John Henry Barret

by Edmund Starling, 1886

JOHN HENRY BARRET, a native of Louisa County, Virginia, was born on the fourth day of February, 1818. His father, Peter Straghan Barret, and his mother, Matilda (Winston) Barret, were born in Louisa County. His paternal grandfather, John Barret, and maternal grandfather, Henry Pendleton, were both natives of Virginia, and both died and were buried in that State. John H. Barret was educated from the country schools of his native county. His father was a farmer and required his son to plow furrow by furrow, alongside others more muscular than himself, and this he did year in and year out. Another innocent amusement afforded him on the farm, was that of ox driving, one thing of all others calculated to make a boy forget his Sunday school dialect and indulge in the conventional talk of the more advance student of oxology[sic]. However, in every calling he was at home in energy, thougthfulness[sic] and sound judgment. At the age of seventeen years, he left his parental home and set out for Kentucky to join his brother, Alexander, who had preceded him just two years. In December, 1835, Mr. Barret landed in Henderson and immediately accepted a position in the employ of his brother, who was largely engaged in the purchase and stemming of tobacco and general merchandising. Our subject applied himself diligently to the work assigned him, and this, coupled with a keen, quick perception of matters pertaining to the trade, soon made him a most valuable assistant to his brother. Four years after his arrival in Henderson County, to wit: December, 1839, Mr. Barret was joined in marriage with Miss Susan D. Rankin, whom the writer loves to remember for her even-tempered and affectionate disposition, her strong, good sense, active benevolence and earnest piety. There are three living children, the result of this union, John H., James R. and Susan. John H. married Miss Henrietta Offutt, of Shelby County, and has two children, Mary and Augusta; Mary married Dr. James Heddins, of St. Joseph, Missouri; James R. married Miss Lucie Frances Stites, and has two children, Henry P. and Susie R.; Susan married James E. Rankin, and has two children, Susie and James Ewing. Shortly after marriage, Mr. Barret severed his connection with his brother and formed a copartnership with his brother-in-law, James E. Rankin, under the firm name of Rankin & Barret, and, with him, continued in the dry goods business to 1851, eleven years, when, by mutual consent, the firm was dissolved. During the year 1851, Mrs. Barret died, leaving a grief stricken husband and three small children. In 1852 Mr. Barret accepted a proffered partnership with his elder brother, in the tobacco business, and was actively engaged with him to the day of his death, in 1861. On the fourteenth day of September, 1852, our subject married, at Smithland, Ky., his second wife, Miss Mary Augusta. Had dock, a most estimable Christian lady, who, during their thirty-six years of married life, had proven herself a loving wife, devoted to his comfort and happiness. By this marriage, four children were born, three died in infancy; little Mary, the youngest of them all, died at the age of eight years, and, in her death, the sunshine of the household was laid away deep in the mists of sorrow that knows no ending.

Alexander B. Barret, the elder brother, at his death, left an estate aggregating between three and four millions of dollars, the largest estate known to the record books of Kentucky. This immense property consisted of lands in various parts of the United States, stocks, bonds, notes, partnerships, unsettled accounts, and hereditaments[sic] of every conceivable character. By the terms of his testamentary will, John H. Barret, our subject, was made executor, and the entire estate unreservedly intrusted to his hands without security, a monument to his fidelity and high integrity of character that the world can never destroy. Seven years were given by the will in which to settle this enormous estate. Ten years have been consumed by eminent financiers in settling much smaller ones, yet, at the end of five years, the estate was settled to the last cent, the hundreds of legacies paid off, accounts settled, the books balance and the estate divided without a jar. To his quick and clear perception, his retentive memory, his sound, unerring judgment, is due this--one among the most brilliant and successful financial and business achievments known to the business world.

