Profiling: Polly Ann Henry

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

Recently Stoney Kudel, President of the Oshawa Historical Society, and I completed a project annotating the memoir of Reverend Thomas Henry. The memoir published in 1880, one year after Thomas’ death, was written by Polly Ann (P.A.) Henry his daughter in law.  As the Oshawa Museum works towards telling a more inclusive view of Oshawa’s history, we thought it was important that information regarding Polly Henry was included in the annotated version of the memoir. Historian David McCullough says, “History is no longer a spotlight. We are turning up the stage lights to show the entire cast.” His quotation emphasizes the reality that history is generally told from the perspective of one sector of society and it is imperative as historians and those entrusted with the stewardship of our community’s history, that we look to tell our story with a broader, more diverse approach.

Polly Ann Henry

Polly Ann Henry

Pauline (Polly) Ann Hayward Henry, was an accomplished photographer and author in her professional life and a loving mother and wife to her family.  Pauline was born to Reverend Joshua and Lydia Barker Hayward in Lowville, New York in 1825. Not much is known about Polly’s early life. Census records indicate she was the second youngest in a large family.  Her father, who Polly states died in 1840 after “twenty-three years of laborious work in the Gospel field” most likely was known to Thomas Henry. The Christian Palladium has several notices of Reverend Hayward  preaching in New York state during the 1830s and it is quite possible he and Thomas were acquainted.  Polly marries the third son of Thomas and his first wife Elizabeth (Betsey) Davis, George Henry in Porter Niagara, New York June 24, 1846. Polly and George settled on a farm by the lakefront in Oshawa and counted as their neighbours members of the Robinson and Guy families.  Soon two sons, Roland and Chauncy, were added to their family . By 1861, the family had moved to Bowmanville and were living in a 1 storey, frame house. They now had 2 more children, daughter Ella Jane and son George.  A fifth child, Thomas Eben Blake, was born in 1868.

Image177 - Polly Ann & George Henry

Polly Ann and George Henry

Polly Ann was, at least for a time,  a professional photographer. Whether she had any formal training is unknown however she had a studio in Bowmanville which she ran for a short time as well as a studio in Oshawa which was sold in 1865 to another portrait photographer. The Pennsylvania State Special Collection Library has in its collection two portraits taken by Polly. [1]

PA Henry Oshawa

The reverse of a photograph taken by PA Henry. Note, her location is Oshawa, CW (Canada West) telling us the photo was taken pre 1867

Most of the details regarding the writing and publishing of Thomas Henry’s memoir are lost to history.  Perhaps Thomas was following in the footsteps of several of his contemporaries, men such as Elder Abner Jones, Joseph Badger and Joseph Ash, who had published memoirs.  Or perhaps it was his daughter in law Polly that suggested to Thomas that he share his stories of spiritual development, plentiful travel and church leadership with family members and his friends in the church.

Just a few short months after Thomas’ death in September 1879, Polly had Thomas’ memoir completed and was researching publishing options. The only reference to the memoirs in the Henry collection comes from a letter written by George Henry to his step-mother Lurenda Abbey. In it George writes, “P.A. (Polly Ann) …. has Fathers history finished and wanted to see you, she had an answer from the [Publisher] – my house in [Dayton] Ohio about publishing Fathers history but not very encouraging.”[2]  The Ohio publisher referenced in the letter was most likely the Christian Publishing Association, headquartered in Dayton which published many of the Christian Church publications including the Herald of Gospel Liberty.  As a frequent contributor to the publication, Thomas Henry was likely known to the publishers. Interestingly enough, it appears they declined to publish the memoirs.  Polly’s next idea was to have family members contribute funds towards the publication costs, as noted by George “ [she] would like that such of the boys invest $20.00 each towards the printing and take books for their pay and for me to pay the [rest] as the fears if will be looseing matters. If you think favourable of it you can speak to them as you see them and what is done should be done at once.”[3] Unfortunately we don’t know if the family members gave any money towards the publication of the memoir or if it was George, as he feared would happen, who paid for the publishing. The Memoir of Thomas Henry was published by Polly in 1880 and printed by Hill & Weir, Steam Printers of Toronto.

003

Original Thomas Henry Memoir (l) and the recently published annotated memoir

After the memoir was finished we don’t hear much about Polly. She and George continued to live in Bowmanville where he became a successful fruit dealer. George passed away on March 6, 1892 of complications from diabetes. In  the 1901 census Polly is shown as living in Bowmanville with her son Thomas, his wife and three grandchildren.  Polly passed away on January 2, 1913 in Essex County Ontario.

Where those who walk shall sleep no more
The sleep of death. Are they not there?
Prophetic whispers answers, “There!”
Where those who love, their loved ones meet.

~From a poem written by Polly Henry


References

[1] Rethinking Professionalism: Women and Art in Canada, 1850-1970 Hardcover – Apr 11 2012 by Kristina Huneault pg 164. Photos are part of the William C. Darrah Collection of cartes de vistas.

[2] Letter from George Henry to Lurenda Henry, February 3, 1880, Original in the Archival collection of the Oshawa Museum

[3] Letter from George Henry to Lurenda Henry, February 3, 1880, Original in the Archival collection of the Oshawa Museum

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