Joseph Smith and Thomas Henry

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

Joseph Smith Jr. was born in 1806 to Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack. Their family travelled and frequently moved so that Smith Jr. would think nothing of his long journeys as an adult. Around 1816, the Smiths were part of “a New England exodus across the Great Lakes region in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, children of the decaying utopia of Puritan New England following paths since wrenched askew from those of their ancestors.”1 After the Revolutionary War, many American Loyalist families chose to leave New England, making Upper and Lower Canada their homes. Analogous to this were John and Nancy Henry, who immigrated from Ireland in 1811, landed in New York City, and slowly made their way to East Whitby in Upper Canada.

Joseph Smith’s religious journey is oddly similar to Thomas (son of John and Nancy) Henry’s. “Joseph embarked on his usual religious inquiries when he was barely an adolescent”2 just as Thomas Henry was “when very young, the subject of religious impressions.”3

Before becoming a Christian, Thomas Henry explored Episcopalianism, Methodism, and Calvinism. Then, in 1825, he met a Mr. Blackmar, an Elder that had “‘taken his life in his hand,’ and gone forth to preach the gospel, relying for support only on Him who feeds the ravens, and marks the sparrows fall.”4  These ministers took only the name of ‘Christian’ as their religion.

The Christian Church (also known as the Disciples of Christ) rejected all denominations during the Second Great Awakening (1790 – 1840). Alex Beam, author of American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church, describes the Second Great Awakening as “a breakout period of radical, passionate rethinking of traditional Christian worship…new doctrine was everywhere.”5

On April 30, 1830, Smith “announced the formation of the Church of Christ…converts came from evangelical Methodism and from the followers of evangelist Alexander Campbell, who, like Joseph, was preaching a primitive Christianity, calling for a restoration of Christ’s church on earth, in anticipation of the Second Coming.”6 Then, on December 31, 18317, Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone came together and officially merged their beliefs to form the Disciples of Christ – also known as the Christian Church or Church of Christ. Mr. Blackmar, whom Thomas Henry met in 1825, was an early Disciple of Christ missionary.

On September 4, 1825, Thomas Henry

was at work alone in the field. I wept and prayed and again reviewed my past life: again my sins stood in dark array before me. My eyes were bathed in tears and my heart was ready to break; and there, alone in the field, I confessed my sins, and promised to obey God in all things. Bless His name! He not only humbled, but exalted me then and there! A great light broke into my mind; I forgot all my trouble, was strongly relieved of every burden and all distress, while my whole soul seemed full of bliss; my tongue was loosed, and I cried, “Glory to God!’ Then I sat down and asked myself what this meant.8

Seven years later, Sidney Rigdon, an “urbane and erudite Campbellite preacher”9 and his congregation (Disciples of Christ/Christian), joined Joseph Smith in 1830. “Joseph admired Rigdon, famed for his fiery, revivalist preaching, and often deferred to the older man on theological questions or when it came time to deliver an important speech. The two men shared a famous 1832 vision, staring into the sky for over an hour while receiving a revelation of the three-tiered stratification of heaven.”10

The above comparisons will become part of further research on the E.S. Shrapnel print entitled “Mormons attempt to raise the dead.” Thus, there is finally solid evidence that Joseph Smith did visit Oshawa in the early days of this new religion and made some converts from this and surrounding areas of the Home District. Please visit https://oshawamuseum.wordpress.com/tag/es-shrapnel/ for updates and to see other prints.


  1. Bowman, Matthew. The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith. Random House, 2012. 6.
  2. Beam, Alex. American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church, Public Affairs, New York, 2015, 15.
  3. Henry, Polly Ann, Stoney Kudel and Laura Suchan. The Annotated Memoir of Rev. Thomas Henry. The Oshawa Historical Society, 2017, 30.
  4. Henry, et al., 32-34.
  5. Beam, 15.
  6. Ibid, 19.
  7. Davis, M. M. (1915). How the Disciples Began and Grew, A Short History of the Christian Church, Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company.
  8. Henry, et al., 37.
  9. Beam, 24.
  10. Ibid.

