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Richard Russell’s new biography Robert Henry: A Western North Carolina Patriot
A crabby-looking Robert Henry on the cover should pique your interest.
Although panic may set in as you start reading Robert Henry’s background, it soon abates as Rick Russell skillfully weaves through Henry’s birth in what was then Mecklenburg County in 1767, to his death and burial in Clay County in 1863. Henry often lived and prospered in Buncombe County. He owned the Sulphur Springs resort, which Russell writes, drew far more tourists than did Asheville. Its history is of Shakespearean proportions.
Sulphur Springs Hotel (photo from the Pack Library NC Collection), located 5 miles west of Asheville. The Springs were discovered February 1827 by Robert Henry and his slave Sam. The original wooden hotel, built ca 1831 by Henry and his son-in-law, Col. Reuben Deaver, could accommodate 200 guests by 1848. The hotel burned in 1861. No photograph of the original hotel is known to exist. This photo shows the second, brick structure, built by Edwin George Carrier in 1887. Known as Carrier’s Springs (later The Belmont), this hotel burned in 1892. Concrete ruins remain.
When Robert Henry was almost fourteen, he fought at Kings Mountain, where a British soldier bayoneted his hand to his thigh. He recovered to fight at Cowan’s Ford. So he was brave. And he was smart. Using his phenomenal memory, he became a teacher, briefly a doctor, a lawyer, a surveyor, hotelier, and a land speculator.
At age forty-seven, Robert Henry married Dorcas Bell Love, who was seventeen. Her father founded Waynesville. The couple had six children. After living apart for many years, they divorced in 1844.
Robert Henry lived life on his own terms. He dressed to suit himself. He appeared in court barefooted or without stockings. He smoked. He drank far too much. He could be abusive even when sober. He worked slaves on his plantations, mills, and farms. A freed slave named Julia was buried at his side.
Wayne Caldwell, in the Foreword, facetiously calls himself “an outmoded scribbler of historical novels.” Don’t believe it. He concludes, “Robert Henry was a difficult man—complicated, bright, shrewd, may we say mean?”
The History Press of Charleston, South Carolina, has done a first-rate job. Robert Henry is beautifully laid out. The illustrations and photographs are sharp and interesting. A paperback, it is reasonably priced at twenty dollars.
Posted by Joanne Marshall Mauldin
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