Robert Henry, Esq.

from WNC Heritage

“…in July, 1802, on motion of Joseph Spencer and the production of his county court license, Robert Henry, Esq., became an attorney of the court. This singular, versatile and able man has left his impress upon Buncombe County and Western North Carolina.  Born in Tryon (afterward Lincoln) County, North Carolina on Feb. 10, 1765 in a rail pen, he was the son of Thomas Henry, an emigrant from the north of Ireland.  When Robert was a school boy he fought on the American side at King’s Mountain, and was badly wounded in the hand by a bayonet thrust.  Later [Henry] was in the heat of the fight at Cowan’s Ford, and was very near Gen. William Davidson when [Davidson] was killed. After the war he removed to Buncombe County and on the Swannanoa taught the first school ever held in that county. He then became a surveyor, and after a long and extensive experience, in which he surveyed many of the large grants in all the counties of Western North Carolina, and even in Middle Tennessee, and participated in 1799…in locating and marking the line between the State of North Carolina and the State of Tennessee, he turned his attention to the study of law.  In 1806, he was made solicitor of Buncombe County.  He it was who opened up and for years conducted as a public resort the Sulphur Springs, near Asheville, later known as Deaver’s Spring and still more recently as Carriers’ Springs.  On Jan. 6, 1863 he died in Clay County, North Carolina as the age of 98 years, and was “undoubtedly the last of the heroes of Kings Mountain.”  To him we are indebted for the preservation, and in part, authorship of the most graphic and detailed accounts of the fights at Kings Mountain and Cowan’s Ford which now exist. He was the first resident lawyer of Buncombe County. (1922. Sondley, F. A. Asheville and Buncombe County, pp. 124, 125.)

“The late John P. Arthur, author of the History of Western North Carolina and the History of Watauga County, was a grandson of Robert Henry. (1922. Sondley, F. A. Asheville and Buncombe County, pp. 124, 125.)

“…it being again found ‘impracticable to take horses from this place [Nolichucky River] to the Bald mountain, Mr. Henry, the chain-bearers and markers, took provisions on their backs and proceeded on the line and the horses went round by the Greasy Cove and met the rest of the company on Sunday on the top of the Bald mountain where we tarried till Tuesday morning.” (1914. Arthur, John Preston. Western North Carolina, A History…pp.44, 45.)

“The white occupation of North Carolina had extended only to the Blue Ridge when the Revolution began; but at its close Gen. Charles McDowell, Col. David Vance and Private Robert Henry were among the first to cross the Blue Ridge and settle in the new county of Buncombe.  As a reward for their services…they were appointed to run and mark the line between North Carolina and Tennessee in 1799. While on this work they wrote and left in the care of Robert Henry their narratives of the battle of Kings Mountain and the fight at Cowan’s ford.  After his death Robert Henry’s son, William…,furnished the manuscript to…Dr. Lyman C. Draper of Wisconsin.  On it is largely based his ‘King’s Mountain and its Heroes’ (1880) (1914. Arthur, John P. Western North Carolina, A History… p. 98.)

“From Robert Henry’s diary we learn that ‘in the summer of 1815 no rain fell from the 8th of July till the 8th of September.  Trees died.’ Also that, ‘on the 28th day of Aug. 1830, Caney branch (which runs by Sulphur spring five miles west of Asheville) ceased to run.  Tom Moore’s creek and Ragsdale’s creek had ceased to run some days before; the corn died from the drough {sic}.  This has been the driest summer in sixty years to my knowledge.  Our spring ceased to run for some weeks previous to the above date.’  Again: ‘The summer of 1836 was the wettest summer in seventy years in my remembrance.’ This is the climax: ‘Thursday, Friday and Saturday next before Christmas 1794, were the coldest days in seventy years,’ though as he had been born in 1765 he could not then have been quite thirty years of age himself. (1914. Arthur, John Preston. Western North Carolina, A History…p.296.)

“Col. [Allen T.] Davidson’s Recollections of Robert Henry. ‘I must not omit…to mention Robert Henry, who lived, owned and settled the Sulphur springs.  He was an old man when I first knew him, say fifty years ago [1891]; he had then retired from the profession of the law which he had practiced many years.  This was before I knew him well.  He was tedious and slow in conversation, but always interesting to the student.  He had been a fine lawyer ,and remarkable in criminal cases.   He could recite his experiences of cases in most minute detail.  He insisted that, underlying all, there was invariably a principle which settled every rule of evidence and point of law.  I chanced to get some of his old criminal law books, such as Foster’s Crown Law, Hale’s Pleas of the Crown, etc, and I found them well annotated with accurate marginal notes, showing great industry and thought in their perusal.  He had a grand history in our struggle for independence; was at Charlotte when the declaration of Independence was made; but, being a boy at this time, he did not understand the character of the resolutions; but said he heard the corwd shout and declared themselves freed from the british government.  He afterwards fought at the battle of Kings Mountain and was severely wounded in the nad and thigh, by a bayonet in the charge of Ferguson’s men. (1914. Arthur, John P. Western North Carolina, A History..,. p.381.)

“Soon after the Swannanoa settlement was established in 1782, a school was started in accordance with the principles of the Presbyterians. Robert Henry taught the first school in North Carolina west of the Blue Ridge.’” (1914. Arthur, John P. Western North Carolina, A History…, p. 421.)


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