter, Georgia, had married Cadmus Patterson, a clerk, and lived next to the Proctors. Just across town, daughter Caroline was married to Silas Drake, and daughter Missouri was married to William Elliot, all farmers. The youngest offspring, Ellen, had married physician John Hodge and moved over to Jackson, still in Dallas County.
While James Henry had moved to Holly Springs from Freeo, his oldest daughter, Louisa Elizabeth, did the opposite, moving with husband William B. Howard from Holly Springs down to Freeo. Of James’ remaining sons, William Harrison Henry was a successful merchant in Holly Springs, Dallas County; and James T. Henry was a doctor over in Union, Ouachita County. The family was flourishing and sticking pretty closely together. All of that changed on June 26, 1884.
James Henry’s death, and the terms of his 1877 will, appears to have provided the impetus for several changes in the family structure. When the dust had settled, by 1885 William Henry and his sister Georgia’s husband, Cadmus Patterson, had used their inheritance to go into the mercantile trade “with annual sales that equal about $10,000”; other Henrys and in-laws included in Biographies & Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas have similar good fortune. But what of the Howards?
They went to Texas.
[Originally published in Onion Tops #82, REHupa mailing #285, October 2020.]