Rev. John Wright Hendry
Rev. John Wright Hendry

By Spessard Stone

John Wright Hendry, a pioneer settler of the New Zion settlement, was a Baptist preacher, cattleman, businessman and civic leader.

John Wright Hendry was born September 23, 1836, Thomasville, Georgia. With his parents, Robert Hendry and Zilla Ann (Moody) Hendry, in 1848, John moved to Hamilton County, Florida where they settled within a few miles of Jasper. In 1856, John went with an uncle to the Alafia River in Hillsborough County, Florida where he remained four or five months and decided to make it his future home.

John returned to Hamilton County where on November 12, 1857 he married Sarah Payne, born November 16, 1835, Laurens County, Georgia, daughter of Joseph Payne and Henrietta (Smith) Payne. In the fall of 1859, John, Sarah, and infant daughter, Amanda Lugenia, moved to Chicora on the South Prong of the Alafia River in Hillsborough County. There they settled on a few acres of improved government land and farmed. The 1860 census of Hillsborough County recorded the J. W. Hendry family in household # 84/61. With the creation of Polk County from Hillsborough and Brevard counties on February 8, 1861, they became residents of Polk County. J. W. Hendry was listed as a taxpayer in Polk County in 1861.

During the Civil War, John W. Hendry enlisted on May 4, 1862 as a private in Company E, Seventh Florida Infantry, Confederate States Army. Private Hendry was granted an honorable discharge on June 17, 1862. The discharge described him as being: "5 ft. 6 inches; complexion, light; hair, black; eyes, hazel; occupation when enlisted, farmer."

While attending one of the yearly camp meetings held by the Methodists at Fort Meade, John became serious, professed conversion, and joined the Methodist Church. Soon after his return home, he felt impressed with the duty of preaching the Gospel. Having only a meager education, he felt unqualified to be a minister, but conscience led to his yielding. As a preparation, he began an intense study of the Scriptures, which led to his conversion to the Baptist faith, which he came to believe was more compatible with his interpretation of the Bible. Despite family opposition, as the family at this time were all Methodists, he requested membership in the Hurrah Baptist Church, located on the South Prong. He was received and baptized by the pastor, Rev. A. Wilson. His zeal as a Christian and his ability as a leader soon attracted the attention of leading members of the Hurrah Church. Soon an unanimous call to the care of the church was tendered him, pending his ordination to the ministry, which soon followed. Meanwhile, the little church was being rent by internal dissensions. The Rev. Wilson resigned, and Rev. J. M. Hayman undertook unsuccessfully to restore harmony. About this time, John had been ordained and was ready to take the calling. He soon had the entire membership completely under his control and peace and harmony was restored.

This was the beginning of Rev. Hendry's great popularity as a preacher. The people in every settlement were anxious to hear him preach, and when once hear, the spirit and eloquence of his discourses completely captivated his audiences. He was a born orator, gifted with a wonderful memory and deep penetration of thought and strong powers of analysis. As a pulpit orator, he was logical, earnest, eloquent and convincing. His impassioned utterances, at times, fairly electrified his congregations. His marvelous fluency of speech won for him the title of "the eloquent John W. Hendry."

In the meantime, the scourge of Civil War had passed over the country and left the people in a very impoverished condition in every sense of the word-morally, religiously and financially, especially financially. Religious meetings were usually held under rudely constructed brush arbors. There had been a great spiritual awakening and churches were springing up in every community, thus taxing the time of the few resident preachers.

The Rev. Hendry was a circuit rider and organized and pastored numerous churches. Maple Branch, organized September 29, 1866, north of Fort Green, was the first church established south of the South Prong of the Alafia River. John was one of the charter members and a member until his death. S. L. Cross was its first pastor. John served from October 1867 to 1879 and April 1881 to October 1894. In 1873 he re-established the church as New Zion Baptist Church at a new site, about seven miles west of present day Ona, as New Zion Baptist Church. While serving New Zion, he continually traveled over the country from the South Prong to Fort Ogden, from Peace River to Sarasota Bay, and organized churches at Fort Ogden, Joshua Creek, Pine Level, New Hope, Fort Hartsuff, Midway, Pine Grove, Bee Ridge, Benevolence. Minutes of the South Florida Baptist Association of October 1869 show J. W. Hendry as pastor of Benevolence and Maple Branch churches of Manatee County, while the November 1870 minutes list him as pastor of Alafia and Pine Pleasant of Hillsborough County and Maple Branch and Mt. Pleasant of Manatee County. Nearly all the churches, some under different names continue. For example, Fort Hartsuff (founded 1876), which he pastored from 1876-84 and 1900-01, is the First Baptist Church of Wauchula, and Benevolence, founded 1868, is now Gillette First Baptist Church.

