25 Apr 1881: Alexander Rose Hendry’s Law Office Destroyed by Arsonist’s Fire

On this day — 139 years ago — my 4x-great-grandfather Alexander Rose Hendry’s law office was destroyed by fire. The article below appeared in the 29 April 1881 issue of the New Orleans Democrat (transcription follows):¹

“Winnsboro, LA. A House and Its Contents Destroyed by Incendiary Fire–The Weather and Crops,” The New Orleans Democrat, 29 Apr 1881, p. 1, col. 2; image copy; Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/?clipping_id=32458955 : accessed 25 Apr 2020).


(Special to the Democrat).

WINNSBORO, La., April 26, via Delhi, April
28.–Last night about 8 o’clock the house
owned by Dr. A. R. Hendry, and occupied by
Osborne Perkins as a dry goods store, and
Hendry & Berry as a law office, was entirely
destroyed by fire, with the entire contents.
Osborne & Perkins lose about $3000, insured
for $2000. Dr. Hendry loses the house, which
was very old, and his entire law library, which
was a valuable one. Berry loses his library,
which was small. The fire was the work of an
incendiary. There was no insurance on the
house or library.
We had a fine rain on the twenty-second and
twenty-fourth, and the gardens and fields are
looking well. Cotton seed is selling at six
cents a pound and scarce at that price. Hogs
are dying with cholera.

Oh, what a loss for Alexander! Although he studied medicine at Williams College in Watertown, Massachusetts,² and practiced as a physician in northeast Louisiana for many years,³ he also worked as an attorney. Alexander was admitted to the Louisiana Bar Association in 1847.⁴ The fire destroyed all the books he’d amassed in his 30+ year career — a needless loss at the hands of an arsonist.

I’m unsure where Alexander’s law office, along with the dry goods store, was located. It seems most reasonable that the law office would be near the parish courthouse in Winnsboro. However, Alexander⁵ and his law partner Charles L. Berry,⁶ as well as the likely merchant, A. F. Osborne,⁷ all lived in Ward 7, on New Zion Road toward Liddieville. (If we weren’t in a pandemic, I would visit the courthouse and search for any Hendry-owned property near the town center, but…well, that will have to be a project for another time.)

Alexander lost much of his wealth in the Civil War. On the 1860 census, he reported the value of his real estate as $8000, and his personal property as $500.⁸ By 1870, that value had decreased to $1770, and $391.⁹ Alexander resorted to selling much of his real estate because he lacked cash to pay taxes.¹⁰ The loss of his entire law library was surely a devastating loss to a man near the end of his career.

Alexander died not long after the fire, supposedly on 17 November 1884, in Franklin Parish.¹¹ An authored family history cites this date from an unidentified newspaper clipping.

¹”Winnsboro, LA. A House and Its Contents Destroyed by Incendiary Fire–The Weather and Crops,” The New Orleans Democrat, 29 Apr 1881, p. 1, col. 2; image copy; Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/?clipping_id=32458955 : accessed 25 Apr 2020).

²Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, “Catalogus, Collegii Gulielimi, MDCCCXXXVIII”; image, “U.S., College Student Lists, 1763-1924.” Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/2207/32217_622204_0523-00030 : accessed 4 May 2019); citing “College Student Lists,” American Antiquarian Society.

³Alexander R. Hendry, 1839-1844, Medical Daybook. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, Louisiana State University Libraries, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

⁴”Admissions to the Bar,” New Orleans Weekly Delta, 1 Nov 1847, p. 2, col. 1; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/image/?clipping_id=32458831 : accessed 25 Apr 2020).

⁵1880 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, enumeration district (ED) 34, p. 41-A (penned), p. 206 (stamped), A. R. Handry; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4241369-00624/8848208 : accessed 25 Apr 2020); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 453.

⁶1900 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, Ward 7, enumeration district (ED) 47, p. 5-A (penned), p. 69 (stamped), Charles Berry; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4120180_00045 : accessed 25 Apr 2020); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 565.

⁷1880 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, enumeration district (ED) 34, p. 46-B (penned), p. 209 (stamped), A. F. Osborn; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4241369-00629 : accessed 25 Apr 2020); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 453.

⁸1860 U.S. census, Catahoula Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, Pine Woods, p. 136 (penned), dwelling 1003, family 979, A. R. Handry household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4231221_00135 : accessed 4 May 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication M643, roll 410.

⁹1870 U.S. census, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, population schedule, p. 4 (penned), dwelling 29, family 29, A R Hendry; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4269414_00068 : accessed 4 May 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 513.

¹⁰Carolyn Yvonne White, et al., The Descendants of Alexander Rose Hendry and Mary Minerva Manning (self-published, 2000), 5.

¹¹Ibid., 7.

Preserving the Alexander Rose Hendry Letter

Acquiring the Alexander Rose Hendry letter has been the highlight of my 2019 genealogy year. Once the letter arrived in September, I opened it only once — then I avoided touching it until I could take the correct steps in preserving it.

