The West Virginia Henshaws and Hanchers

Nicholas Hancher

Nicholas Hancher was the progenitor of a large family branch with its roots in Berkeley County, West Virginia. Nicholas married Rebecca Smith at Christ Church in Philadelphia on November 3, 1726 (apparently an old-style date, equivalent to November 14, 1726 on our modern calendar). Nicholas settled in Berkeley County, Virginia (today West Virginia) and begat a large line of descendents, some of who today call themselves Hancher, some Henshaw, and some Hanshaw. Most of the records on Nicholas use the Hancher spelling, but his children were recorded sometimes as Hancher and sometimes as Henshaw, although spellings were somewhat haphazard (phonetic) in the 1700s so such spelling variations are not surprising (and also means the concept of a "correct" or "original" spelling is essentially meaningless).

In 1726 the marriage of Nicholas and Rebecca was recorded in the records of Christ Church in Philadelphia, an Anglican church. In later years, Nicholas and family were recorded in Quaker records from Nottingham Monthly Meeting (Cecil County, Maryland) to Hopewell Friends Montlhy Meeting in Virginia. So although it appears as though Nicholas might not have been a Quaker originally, he did seem to have joined the Society of Friends sometime in the 1720s/1730s, and his children continued to be shown in Quaker records at Hopewell MM, but at some point this family seemed to have drifted away from the Quaker Society (son William joined the Continental Army, which would certainly not have met with the approval of the Quakers).

The Myth

There have been numerous published genealogies (none citing original sources) which show Nicholas descending from the Henshaws of Massachusetts, specifically the son of John Henshaw (son of Joshua Henshaw & Elizabeth Sumner).

It seems that all of these accounts came from an article published in "The West Virginia Historical Magazine Quarterly" in 1904 by Valley Virginia Henshaw1, in which she asserted that:

John moved from Dorchester, Mass., to Philadelphia, where he lived a number of years, but did not prosper as he wished. Hearing of the great fertility of the valley between the Blue Ridge and Great North Mountain, he and his son Nicholas decided to move to Virginia.
Valley Virginia Henshaw's assertions in her 1904 article seem to be based on an 1855 letter2, from John Henshaw of Boston, to James William Henshaw of Berkeley County, West Virginia (click here to see John's letter: Letter), in which John Henshaw of Boston wrote, referencing John Henshaw (son of Joshua Henshaw Jr. & Mary Hay Webster):
John lived at Liecester some time but about the year 1752 removed to Philadelphia. He had several children but what ever became of them I have no account and they have been considered the "Lost Tribe".
It is believed that the above comment is what lead Valley Virginia Henshaw to believe that Nicholas was the son of the above John Henshaw (son of Joshua Henshaw & Elizabeth Sumner).

Problems with the Myth

There are several inconsistencies in Valley Virginia Henshaw's assertion.

Discussions and Conclusions

The subject of the ancestry of Nicholas and any possible connection to the Henshaws of New England has been often discussed in our group's email list (click here to view the email list archives: Archives - enter list name "Hinshaw" and search for "Nicholas" or "Hancher"). Many people raised the doubts expressed above.

In 1999 an ad-hoc committee studied these issues in depth. The committee was led by:

Carroll Henshaw Hendrickson, Jr., Frederick, MD
with much help from the research of:
Edward G. Arntzen, Dewey, AZ
Mrs. Betty Carson, Tulsa, OK
Donald Craig Henshaw, Taft, CA
Mrs. Christine McCormick, Germantown, MD

The above ad-hoc committee reported on June 8, 19993, concluding:

"a number of descendants who have undertaken an objective genealogical search, now realize that there can be no descendancy to the Berkeley County family from the Massachusetts family as described in previous accounts."
Click here to see the complete report: Report

Valley Virginia Henshaw's assertions, although well-meaning, should be considered discredited, and the Berkeley County, West Virginia Hancher/Henshaw line should be considered a separate family branch, distinct from the Henshaws of New England, excepting a possible (probable) connection many generations earlier in England.

So Where Did Nicholas Come From?

This is currently unknown with any certainty. But in 2003 a research report was compiled by Henshaw descendants:

Carroll Henshaw Hendrickson, Jr. Betty Carson Donald Craig Henshaw
This report sheds some very interesting light on Nicholas and his possible ancestry, concluding that he was probably a son of Richard and Ellen Henshaw, and was christened in Spalding, Lincolnshire, England on August 31, 1695. In October 1720, Nicholas Henshaw was sentenced as a felon and boarded the ship Gilbert, under Captain Darby Lux, and was transported from London, England, to Annapolis, Maryland. Click here to see the complete report: Report,

1. "The West Virginia Historical Magazine Quarterly", Vol. 4, No. 2, April 1904. The West Virginia Historical and Antiquarian Society, Charleston, W.VA. Article "The Henshaw Family" by Valley Virginia Henshaw.

2. 1855 letter from John Henshaw of Boston to James William Henshaw of Berkeley County, West Virginia, courtesy of Tom Henshaw: Letter

3. Committee report on the origins of the Hanchers/Henshaws of Berkeley County, West Virginia, posted June 8, 1999 to our email list: Report

4. Research report from Carroll Henshaw Hendrickson, Jr., Betty Carson and Donald Craig Henshaw, courtesy of Donald Craig Henshaw: Report

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