While the Rev. Hendry was a staunch Baptist, he was not narrow minded. He believed that winning souls was far more important the mere denomination; therefore, he welcomed the arrival in 1867 at Fort Hartsuff of the Rev. William Penn McEwen, a Methodist minister. The consecration and unbounded enthusiasm of this saintly man of God did much to encourage Bro. Hendry in the prosecution of his arduous work. Traveling together over the same roads, preaching from the same pulpits, there sprang up between them a mutual love and close friendship seldom, if ever, met with between ministers of different denominations.

The poor financial condition of the area following the Civil War compelled Baptist ministers to be self-supporting. John was living on the South Prong, the extreme northern boundary of his ministry. Having succeeded in acquiring a good stock of cattle, and with the hope of finding a better range, as well as to be more in the center of his ministry, he sold his place on the South Prong. With his cattle he moved into Manatee County at a place near Brushy Creek where he made his home for thirty years. In Manatee County on July 31, 1872, he registered his mark and brand, crop, slope in one ear, crop, split in other, brand J. 1872 Manatee County tax records show he was taxed on 350 cattle. By persistent industry and good management, he rapidly increased his property and in a short time was investing in various business enterprises, such as grist milling, sawmilling, and merchandising, but due to lack of proper experience, these enterprises proved unprofitable and he returned to his old occupation of farming and stock raising.

The minutes of the South Florida Baptist Association in 1875 listed these Manatee churches: Benevolence, Friendship, Mt. Moriah, Mt. Pisgah, Mt. Pleasant, New Hope, New Zion. There was one Baptist association in southern Florida-the South Florida, which extended from Hernando County to Manatee County. Rev. Hendry conceived the idea of dividing the South Florida by organizing the Manatee churches into a separate body to be known as the Manatee Association. In 1875, he headed a delegation, consisting of Daniel W. Carlton, James M. Hendry and John W. Whidden, to petition for dismissal from the South Florida. After much controversy, the minutes of the South Florida, held at Thonotosassa October 14, 1876, declared: "That the letters asked for by the churches, viz: New Zion, Mount Moriah, Mount Pleasant, Friendship, Alafia, and Benevolence be granted, the Clerk being instructed to give them (the letters) to their delegates. That the book funds be divided pro rata between the South Florida Association and those churches withdrawing." These six churches met at Friendship Church on October 27, 1876 in their first annual session to form the Manatee Missionary Baptist Association. (It later became known as the Peace River Association.) He was pastor of Union Baptist (Lily) November 1890-October 1893, December 1894-September 1897, November 1898-October 1899, January 1902-November 1904.

John was active in politics. He was changeable in his political allegiances, but only because of certain fundamental principles. He was never entirely loyal to Southern ideals before the Civil War. He believed that the holding of any people in a condition of involuntary servitude was a flagrant violation of the most sacred principles of civil righteousness. The two Florida pre-war parties, Democrats and Whigs, differed little except Florida Whigs were less opposed to the tariff and less ready to take an extreme stand on matters relating to slavery and states' rights. Thus John in early manhood was a Whig. When the Whigs declined as the slavery issue became more intense, he joined the Republican Party. During Reconstruction, he was in 1872 a Republican candidate for the House but lost by a 84-199 margin to F. B. Hagan. In the 1870s he was a member of the Manatee County board of public instruction. Later he joined the Democrats. In 1888, he, as a Democrat, was elected DeSoto County Representative and served one two-year term. In the 1890s, he was a leader in DeSoto County of the Populists but when it failed, his political activity ceased.

