MAJOR WILLIAM MCHENRY
Signer of the 1818 State Constitution
Donated by ©Donna Buechler
©Illinois Trails History and Genealogy
We do not know where William McHenry was born or who his parents were. He passed away
at a boarding house in Vandalia, Illinois on the third of February1835. He was buried in the Old State Burial Ground
at Vandalia. In 1871 his body along with other Representatives were re-interned to the new South Hill Cemetery
were a large monument marks the spot.
The next day after Major McHenry’s death, Mr. Davidson, the senator from White County addressed the senate and in stated part, “He now sleeps with his fathers. In the death of my much lamented colleague, Illinois had lost one of her earliest and most devoted friends,” and he concluded, “And Sir, he died as he has lived, in the service of his country.”
The following day Senator Edwards proposed a resolution that told of the adventurous pioneer and gallant ranger that for years had fought against ruthless Indian invasions. He also related how much he was endeared to a numerous circle of mourning friends. On February 7th 1835, the House eulogy was printed in the Illinois Advocate and in part reads: “Sir, he was among the most prominent of those bold and enterprising pioneers of whom we speak so much, and of whom we are sometimes disposed to think, perhaps too lightly; who first disposed the mastery over these fair plains and their un-subdued forests, with the ferocious beast of prey, and still more ferocious savage. He was among the first to scatter far and wide eth seeds of civilization over this fair portion of the fairest of thee earth; and to risk his life in battle his health by exposure, and toil, that the present inhabitants of Illinois may plant their farms in peace, and garner up their bountiful inhabitants in safety.”
William McHenry was born October 3, 1771. In the late 1790’s in Logan County KY he married Hannah Ruth Blackford. John, George, Henry H., William Jr., Martin G., Lucinda, Mary Jane and Elizabeth were the children born from this marriage. There is a reference of another son who may have been killed by Indians.
Around 1810 William, his brother Daniel and their families settled in Illinois on a major trail between Vincenees IN and US Saline’s Illinois Territory. Territorial Governor Ninian Edwards appointed William Captain of the Militia. The 4th Regiment was formed and he and his men daily searched for possible Indian uprising. In KY, William had been a member of Wayne Anthony’s Cornstalk Militia and as Lieutenant in Price’s Battalion of Mounted volunteers he fought at the battle of Fallen Timbers. In the War of 1812 he again was in the service of his country. The Black Hawk War in 1932 found him as a Major in charge of a Spy Brigade in the Mounted Volunteers. William McHenry was mustered out, August 14, 1832 at nearly 61 years of age due to ill health.
A petition, which was signed by William McHenry, was circulated in 1812 asking that Illinois be made a second-class territory. When statehood was confirmed in 1818 he was a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention and elected to the House of the First Session of the General Assembly. From then until his passing he served all but two sessions in the house or senate. Willis Hargrave and William McHenry signed the Constitution of Illinois from White County.
William McHenry did not have the pleasure of knowing that McHenry County was named for him. This certainly would have been an honor for a proud man, who loved people and politics. And the House eulogy concluded, “But it has been his lot to die as he lived, in the service of his country.”
Part of the sources for this article came from family stories, “Portraits and Biographical Album of Henry County Illinois” the White County archives, and Nancy Guau’s wonderful book, “William McHenry –Soldier, Statesman, Frontiersman”. There are also many web sites that provide information. For further information on William McHenry there is a biographical article under:
Donna Buechler, William McHenry’s great, great, great granddaughter
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