Hillsborough County, Florida


1836 - 1907

John Wright Hendry, oldest son of Robert and Zilla Ann (Moody) Hendry, was born September 23, 1836 in Lowndes County, Georgia. He was the grandson of John and Catherine (McFail) Hendry. In 1849 the Hendry family moved to Hamilton County, Florida and settled within a few miles of Jasper. In 1856 John went with an uncle to south Florida and reached as far south as the Alafia River in Hillsborough County. He remained in the area four or five months and in looking it over saw many advantages that did not exist in north Florida so that he determined to make it his future home.

John returned to Hamilton County where he married on November 12, 1857, Sarah Payne. She was born November 16, 1835, daughter of Joseph and Henrietta (Smith) Payne. They had one child:

1. Amanda Lugenia Hendry, born September 19, 1858; died September 24, 1941; married 1st, James Archibald Strickland on August 22, 1875 in Manatee County, Florida; married 2nd, Edward Floyd Bostick on December 8, 1881 in Manatee County, Florida.

Having spent a year in Hamilton County, they decided in the fall of 1859 to return to the area John had earlier chosen and settled on a few acres of improved government land at Chicora on the South Prong of the Alafia River, in present day Polk County. The territory of south Florida was little more than a vast, dreary solitude stretching out in every direction inhabited chiefly by wild beasts and reptiles. Panthers, bears, wolves, and alligators were abundant everywhere. The prevailing weather during the summer season was of that murky, nasty type so disagreeable in tropical countries. As the people pushed southward, they followed the course of the streams such as Peace River, Manatee River, and their largest tributaries, thus causing the population to consist of a number of widely separated settlements. In 1860 the John Wright Hendry family was living in Hillsborough County and some of their neighbors were J. W. Riggs, William Hall, Mary Burnett, Seth Howard, J. T. & Adaline Wilson, Jacob Raulerson, Sarah Mercer, John Cason adn Eli English.

These distant settlements made it difficult to maintain any system of public worship. The Methodists had contented themselves with establishing an annual camping ground near Fort Meade, and the Baptists had planted a little Church at a place on the South Prong called Hurrah. In the meantime, John's parents had moved to Fort Green, and belonging to the Methodist Church, they were in the habit of attending the yearly camp meetings at Fort Meade. While attending one of these meetings, John became serious and ultimately professed conversion and joined the Methodist organization at that place. Soon after his return home, he began to feel 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 and he as a preparation began an intense study of the Scriptures. This led to a conversion to the Baptist faith, which he came to believe was more compatible with his interpretation of the Bible. Despite family opposition, he requested membership in the Hurrah Baptist Church, 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 the leading members of the Hurrah Church, and soon a unanimous call to the care of the church was tendered him pending his orination to the ministry, which soon followed. Meanwhile, the little church was being rent by internal dissensions. The pastor A. Wilson resigned and Rev. J. M. Hayman undertook unsuccessfully to restore harmony. After four months he resigned. About this time John had been ordained and was ready to take hold. He soon had the entire membership completely under his control and peace 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 heard the spirit and eloquence of his discourses completely captivated his hearers. 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 time fairly electrified his congregations. His marvelous fluency of speech won for him the title of "the eloquent John W. Hendry". He became the leader and promoter of religious thought in the community and even accompanied the Rev. L. J. Simmons on a preaching tour into Orange County, Florida.

In the meantime, however, the scourge of the 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. It will be understood therefore why religious meetings were usually held in the open air, or at best under rudely constructed bush harbors. There had been a great spiritual awakening, and churches were springing up in every community, thus taxing the time of the few resident preachers.

Maple Branch, now known as New Zion Baptist Church, was the first Church organized south of the South Prong of the Alafia River. It was organized September 29, 1866 on the south fork of the Alafia River, but it is now located about seven miles west of Ona. Rev. Hendry was one of the charter members of this church, its pastor without interruption for twenty years, and a member until his death. While serving this church, Rev. Hendry 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, and Benevolence, nearly all of them, some under a different name, continuing until this day. For example, Fort Hartsuff founded in 1876 is First Baptist Church of Wauchula.

While Rev. John W. Hendry was a staunch Baptist, he was not narrow minded and fully believed that soul winning was far more important than mere denomination. Accordingly, the coming of Rev. William Penn McEwen, a minister of the Methodist Church was welcomed. The consecration and unbounded enthusiasm of this saintly man of God did much to encourage John. Traveling together over the same roads, preaching from the same pulpits, sharing the same perils and hardships, there sprang up between them a mutual love and close friendship seldom, if ever, met between ministers of different denominations.

At this time, John was still living on the South Prong of the Alafia River, the extreme northern boundary of his ministry. He was listed as a tax payer in Polk County in 1861. On November 4, 1867 John W. Hendry was listed as a juror in Polk County along with J. M. Hendry, Eli English and others. Having succeeded in acquiring a pretty good stock of cattle and with the hope of finding a better range, as well as, to get more in the center of his ministerial field, he sold his place on the South Prong and with his cattle moved into Manatee County at a place near Brushy Creek. He made his home there for over thirty years. By persistence industry and good management he rapidly increased his property and in a short time was investing his means in various enterprises. The poor financial conditions following the Civil War had compelled Baptist ministers to be self supporting. Salaries were simply out of the question for some time. Grist milling, sawmilling, and merchandising were John's chief business ventures, but owing to a lack of proper experience these proved to be unprofitable and he returned to his old occupation farming and stock raising. He registered his brand on July 31, 1872.

