Tennessee Records Repository

Henderson Co. TN


Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith

Mr. Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith of Jackson has published seven genealogical miscellanies for Henderson County.  He wishes to share this information as widely as possible and has granted permission for these web pages to be created.  We thank Mr. Smith for his generosity.  Copyright, Jonathan K. T. Smith, 2001

(Page 52)

In an interview with James Curtis Hopper (born 1919), 8l1 Poplar Springs-Juno Road, June 19, 2001, the present writer was told that Mr. Hopper remembered old-timers in the community talking about a person buried in the Sheard graveyard, located on the Hopper farm. This burial ground is reached by turning north from U.S. Highway 412 onto Hopper Road, driving about .6 mile at which point turn west and drive over a field road, along the fringe of a cultivated field, about .3 mile and then walking from this point north up to the apex of this hill where the graveyard is located.

Mr. Hopper said that it was his understanding that HENRY ARMSTRONG, an old man who had labored on local farms for many years, died at Dr. A. L. Waller's homeplace; that when men started to prepare his body for burial they found that this person who had always passed as a man was in fact a biological female; that "he" was buried in the Sheard burial ground.

Auburn Powers, in his HISTORY OF HENDERSON COUNTY, 1930, pages 68-69, relates the story of Henry Armstrong, having inferentially gotten the details from Dr. Waller's widow, Mary L. Waller. There is no reason to assume that Powers embellished Henry Armstrong's life facts. The story of Henry Armstrong is repeated in this publication as an example of a remarkable individuality in nineteenth century Henderson County. See . . . Powers' account [below]:

In the U.S. Census, August 26, 1870 (Henderson County, Civil District 6), page 52, Henry Armstrong is given as a laborer on the farm of Cullen Argo; aged 50 years and a native Tennessean. In the ditto, June 1880, he was given as a laborer for James S. Flake; aged 54 years, native Tennessean. There is no marker in the graveyard indicating which is "his" grave there.

(Page 53)

About the first day of January 1892 Henry Armstrong, more commonly known as "Uncle Henry" in the Juno community, plodded his way up to the front gate of Dr. A. L. Waller. The weather was rough. A heavy snow and sleet had fallen. Henry was old and feeble, and no one wanted him. He asked Dr. Waller if he might stay there for a few days. Dr. Waller was very busy with his practice and had not the time to care for him. But Mrs. Waller, seeing that he was sick and knowing that no one else wanted him, took him in.

She gave him a bed in the front room of the house that she still lives in in Juno and built him a fire. When she did this, Henry looked into her eyes and prayed a most beautiful prayer. He told Mrs. Waller that stars were added to her crown in Heaven that day.

Mrs. Waller cared for him as best she could, and Dr. Waller gave him medical treatment. Henry was very particular about his clothes. He wore heavy black yarn socks in winter. He also detested being touched by human hands. One time when Mrs. Waller tucked the cover around his feet, she touched them, and he, even possibly unconscious of the fact, kicked with all his might. His habit of keeping man's hands off him had been built so strongly.

On January 6, 1892 Henry died. Men went into his room to dress him for burial, but returned without doing so. They reported it was the women's job — that Henry Armstrong was not a man but a woman.

Henry lived a man, had worn men's clothes, and had seemed to want to be a man so long that he was given men's clothes for burial. [Henry shall also be spoken of as "Him" in the remainder of this story.] He was buried about one mile west of Juno at the Sheard grave yard.

Just who Henry Armstrong was, where he came from, and why he lived such a life is unknown to this day. He came into the Juno community immediately after the Civil War and located on the Sheard place, now the Frank Fesmire place, and worked for different people, doing man's work and enduring hardships and exposure just as did the ordinary man.

Henry was a good old creature — not bad at all He was a jolly fellow and would partake of the sports of the community. He would go with the boys to the swimming holes and would sit on the bank and slap his hands and laugh with the crowd. He seemed to enjoy it as much as any of the others. Of course, he did not go in swimming with them.

Mr. Will Gardner of the R.F.D. service and Mr. Charlie Gardner, his brother, slept with Henry many times, never knowing but what they were sleeping with a man. One mysterious thing about Henry was that he always slept with a big knife under his pillow. The knife must have been as a protection against anyone who might approach him.

Many suspicions have been advanced concerning the mystery of Henry's life. The one that seems most logical to the author is that Henry, while a young woman, entered the war as a brother to her husband or lover and that he was killed in the war and that she drifted into the Juno community. However, this legend may be untrue.

But regardless of the cause of Henry's disguised life, he must have been a person of self control, for he fooled the people of an entire community for some thirty years. He died with the secret still kept.

Mr. Hopper said that sometime in the 1970s he apprehended two young men "digging up" a grave in the Sheard graveyard; when found they had removed a woman s skeleton from her grave, from which they had taken a large comb of the sort ladies put at a bun in the back of their heads, aptly enough called a "back comb." (Described in ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COLLECTIBLES, a Time, Life Book published in Alexandria, Virginia, 197'8, page 140) He had them refill this grave, evidence of this travesty still being evident at the site.

There are at least eight fieldstones marking graves on the apex of the hill and about three fieldstones further down the south slope indicating possible burials at this point. There is no indication of tombstones having ever been sited in this graveyard.

Mrs. Wilma Cogdell, Crownover Road, Lexington, a person well-versed on the heritage of Henderson County, postulates that the Sheard graveyard was named for the family of Henry Benjamin Sheard (sometimes spelled Sherrod) who moved into this vicinity in the county's early times of settlement; that some of their members are likely buried there in unmarked graves. (Conversation, the writer with Mrs. Cogdell, August 10, 2001)

Return to Table of Contents for A Genealogical Miscellany Henderson County Tennessee

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