WISNER, Henry, patriot, born in Goshen, Orange County, New York, about 1725; died there in 1790. He was the grandson of a Swiss soldier who settled in Orange county in 1715. Henry was appointed in 1768 one of the assistant justices of the court of common pleas, and represented Orange county in the New York general assembly in 1759-’69. He strenuously espoused the side of colonial rights against the pretensions of the British parliament, and was a member of the Continental congress of 1774 and of the 2d Continental congress, which adopted the Declaration of Independence. For that measure Wisner voted, and he was the only New York delegate who acquired that honor, but before the Declaration was engrossed on parchment and ready for signing, he went to New York to attend the Provincial congress, of which he had been elected a member.
He studied the art of making gunpowder and erected three powder-mills in the neighborhood of Goshen, from which large quantities of powder were supplied to the Revolutionary army. He was otherwise of practical service to the patriot cause by having spears and gun-slints made and by repair-mg the roads in orange county, thus facilitating the transportation of provisions and military material to the American troops. He also, at his own expense, erected works and mounted cannon on the banks of Hudson river, which greatly impeded British vessels in their passage of the Highlands. He was one of the committee that framed the first constitution of New York in 1777, state senator in 1777-’82, and a member of the New York convention of 1788, which ratified the United States constitution . On that occasion he voted in the negative, fearing, in common with other stanch patriots, that a strong Federal government would overpower state and individual rights. In person Wisher was tall, with pleasing manners, and a frame that was vigorous even in old age. He possessed a strong intellect and an energetic character.
Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM
Goshen, NY memorial to Henry Wisner
Monday, May 12, 2008
Henry Wisner was a tall man, vigorous and erect even in old age. Like his neighbors, he had little learning, but had natural abilities and pleasing address, and was appointed justice of the peace. He married, probably about 1740, Sarah Norton, of Queens county, and received with her a farm there. He owned a few slaves and considerable land about Goshen. His house was a mile south of the village, on the Florida road. It was a stone house, but is no longer standing. It is said to have once entertained George Washington and Baron Steuben. Wisner was prominent in the boundary war between New Jersey and Orange country, and in 1754 it seems there was a company of Jerseymen formed to take him and Colonel De Kay dead or alive. Wisner served in the New York Colonial Assembly from 1759 to 1769. The only Bill of any interest introduced by him was on December 12, 1759, to enable himself, John Alsop, John Morin Scott, John Van Courtlandt and Joseph Sacket, part proprietors of the patent of Wawayanda, to sell enough of the undivided land to obtain 1500 pounds to be applied in draining the Drowned Lands. They were an extensive cedar marsh annually submerged by the rise of the Wallkill. Drainage has since largely rendered them capable of cultivation to the profit and health of the inhabitants…. Wisner strenuously espoused the side of Colonial rights and warmly opposed the pretensions of the English Parliament. Rivingtons Tory paper (in 1781) put old Wisner among the tyrants and unfeeling malefactors of whom the Loyalists complained the highest. On August 15, 1774, Orange county chose Wisner and [John] Haring to attend the Continental Congress, then about to be held in Philadelphia, to concert measures of resistance to British aggressions. The Congress began in Carpenters Hall on September 5, but Wisner did not take his seat until the fourteenth…. The Second Continental Congress met in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, May 10, 1775, but Wisner did not appear until the fifteenth. He was not a prominent member of this body, but took part in its patriotic measures, including the wonderfully fortunate selection of a commander-in-chief of the American armies. Wisners attention was early directed to a humble but very important subject, of which, in a letter dated Philadelphia, December 21, 1775, he writes: Having for many months been seriously affected with the great disadvantage the colonies labor under for want of ammunition, I thought it my duty to apply myself to the attainment of those necessary arts of making saltpetre and gunpowder, and having far exceeded my expectations in both manufactures, I think myself further obliged to communicate the so much needed knowledge to my country at large.… He was otherwise serviceable to the patriotic cause by having spears and gun flints made, and by repairing roads in Orange county by which provisions and other necessaries were transported to the American army. He also attended to collecting lead and to the manufacture of salt, and to fortifying the Hudson against the passage of the British vessels.
Burdge then takes up the question of whether Wisner and the other members of the New York delegation to the Second Continental Congress voted for independence, and if so, why their names did not appear on the Declaration. The delegates wrote home for instructions on June 8, 1776, and were apparently told they had no authority to vote for a break with England. In a second letter dated July 2, 1776, the delegates said they intended to refrain from voting, but a postscript showed that events had overtaken them:
It is probable that this letter was written by Wisner, as he sent it to the New York Provincial Congress with a note of his own saying: Since writing the inclosed, the question of Independence has been put in Congress and carried in the affirmative without one dissenting vote. This means [Burdge comments] that no colony voted against it, but that on July 2, 12 colonies, acting for 13, resolved that the united colonies are free and independent states. This then is the genuine national birthday…. Now we have neglected testimony of the intelligent and honorable Thomas McKean, a Delaware member present on July 4, that Henry Wisner voted for Independence. It is contained in four letters, one dated September 26, 1796, and printed in Sandersons Biographs, another dated August 22, 1813, and lithographed in Brotherheads Book of the Signers, a third dated January, 1814, and printed in volume 10 of John Adams Works, and a fourth dated June 16, 1817, and printed in the appendix to Christopher Marshalls diary…. It is discreditable that there is no monument or other record bearing the names of the voters of Independence. The so-called signers of the Declaration are members of the Congress after August 2, who were then required to commit themselves to the cause. On July 4, about 12 of them were not at the Congress, and two and probably more of them, refused to vote for Independence. These 14 gentlemen have had immortality given them by the carelessness of history, to the exclusion of Henry Wisner, who better deserves it. Wisners duties called him to New York, (July 12) before the Declaration of Independence was engrossed on parchment and ready for signing, but he continued an unattending member of the Continental Congress until May 13, 1777, when a new delegation was elected by New York.
Posted by Geoff Wisnerat 6:54 AM
Enoch Wisner said… My name is Enoch Wisner, direct descendant (6 generations removed) from Henry. My grandfather, John Horner Wisner, Jr.(1879 – 1974), who may be found among the tables at the back of Wisners in America, is buried in the family plot, next to Henry, in Goshen. You may trace my line, through John Horner Wisner, Jr., to Henry, through his son, Lt. Col. Gabriel Wisner, who died at the battle of Minisink. My brother, Ron Wisner, has a coin silver letter opener, given to Henry by Ben Franklin, inscribed with the date, 1776. Also in my brother’s possession is a genealogy, commissioned by J.H. Wisner, Sr., our great-grandfather, tracing the Wisner and Horner lines to the 15th century, including several head-stone rubbings, taken in England, of certain other notable ancestors.
You may have noted that my grandfather lived nearly 100 years. If you check the dates of my grandfather’s grandfather, and his grandfather, you will see that these lives endured long enough that each grandchild might well have known his grandfather well. I was born in 1958, and knew my grandfather very well, having spent much of my time in his houses in Summit, NJ, and Marion, MA, after my father died in 1969. It is a peculiar distinction that I can claim – and prove – to have heard of this country’s founding, third-hand.
I’f you’re interested in sharing your own line to Henry, or to ask questions or share something Wisner-related, you may contact me at, firstname.lastname@example.org.