McHenry, Lydia Ann (unknown–1864)

By: Judith N. McArthur

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 30, 2019

Lydia Ann McHenry, Methodist church worker and teacher, daughter of Barnabas McHenry of Kentucky, immigrated to Texas in December 1833 with her sister Maria and brother-in-law, Rev. John Wesley Kenney. Her father was a pioneer Methodist minister. She brought a slave woman with her to Texas and claimed a quarter league of land near the site of Bellville in the Stephen F. Austin colony, but prosperity was elusive and both food and money frequently short. Outspoken and determined, McHenry coped with frontier hardships with ingenuity: she once faced down a sheriff with a judgment warrant against her absent brother-in-law by insisting that all of the family's property was her own and her sister's inheritance from their father and thus could not under Mexican law be seized for the husband's debts. Lydia McHenry found little to praise in either Stephen F. Austin or his colony, and she spiked her letters to her brother John in Kentucky with caustic comments on the unhealthfulness of the Texas climate and the coarse, grasping nature of the citizens. Public officials, both Mexican and Texan, she pronounced distinguished only for their stupidity and greed. She sent back discerning reports on the war for independence and indicted the ad interim government ("perhaps the most imbecile body that ever sat in judgment on the fate of a nation") for its leniency toward Antonio López de Santa Anna.

The daughter and sister-in-law of Methodist ministers, Lydia McHenry was committed to nurturing the faith in Texas. In September 1834 she helped organize a church at Caney Creek, one of the first in the colony, and her correspondence induced the Methodist Missionary Society in New York to send Martin Ruter, Robert Alexander, and Littleton Fowler to Texas to expand the Methodist ministry. When they arrived they found a missionary society already formed and collecting pledges to support church work; Lydia McHenry was one of the subscribers. She was also one of the first schoolteachers in the Republic of Texas. With a partner she opened a boarding school for girls at Montville (see AYRES, DAVID), though the Runaway Scrape ended it two months later. She attempted a second school in her brother-in-law's home in 1837, with her sister as a teacher of a class of boys, but a disappointing financial return and Lydia's own poor health forced the school to close in April 1838. Between 1840 and 1844 she visited in Kentucky and toured eastern cities. She was in New York in time to attend the session of the Methodist General Conference that split the church into northern and southern branches over the issue of slavery. She returned to Texas in 1844 and lived with her sister and brother-in-law for the remainder of her life. During the Civil War she and her sister taught clothing manufacture to alleviate the shortage of clothes brought on by the war. Lydia McHenry died in August 1864.

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George R. Nielsen, ed., "Lydia Ann McHenry and Revolutionary Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 74 (January 1971). Homer S. Thrall, History of Methodism in Texas (Houston: Cushing, 1872; rpt., n.p.: Walsworth, 1976). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Judith N. McArthur, “McHenry, Lydia Ann,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 30, 2019

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