The Prodigal Son: E.E. Henry, 1828 – 1915

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

In 2018, the Oshawa Museum will be publishing a book focusing on the amazing collection of Henry family letters that were donated to the archives in 2013.  One of the more prolific letter writers was Ebenezer Henry.  Who was Ebenezer Henry?

A017_20_1 A
EE Henry (A017.20.1)

Ebenzer Elijah Henry, or E.E., was the youngest of five boys born to Thomas and Betsey Henry.  Sadly for the young family Betsey died on November 12, 1829 when Ebenezer was just one year old.

The death of Betsey left Thomas alone to care for five young boys aged 9 to 1. While a sister of Thomas’s came to help the family in their time of grief, Thomas knew that the boys would need a mother. Through series of letters, Thomas began courting a young woman from Port Hope, Lurenda Abbey.  They were married on November 2, 1830 and Lurenda moved to Port Oshawa becoming mother to five young boys.

By all accounts, Ebenezer had a fairly typical childhood of the time period.  Lurenda took to her new role as mother and raised the five boys as if they were her own. The family grew to include ten more children. They had a farm and a fruit orchard on which the boys would have been expected to work. Thomas and Betsey built a frame home where they started their family.  Sometime around 1840, Thomas and Lurenda had the stone house that stands today, constructed for the family.

Henry House

Along with his siblings, Eben’s education most likely began at the small log cabin school located in School Section #2 Cedardale. The school was located approximately 2.5 kilometres from the family home. It is unclear if Ebenezer attended high school.  We know that Ebenezer attended Starkey Seminary, located in Eddytown, New York. In a letter written to his father, Ebenezer recounts returning to the Seminary and once again seeing his teacher, Professor Edward Chadwick.  Prof. Chadwick became head of the Seminary in 1847, and Ebenezer attended the school sometime between 1847 and 1851.

It appears that during his time in New York State, Ebenezer met Harriet E. Mills. Harriet was living wither mother and step father and is listed as a student in the 1850 US federal census.  While it is not yet clear if Harriet was a student at the Seminary, as it was approximately 23 kilimotres from the family home, it is clear that this is when Ebenezer met Harriet. Sometime between 1850 and 1852, the couple wed and moved back to East Whitby Township and settled in a frame house located close to his father’s home.

In around 1857, the couple left East Whitby Township and headed east to Port Hope, the hometown of his step-mother Lurenda. Once there, Ebenezer opened a photography studio. He not only created ambrotype photographs for his patrons, he could also produce copies of daguerreotypes, engravings, painted portraits and other such art work. The studio moved several times during his time in Port Hope, but it did appear to be a successful business venture.

Ebon Henry Photo Studio

In 1866, Ebenezer and Harriet moved from Port Hope to Leavenworth, Kansas where he once again opened a very successful photography studio.  Even with the distance between them, Ebenezer maintained relationships with his family in Canada.  The letters sent by Ebenezer to his father offer us a unique opportunity to learn more personal details about the family and provide glimpses into family dynamics.  While Ebenezer would return to Canada to visit family, he made Leavenworth this home until his death February 7, 1915.

As the research for the upcoming publication continues, it has been pleasure to learn more the Henry family on a more personal level.

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