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

 
 
 

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     For the author, an adventurous life of danger and drifting affords story material for which there is no substitute. William Sydney Porter, better known by his pseudonym O. Henry, led a life that was at times uncertain, yet always intriguing. He was born on September 11, 1862 to Algernon Sidney and Mary Jane Virginia Swaim Porter, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Belonging to a middle-class family of some affluence, (William’s great-uncle was governor Jonathan Worth), Porter was raised by an aunt raised who educated him until age fifteen, when he began an apprenticeship in his uncle’s pharmacy. In 1882, Porter left Greensboro for La Salle, Texas, where he found work as a rancher, an invigorating experience that would later manifest itself in his writing.

     Over the next fourteen years, Porter worked an assortment of jobs in Austin, Texas, such as a bookkeeper, draftsman, and a bank teller, all the while writing short stories and sketches. In July 1887, Porter married Athol Estes, and authored short, humorous pieces for the Detroit Free Press and various other newspapers. After deciding to leave the bank in 1894, Porter began editing a weekly, The Rolling Stone, in the process creating friendships with renowned writers such as “Bill” Nye. The next two years would prove disastrous for Porter, but ultimately served as a springboard for his writing career.

     Later, in 1896, he moved to Houston to join the Houston Daily Post. Once in Houston, he was indicted by an Austin court on charges of embezzlement stemming from his tenure as a bank teller. On his way back to Austin, he fled to Honduras, only to return in early 1897 to visit Athol, who was terminally ill. Porter subsequently was arrested, convicted, and in 1898, ordered to serve five years in prison. While incarcerated, he had time to engage in serious writing sessions, and before his release for good behavior in 1901, Porter had several works published. In 1902 he moved to New York, where the diversity of big city life coupled with Porter’s travels and friendships allowed the now established writer to pen over one hundred stories in less than two years. He lived in New York until 1907, when he married his childhood friend Sara Lindsey Coleman, and resided in Asheville for his remaining days. His health fading, Porter returned to New York in 1910, where he died of diabetes and other complications on June 5. He was returned to North Carolina for burial in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.


References:
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 127-8—sketch by Edgar M. MacDonald
Eugene Current-Garcia, O. Henry (William Sidney Porter) (1965)
Allen Johnson, ed., Dictionary of American Biography,, XV (1946), 105-7—sketch by Carl Van Doren
The Literature Network, “O. Henry” website: http://www.online-literature.com/o_henry/
     
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William Sydney Porter

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