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Robert Moses Henshaw


Bluemont Cemetery, Grafton, WV

Robert Moses Henshaw was born "Hanshaw" in 1842 in Preston County, WV, the son of Hiram B. and Catherine (Miner) Hanshaw

When the federal census was taken in 1860, the 18-year-old Robert resided in the home of Benjamin and Sarah Swindler in Evansville, Preston County. Swindler was a saddle manufacturer, and Robert served as his apprentice.

Robert married Marion W. Percy (1841-1897) in February 1870. He was two years younger than she -- he was 28 at the time, and she 29. A native of Frostburg, Allegany County, MD, Marion was the daughter of coal miner Douglas Percy and his wife Agnes, who in turn were emigrants from Scotland.

The Hanshaws had four children, all of whom spelled their surname "Henshaw" -- James "Edgar" Henshaw, Jean Patterson, Percy "Roy" Henshaw and Katherine "Kate" B. Robinson. Son Edgar may have been born in Frostburg, Allegany County, MD or in neighboring Marion County, WV, according to differing legal records. 

The federal census of 1870 shows the newlyweds making their home in Pruntytown, near Grafton, Taylor County, WV, where Robert worked as a messenger for an express company. The year of their marriage, Marion may also have returned to Frostburg as a housekeeper for the apparently widowed Foster Hartzell and his young children, who were next-door neighbors of her mother Agnes Percy.


Bluemont Cemetery, Grafton

In the early 1870s, Robert and brother Charles lived in Grafton, where they were partners in a prominent general store, "Hanshaw & Bro." According to Charles Brinkman's History of Taylor County, they formed the business when they "purchased the stock of D.A. Litzinger and took over the business room in the old Augustus Pollock building at the southwest corner of Elizabeth and St. John streets. This new firm catered to the best trade in Grafton and carried all that was superior in textiles and other lines handled by this firm."

Robert and Charles and their families were active in the town's affairs for many years, and sought visibility and influence to help build their enterprise. In May 1877, while visiting in Piedmont, WV, he helped put out a fire and "was painfully injured," said the Wheeling Register.

Robert was a stockholder of the Taylor County Agricultural and Mechanical Society, along with 25 other prominent businessmen, and was once elected to the Society's board of directors. In 1878, he and others signed a petition asking that the county seat be relocated from Pruntytown to Grafton.

Among many other customers, one was their mother, providing items for use in the family hotel in Independence, Preston County.  At her death in 1879, she owed the store $95 for debts accrued from 1876 onward. On credit, she had purchased such foodstuffs as sugar, ham, flour , coffee, syrup, beans, rice, apples, corn, salt, baking powder, peaches, pepper and bread, as well as such household items as shoes, calico, soap, slippery elm, buttons, gingham, slippers and cashmere. Robert was named executor of his mother's estate, and had the responsibility of finding ways to pay a $1,500 debt she owed to creditors.


Grafton in 1890 -- Roy Boliger, Library of Congress


Unfortunately, a tangled web of real estate deals ultimately led to the demise of Hanshaw & Bro. Taylor County Court records show that the brothers, either individually or as a business, owned several properties. One tract on Main Street, called the "Sims Property," was owned primarily by the Hanshaws' brother George, with brother Charles only having a one-quarter share.

As a direct result of their ownership or sale of these tracts, the Hanshaws sued or were sued at least six times between 1872 and 1881, all involving unpaid loans. At separate times, the brothers filed claims against John A. Linn, William Morris, William Simms and Thomas E. Kidwell, and in turn were sued by Maxwell & Isham and by Fetterman/Laughlin.


Poster for the Hanshaw sale, 1874

In the Kidwell case, filed in 1874, the brothers prevailed and were awarded $110.30. When the amount remained unpaid by 1887, the total debt had swelled to $490.62. The brothers litigated again, and the court appointed a special trustee to sell Kidwell's house to raise funds. The special sale poster was displayed at the courthouse door announcing the upcoming auction. Unfortunately, the sale only netted $210 for the Hanshaws, and did little to offset their much larger financial woes. 

When the federal census was taken in Grafton in 1880, the Hanshaws had three children -- James Edgar, Jean and Kate -- and housekeeper Sarah Sampson in their household, as well as Marian's 35-year-old brother in law David Percy, who was widowed and working as a store clerk. 

