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Delmarva Heritage Series

* First U.S. Senator From Free State

Salisbury Times - January 9, 1958

The Henry family of the Eastern Shore has always been one of prominence and its members have been active in civil and political affairs for the well-being of their country. The beginnings of this famous family on the shore are traced back to the Rev. John Henry, Presbyterian minister, who was called to the Rehobeth Church in Somerset County from Philadelphia to succeed the 

Reverend Francis Makemie, a position he held until his death in 1717. His younger son, Col. John Henry, held numerous positions of public trust, and was a man of wealth and refinement. Col. John, of "Weston" on the Nanticoke River about six miles from Vienna, died in 1781, leaving four sons and five daughters.

JOHN HENRY, the eldest son, who was later both U.S. Senator and a Governor of Maryland, was born in 1750 at the family homestead, "Weston". He was prepared for college at the renowned West Nottingham Academy in Cecil County and later graduated from Princeton College. After this, he devoted himself to the study of law for several years in this country and spent a couple of years in England continuing his studies in the Temple. While in England the issues between the Colonies and the mother country were becoming strained. The events leading up to the Revolutionary War were frequently the subject of conversation and often led to animated discussions in the Robin Hood Club, of which John Henry was a member. Taking part in these discussions, John Henry zealously defended the rights of his native land.

JOHN HENRY left England in 1775 and, upon his arrival home, was elected a member of the Maryland Legislature. In 1777 he was chosen as a Maryland delegate to the Continental Congress and remained almost continuously a member until the adoption of the United States Constitution.

During the troubled times of the Revolution and the critical days which followed, John Henry showed himself to be a man of vision. He argued with great earnestness and force against proposed treaties with Spain, whereby rights to the navigation of the Mississippi River would be surrendered in consideration of commercial advantages almost exclusively to the benefit of some Eastern States. He contended that the Southern States and the people of the Mississippi Valley ought to secede from the Confederacy rather than submit to the occlusion of the river.

In 1787, he served on one of the most important committees ever established by our legislative government - this was the one to prepare an ordinance for the government of the Northwest Territory. The outcome of this meeting was the famous Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which not only set up government for this region but became the eventual basis for all our territories to become sister states. A noted Swiss historian, Edward Fueter, says this ordinance has been called one of the most important laws of the United States-from the point of view of world history, perhaps the most important. "Thus the principle was abandoned that the welfare of the colonies aught to be subordinated to that of the mother country: rather was the principle established that colonies which are settled by a people are to be regarded as an extension of the mother country and one to be put on an equal footing in every respect."

AFTER THE adoption of our federal constitution in 1788, the election of senators to represent Maryland in the United States Senate engaged the attention of the people as to how these two men should be selected by the General Assembly. After considerable discussion and debate, the Senate suggested to the House of Delegates, and it agreed, that "the two senators to represent this State, should be elected by a joint ballot of both Houses; and that no person should be elected a senator from this State, unless by a majority of the attending members of both Houses." At this time the Senate consisted of 15 members, and the House of Delegates of 80. On Dec. 9, the day appointed for the selection of the two senators, there were 13 in the Senate and 70 in the House attending this joint session. It was agreed that one senator should be a resident of the Western Shore and the other of the Eastern Shore. Charles Carroll of Carrollton and Uriah Forrest were nominated from the Western Shore and John Henry and George Gale from the Eastern Shore. Upon counting the ballots, John Henry and George Gale and Forrest received 41 each and Charles Carroll 40. There being 83 ballots to cast and neither candidate receiving a majority, a second vote was taken, with the following results: John Henry, 42; George Gale, 40; Charles Carroll, 41; and Uriah Forrest, 41. John Henry, having received a majority, was declared elected U.S. Senator and the next day Charles Carroll won out over Uriah Forrest. Afterwards, in the drawing for the short and long terms, Henry drew for six and Carroll for two.

SEN. HENRY was re-elected but resigned before completing the term so as to accept the office of governor, which he held from November, 1797 to November, 1798. He declined re-election because of ill health and returned to his estate on the Nanticoke River, where he died December 16, 1798. No tomb was ever erected over the remains of Gov. John Henry, and at present his grave has not been located. However, a marker has been placed in the Christ Church graveyard in Cambridge to honor this son of Maryland. The Henry family is still occupying a position of respect and public service in the State of Maryland for Judge Laird Henry is a direct descendant of Gov. John Henry.

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