In 1893, Sarah Hendry suffered a stroke of paralysis. After her stroke, John spent most of his time caring for her so that his ministry was hindered. Sarah Payne Hendry died December 20, 1897 and was buried in New Zion Cemetery.

In DeSoto County, Florida on December 1, 1898, John married (2) Civy V. Thompson, born in September 1876, daughter of John Thompson. In the census of 1900 DeSoto County (DeSoto County had been formed from Manatee County on May 19, 1887) the family was enumerated in household # 118, Fort Green precinct.

Rev. Hendry resumed an active ministry. Under his leadership, Fort Green Baptist Church was officially formed. From December 1901 to his death, he was the church's pastor. He was also pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church in 1904.

A Mason, he was one of fourteen charter members of Wauchula Lodge No. 17, F. & A. M., reorganized in 1899.

After looking after his business and seeing his friends in Wauchula, Rev. John Wright Hendry drove in his buggy to the home of his granddaughter, Cornelia Carlton (Mrs. Ab W. Carlton) in Oak Grove. After taking supper with the family, he died on February 4, 1907. With the Masonic order of Wauchula performing the last rites he was buried in New Zion Cemetery.

The Wauchula Advocate eulogized: "He traveled more miles, organized more churches, baptized more people, married more couples, and soothed more aching hearts than any other minister in South Florida, living or dead. He is gone. His life work is finished."

Civy married (2) in DeSoto County on December 27, 1908 Wiley Washington Jackson, born December 17, 1873. The 1910 census of DeSoto County enumerated in precinct 1, Fort Green, household # 303/306, Wiley Jackson, age 36, and wife Sivie [?], age 35, who were married one year; with Robert Hendry, age 8; Sarah Hendry, age 6; Charley Hendry, age 4. In the 1930 census of Hardee County, the family was enumerated in Fort Green in household 92/96, consisting of Wiley W. Jackson, 56, farmer; Civie Jackson, 55, supervisor farm; Charley W. Hendry, 25, stepson, labor on farm. Civy and Wiley Jackson, according to Zula Cooper, died in the 1930s and are buried in unmarked graves in Fort Green Baptist Cemetery.

Carlye H. Johnson, daughter of Robert Raleigh Hendry, on January 8, 1983 recalled of the Jacksons: "We visited for about a week out of each year when I was a child. I don't recall that they ever visited us in Jacksonville. My big memory was the house itself with open breezeway, parlor with pump organ and bedrooms off breezeway. Porch across front and back with large rocking chairs always occupied. The house sat very high off ground. Grandpa Jackson a very gentle man who used a cane, had white hair and a sweeping mustache. He had a very protective dog. Several years ago my husband and I tried to locate the house without success but fifty years does make a difference perhaps it no longer stands."

Rev. John Wright Hendry and (1) Sarah (Payne) Hendry had child # 1, and he and (2) Civy (Thompson) Hendry had children 2-5:

1. Amanda Lugenia Hendry, born Sept. 29, 1858; died Sept. 24, 1941; married (1) Aug. 22, 1875, James Archibald Strickland, divorced; (2) Dec. 8, 1881, Edward Floyd Bostick.
2. John Francis Gary Hendry, born Sept. 10, 1899; died Sept. 18, 1904.
3. Robert Raleigh Hendry, born Oct. 19, 1901; died July 1955; married on July 5, 1921 Melba Clara Carlton, daughter of Owen Daniel and Annie (Ware) Carlton.
4. Sarah Hendry, born June 17, 1903; died Dec. 4, 1918; married Jerry Albritton.
5. Charley Wright Hendry, born July 25, 1905; died Nov. 19, 1982; never married.

References: W. D. Payne, John W. Hendry A Pioneer Baptist Preacher of South Florida, 1907; CSA record of John W. Hendry, National Archives; Richard Livingston; Jean B. Burton; Mrs. Edward A. Johnson; Zula Cooper; cemeteries: New Zion, Wauchula, Paynes Creek.

This is adapted from my profiles in South Florida Pioneers 27/28 (Jan./Apr. 1981) and The Herald-Advocate of March 6, 1986.

January 23, 2001, May 27, 2009