Horton Howard was born in 1770 in North Carolina, and lived there until he was about 30 years old. Never having been to North Carolina, I’ve had difficulty imagining this part of his life and writing about it. In about 1 1/2 weeks, We will be travelling to North Carolina to research the first half of Horton Howard’s life. We’ll visit the Hope Plantation, New Bern Courthouse and Public Library, and explore the Croatan National Forest – especially the Neusiok Trail and the area around Clubfoot & Mitchell’s Creeks, where Horton and his brother owned a combined total of about 4,000 acres.
I hope to be posting often during this trip, sharing research results and pictures of the area.
1827 – Horton Howard reluctantly accepted agency for Thomson’s New Method of Curing Diseases. Horton and his sons were granted exclusive rights for selling books and the rights to use the methods and formulas for treating the purchaser’s family. This was the beginning of the American Herbalist movement. Practitioners were also called Steam Doctors due to their belief that cold caused disease, and restoring natural body heat (through medicine and through providing steam in the stick room) would cure disease.
Some of the herbalist’s treatments were effective. Thomson was inspired to promote these methods by their success in curing his seriously ill daughter, after conventional medical doctors declared her near the point of death. Some of the methods were not so successful, using herbs such as lobelia that could be fatal with overuse. Traditional medicine of the day was little better – relying on such treatments as bloodletting and cupping.
Given this state of medical affairs, it is little wonder that so many of Horton’s letters are filled with details of death, illness, physical complaints, or reports of well-being.
When Horton was only 16, his father, Bartholomew, died and left over 3500 acres of North Carolina land to his two sons. Descriptions of the land included landmarks and place names: “From a Cypress tree in the Head of the Southern Branch of Mitchells Creek..” and “Clubfoots Creek – east side of the head of the creek.” I was able to find Clubfoot Creek, and Mitchell’s Creek which branches off of Clubfoot.
We’re planning a trip to this area of North Carolina as research for Horton’s story, so I was thrilled to discover that the land east of Clubfoot Creek is mostly farmland, and the land to the west is mostly farmland and national park. A boat trip on the Creek and a hike through the park will give some great background for the first 30 years of Horton’s life.
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.
I recently started my third journey through the letters and life of Horton Howard. First pass was to transcribe the 150 or so letters written by him, to him, or that mentioned him. The second pass was to condense the material in these letters and add material from other historical sources. While working on the first and second pass, I shared anecdotes and thoughts about Horton and his family with my readers.
In this third pass, the work gets more serious as I create the first draft of Horton’s story. My task is to weave together the threads of loving and losing loved ones; walking away from wealth for the sake of integrity; exploring opportunities to recreate wealth; and the developing economy and politics of a young nation.
I’ll continue to share bits and pieces as I work, and hope that you will subscribe to my blog and post questions or comments as the story develops.