This move was accomplished in 1871 and in the following year at the suggestion of Rev. Hendry the membership of Maple Branch, or Fort Green, decided to establish a place of meeting near his home and changed the name of the church to New Zion.

There were seven, possibly eight, working churches in Manatee County with a membership ranging from 25 to 50. The annual assocation minutes for 1875 listed the following Manatee County churches: Benevolence, Friendship, Mount Moriah, Mounty Pisgah, New Hope, New Zion and Mount Pleasant. There was only one Baptist Association in all southern Florida, the South Florida, which extended from Hernando County on the north to Manatee County, the southern boundary. This made it quite inconvenient for the Manatee churches to attend its meetings, which were usually held with some church in Polk or HIllsborough County. John W. Hendry conceived the idea of dividing the South Florida Baptist Association by organizing the Manatee County churches into a separate body to be known as the Manatee Association.

In 1875 he headed a delegation consisting of James M. Hendry, Captain John W. Whidden, Daniel W. Carlton and himself to petition for separation and dismission from the South Florida Association. After much controversy, the minutes of the tenth annual session of the South Florida Baptist Association held at Tenotasassa Church on October 14, 1876 show "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 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 Association.

In 1880 Manatee County the Hendrys were living in precinct #2 (Fort Green). Living with them were their daughter, Amanda E., age 21 and their granddaughter, Catherine C., age 3.

The population having increased brought strength to the churches as many ministers were added. Rev. Hendry soon gathered around him a number of co-workers which marked a period of rapid expansion of the new association and marked the greatest activity of Rev. Hendry as a preacher. Ezekiel J. Hull, R. E. Bell, Edmund Chancey, T. J. Sparkman, Isaac A. Redd, H. H. Norris, James M. Hendry, Hendry Messer, A. T. Farabee, J. L. Durrance, J. H. Brantley, J. F. Gill were added to the ministerial roll.

In his politcal allegiance he was changeable but only because of his committment to 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 a flagrant violation of the most sacred principles of civil righteousness and for this reason he belonged to the Whigs. When the Whigs declined as the slavery issue became more intense, he joined the new Republican Party and was once a candidate for the Legislature. During Reconstruction, he denounced the Republicans and joined the Democratic Party. In 1888 he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. His brother-in-law, Captain John W. Whidden, was serving in the Florida Senate. He declined to seek reelection. He afterwards joined the Populist Party, but when it failed, his political activity ceased.

In 1893 Sarah (Payne) Hendry suffered a stroke of paralysis. This misfortune greatly hindered John's usefulness as a preacher as most of his time was required to take care of her. Sarah died December 20, 1897 and was buried in New Zion Cemetery.

Rev. Hendry again took up the ministerial work and served several churches. He returned among others to First Baptist Church of Wauchula as the pastor from 1900-1901. Earlier he had served it from 1876-1884 when it was known as Fort Hartsuff.

In December of 1898, John Hendry married Civy (Civie) V. Thompson. They had four children:

2. John Francis Gary Hendry, born September 10, 1899; died September 18, 1904; buried in New Zion Cemetery.

3. Robert Hendry.

4. Sarah Hendry, married Jerry Albritton.

5. Charlie Hendry

On February 4, 1907 John set out on a business trip and spent the day looking after his affairs, chatting with his friends, and transacting business on the streets of Wauchula. After leaving town, he drove to the home of his granddaughter, Mrs. Ab W. Carlton, where he was assisted from his buggy to the house. Soon after taking supper with the family, he suddenly expired without a struggle. He was buried beside his first wife, Sarah, in New Zion Cemetery. The Masonic order of Wauchula of which he had long been a member performed the last rites. The "Wauchula Advocate" eulogized: "He traveled more miles, organized more churches, baptized more people, married more couples, conducted more funerals, and soothed more aching hearts than any other minister in south Florida. He is gone. His life work is finished."

Civy (Thompson) Hendry later married a Mr. Jackson and is said to be buried in an unmarked grave in Fort Green Baptist Cemetery.

SOURCES: John W. Hendry, A Pioneer Baptist Preacher of South Florida, prepared for New Zion Baptist Church by W. D. Payne, James M. Hendry, & Robert Roberts, The Advocate Press, Wauchula, 1907; "Pioneer Families of Polk County and South Florida: The Hendry Family" by Milton D. Wilson, Polk County Historical & Genealogical Library, 1944; Pioneer Florida, Volume III, edited by D. B. McKay, Southern Publishing Co., 1959; New Zion Baptist Church Cemetery records; "Centennial Services First Baptist Church", October 3, 1976, Wauchula; Manatee & DeSoto County marriages; Manatee County Marks & Brands; 1860 Hillsborough County census; minutes of the annual meetings of the South Florida Baptist Association, 1875, 1876; annual minutes of the meetings of the Manatee Baptist Association, 1876; 1880 Manatee County census.

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