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History Corner By Pat Ross & Fran Snead

February 01, 2018

Spotlight on the Southside:  “Our Henry County Governors”

By Pat Ross & Fran Snead

Every four years in January since the 1930s, there are three ceremonial happenings in Richmond on the second Saturday of the month.  The new Attorney General of Virginia, the new Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and Virginia’s new Governor take their oath of office for serving the Commonwealth for the next four years. The Inauguration is certainly celebrated with parties and parades. One might begin to think of other Virginia governors, a favorite one, one who has led us through a certain legislative turmoil, one more favorable to the media or the difference in earlier governors and their comparison to later ones.  Thoughts of two governors immediately came to mind and of course these were the two governors from Henry County.  One was the first Governor of Virginia who lived in our county for sixty-six months, the other being born here and made Henry County home with his family.

On 2 May 1736, Patrick Henry was born to John Henry and Sarah Winston, the second son of nine children.  He was born at Studley in Hanover County, one of several counties in which he would live during his life time.  He was taught for several years in a day school, and then was taught Latin by his father. He became quite fond of Latin and quite astute in mathematics.  But, he also loved to pass time in the woods with his gun or use his fishing rod beside a stream, lying under a tree while day dreaming and using his vivid imagination.  A love of solitude followed him into adulthood and was one of his lesser known traits. 

He tried to work as a merchant, helping his brother, William, but this didn’t work.  At the age of eighteen he married Sarah Shelton at Rural Plains in Hanover and had six children:  Martha, John, William, Anne, Elizabeth and Edward.  With a growing family, he had to find work. So, he decided to become a farmer helping at times his Sarah’s father.  This didn’t work for him either and he began studying and reading history, both ancient and modern.  Another attempt at the mercantile business left him bankrupt.  Henry was determined to study law and with only six weeks of study he obtained a license to practice law in 1760 at the age of 24.

A shrewd lawyer, Henry became a bit sarcastic and humorous and enjoyed playing practical jokes at the expense of his friends on the bench.  He had a very sensitive side as shown in correspondence with his family.  He still loved to read, to play the violin and flute, hanging on to the solitude he so enjoyed and needed. 

After Sarah’s death on 9 October 1777, Henry married Dorothea Dandridge, Governor Alexander Spotswood’s granddaughter, in Hanover.  In June 1779 the Henrys moved to Leatherwood in Henry County. Eleven children were added to this family:  Dorothea, Sarah Butler, Martha Catherine, Patrick, Fayette, Alexander Spotswood, Nathaniel, Richard, Edward Winston, John and Jane.  Some say only ten children were born to Dorothea and Patrick; however, a family member names the eleven, with one dying in infancy.


By this time Henry the Statesman had definitely found his voice. With a rebellious image, he was a firebrand who sounded as such in his speaking.  He became famous in 1863 after an oration for the Parson’s Cause in which he defended the right of the colony to fix the price of tobacco so that the clergy could be paid.  He was now master of the spoken word, and some words were often borrowed from the Bible.

In 1765 Henry was elected to the House of Burgesses where he embraced his thoughts on the Stamp Act.  He served until 1774 in the House of Burgesses.  His best oratory of his genius and his most famous words were spoken in Richmond on 23 March 1775 at the Second Virginia Convention assembled at St. John’s Church when Henry, realizing that war was inevitable declared “Gentlemen may cry ‘peace, peace’, but there is no peace.  The war is actually begun!….Is life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it Almighty God.  I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”  Following this speech, and backing up those famous words with action, he organized the militia, later advancing to the rank of Commander in Chief of the Virginia forces.  To this day, many people think of George Washington as the first Commander in Chief, not Patrick Henry.

With many people believing that Henry did not have enough military experience nor did he have experience on the field of battle, and that he was possibly too erratic, Henry relinquished his commission.  He then became Governor of Virginia in the new regime and immediately authorized George Rogers Clark to begin an expedition into the Northwest.  This expedition by some is considered the greatest achievement in the history of America from a military standpoint.  Added to the Union were Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota. 

