History's Women: Early America: Sarah Shelton Henry - Wife of Patrick Henry, Signer of the Declaration of IndependenceSarah Shelton Henry
Wife of Patrick Henry, Signer of the Declaration of Independence
1745 – 1775 A.D.

Sarah Shelton, daughter of John Shelton, of Hanover County, Va., was married to Patrick Henry in the fall of 1754. Of this marriage, Wirt says in his Life of Patrick Henry: “…in the fall of 1754, before he was nineteen years of age he was married to Sarah, daughter of John Shelton, who lived in a part of the country known as ‘The Forks.’ His wife was an estimable woman of most excellent parentage and brought him six negroes and a tract of poor land, containing three hundred acres, called ‘Pine Slash’ and adjoining her father’s place.”

History's Women: Early America: Sarah Shelton Henry's husband - Patrick Henry, Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Patrick Henry

George Morgan, in his book, The True Patrick Henry, makes a merited criticism on this rather inane record. He says:

“He fell in love with Sarah Shelton, daughter of John Shelton, who lived on a farm, in a part of Hanover, known as ‘The Forks.’ It is a pity that Wirt, who had opportunities to ascertain all needful data concerning the great orator’s early life, did not strengthen his ‘sketches’ with certain essentials, reserving his rhetoric and romance for an account con spirito of Patrick’s courtship of the maid whose father soon became the tavern keeper at Hanover Courthouse. We may be sure that Scott or Burns would have brought Patrick’s first love in the true light, and that the odour [sic] of the magnolia blooms in the branches along the roadsides near ‘The Forks,’ would have been conveyed to the reader…But to Wirt the affair lacked appeal. If Patrick had gone love-making among the Pamunkeys…last of the Pocahontas tribeā€”and had borne off their feathered belle, then, we may be sure that the Wirt imagination would have been challenged; and we should have had the story of the wooing, magnolias and all…We do not know if she had grace in her heart and colour [sic] in her cheek or anything about her, except that ‘she was an estimable woman, of most excellent parentage, and brought him [Patrick] six negroes and a tract of poor land, containing three hundred acres, called ‘Pine Slash.'”

Sarah Shelton Henry died early in the year 1775, leaving six children all under twenty-one years old, Martha, Anne, Elizabeth, John, William, and Edward. Martha, who married before her mother’s death, John Fontaine, cared for her younger brothers and sisters for several years, while her father was attending to his public duties.

Patrick Henry was married to his second wife, Dorothea Dandridge, in 1777. She was the daughter of Nathaniel West Dandridge and Dorothea Spotswood and granddaughter of the old royal governor, Sir Alexander Spotswood. Through her father, she was descended from Captain John West, President of the Council from 1635, a brother of Lord Delaware and a cousin of the Earl of Essex. She was nearly twenty years younger than Mr. Henry, and survived him by many years. She bore him eleven children.

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Reference: The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. Third Volume, Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

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