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Henry Hastings Sibley

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Title: Henry Hastings Sibley  
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Subject: Dakota County, Minnesota, Battle of Big Mound, Battle of Dead Buffalo Lake, Alexander Ramsey, List of Governors of Minnesota
Collection: 1811 Births, 1891 Deaths, Dakota War of 1862, Delegates to the United States House of Representatives from Minnesota Territory, Delegates to the United States House of Representatives from Wisconsin Territory, Democratic Party State Governors of the United States, Governors of Minnesota, Members of Congress Who Served in Multiple States, Members of the Minnesota Territorial Legislature, Minnesota Democrats, People from Detroit, Michigan, People of Minnesota in the American Civil War, Union Army Generals, United States Army Generals
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Henry Hastings Sibley

Henry Hastings Sibley
1st Governor of Minnesota
In office
May 24, 1858 – January 2, 1860
Lieutenant William Holcombe
Preceded by Samuel Medary
as Territorial Governor
Succeeded by Alexander Ramsey
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Minnesota Territory's at-large district
In office
July 7, 1849 – March 3, 1853
Preceded by New district
Succeeded by Henry Mower Rice
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin Territory's at-large district
In office
October 30, 1848 – March 3, 1849
Preceded by John H. Tweedy
Succeeded by District abolished
Personal details
Born (1811-02-20)February 20, 1811
Detroit, Michigan, United States
Died February 18, 1891(1891-02-18) (aged 79)
Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sarah Jane (Hume) Steele
Profession supply-purchasing agent
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1862-1866
Rank Brigadier General, USV
Brevet Major General, USV
Commands District of Minnesota
Battles/wars American Civil War
Dakota War of 1862

Henry Hastings Sibley (February 20, 1811 – February 18, 1891) was the first Governor of the U.S. state of Minnesota and a U.S. Representative of the Minnesota Territory and the Wisconsin Territory.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
  • Marriage and family 3
  • Political career 4
    • Railroad bond issue 4.1
  • Military career 5
  • Post-military career 6
  • Legacy and honors 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • Other references 10
  • External links 11

Early life and education

Henry Hastings Sibley was born in Detroit, Michigan, where his parents, Solomon Sibley (1769–1846), a native of Sutton, Massachusetts, and Sarah Whipple (Sproat) Sibley had moved in 1797. It was part a major westward migration after the American Revolutionary War by New Englanders. Solomon Sibley became a prominent judge in the early history of the city and state. He was of entirely English ancestry, all of which had been in North America since the early 1600s.[1]

As a young man, Henry Sibley read about and studied law in his father's office to prepare for the bar and licensing.


In 1828, the young Sibley started as a clerk at a mercantile house in Sault Ste. Marie, a prominent fur trading center on both the United States and Canadian sides. From 1829–1834, he worked as a supply-purchasing agent of the American Fur Company at Mackinac. In 1834, Sibley became a partner in the company and relocated to their headquarters in St. Peter's (now called Mendota), Minnesota. He lived there from 1834–1862.[2]

Marriage and family

Sibley's House at St. Peter, now Mendota

In 1836, Sibley built the first stone house in Minnesota, which is now the Sibley House Historic Site. The home, in Mendota, overlooked Fort Snelling from across the Mississippi River. Over the winter of 1839-40 he entered a de facto marriage with Red Blanket Woman, granddaughter of a Mdewakanton Dakota chief; a daughter, Helen Hastings Sibley, also known as Wahkiyee (Bird), was born in August 1841. The circumstances of Sibley and Red Blanket Woman's relationship are obscure, but several sources suggest that she remarried a Dakota man, perhaps in 1842, and died in early 1843.[3]

On May 2, 1843, Sibley married Sarah Jane Steele, daughter of General James Steele, commander of Fort Snelling, and his wife Mary (Hume). Sarah Jane's brother was Franklin Steele, a prominent Minneapolis businessman, and her sister Anna Abby Steele married Dr. Thomas R. Potts, who later became the first mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota. For her part, Helen was eventually placed with a missionary family and grew up acculturated to white society in St. Paul; Sibley maintained a congenial and public relationship with Helen until her death in 1859, although this reportedly upset Sarah.[4]

Sarah Jane Steele Sibley

The political boundaries changed so frequently from 1836 through 1862 that, although all of Sibley's white children were born in this house, they were each recorded as having been born in different political units: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota Territory and finally, the state of Minnesota. In 1862, the Sibley family moved to St. Paul.