Serving as Governor for three one year terms, 1776-1779, he moved his family to Henry County and soon became a county justice.  His land holdings, including his land grants, wrote his social position at Leatherwood, his home.  On this first move to Leatherwood, he had another serious attack of malaria that had stayed with him since his days in Williamsburg where many suffered from this low-country sickness.  While in Henry County beginning in April 1780 Henry was elected to the House of Delegates and again each year for a total of five terms.  In 1784-1786 he was elected and served two more one year terms as Governor of Virginia.  In December of 1784 he and his family left Leatherwood for Richmond as Richmond had been Virginia’s new capitol since 1779.

In 1786, he moved again, this time to Prince Edward County. He retired to Red Hill in Charlotte County in 1794. Offers came from Washington to serve in different capacities, but he refused because of his health even to serve on the Mission to France.  In March of 1799 he made his last public appearance.  Being elected to Virginia’s General Assembly from Prince Edward County, he declined to serve due to his health issues, too ill to fill his seat as a Delegate.

On 6 June 1799 Patrick Henry passed away and was buried at Red Hill where he chose his own resting place.  Inscribed on a replica of a book or tablet are his birth and death dates and these words: “His fame is his best epitaph.”  A good Christian man, a champion of religious liberty, a friend to all religious denominations, he was one certainly who professed his religion.  In his will he simply stated: “I have now disposed of all my property to my family.  There is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian religion.”

Historians agree that Patrick Henry was the spiritual leader of the American Revolution and that he never was paid a proper tribute.  On 14 June 1799 the Virginia Gazette contained his obituary notice, plus notes that had been written from all over the country upon Henry’s death. He had two counties named for him, Henry County in which he lived, and Patrick County that was proportioned from Henry County.  A memorial to Patrick Henry was unveiled in 1922 by the Patrick Henry Daughters of the American Revolution.  It was a tall granite marker with a bronze plaque.  The plot on which the marker stands was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel A. Hooker, Sr. who were the owners of Patrick Henry Farms.  Then, in 1976, an historical marker was placed on U.S. 58 East by the Highway Department, the marker given by the Patrick Henry Chapter DAR.

A large portrait of Patrick Henry is at the Bassett Historical Center, hanging above the circulation desk upon entrance.  This portrait was painted by Robert Kearfott in 1969, Mr. Kearfott once residing in Martinsville.  Patrick Henry is shown giving his speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond.    

Thomas Bahnson Stanley, Sr. was born on July 16, 1890, on his family’s farm located near Spencer, Henry County, Virginia.  He was the youngest of seven children born to Susan Matilda Walker and Crockett Stanley.  Susan Walker Stanley was a native of Walkertown, North Carolina, the daughter of R.L. Walker, the niece of Judge Henry Mullins of Martinsville, and a half sister to John H. Matthews, clerk of the Henry County Court.  Crockett Stanley was an accomplished wheel-right who made a living building water wheels for grist mills.  He was a veteran who served in the Confederate Army in the War Between The States having been wounded at the beginning of the War at the Battle of Williamsburg and then again at Gettysburg.  When the War ended, he walked home from Appomattox as no other means of transportation was available.  In 1902, he became the Commissioner of Revenue for Henry County until his death in 1915.

