By James Labosier ~
Imagine a book co-written by many members of the same family over two or three generations; sons, daughters, and cousins contributing to a narrative left unfinished by their parents who themselves had begun where their own parents had left off. This book is not a novel, with a plot and conclusion, nor a history focused on an event or a person or a location. The result, rather, is both story and history interwoven through the minute description of daily life spanning several decades. The Henkel Family Papers (MS C 291), in the Modern Manuscripts section of the National Library of Medicine collections is just such a book. An unbound collection of letters, it recounts one family’s history of the American Civil War along with innumerable situations, problems, and circumstances which originate and play themselves out over weeks, years, or decades. The correspondence is the story of a family in New Market, Virginia in the 19th century.
New Market, Virginia
The town of New Market itself barely predates the Henkel family’s presence there. White settlers, mostly Pennsylvanians and Marylanders of German and Scotch-Irish descent, first began occupying land in the Shenandoah valley in the early 18th century. Farmers were cultivating land to the north and east of present-day New Market by the mid-1730s. New Market’s establishment is credited to John Sevier, who bought the land from his father and conducted a trading post in 1765 at the intersection of two Indian crossroads. A racetrack built in the vicinity inspired the name of New Market, in emulation of New Market, England, a notable racing town. An act of the General Assembly of Virginia formalized the settlement’s status as a town in 1796.
The Henkel Family
Among New Market’s early residents was Reverend Paul Henkel (1754–1825). Though born in Rowan County, North Carolina, his family moved to present-day Pendleton County, West Virginia, in 1760 to escape Catawba Indian raids. Henkel married and relocated his family to New Market in 1790. He built the first Lutheran church in New Market in 1791 and was ordained a Lutheran minister in 1792.
Four of Paul Henkel’s sons, Andrew, Charles, David, and Philip followed his example. As Lutheran ministers they served congregations in Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Two sons remained in the Shenandoah Valley. Ambrose (1786–1870) apprenticed to a printer and in 1806 initiated a press in New Market. The first Lutheran printing shop in America, the Henkel Press produced a variety of texts, initially in German, supporting the Lutheran Church’s development and practices in the United States, as well as a short-lived newspaper and some children’s books. One of its most noteworthy achievements was an English translation of “The Book of Concord” in 1851.
Around 1817, Ambrose sold the business to his brother, Solomon (1777–1847), who sustained the Press’s activities in addition to his chosen profession as a physician. In 1800, Solomon married Rebecca Miller, daughter of Winchester physician Gottfried Miller. They had a large family. Three of their sons became physicians. They may have formed a practice together in New Market, which was reduced by Silon Amos Henkel’s (1813–1844) early death. Solon Paul Charles Henkel (1818–1882) and Samuel Godfrey Henkel (1807–1863) remained in partnership. Another son, Solomon D. Henkel (1816–1872), operated a general store.
New Market residents respected and admired Samuel G. Henkel’s devotion to the medical profession, his generous support of the local Lutheran congregation, his management of the Henkel Press, and his earnest concern for the welfare of his family and friends. His father sent him to Philadelphia to gain his medical education at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He began practicing with his father in New Market from the early 1830s continuing until some point in the 1840s, when his two younger brothers, Solon P.C. and Silon Amos, also became physicians.
Samuel learned the business of the Henkel Press under his father’s tutelage and assumed sole control of it upon Dr. Solomon’s death in 1847, corresponding with relatives and other contributors of translations and other Lutheran doctrinal texts. Rev. Socrates Henkel (1823–1901), Samuel’s cousin who also lived in New Market, coordinated much of the Press’s Lutheran activities. When the local Lutheran congregation split into two groups, Samuel donated land for the new Emmanuel Lutheran church in 1848.
Like his father and grandfather, Samuel Henkel produced a large family. In 1832 he married Susan Coiner (1810–1905), whose father, Caspar Coiner, was from Augusta County, Virginia. One son, Celsus Aurelius Henkel, had died in 1848 during his second year. In 1849 the family consisted of:
- Rebecca Margaret Henkel (1833–1912),
- Caspar Coiner Henkel (1835–1908),
- Julia Virginia Henkel (1838–1933),
- Ellen Helea Henkel (1840–1865),
- Susan Elizabeth Henkel (1842–1918),
- Abram Miller Henkel (1844–1904),
- Emma Minerva Henkel (1847–1883),
- and Mary Belsora Henkel (1848–1854).
