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 a timeline of the Henry family in Northampton County:

  • 1776: William Henry II (1757-1821) is sent by Moravian authorities from Lancaster County to Christiansbrunn, a small community west of Nazareth, to train as a gunsmith
  • 1780: William Henry II moves to Nazareth to practice his trade
  • 1781: William Henry II marries Sabina Schropp (1760-1848) and builds a new home and gunshop on what is now South Main Street, Nazareth
  • 1798: William Henry II builds a gunworks on the Bushkill in Jacobsburg so he can complete a government arms contract
  • 1803: William Henry II converts his Jacobsburg gunworks to a gristmill and sawmill once the government contract is complete
  • 1809: Sabina Henry Wolle (1792-1859), William Henry II’s daughter, and her husband John Frederick Wolle (1785-1860) operate a store and inn at Jacobsburg
  • 1809: William Henry II’s forge at Jacobsburg, erected the previous year, produces its first bar iron (the first in Northampton County) on March 8
  • 1812: William Henry III (1794-1878), partnered with his brother J. Joseph Henry (1786-1836), begins to build Boulton, a large gunworks on the Bushkill
  • 1813-1814: Henry gun factories, in Philadelphia and at Boulton, supply weapons to the states of Delaware and Maryland during the War of 1812
  • 1822: J. Joseph Henry, who has operated a gunshop in Philadelphia, moves to Boulton and purchases his brother’s share in the business
  • 1825: Mathew S. Henry (1790-1862) builds Catherine Furnace, the first iron furnace in Northampton County at Jacobsburg, which produces its first ton of pig iron on May 25
  • 1826: Boulton begins producing arms for the fur and Indian trade, especially for John Jacob Astor
  • 1829: first mention of percussion ignition system in Boulton records
  • 1832: J. Joseph Henry and Rebecca Smith Henry (1785-1871), his wife, build the Federal-style townhouse now known as the J. J. Henry house
  • 1833: James Henry (1809-1895), the only child of J. Joseph and Rebecca Henry, marries Mary Magdalene Sautter (1811-1875); they live in the Henry Homestead
  • 1836: J. Joseph Henry dies and is buried at God’s Acre in Schoeneck; his son James, who has been a teacher at nearby Nazareth Hall, must take over the arms business
  • 1857: James Henry helps found the Moravian Historical Society and becomes its first president
  • 1860: Granville Henry (1834-1912), James Henry’s eldest son, who had been active at Boulton during the 1850s, becomes a partner in the business and takes a leadership role in it
  • 1861: Boulton supplies rifles to the P.S. Justice company of Philadelphia for use in the Civil War
  • 1863: Granville Henry enlists in Company D of the 34th Pennsylvania Militia Regiment, which prepared to defend Harrisburg and Philadelphia against Confederate attack from the south
  • 1869: Granville Henry marries Mary Elizabeth Krause (1844-1934); they live in the J. Joseph Henry house
  • 1885: James Henry drafts Pennsylvania’s first environmental legislation (which, failing in the House of Representatives, does not become law)
  • 1895: new production of arms ceases at Boulton, though the factory continues to assemble guns from parts
  • 1905: Mary Adeline “Molly” Henry (1873-1974), Granville Henry’s only child, marries Thomas Henry Atherton Stites (1875-1959), a 1901 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school
  • 1907: Boulton sells its last rifles, at $5.00 per gun
  • 1912: Granville Henry, the last gunmaker at Boulton, dies
  • 1940s: Molly and Dr. Thomas Stites, who had served at a tuberculosis sanitarium at Cresson, retire to Boulton and move into the J. Joseph Henry house with their daughter, Mary Henry Stites (1907-1989). A second daughter, Lydia Henry Stites (1913-1934), had died of tuberculosis before the family moved to Boulton.
  • 1974: Molly Stites, who had recently turned 101 years old, dies at Boulton
  • 1989: Mary Henry Stites dies, leaving the bulk of her estate, including the J. Joseph Henry house, to the Jacobsburg Historical Society