Jacobsburg and the Henry Family

Jacob Hubler, an immigrant from Switzerland, purchased his first tract of land in what is now Bushkill Township in 1743 and over the next decades he would continue to accumulate tracts of land that he would later call Jacobsburg. Hubler became a naturalized subject of the British Crown in 1763, and during the American Revolution he served on Northampton County’s Committee of Observation. Sometime before 1785, Hubler built the Jacobsburg Inn, which served as a store, tavern, and residence. By the time he died in 1789, Hubler’s holdings amounted to about 432 acres.

In 1790, some men from Nazareth — including William Henry II (1757-1821) — began to purchase the Jacobsburg land from Hubler’s executors, as well as some adjoining land from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and other neighbors. By 1796, Henry had obtained exclusive property rights over nearly all the Jacobsburg tract as well as about 165 additional acres. Henry continued to purchase land and enlarge the Jacobsburg tract for the next decade and a half, although twenty-six acres on which the Jacobsburg Inn itself stood passed into the hands of Nathaniel Michler. Michler, a justice of the peace, retained the property until 1822, but after 1809 he leased the inn and the store to others — including to John Frederick Wolle (1785-1860) and Sabina Henry Wolle (1792-1859), Henry’s son-in-law and daughter. The Wolles ran the Jacobsburg store (and, it seems, the Inn) from 1809-1818.

A three-dimensional wax portrait of William Henry II

A three-dimensional wax portrait of William Henry II

William Henry II traced his roots to Lancaster, PA, where William Henry I (1729-1786) apprenticed as a gunsmith and later became a successful merchant and important patriot during the Revolutionary War. In 1780 William Henry II settled in Nazareth, after learning the gun trade in the Moravian communities of Lititz and Christian’s Spring, and he worked in Nazareth as a gunsmith and joiner. He continued his Nazareth operations during the years he was purchasing the Jacobsburg tracts. It was only in 1798 that Henry built a gunworks at Jacobsburg on the Bushkill in order to fulfill a large government arms contract.

Series VII Box 1 Folder 9

Receipt certifying that William Henry delivered 356 stand of muskets, a portion of those promised in his 1798 government contract

The contract complete by 1803, Henry converted this gunworks into a gristmill and a sawmill. A decade later two of his sons built and then operated the Boulton Gun Works, which produced a variety of arms for nearly one hundred years. It is likely they called their operations “Boulton” after Matthew Boulton, an English industrialist who had died in 1809. Mary Henry Stites (1907-1989) and William Henry Atherton (1929-2011) were the last Henry family members to live at Boulton.

The ruins of the Henry Gun Factory (photographed 1936)

The ruins of the Henry Gun Factory (photographed 1936)

We hope our Henry family genealogy — which, like all genealogies, records some branches of the family in greater detail than others — will aid researchers in the Jacobsburg Historical Society Archives.

Here is some information about Jacobsburg and the Henry Family:

    • William Henry I was one of America’s pioneer Pennsylvania rifle makers.
    • Around 1750, William Henry I began making and repairing rifles in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He repaired arms for the Pennsylvania troops building Fort Augusta on the Susquehanna in 1756 and served as an armorer for the Forbes Expedition of 1758.
    • Robert Fulton, a Lancaster native, was an early inventor of practical steam applications. As a young boy, he visited William Henry, who had been experimenting on steam-powered boats on the Conestoga River.
    • William Henry I served during the Revolutionary War as superintendent of arms and military accoutrements for the Continental army. Both continental and state authorities gave him enormous responsibilities for procuring a wide range of materiel — including shoes and guns — that kept American troops in the field.
    • The Henry Family not only produced or repaired firearms for all our nation’s major conflicts from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, but they were also the primary suppliers of rifles for one of the largest American business enterprises of the early nineteenth century, John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company. The Henry firearm became the most prominent weapon of the western frontier due to its durability, accuracy, and relatively low cost.
    • William Henry II, who lived and worked in Nazareth after 1780, was appointed an associate judge of Northampton County’s Court of Common Pleas in 1788 and a presidential elector in 1792. In 1799 he served as a judge in the trials that followed the 1798 Fries Rebellion, during which several hundred farmers marched on Bethlehem to force the release of tax resisters that federal marshals had imprisoned in the Sun Inn.
    • Mathew S. Henry (son of William Henry II) built the first iron furnace in Northampton County at Jacobsburg, which he named Catherine Furnace after his wife. The furnace produced its first ton of pig iron on May 10, 1825.
    • John Trumbull, who painted the famous “Declaration of Independence” and the other historical subjects installed at the United States Capitol Rotunda, visited Boulton in 1838. He traveled there to see the “Death of Socrates,” which Trumbull’s teacher, Benjamin West, had painted for William Henry of Lancaster in 1756.
    • William Henry III was a founder of the city of Scranton, PA.
    • Jacob Hubler, the village of Jacobsburg’s namesake settler, is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere at Jacobsburg.
    • James Henry drafted the first legislation protecting Pennsylvania’s wetlands and waterways.
    • Henry’s Woods is one of Pennsylvania’s premier Old Growth Forests.

Please visit again to see new facts added to this page.

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