The death of Alexander B. barret, while it naturally destroyed the partnership between himself and his brother, nevertheless did not put a stop to the great stemming interest carried on prior to that untimely event. The subject of this sketch continued doing business as surviving partner, and, as his sons arrived at majority, each one was given an interest and associated with him--first, John H., Jr., then James R., and, upon the marriage of his daughter to James F. Rankin, he, too, was associated in the firm, for several years past known as John H. Barret & Co., and composed of John H. Barret, John H. Barret, Jr., James R. Barret and James E. Rankin. While our subject of late years has withdrawn form active participancy in the details of the business, he is, neverthelesss, the acknowledged head, and his advice and wise counsel is sought and acted upon in all matters affecting the partnership. During the building of the Evansville, Henderson & Nashville Railroad, Mr. Barret was a member of the Board of Directors, and was at all times active in assisting to its early completion. The City Council, those bonds were directed to be placed in the hands of John H. Barret as custodian without security. Thus, it will be seen, in what high esteem he was held by the legislature branch of his city. The first locomotive--known as the "Pony," and yet in use in the depot yards at Henderson--was purchased by Mr. Barret of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, and paid for out of his own private means. Soon after being appointed custodian of the city's bonds, he was directed to dispose of the same by sale, or otherwise, and report his acts. He went East, and, although money matters were tight at the time, succeeded in negotiating a sale of a number of them, while a great number were taken by home capitalists. A press of private business required him to relinquish the trust, which he did before all of the bonds had been sold. Mr. Barret served as Director up to the sale of the road to the Louisville & Nashville Company. He manifested, by his works and means, an active interest in the organization of a National Bank, and, as a result, the First National was organized November, 1865, and commenced business January 1st, 1866, on a capital of one hundred thousand dollars; increased September 20th, 1870, to two hundred thousand. He was one of the originators of and largest stockholders in the second telegraph line connecting Henderson and Evansville. It was mainly through his instrumentality that Henderson now claims one of the largest and most complete woollen mills in the West, the largest cotton mill in the State, and one of the largest in the South. But for the liberality and far seeing capacity of our subject, the writer verily believes that neither of these grand manufacturies would to-day be standing and operated in Henderson. Mr. Barret holds fifteen thousand dollars stock in the cotton mill and five thousand in the woollen mill. In addition to his very large stock and bonded interests, he is the owner of seven hundred acres of valuable river bottom lands, lying between the City of Henderson and the City of Evansville, on the Ohio River; one thousand and thirty-three acres of hill lands, all of which, with the exception of his Tom Lockett place, he causes to be cultivated in his own name and behalf. He is a large grower of corn, wheat, grass and stock. In the Counties of Hopkins and Breckenridge, Kentucky, and in the County of Delta, Texas, he is the owner of lands aggregating four thousand and eight hundred and fifty acres. A great part of his Texas lands he causes to be cultivated in cotton and corn, and, in addition, is largely engaged in stock raising.

Recently, in connection with his sons, under the firm name of John H. Barret & Co., he has had erected in the Town of Uniontown, Union County, a large and commodious tobacco stemmery, of seven hundred hogshead capacity annually, and will this wnter at that point enter largely into the purchase and handling of tobacco. He is largely interested in stemming at Owensboro, having associated with himself, John W. Matthews, formerly of Henderson. His stemmery at Owensboro is one of the largest in that city, and the firm one among the heaviest buyers. Mr. Barret is a very large holder of tobacco in European warehouses, and his immense capital and credit gives him all the advantages to be gained by holding on a low market when very many others are forced to sell.

In politics Mr. Barret was a Whig during the days of that party, but since the war has affiliated with the Democratic party. In religious pursuasion[sic] he was raised a Christian or Reformer, and, while never uniting with the church in membership, he feels a deep and abiding interest in its welfare, and is among its most liberal monies supporters. To use a common expression, he is by no means "hide-bound;" contrarily, he gives liberally when solicited to all denominations and charities. For very many years he has been a member of the Masonic order, but seldom attends the lodge.

Mr. Barret was never in his life an office seeker, or politician, and so far as the writer is informed, was never a candidate for an office. He was once elected--and then against his will--to the office of City Councilman from his ward, and, but for the urgent solicitation of his friends, would have declined to serve. He did serve, however, and, as in all business acts of his life, made a most excellent Councilman. Mr. Barret is a man of unflinching rectitude, never swerving from what he deems right, either in public or private life, and, while not a professed Christian, is yet too good, too true, to pass the golden gates unnoticed. There is no place in his heart for the narrowness of bigotry or intolerance; his genial, attractive qualities forbid it and make him friends wherever he may go. He is a man of warm attachments, giving graciously and unreservedly to all charities and in places where the world knows nothing of. He never lets his right hand know what his left doeth--all his good works are sacred with himself and the recipients of his bounty. When he dies, grateful hearts will weep while the business world, and Henderson, particularly, will sadly miss him.


The History of Henderson County, Kentucky by Starling 1887 page 766-70;

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