During the 1884 presidential campaign, candidate James G. Blaine came to Grafton and "addressed a monster mass meeting" from in front of the Hanshaw store, says The History of Taylor County prepared by Charles Brinkman. "Perhaps no man in all the history of Grafton was ever given a greater welcome and more spontaneous ovation that was tendered Blaine... Standing on the little porch in front of Mr. Compton's store, the bright October sun shining full in his face, he asked that he might be permitted to speak from a position on the opposite side of Main street. Willing hands soon placed empty drygoods cases in front of the Hanshaw store and a committee escorted the distinguished guest to the hastily prepared speaker's stand..." 

By 1884, in a move to expand business, the Hanshaws migrated to the small but growing town of Burton, Wetzel County, WV. They purchased a small lot just a short distance away in Earnshaw, Wetzel County. Burton at that time was a key Baltimore & Ohio Railroad delivery point for equipment used in the burgeoning oil and gas industry of Wetzel County. In his work, he shuttled back and forth from Burton to Grafton.

Flexing his political interests, Robert and several other community leaders lobbied to relocate the Wetzel County seat from New Martinsville to Burton, "near the center of the county," said the Wheeling Register. On Aug. 31, 1884, the newspaper reported,

...a large and enthusiastic meeting of the voters of the Church district of Wetzel county was held yesterday at Burton. John A. Hoge was chosen president and J.W. Wilshire secretary. The president on taking the chair, explained the object of the meeting to be to perfect an organization to effect the re-location of the county seat.... The following vice presidents were elected: Amos Himelrick, Samuel Teagarden, Wm. Palmer and Wm. L. Cunnnigham, and they were instructed to draft a series of resolutions. During the committee's absence, speeches in favor of nominating a ticket in sympathy with the movement, were made by A. Himelrick, H. Bennett, Rev. Yoho, S. Barnett, A.V. McDonnell, R.M. Hanshaw and others.

Despite such energy, the political movement ultimately failed. In early 1887, with eight properties in their portfolio, but under a crushing load of debt of more than $10,800 owed to 69 creditors, the brothers' fate was sealed. In a case brought by Maxwell & Isham, the court ruled against the Hanshaws, and appointed special trustee Markaduke H. Dent to sell all the family assets.

Sadly, Trustee Dent only raised $2,905 in proceeds from his sales. In one transaction, Robert's wife Marion purchased back some $1,105 worth of goods of the store, again using a line of credit. In another, Charles' wife Mattie bought back their house and lot in South Grafton.

Fate took another wicked turn the following year, when Robert's brother Charles, at age 47, died in Grafton on Sept. 6, 1888, officially ending their longtime partnership.

In 1890, while in Burton, Robert signed an affidavit attesting to the poor health of his brother in law, Thomas L. Purinton. As well, Robert's married niece, Helen (Purinton) Liady, resided in Burton circa 1894 with her husband and family. In Burton, Robert was a member of the Welcome Lodge of the Ancient Order of United Workmen (AOUW).

Burton, WV at the turn of the century.  Note the double tracks of railroad and the Eureka Restaurant at left.


Robert suffered from cancer, and passed away in Burton at the age of 51, on Sept. 6, 1893. A record of his death, still on file in the Wetzel County Courthouse in New Martinsville, gives the names of his parents as "H. Hanshaw" and "Catharine Hanshaw." The Wheeling Register reported in a brief obituary that Robert "died at Burton." The West Virginia Argus in Kingwood added that the "cause of his death was cancer of the throat" but erred when it said that he had "died at Evansville yesterday." His remains were returned to Grafton for burial at Bluemont Cemetery, right across the road from the grave plot of his brother, Charles F.W. Hanshaw

Now widowed at the age of 53, Marion moved with her children to Wheeling, Ohio County, WV, but retained ownership of their home in Earnshaw. She remained in Wheeling for four years, with her home at 66 17th Street. In late August 1897, she sold the Earnshaw property for $50.00 to John G. Snider. 

She became deathly ill with pneumonia and died shortly thereafter, on Oct. (or Nov.) 8, 1897. The funeral was held at her home in Wheeling. Her remains were shipped via the B&O Railroad to Grafton, where she was laid to rest beside her husband in Grafton. The Wheeling Register carried a brief obituary, saying "friends respectfully invited to attend" the services.

She did not leave a will in Ohio County.


Copyright 2000-2006, 2008, 2012, 2021 Mark A. Miner