A young Tom Stanley helped his family run the small family farm.  While educational opportunities were limited to a two room school which provided a seventh grade education, he attended Hall School beginning at the age of five.  He attended this school five months each year until he was seventeen years of age.  Hall School was located near Mt. Bethel Methodist Church and Pleasant Grove Church in Henry County.  He left the family farm to find work in Maybeury, West Virginia where he was hired to pick “bone” from the cars from the coal mines being dumped.  Later he found himself actually down in the mines with the cars bringing coal to the surface.  After a very short two months spent at this job, he was delighted to return to the family farm in Henry County.  He studied accounting at Eastman National Business College in Poughkeepsie, New York where he graduated with a degree in 1912 at the age of twenty two.  Several of his earlier jobs included being bookkeepers for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco in Winston Salem, North Carolina and for E.L. Knight Distillery in Ridgeway, Virginia, a general bookkeeper and teller for the First National Bank of Martinsville, and a cashier for the First National Bank of Rural Retreat.  In October of 1918, Stanley married Anne Pocahontas Bassett, one of the four children of John D. and Pocahontas Bassett.   Together they had three children:  Anne Bassett Stanley (Chatham), Thomas Bahnson Stanley, Jr., and John David Stanley.  In 1920, he accepted an “apprenticeship” in operating Bassett Furniture Company.  In 1924, he broke ground for his own business and Stanley Furniture Company was born.  It wasn’t long after that until Stanley Land and Lumber Company, Ferrum Veneer Company, and several divisions of Stanley Furniture Company in other locations took shape.  Tom Stanley, more popularly known as “Bonce”, began a life of public service by serving on the Henry County School Board from around 1926 until 1929.  In 1929, he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates where he served for seventeen years.  During this time in 1930, the Stanleys built their English manor house on a crest of a hill about two miles from his factory and named it “Stoneleigh” after an estate in England.  Here the Stanleys raised their family and raised Holstein cattle at “Stoneleigh Farms”.  Mr. Stanley held a seat on the Appropriations Committee and various other committees, but he considered his work as a member of the Governor’s Advisory Board on the Budget under each Governor from 1932 until his resignation from the House in 1946 as the most important in his time in the House of Delegates.  He became Speaker of the House of Delegates in 1942 and was re-elected in 1946.  In 1947, he won the election to represent the Fifth District of Virginia in the United States Congress.  During this period the Supreme Court came down with the Equal Rights Decision which affected school segregation, however, the State of Virginia worked its way into all State services without violence.  During the 82nd Congress, he was the Chairman of the House Administration Committee.  In 1953, he resigned his seat from Congress to make the race for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

At the age of sixty three, Thomas Bahnson Stanley, Sr. became Virginia’s 57th Governor (the 22nd since the War Between the States) – the first native born son of Henry County to be honored with this position.  He served as Governor from January 1954 until January 1958.  While in office, Governor Stanley directed his efforts toward a progressive and economic government which proved to be successful.  He improved the administration of state hospitals and increased funding to mental hospitals and public schools.  During his first year as Governor, the Supreme Court decision ordering integration of schools came into effect.  His administration was considered to be one of the most colorful in Virginia’s history.  In 1957, Governor Stanley was elected Chairman of the United States Governor’s Conference.  He was the first and only Governor of Virginia to entertain reigning royalty.  Governor and Mrs. Stanley were hosts to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness Prince Phillip in October 1957 in Williamsburg during the 350th anniversary celebration of the colony of Jamestown.  A reception was held in the Royal Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, this event being the first time since the 18th century that a Virginia Governor had entertained in the Colonial Palace.  This occurred after Governor and Mrs. Stanley, accompanied by an official party, visited England and personally invited the Queen to attend the anniversary celebration.  The Governor and his family also entertained the Queen Mother of England several years before in 1954 at the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond.  As a gift to commemorate the Queen Mother’s visit, Governor Stanley had Stanley Furniture Company produce six sets of miniature furniture.  The sets included both bedroom and dining room furniture and were a miniature replica of the Tanbark Suite that the company was making at that time.  One of the sets was presented to the Queen Mother to take back to Prince Charles and Princess Anne.  Part of the dining room set is on display here at the Center.  While the Stanleys were residing in the Governor’s Mansion, the mansion was completely restored and modernized and the formal gardens were completely rebuilt.  In the words of Representative William M. Tuck, “Tom Stanley was not only one of the greatest Governors in Virginia history, but one of the greatest to be found in the United States”.  Governor Stanley passed away on July 10, 1970, at the age of 79, just six days shy of his eightieth birthday.  At the Bassett Historical Center, there are numerous displays and much information that can be found concerning Governor Thomas Stanley, Stanley Furniture Company, and the Stanley family.

(Information for this article was found in the files or on the shelves at Bassett Historical Center.)