The Sherman family of York County, Pennsylvania, in the United States had a long history, dating back to the 1730s when the first “Scherman” came to America from Germany.
The family over the decades had done very well as farmers, acquiring land, livestock, possessions and keeping fairly actual Records on Births, Marriages and Deaths in the family. With the death in 1864 and then 1869 of the 3rd generation Sherman, Henry and Catherine Sherman, their only son, Henry Jackson Sherman, inherited the family’s large 200 acre family farm in Manheim, York County.
While doing genealogical research on the Shermans into the 20th century, there was not a great deal of information of Henry Jackson Sherman and his family.
It was not until I came across two newspaper articles from the Hanover Herald and The Sentinel of York County, dated May 27 and May 31, 1906, that the truth was finally learned of what happened to the family.
Henry figured he had it made, being a wealthy landowner, large home with plenty of hired help to take care of all his family’s needs. However, it reached the point at the beginning of the 20th Century, where he greatly enjoyed showing off how wealthy he was to his friends by lighting his cigars with a crisp twenty dollar bill.
As his smoking habit increased, so did his wild spending adventures in the towns of Hanover, York, Gettysburg, and Harrisburg. There were over the years many ill-starred speculations, rash business ventures and overall reckless spending without any thought to the future. His wife, Catherine, and their five children never knew where he was and never questioned how he spent the family money.
When his mounting debt finally surpassed his income, and the old family farm had to be sold at a Sheriff's auction, Henry's family knew they were in a grim financial situation. Pride kept them from asking for assistance from relatives but what were they to do.
If Henry had been very foolish and irresponsible before, he only became worst as a penniless, broken man. There wasn’t food or shelter for the family, they were looked down on with pity by their neighbors. Henry felt since he couldn’t earn necessary funds his only recourse was to steal money for his family.
On Friday night, May 4, 1906, he was discovered by a passerby tampering with the safe in the office of Bowman & Huff Cigar Factory on York Street of Hanover, PA. He managed to escape from the shop but was later captured and arrested by Hanover Police Officer Dutters. He was put in the York County jail on Sunday, May 6th.
When Catherine was notified of her husband’s arrest, the family shame was almost too much for her to bare. She and a couple of her younger children now had to move in with a married daughter’s household just for survival. She also tried to locate an attorney to represent her husband in court.
The next couple of weeks were very hard on Henry, physically and mentally. He already suffered from asthma and had a heart condition. He knew he had totally disappointed his family and disgraced the Sherman family name.
It was Wednesday, May 26th, around 4 PM, when he suffered a heart attack while in jail. The last words of Henry’s overheard by the jailer were, “Here's where I get some of that good bread, the kind that mother used to bake." He was pronounced dead by York County Coroner David H. Smyser.
When word of his death spread to the other family members they all donated money to see that he had a proper burial. Catherine had to remain living with her daughter, Lydia and son-in-law in nearby McSherrystown, but bad luck continued to haunt the Sherman family.
Only five weeks later, Catherine’s daughter, Lydia, died of pulmonary tuberculosis.
The opening decade of the 20th century reflected the strict social structure of a Victorian and Edwardian time frame. This was especially evident in the small towns along the southern border of Pennsylvania.
The head of the household was the husband and he could do no wrong. Well, this wasn’t always the situation and most of the time the “sins” of the husband were paid many times over by the wife and the children in the social disgrace they faced for years. This was the reason no information was handed down in any of the Sherman family records.
Alice L Luckhardt
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