Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

James McHenry (ca. 1752-1816)
MSA SC 3520-895

Born: Given variously as November 25, 1751, 1752, or November 16. 1753, in Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland; elder son.
Immigrated: From Ireland to Philadelphia in 1771; to Baltimore Town by 1781.
Resided: With Capt. William Allison in Philadelphia, 1771; Newark, Delaware, ca. 1772; Philadelphia, ca. 1774-1775; with Continental troops, 1775-1781; Baltimore Town and Baltimore County, 1781-1796; Philadelphia, 1796- 1799; Washington, D.C., 1800; "Fayetteville," near Baltimore City, and Allegany County, 1800-1816.
Died: May 3, 1816, at his home near Baltimore City. Buried in Westminster Churchyard, Baltimore City.

Family Background
Father: Daniel McHenry (ca. 1725-1782), who immigrated from Ireland ca. 1773 and was a merchant in Baltimore Town.
Mother: Agnes (1726-1774).
Brother: John (1755-1790), of Baltimore Town, a merchant.
Sister: Anna (1751-1771).
Married: January 8, 1784, Margaret Allison Caldwell (1762-1833), daughter of David Caldwell (?-1762) of Philadelphia, a merchant, and wife Grace Allison. Margaret was the stepdaughter of Capt. William Allison of Philadelphia with whom McHenry resided upon his arrival in America. Her brother was John (1759-1820), who married his cousin Margaret Caldwell and practiced law in Baltimore Town. Her half sisters were Grace Allison; Jane Allison, who married (first name unknown) Dorsey.

Sons: Daniel William (1786-1814), who married in 1812 Sophia (1794-1874), daughter of Nathaniel Ramsay (1741-1817), and moved to Allegany County; John (1791-1822), who married in 1819 Juliann (Juliana) Elizabeth (1796-1821), daughter of John Eager Howard (1752-1827).
Daughters: Anna (Agnes) (1788-1837), who married in 1808 James P. Boyd; Grace (1784-1789); and Margaretta (1794-1809).

Private Career
Education: In Dublin before emigration; Newark Academy, Delaware, ca. 1772; studied medicine under Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia, ca. 1774-1775.
Religious Affiliation: Presbyterian; member of First Presbyterian Church of Baltimore; first president of the Bible Society of Baltimore, 1813.
Social Status and Activities: Gent., by 1791; Esq., by 1796; Hon., by 1799; original member, Society of the Cincinnati; elected to the American Philosophical Society, 1786; member, Grand Lodge of Maryland, Masonic Order, Lodge 23, 1806-1809.
Additional Comment: From at least 1782, McHenry suffered from what he described as "bilious fever." He spent many summers at various warm springs in southwestern Virginia or in Allegany County. While visiting his son Daniel in Allegany County during the summer of 1812, McHenry lost the use of his legs and was unable to return to Baltimore until the following summer. The paralysis continued until his death.
Occupational Profile: Physician; merchant; businessman; land developer; officeholder. Although McHenry practiced medicine as an army surgeon during the early years of the Revolution, he apparently gave up this profession permanently when he joined General Washington's staff. McHenry was included as a partner in the family mercantile business, Daniel McHenry & Son, before 1775, although his participation was probably not significant until after his father's death in 1782. When McHenry accepted the position as secretary of the War Department in 1796, he gave up his share in two"mercantile partnerships" to enter public office free of private business interests. McHenry compiled and published the Baltimore Directory and Citizens Register for 1807.