That’s when it pays to have an archivist friend. I met Rachael Altman, Director of the Carnegie History Center in Bryan, Texas, at the Texas Institute for Genealogical Research (TIGR) this summer in Austin. We were both in the Advanced Southern Research track. I remembered Rachael’s role at Carnegie included archiving photographs and documents, so I consulted with her about the best way to care for my new-found family heirloom.

Rachael recommended an archival sleeve from Gaylord Archival. I bought a 4-mil polyester envelope that is sealed on three sides so the letter could be preserved unfolded in its entirety. To fit the letter, I had to purchase the 11″ x 17″ size. Paper from this era is not sized to the same standards we have today, so the letter isn’t to the edges of the archival sleeve and has some wiggle room. If my budget were unlimited, I could have a special sleeve constructed to its specific measurements — maybe a future improvement?

Rachael was in town for the Texas State Genealogical Society’s annual conference in October. We met the evening before the conference at Clayton Library, and Rachael did the work I was too unnerved to do myself — carefully unfolding the letter, attempting to remove the tape, and flattening the document inside the envelope.

Rachael wears gloves while unfolding and examining tape on the 1855 Alexander Rose Hendry letter.
Rachael works to position the fragile letter in the archival sleeve.

Unfortunately, Rachael did not have the tools with her to remove the tape, but she did get the letter into the sleeve without any of the fragile folds tearing. She also showed me some techniques for using a smartphone camera to isolate and closely zoom to troublesome sections of the letter for transcription.

The letter in its archival sleeve needs to be stored flat, so my next step is ordering an acid-free box.

Once we were able to examine the letter more closely in the sleeve, we realized the seller had transcribed the date incorrectly. The letter is dated January 22, 1855 — not 1845. I’m currently working on transcribing the entire letter. Stay tuned for the results. It’s a slow process, but one I feel will be very rewarding.

Thanks so much for your help, Rachael! You’ve helped preserve a piece of 165-year old family history for my Hendry family.

Family Artifacts on eBay: I Bought the 1845 Alexander Hendry Letter!

Last fall I found my first family artifact on eBay: a letter written by my 4x-great-grandfather Alexander Rose Hendry in 1845! It was expensive, so I attempted a transcription with just thumbnail photos and eBay’s zoom functionality. Although challenging, I managed to figure out a fair amount of the letter’s contents.

I’ve thought about that letter many times over the past year, still wishing I could own it myself. Then a few weeks ago, I wrote a check for one of my son’s extracurricular activities for the same amount as the eBay listing and thought to myself, “Isn’t genealogy my extracurricular activity?” And I bought the letter. Of course, frugal me contacted the seller at her brick-and-mortar storefront and negotiated a slightly better price — and then spent all the savings on museum-quality archival sleeves.

These photos show the condition of the Alexander Hendry 1845 letter when it arrived from the eBay seller on 23 Sep 2019.

The Hendry letter arrived in the mail today, and I cannot explain the thrill it is to hold a letter written by my own ancestor! It is fragile, but in wonderful condition for being almost 175 years old. I’d originally thought the letter was two individual sheets of paper, but Alexander actually folded a paper roughly 11 inches by 17 inches in half and wrote on it booklet style. He then folded it into ninths and closed with a wax seal. The seal did not survive to the present day, but I can see where it was from an oily imprint on the paper. Some tape holds together the edges that formed the envelope. This tape prevented me from fully transcribing the letter from photos, but it is more transparent in person. I’m hoping I will be able to decipher more of the letter now that I can examine it more closely.

But, for now, I’m avoiding manipulation of the paper. Rachael Altman, archivist with the Carnegie History Center in Bryan, Texas, will be helping me encapsulate it when she’s in town for the Texas State Genealogical Society (TxSGS) conference next month. We met at TIGR 2019, and I’m so glad she’s willing to lend her expertise to this project. I plan to take photos of the process and document here — and maybe write an article for Stirpes, the TxSGS quarterly, about it also.

Thomas Hendry: Independent Patriot

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is Independent.  To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index

To celebrate Independence Day, this week’s prompt is “independent” — very fitting! As I contemplated this week’s post, I also learned my Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) application was approved effective July 5. So to celebrate both occasions, I’m profiling my patriot ancestor and 7x-great-grandfather Thomas Hendry. His service is the reason I am eligible for DAR, and his family’s sacrifices benefited their community during the American Revolution.

Continue reading Thomas Hendry: Independent Patriot

Dorothy Jean Hendry Smith: In Memoriam

My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Jean Hendry Smith, passed away this morning at her home on Smith Hill in Liddieville, Louisiana. Her obituary follows:

Dorothy J. Smith
1935 – 2019

Funeral services for Dorothy J. Smith, 84, of Liddieville, will be held 2 pm Thursday, May 23, 2019, in Boeuf River Baptist Church, with Rev. Bruce Cardin and Rev. Kevin Goodman officiating. Interment will follow in Ogden Cemetery under the direction of Gill First National Funeral Home. Visitation will be 1pm until time of service at the church.

Continue reading Dorothy Jean Hendry Smith: In Memoriam