Warren County Historical Society Presents …
November 1, 2014
WHO WAS HENRY SPENCER?
by Joseph M. Dawson
Those of you who are interested in North Country history and traditions and who occasionally read books and stories about Warren County and its early occupants may have come across the name of Henry Spencer.
In the book Three Years in North America written by James Stuart, Esq. and published by Robert Cadell in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1833, Henry Spencer became part of written history. In September 1828, Stuart and a group of friends visited Glens Falls. When the original driver and horse and carriage that had been ordered for a trip to Caldwell on Lake George were unavailable, a substitute was arranged. The substitute driver was very knowledgeable about the history of the local area, especially of the events of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. He also was familiar with the details of the system of secondary education in Edinburgh, Scotland which was the home of his audience and which the local Glens Falls community was considering adopting for a high school their own.
It was not until their driver, identified as a Mr. Spencer, declined an invitation to join them for dinner that he identified himself as the local county High Sheriff. Stuart goes on to further describe Mr. Spencer as having done such a good job as Justice of the Peace that his fellow citizens elected him to his present office. Further inquiry revealed that Spencer was also “a general merchant in the village, and had mills and a store.” Stuart continues to discuss at some length the democratic nature of American society where tradesmen are elevated to public office based upon their individual merit rather than their elevated social position.
According to a letter in the Holden collection* dated November 15, 1875 from E. T. Spencer, a descendent, Henry was born on July 3, 1774 but we really don’t know where. The same letter tells us that Henry married Anna Gazley on Jan. 11, 1796, the first of four wives. Anna died on Feb. 24, 1813 after bearing him seven children within 13 years. On Sept. 2, 1813, he married his second wife, Widow Hanna Morgan who died on Jan. 30, 1818 after bearing him two children. He married his third wife, Widow Betsey Freeman, on April 15, 1821. She died on Feb. Feb. 7, 1841. His fourth wife was Judith Folger whom he married on Sept. 21, 1842.
In The History of Warren County (1885), H. P. Smith notes the first event placing Henry Spencer in Warren County. It is here that Henry Spencer is identified as a Commissioner of Roads in 1806 in the Town of Queensbury. Beginning with that entry, Henry’s name is frequently seen among the lists of officials in Queensbury and Washington County and after March 12, 1813 when Warren County was created out of Washington County, he participates in Warren County town and village governments.
As alluded to in James Stuart’s travel book, Henry was Justice of the Peace in Queensbury between 1807 and 1810 which apparently led to his role as the first Sheriff of Warren County in 1813. This, no doubt, was an important position with much responsibility in the young and raw communities of early Warren County.
In order to learn how Henry earned his living when not serving his community, we must read between the lines a bit. Again in Smith’s History of Warren County we read, “Col. A. W. Morgan came to the town in 1813 and learned the harness maker’s trade with Judge Henry Spencer.” Again in the same history there is a reference that in 1835 in Glens Falls, “On the east side of River Street leading south from the Glens Falls Hotel…[was] Henry Spencer’s living and tavern stables….” Holden in his History of Queensbury in a discussion of the Glen House says, “A hotel, built (on the site of a tavern previously burned) and owned and kept by Henry Spencer, Esq., formerly sheriff of Warren County.”
So if we put these scraps of information together we might conclude that Henry Spencer earned his living during various times in his life by making and repairing harness; driving and perhaps renting teams and carriages and wagons; operating a stable and a tavern; and, in his later years, owning and operating the Glen House Hotel in Glens Falls.
Spencer certainly was active in Glens Falls civic affairs. He was President of the Village Board of Trustees in 1841, 1842 and 1844 and a Member of the Board of Health in 1849.
He was Queensbury Town Clerk from 1817 to 1822. In addition to being Justice of the Peace between 1807 and 1810, he also held that position between 1818 and 1821, and from 1832 through 1839. Among his other civic responsibilities were Commissioner of Common Schools, Assessor, Overseer of the Poor, Commissioner of Highways, Collector, Constable, Poundkeeper and Overseer of Highways.
As if all of these responsibilities were not enough, he was very involved in the fire protection of his day. In 1835 he was a member of the Village Vigilance Committee with responsibility to inspect for fire hazards. In 1841 the Village of Glens Falls directed that, “Henry Spencer be appointed to procure hooks and ladders…” Apparently, in those days “hook and ladder” meant just that, and part of fighting fires meant removing the fuel using “hooks and ladders.” Henry Spencer was one of the original members of the first Glens Falls Fire Company established on June 27, 1842 and also the Hook and Ladder Company.
He was obviously a person of some substance in the community as early as 1813 since, in that year. land was purchased from Henry Spencer for $25, “an acre and a quarter and one rod as glebe for the use of the church” which became known as the old burying place. For those of you who weren’t around at the time, a glebe, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is “a plot of land belonging or yielding profit to an English parish church or an ecclesiastical office”.
Henry Spencer died on August 17, 1853 at the ripe old age of seventy-six. Although we have accumulated many facts about Henry, the only thing we know about him as a person are the generally favorable opinions held by Spencer’s neighbors and recorded by Stuart in his early book. We know he was prolific and his political success would indicate that he was well liked. As a tavern and hotel owner, we may surmise that he liked people.
But the basic question still remains. Who was Henry Spencer?
*The Holden Collection can be found in the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library
The author is a resident of Queensbury, a member of Warren County Historical Society, and a retired civil engineer. He originally prepared this article for the Warren County Historical Society’s newsletter.
© November 1, 2014, Warren County Historical Society