The Serpent’s Tooth

In early December I hit a roadblock in my writing. This week I worked my way through the obstacle and finished developing Horton Howard’s estrangement from his eldest son, Henry. Familiarity with family estrangements – in my own family and in some friends’ families made this a challenging part of the story to write. For weeks these estrangements were obstacles to writing until they recently became tools for making a believable story out of a small amount of preserved information.

In 1810, Horton kept a copy of a letter that he wrote to his 18 year old son, Henry. It is obvious that Henry had left home with some unpleasantness, possibly that Horton had been a bit heavy handed in pushing Henry toward his idea of suitable employment or profession for his son. In the letter, Horton referred Henry to friends in New Orleans who would provide financial assistance for Henry to return home. It is also obvious in this letter that Horton has much love for his son, wants to help him make wise choices, and wants to see him well established as he enters adulthood.

Despite the letter offering love and financial assistance, it is probable that Henry did not return home for quite some time. In May of 1811, a U.S. Seaman’s Protection Certificate was issued in New Orleans to a Henry Howard, born 1792, and a native of North Carolina. I can not be certain that this is my Henry Howard, but it is not an unreasonable assumption. Horton’s son was born in North Carolina, in 1792, and Horton wrote to him in New Orleans sometime in 1810. It is likely that Henry served in the Merchant Marines, and possibly became disenchanted with this life as the British impressment of US sailors escalated leading to the War of 1812.

We do know that Henry returned to Ohio and was married there in 1812. He is not as prominent in Horton’s later letters as his younger children, but he is mentioned from time to time, so there was some degree of reconciliation between father and son that we’ll see as the rest of the book develops.