William Henry seems to have been born in Scotland about 1764. He is said to have been the son of James and Nancy Herron Henry and to have emigrated to America with his parents in 1775. They soon came to Albany and rented a house near the English church. After only two weeks, they are said to have moved to Schenectady, then on to Schoharie, Rensselaersville, and then to the "Nichols" farm in Bethlehem.
William married Ann Alexander at the Albany Dutch church in December 1785. By 1797, the marriage had produced at least four children including future scientist Joseph Henry. These Henrys were members of the Albany Presbyterian church.
William Henry was known as a laborer and then as a slooper. By 1788, they had settled in a modest house on the west side of what became South Pearl Street. In 1790, his family included five members. A decade later, the first ward census showed his maturing household. In 1810, twenty-five years after his marriage, his household still had eight resident members.
An interview with Joseph Henry in 1878 yielded information that "his own father had a sloop on the Hudson . . . was not a man of temperate habits and died in a fit of delerium tremens. This made a lasting impression on his mind."
William Henry died in October 1811 just before his forty-eighth birthday. He was buried in the Presbyterian church plot. In June 1814, letters of administration were issued on his estate. His widow lived in Albany and survived until 1835. Even before his father's death, young Joseph Henry was sent to live with William's parents in Galway, New York. He returned a decade later and the rest is history.
Sources: The life of William Henry is CAP biography number 8429. This sketch is derived chiefly from family and community-based resources. He does not seem to have been closely related to the Albany family of trader Robert Henry.
Much of the information on Henry's life before Albany is derived from the published papers of his son and from the scholarship of Bert Moyer. See Albert E. Moyer, Joseph Henry: The Rise of an American Scientist (Washington, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997).
first posted: 2/20/09