An Introduction to the Henry Grandchildren

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Father Henry was very fond of children, and his grandchildren will carry to their graves pleasant memories of ‘Grandpa’s Parties.’ These parties were given on the 24th of May, and the grandchildren were all invited. The children were all welcome if they came, but the grandchildren were the honored guests. We shall always remember the long table, surrounded by children, with grandpa at the head dispensing the good cheer provided for the occasion, was a face scarcely less bright and happy than the children around him.

~Polly Ann Henry, Stoney Kudel, and Laura Suchan, The Annotated Memoir of Rev. Thomas Henry (Oshawa Historical Society, 2017), 115-116.

Why them? Why was it important to me to document the lives of Thomas Henry’s grandchildren? This project began a few years ago when we decided to host an event we called Grandpa Henry’s Picnic. After a few years of hosting this event, I realized that we weren’t offering any information to the public about our guests of honour! I quickly printed out some pictures and did a few brief biographical sketches. Later I began to wonder which of the grandkids attended these Grandpa’s Parties. There were so many of them, I began to lose track of who was who.

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My next step was to create an Excel spreadsheet that included columns to denote their names, year born, age at death, occupation, where they lived, did they live while Thomas was alive, who were their parents, are there any photos of them, and did they have any servants. From here I could manipulate the columns to see the grandkids from oldest to youngest, according to who their parents and siblings were, and were they alive while Thomas was.

In total, Thomas and Lurenda had 54 grandchildren. Thomas’s first wife Elizabeth never met any of her grandchildren, dying when her oldest son was only nine years old. For sake of ease, my research has not included any step-grandchildren, nor infants whose information I could not find.

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Bertie Vasbinder,Hazel DeGurre, “Aunt Eliza Henry,” Arlie DeGurre, Elva Lorbeer, Jennie McGill (A017.20.14)

Ambrose Henry, son of John and Elizabeth, was the first grandson born in 1847, and Ida May McGill, was the youngest granddaughter, daughter of John and Jennie, and born in 1890 – 43 years apart. To give you some more perspective, Ambrose was born before his youngest three aunts and uncle were born: Clarissa in 1848, William in 1849 and Jennie in 1852. In another interesting tidbit, the oldest granddaughter Edna, daughter of John and Elizabeth was born in 1855 and Thomas’s youngest daughter Jennie was born in 1852.

Now that you’ve gotten a taste of the information, which I personally find fascinating, I hope you’ll continue reading as I introduce Thomas Henry’s Grandchildren.

Making Butter

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Since mid-March, the Oshawa Museum shifted our visitor engagement online. I had a lot of fun filming a few short videos at the Museum, with the hopes that even if you can’t physically visit the Museum, you can still experience some of our favourite tour features.  Thanks to a suggestion from my best friend, we also created a short video tutorial on how you can make your own butter at home! You can watch that video HERE.

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For many centuries, butter has been a staple in Canadian homes. For a Victorian family of the 19th century, butter making would have been a routine chore. Butter was used in the same way we use it today: as an ingredient in recipes or as a spread for bread, scones and tea biscuits, but it would also be used for barter at the local grocers.

In the video demo, and when we make butter with visitors, we use:

  • whipping cream
  • clean mason jar with tight fitting lid
  • marbles, to help with agitation (optional)
  • Salt (optional)

To make butter like we did in the video, place your cream into your container, filling it about halfway, not all the way.  This is where you can add your optional marbles, which help with agitation, and salt for flavour. Tighten the lid and start shaking.  After some time, the result of all the shaking is your butter and buttermilk.

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Victorians likely would have used churns when making their butter, and we have a few churn examples in our collection. Likely the example that comes to mind first is the churn and dash. By pumping the dasher up and down, the cream inside the churn would be agitated and eventually separation would occur – the fat and protein of the dairy, and the remaining liquid, the buttermilk.

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This churn is another example, where the crank on the outside is turned, and there are paddles on the inside which cause the agitation.

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Perhaps an artefact that is asked about on most tours is the rocker churn.  Our example was made in Fenelon Falls, and at first glance, you likely wouldn’t guess it’s a butter churn.  When the lid is removed, you can see wooden bars on the inside and yes, you guessed it, those bars act like the dash and agitate the cream.  There is even a spout near the bottom where the buttermilk could pour out.

