The Odd Tombstone
It was an odd tombstone. Over in Scott County's
Georgetown Cemetery, there is a tombstone in the shape of a tree cut
down. It covers the grave of Henry Bruce Vallandingham, who died in
1856 at the age of 49. There's no clue given about how he died.
Research laid out a story of murder.
He was about blown in half by a shotgun blast to the stomach at noon on
a public street in a town called Lexington, Missouri. The killer turned
himself in, shotgun in hand, and said he did it. He was released
immediately and disappeared before he was required to face a grand
jury. It was all planned out ahead because Henry was a bad man; he had
helped to free slaves. In Missouri, freeing slaves was a capital
crime. Besides, the crazy John Brown had just hacked up seven slave
owners in nearby Kansas and it looked like Henry's death was revenge.
Where did Henry get his anti-slavery
opinions? He was born in Scott County but was raised in Owen County,
where his dad, Lewis, owned 3,000 acres of good farm land. There were
slaves on the land, too. So Henry grew up with slaves all around him.
Yet, he did not like slavery.
Lewis Vallandingham seems to have been
half Indian. Henry himself had high cheek bones. Lewis and his wife
Betsy Bruce Drake, carved a farm out of the wilderness in Scott County
area about 1786, after Lewis quit soldiering for Daniel Boone and George
Rogers Clark. James Frances Drake and Betsy's step-mother lived nearby.
But something got into Lewis and Betsy so in 1819 they sold off their
Scott land and bought new land in Owen County. That was the year Owen
Henry grew up in Owen County. He was
only one of the nine Vallandingham children who did not take to
farming. A family named Bainbridge moved to Owen and stayed a while to
farm. Absolom Bainbridge, the father, was both a doctor and a
minister. He had a lot of children. Three of his daughters married
three of Lewis Vallandingham's sons. Henry married a 15 year-old girl
named Armilda Bainbridge, and the couple had one daughter, Martha Ann.
(Martha married a young lawyer who lived in Owen. His name was Asa P.
Henry tried various jobs in Owen, such
as running a tavern and acting as lawman, but he never seemed to be
satisfied. It was in 1855 that Henry and Armilda moved to Lexington,
Missouri to start a restaurant. The restaurant was a success, but on
the side, Henry was helping to free slaves. That's when the pro-slavery
people had him publicly murdered as a warning to anti-slavery folks. It
And that explains the
odd-looking tombstone. It was shaped like a tree that was cut down,
just as Henry was cut down in the prime of his life by a killer and
brought back to Kentucky to be buried. He was just another part of the
fabric that made America what it is today.