Public Career
Legislative Service: Senate, Western Shore, Term of 1781-1786: 1781-1782, 1782-1783, 1783, 1784, 1785 (did not attend; resigned on January 7, 1786); Lower House, Baltimore Town, 1788, 1789; Senate, Western Shore, Term of 1791-1796: 1791-1792, 1792, 1793, 1794, 1795.
Other State Office: Constitution Ratification Convention, Baltimore Town, 1788.
Local Offices: Justice, Baltimore County, 1782-1784 (resigned); justice, Orphans' Court, Baltimore County, 1783, 1784.
Military Service: Volunteered as a surgeon for the American army in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by January 1776; surgeon, Fifth Pennsylvania Battalion, commissioned on August 10, 1776, taken prisoner by the British at Fort Washington on November 16, 1776, paroled on January 27, 1777, exchanged March 1778; senior surgeon, Flying Hospital, 1778; assistant secretary to Gen. George Washington, appointed on May 15, 1778, sworn on June 9, 1778; transferred to Lafayette's staff in August 1780; major, with commission dated October 30, 1780; remained with Lafayette through the southern campaign and at Yorktown; resigned from the Army on December 3, 1781.
Out of State Service: Delegate, Continental Congress, 1783-1785 (elected on May 12, 1783, to fill vacancy; reelected in November 1783 and December 1784); delegate, Federal Constitutional Convention, signer, 1787; secretary, Department of War, appointed on January 27, 1796, resigned on May 6, 1800 (effective June 1, 1800). As secretary of war, McHenry handled Indian affairs as well as military and naval business until the latter was assigned to Benjamin Stoddert (ca. 1751-1813) in 1798. Involved with the preparations for possible war with France, McHenry frequently relied on Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) for advice on problems of the War Department and on matters referred by President Adams to the cabinet. It was this reliance upon Hamilton which caused Adams to request McHenry's resignation in 1800. As for McHenry's performance in office, Washington wrote, "I early discovered after he (McHenry) entered upon the duties of his office, that his talents were unequal to great exertions, or deep resources." Hamilton defended McHenry, writing that he was "sensible, judicious, well-informed, of an integrity never questioned." A later biographer of McHenry wrote that his management of the War Department was "marked more by fidelity and industry than by any conspicuous talent for conducting the complicated affairs of a great department."
Stands on Public/Private Issues: McHenry signed the U.S. Constitution with some reservations, but with the felt that its superiority to confederation warranted its approval. He supported ratification of the Constitution without amendments. Throughout his career McHenry was a staunch Federalist; he maintained an active correspondence with his Federalist associates until his death. In 1791 McHenry wrote a commendation of Benjamin Banneker's almanac, saying, "I consider this negro as a fresh proof that the powers of the mind are disconnected with the color of his skin." He supported the establishment of a college in Baltimore City, 1803. A modern historian has written that McHenry "was not a great man, but he participated in great events and great men loved him."

Wealth During Lifetime
Personal Property: 6 slaves, 1790.
Annual Income: When divesting himself of his shares in two Baltimore partnerships in 1796, McHenry stated that one had netted him £1,000.0.0 per year for five years and that the other was sold at an "actual loss" of about £3,000.0.0. He once told President Washington that there was no need to increase his salary as secretary of the War Department.
Land at First Election: Probably none.
Significant Changes in Land Between First Election and Death: Received 400 acres of federal bounty lands for service in the Revolution; inherited the property of his brother John, probably including 3 lots and a lease on a fourth lot in Baltimore Town, 1790; purchased 8 lots and the ground rents on additional lots, all in Baltimore Town, 1791; purchased ca. 92 acres and 9 lots adjoining Baltimore Town to the west in 1792, and built his mansion,"Fayetteville," named for the Marquis de Lafayette; purchased the title to those lots on which he held ground rents, 1796; sold 1 and one-half lots in Baltimore City, 1796-1799; purchased 2 lots and obtained long-term leases on 3 lots in Baltimore City, 1799-1803; leased out 9 lots in Baltimore City, 1803-1804; purchased over 9 acres adjoining Baltimore City and at least 444 acres in Allegany County, 1808-1810; patented 34 acres in Allegany County, 1813; leased out over 34 acres adjoining Baltimore City and at least 3 lots within Baltimore City, 1813-1815; acquired lots in Washington, D.C., prior to death.

Wealth at Death
Personal Property: Total estate value at least $87,821.37, (including leases on 9 houses and lots in Baltimore City valued at $26,000.00, 10 slaves, books, over 560 shares of stock in various banks, insurance companies, the Schuylkill Bridge Company, etc., and shares of both 3 percent and 6 percent U.S. stock).
Land: About 95 acres near Baltimore City under development, lots in Baltimore City, lots in Washington, D.C., at least 1,000 acres in Allegany County (500 acres of which had belonged to McHenry's son Daniel and probably were only controlled by McHenry), and 400 acres of federal bounty land.
Additional Comment: Rents received from 74 tenants on Baltimore property totaled $18,238.66, 1818-1821.

Source: Edward C. Papenfuse, et al., eds. A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789. Vol II. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985, p. 588-590.

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