north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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      Born into slavery, Henry Plummer Cheatham represented North Carolina in Congress during the late nineteenth century and helped establish and lead the Colored Orphan Asylum in Oxford. A mulatto, Cheatham—the son of a house slave and her master—was born on December 27, 1857. His father appears to have shielded the young man from slavery and saw to his education. After the death of his father, Cheatham was encouraged by another white man, Robert A. Jenkins, to attend Shaw University in Raleigh. He graduated in 1882 with honors. Although he read law in the office of Robert E. Hancock Jr., Cheatham never practiced. Upon graduation he was appointed principal of the Plymouth Normal School, but his career in education was diverted by the call to politics.

      In 1884 Henry Cheatham was elected Vance County Register of Deeds. Rising to prominence in the Republican Party, he became the party’s nominee for Congress from the Second District in 1888. In that capacity Cheatham defeated the white incumbent Furnifold M. Simmons. He was reelected to the seat in 1890, but subsequent attempts were not successful. In 1896, in a bitter internal Republican Party race, he was defeated by his brother-in-law, George White.

      President William McKinley appointed Henry Cheatham recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia, an office which he held from 1897 until 1901. Cheatham returned to his native North Carolina and, in 1907, became superintendent of the orphanage that he had helped to establish years earlier. Under his leadership the institution dramatically expanded and improved its facilities and programs. He served the orphanage until his death in 1935. Cheatham was married twice, to Louise Cherry who died in 1889, and to Laura Joyner. He had five children. Henry Cheatham is buried in Harrisburg Cemetery in Oxford.


References:
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 359-360—sketch by Willard B. Gatewood Jr.
Stephen Middleton, ed., Black Congressmen During Reconstruction: A Documentary Sourcebook (2002)
Frenise A. Logan, The Negro in North Carolina 1876-1894 (1964)
Biographical Directory of the American Congress website: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=C000340
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Henry P. Cheatham

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