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Colonel Henry "Harry" Heth (died 1821) was a soldier and businessman who lived in Virginia in the late 1700's and early 1800's. He served in the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War and the United States Army in the War of 1812 and was active in the coal business from the late 1790's to his death.

Family and Early Life[]

The early years of Henry (more commonly Harry, the name he was known by and how he signed his correspondence) Heth are shrouded in mystery. He was most likely born in the British Colony of Virginia in an unknown year. One source says that Henry Heth came to Virginia from England in 1759 along with his brothers, William and John, and all three became charter members of the Society of the Cincinnati.[1] It also tells that Henry served in the American Revolutionary War, had a son named Henry who served in the War of 1812, and that this subsequent Henry had a son named John. This source was published in 1907 from information received from Stockton Heth, son of John Heth and grandson of the Henry Heth of this article. It is probable that the data Stockton Heth had was incorrect. However, there are some bits of truth in it. A history of the Heth family by Ida J. Lee published in the July 1934 issue of the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography tells a more complete story of the early generations of the family.[2] According to that history, Harry Heth was the son of a man named Henry Heth who was born in Ireland on November 16, 1718. This birth date information originally came from a book listing members of the Order of Washington.[3] An message board page about Henry claims that "he came to the colonies from Newgate Prison as an indentured servant".[4] How he ended up in Newgate Prison in London from Ireland is uncertain. A reference in the Heth Family history (originally from the Collections of the Virginia Historical Society, New Series, Vol. XI, pages 317-376) states "that John Heth[5] emigrated from the North of Ireland in the earlier half of the eighteenth century" and "settled first in Pennsylvania not far from Pittsburgh".[6][7] The Heth Family history goes on to state that, based on land patents and a will, Henry Heth (the emigrant) married Agnes McMachan sometime between February 24, 1748/9 and August 21, 1750 in Frederick County, Virginia. Agnes[8] was from a family living in Frederick County. That would mean that he immigrated to the colonies anytime between his birth in 1718 and his marriage in 1748-1750. All of the Virginia records from 1748 to 1757 involving Henry are in Frederick County, so that can be assumed as the place where he lived for that period of time. He acquired land in Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh and also in Henrico County, Virginia.[9] In his will dated March 30, 1793, Henry names six of his sons: William, Andrew, John, Henry, Hervy, and Richard.[10] He names none of his daughters, but he does name Gabriel Peterson as a witness and executor. Henry also indicates that some of his children are minors, so at least two children were born in or after 1772. An 1797 land document gives the birth order of Henry's sons living at that time:William, John, Harvey, Henry, and Richard.[11] It appears that Andrew has died. Henry is also listed as having six daughters, among them Mary (wife of Capt. Robert Porterfield) and Anne or Nancy (wife of Lieut., later Col. Josiah Tannehill ).[12] Henry and his sons served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and received numerous land grants for their service.

American Revolutionary War[]

Colonel Henry "Harry" Heth served as an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. His correspondence with George Washington is among extant documents.

Business career[]

Harry Heth maintained offices in Norfolk and Manchester (across the James River at Richmond), where he engaged in the coal business. Heth owned several coal mines in the area now known as Midlothian in northwestern Chesterfield County. Colonel Heth participated in working the Railey family's coal pits and became the owner of the Black Heath coal pits.[13] Colonel Heth owned slaves, and prior to the American Civil War (and emancipation), the mines were largely worked with African Americans, mostly slaves. Manchester, at the head of navigation on the James River, was the closest export port for Heth's coal.

Personal life[]

Harry Heth married Nancy Hare (1772-1846) on November 10, 1787 in Richmond. Nancy was twelve years younger than him. They had the following eight children:

  • Lavinia R. Heth (1791-1815), married Beverley Randolph and had two children
  • Henry Heth (1793-1824), married Eliza Ann Cunliffe (daughter of fellow coal mine owner John Cunliffe) and had no children
  • Catherine "Kitty" Heth, married Archibald Morgan Harrison (1794-1842) and had three children
  • John Heth (1798-1842), married Margaret Leach Pickett (1801-1850) and had eleven children
  • Virginia Heth, married Richard E. Cunningham and had no children
  • Caroline Heth, married Temple Gwathmey and had no children
  • Beverley Heth (1807-1842), married Virginia Gwathmey and had no children
  • Harriet Heth (1810-1848), married Miles Cary Selden (1805-1880) and had eight children

Colonel Harry Heth's son, Captain John Heth (1798–1842), who served during the War of 1812, inherited Black Heath, Col. Heth's house along the (old) Buckingham Road near the Black Heath mines. It was at this house that his grandson, future Confederate Major General Henry Heth was born in 1825, about four years after Colonel Heth's death in Savannah, Georgia in 1821.


  1. Tyler, Lyon G. (1907). Men of Mark in Virginia - Ideals of American Life - A Collection of Biographies of the Leading Men of the State, Volume II. Washington, D. C.: Men of Mark Publishing Company. p. 183. Retrieved 6 October 2018. 
  2. Lee, Ida J. (July 1934). "The Heth Family". p. 273. Retrieved 7 October 2018. 
  3. Bulloch, Joseph Gaston Baillie (J. G. B.) (2016). The Lineage Book of the Order of Washington. Forgotten Books. p. 136. ISBN 978-1-333-66569-2. Retrieved 7 October 2018. 
  4. This is found in:
  5. The writer has made a mistake or their records are incorrect. This should say Henry Heth.
  6. Lee, Ida J. (July 1934). "The Heth Family". p. pg. 273. Retrieved 7 October 2018. 
  7. Slaughter, Rev. Philip (1892). "Orderly Book of Major William Heth of the Third Virginia Regiment, May 15-July 1, 1777". In Brock, R. A.. Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Historical Society. p. pg. 320.;view=1up;seq=344. Retrieved 7 October 2018. 
  8. There are various spellings of this last name. They include: McMachan, McMahon, Mackey.
  9. Lee, Ida J. (July 1934). "The Heth Family". p. 274. Retrieved 7 October 2018. 
  10. This is the numbering of how they appear on the document. A transcribed copy of Henry's will can be found at
  11. The document is found here:
  12. Slaughter, Rev. Philip (1892). "Orderly Book of Major William Heth of the Third Virginia Regiment, May 15-July 1, 1777". In Brock, R. A.. Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Historical Society. p. pg. 321.;view=1up;seq=344. Retrieved 7 October 2018. 
  13. Garner, Thomas F., Jr.. "Mid-Lothian Early Coal Pits Chronology - from - Historically Significant Sites on the Mid-Lothian Coal Mining Co. Tract In Chesterfield County, Virginia". Archived from the original on March 14, 2007. Retrieved September 29, 2018. 

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