The 1851 agricultural census gives us a snapshot of what crops Thomas Henry had on his farms and what animals were being cared for.  That year, Thomas had 11 cows: 4 bulls, oxen or steers; 3 cows/heifers; and 4 milch cows, which is a cow in milk or kept for her milk. It is likely that among the chores that Thomas’s children would have helped with, his sons would have cared for the animals, and his daughters may have turned that milk into butter.

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Be sure to check out the Museum From Home page for other at home activities to try!

You Asked, We Answered: The Centre Street Church Settee

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. This wasn’t one such question as I happened to know the answer, but I thought it could make an interesting post for the blog nonetheless.

I was recently on tour in Henry House when I was asked about the story of the settee in the parlour. It has an interesting provenance.

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The museum acquired the settee in 1973; before donation, it was used in the Centre Street Church, the same church that Thomas Henry preached at decades before.

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Centre Street Church’s origins lay with the Christian Church, officially organizing in Darlington in 1821. A decade later in 1831, Elder Thomas Henry organized the Oshawa Christian Church and served as its pastor. Meetings were held in homes and schoolrooms until 1843 when the first church was built in the area of Richmond and Church (later Centre) Streets. This church served the needs of the congregation for 30 years, during most of which time Rev. Thomas Henry was its minister.

The Christian Church soon became too small for the congregation; a section of land was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Cade, and a new church was built in 1874 on Centre Street, just south of King Street. It was reported that more than 400 worshipers were turned away from the opening service due to lack of room, indicative of the interest and support for the new building. Four services were held on the dedication day on September 5, 1875.

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The church, known as the Oshawa Christian Church, was known for its beautiful lofty spire, and it was constructed with white brick with the roof and spire covered with slate.  Installed in the spire was a bell, a ‘crowning touch’ as reported by the Oshawa Times in 1967.

In 1928 the church joined the United Church of Canada and was renamed Centre Street United Church.

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Photo from the Oshawa Times, April 29, 1967

In the 1960s, City Hall was looking to expand, and the church trustees agreed to sell the property to facilitate construction of the Rundle Tower.  The last service at the Centre Street United Church was held on April 30, 1967, conducted by Rev. A.W. Magee.  The congregation merged with the Westmount United, forming Centennial United. Eventually the congregation merged once again with Albert Street United to form Centennial Albert United Church which stands today on the southeast corner of Rosehill Blvd and Bond Street.

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Other vestiges of the Centre Street United Church remain, besides the bench and amalgamated congregation.  The ‘crowning touch’ bell can still be found today outside the Rundle Tower at City Hall, where the church originally sat, and a keystone bearing the date 1874 is a feature of the Henry House Heritage Gardens.

Gardens May 2017 (10)

You Asked, We Answered: Where are the Henrys Buried?

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

While on tour, our Visitor Hosts are often asked questions that they may not be able to answer in that moment. However, we take note of the questions and try to find the answers afterwards. Here is one such question asked during a tour.

Where are the Henrys buried?

A large number of the Henry Family are buried in the cemetery which has become known as the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery.  This cemetery may be one of the oldest in our community with an interesting history.

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The earliest known burial, based on headstones, is that of Nancy Henry, the mother of Thomas, who died in 1816.  As described in Thomas’s memoirs:

Autumn came and wreathed its many colored drapery around the mighty forests’ head, but the bright tints faded, the red leaves fell, and when the heavy frosts came down on the bare brown earth, a great affliction fell on the little household in their lonely, forest home. The wife and mother died.  Almost without precursor or warning she went, and left anguish and desolation behind her. Far from sympathizing friends, far from religious comforters, with none but her own little family around her, she bowed her head, and closed her eyes in death… [S]he was buried with Christian rites, on a little hill beside the lake… (The Annotated Memoirs of Rev. Thomas Henry, page 27).

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It is likely this cemetery had been used for burials before the death of Nancy, but there are no burial records existing from that time.

Thomas is laid to rest at this cemetery, as are both his wives, his father John, five of his children, and three grandchildren.

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Headstone for Thomas Henry & family; left photo dates to 1947 and shows original topper for headstone.  It is no longer there (right photo)

Originally, this cemetery was located to the east of the harbour, on an area known as Gifford’s Hill, however, the cemetery was moved to Bonnie Brae Point in 1975 to accommodate harbour expansion.  There were 195 individuals removed to the point, and an additional ten burials have taken place since then.