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Francis Asbury Hendry (November 19, 1833 – February 12, 1917) was a Florida cattle rancher, politician, and officer in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.


Early life

Asbury was born near Thomasville, Georgia, a son of James Edward Hendry and Lydia Carlton. He was known by the nickname "Berry." In 1851, his father took the family to Hillsborough County, Florida, settling on the Alafia River about twenty-two miles east of Tampa. His father then returned to Georgia to settle his affairs, and died suddenly on January 3, 1852. Nineteen-year-old Berry, his mother, and his siblings decided to remain in Florida.

On March 25, 1852, Berry married Ardeline Ross Lanier (May 10, 1835 – September 6, 1917), a native of Bulloch County, Georgia. Soon thereafter, they moved to Fort Meade, Florida, where they started a cattle ranch. They marked their cattle with a crop and split in one ear and an upper square in the other. They also branded them with a large "A," Berry's middle initial, as well as his wife's first initial.

The Hendrys lived with the garrison at Fort Meade for a time before building their first home about two miles (3 km) north on a branch of the Peace River. It is now known as the Berry Hendry Branch.

Military career

During the Third Seminole War, Berry served with both Capt. William B. Hooker and Capt. Leroy G. Lesley in their independent companies of mounted volunteers. Muster rolls describe him as standing six feet and one inch in height, with grey eyes, and dark hair and complexion. Fortunately, Berry survived the war having seen little or no action. On October 27, 1857, he was elected to a two-year term on the Hillsborough County Commission.

In 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, Berry Hendry was a prosperous cattle rancher with eight slaves. He opposed secession after the election of Abraham Lincoln, but loyally supported his adopted state after it passed a secession ordinance.

On February 1, 1861, before the war really began in earnest, Hendry led efforts to create Polk County, Florida, and was elected to its first Board of County Commissioners. Hendry spent the first three years of the war supplying cattle to the Confederate Commissary Department. But, his work was made difficult by a Federal garrison that occupied old Fort Meade. So, in 1863, he organized his own cavalry company to keep the enemy isolated behind the walls of the fortress. He was given the rank of captain and attached to Colonel Charles Munnerlyn's Battalion.

Political career and later life

After Florida surrendered to Federal occupation in the spring of 1865, Hendry represented Polk County at the Second Constitutional Convention in Tallahassee. He was also elected to the state senate, representing Polk and Brevard Counties, until 1866.

After the Reconstruction government was installed in Tallahassee in 1868, former Confederate officers were not welcome to hold elective office on the state level. So, Berry Hendry returned to Polk County, and was appointed to serve on the Board of Public Instruction.

During the Reconstruction Era, Hendry continued to build and improve his cattle empire. He made his new headquarters in the abandoned officers' barracks at Fort Myers, and made contact with buyers from Cuba. He was among the first Florida ranchers to ship cattle to that country through the port of Punta Rassa. By 1876, he had fenced-in some 25,000 acres (101 km2) of range land and owned about 50,000 head of cattle.

On August 12, 1885, Hendry chaired a public meeting held at the schoolhouse in Fort Myers, at the corner of Second and Lee Streets. There, the electors voted to incorporate the town, and Hendry became one of its first councilmen. As such, in 1887, he led efforts to create Lee County, Florida, and was elected to its first Board of County Commissioners.

By 1888, Hendry had moved his ranching headquarters to the vicinity of Fort Thompson. He also began to dispose of much of his range cattle in favor of Jersey and other breeds in an effort to improve the quality of his stock. He also acquired large tracts of marshland along the Caloosahatchee River for grazing. In 1893, Major Hendry was elected to represent Lee County in the state legislature, and served for more than a decade. In 1895, he platted the town of LaBelle, Florida, which he named for his daughters Laura and Belle Hendry.

During his last years, Major Hendry retired to Fort Myers for better access to medical care. He suffered from chronic nephritis, a kidney disease. And, the state awarded him a monthly pension of twenty dollars.

Death and legacy

Hendry died at Fort Myers. On May 11, 1923, the state legislature honored him with the creation of Hendry County, Florida, designating LaBelle as its seat of government.



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