Caspar C. Henkel received his primary education without leaving New Market. The New Market Academy opened in 1817 and was led for several decades by a well-regarded scholar, poet and linguist, Joseph M. Salyards (1809–1885). In his time, he was considered the greatest educator in the Shenandoah Valley.
While Caspar was completing his studies at home, some friends and relatives had already ventured out in search of education and fortune. A close friend and cousin of Caspar’s was Abram Shultz Miller (1830–1896), grandson of Dr. Gottfried Miller of Winchester. Samuel Henkel had mentored Shultz and encouraged his medical studies at his own alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He graduated in 1854 and returned to New Market to join Samuel and Solon Henkel’s practice.
In October 1854 Caspar traveled to Philadelphia with his father, who helped him find a rooming house as he began his formal medical education at the University’s School of Medicine. Samuel could afford to support Caspar during his studies, despite having a large family at home, because in addition to his medical practice he also worked an extensive family farm. With help from family members and a couple of hired hands, the Henkel farm produced for their own subsistence and for the market corn, wheat, grasses, and apples, and raised hogs, sheep and cattle. Caspar never took the support for granted and always tried to economize and limit his expenses to the bare necessities.
His sisters Susan, Ellen, and Julia wrote to him regularly of local events, while Rebecca related activities from her new life in Augusta County. In November of 1853 she had married Gideon Koiner (1826–1897) and they built a homestead they called Brogue Run. Samuel offered regular advice and encouragement, including funds when needed, and provided the details of certain medical cases he was treating.
From October 1854 to March 1857 Caspar studied in Philadelphia, returning home each year for the spring and summer. While at school, he was regularly called upon to assist New Market relatives in ways both essential and otherwise. The Henkel brothers’ practice depended upon a stock of drugs and equipment which they replenished semi-annually from large drug firms in major cities. On earlier occasions Samuel had purchased his stock from a Baltimore drug company, but while Caspar was in Philadelphia, drugs were acquired from Fahnestock’s. It saved Samuel the time and effort of making a personal trip to Philadelphia to have Caspar coordinate the selection and purchase while he was going to school. He was enlisted in similar duties on behalf of the Henkel Press. Samuel required him to shop for a replacement printing press and related equipment as well as conduct business with binderies and paper suppliers. Caspar graduated in March of 1857. He immediately returned home to join the family practice.
Events interesting, joyful, and alarming had taken place in New Market during his long absences. He was happy to welcome his cousin and good friend Shultz Miller into his family when he married Caspar’s sister Julia in November 1856. Their mutual regard was manifest in Julia’s first child, who was named Caspar Otto Miller (1857–1945).
The third of Caspar’s sisters, Ellen, was married in 1859. During that winter she wed William Fulmer and moved to his family’s home in Stewartsville, New Jersey. Though she became a resident of a northern state, she never lost her identity as a southerner. She, along with friends and other relatives of Caspar’s, was explicit in defending the south’s institutions and condemned John Brown’s failed raid at Harpers’ Ferry.
Stay tuned to learn about Caspar Henkel’s experiences as a physician in the American Civil War.
About the Collection
The Henkel Family Papers collection (MS C 291; 1.5 linear feet) consists of 828 letters and is largely the product of Caspar C. Henkel’s (1835–1908) life. Items dating before 1850 were written by ancestors of both Caspar and his wife, Margaretta. The bulk of the correspondence, however, is directly related to Caspar and Margaretta. Caspar retained letters written to him while he was away at medical school and in the field during the Civil War. Upon returning home from these extended absences, he apparently also collected several letters he himself had written to New Market. He also kept letters written to him from his two brothers during their medical training and afterwards when they lived and practiced away from New Market. Letters written to Margaretta from her sisters during the late 1860s and early 1870s are also included.
James Labosier is Associate Curator for the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Program in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.