Political career

Sibley started his public career shortly after the organization of Iowa Territory, receiving a commission as Justice of the Peace of Clay County by governor John Chambers.[5] He received commissions and extensions to his commission in 1838, 1839 and 1840.[6]

Sibley's political life began when he was elected to represent John H. Tweedy. He took over as the Wisconsin Territory At-large congressional district representative on October 30, 1848, although he was not recognized to be seated until the subsequent January. The Wisconsin Territory's At-large congressional district was eliminated with the creation of the Territory of Minnesota on March 3, 1849.[7] He was subsequently elected as the first representative of the Minnesota Territory's At-large congressional district, serving in the 31st and 32nd congresses from July 7, 1849 - March 3, 1853.

Sibley was elected to the Minnesota Territorial House of Representatives, convened from January to March 1855, as the representative of Dakota County. He was a member of the Democratic Party wing of the first Minnesota Constitutional Convention, of which he eventually became president. Assembled July 13, 1857, the convention resulted in adoption of the constitution as framed on October 13, 1857.[8]

In 1858 Sibley was elected as the first governor of the state, and is one of just four Minnesota Democrats to win a gubernatorial election with a Democrat in the White House.[9] He served from May 24, 1858, until January 2, 1860.[10] After narrowly defeating Republican Alexander Ramsey in the first state gubernatorial contest, Sibley declared in his inaugural address, "I have no object and no interests which are not inseparably bound up with the welfare of the state." He did not seek reelection.

Railroad bond issue

When the legislature voted for the state to issue bonds to the railroads to provide for construction of the transcontinental route, Sibley refused. He said the railroads did not give priority of lien to the state on their property. The state supreme court ordered the governor to issue the legislatively authorized state bonds to railroads. The legislature asked him to market the bonds in New York. Although he made an effort to do, the capitalists refused to buy the bonds. The state subsequently repudiated the issuance.

Military career

Henry Hastings Sibley in uniform, 1862

The U.S. Dakota War of 1862

In 1862, after the American Civil War began, Sibley was appointed colonel of the state militia. He was directed to the upper Minnesota River to protect exposed settlements from the Sioux American Indians. After the massacre at Acton, August 18, 1862, he was involved in the following engagements:

The last engagement was a decisive battle. It resulted in Sioux bands' releasing about 250 captive whites. In the action, the militia captured 2,000 Sioux, both men and women. Of these captives, 321 warriors were tried for capital crimes and 303 were sentenced to death. It was a "kangaroo court" with no lawyers for the defendants. Some of the "trials" lasted only a few minutes. Thirty-eight men were hanged at Mankato, December 26, 1862, including at least one whose sentence had been commuted by President Lincoln.[11]

For gallantry in the field, Sibley was promoted to brigadier-general of volunteers, September 29, 1862. In 1863, he led a second successful expedition against the Sioux in Dakota Territory. This campaign included the battles of Big Mound (July 24), Dead Buffalo Lake (July 26), and Stony Lake (July 28).

Sibley continued to defend the western frontier, 1864–1865. On November 29, 1865, he was brevetted as major-general of the volunteers for "efficient and meritorious services." He was relieved from the command of the district of Minnesota in August 1866 after the end of the American Civil War.

Post-military career

After his military service, Sibley was active in settling several Indian treaties. Upon reentering business life in St. Paul, he served as president of the chamber of commerce, as well as the president of several railroads, banks, and other large corporations.

He also served a variety of civil organizations. He became a member of the Minnesota Historical Society in 1849 and eventually served as president. He joined the Old Settlers' association of that state in 1858. He contributed to the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, to Spirit of the Times, and to The Turf, Field and Farm. Among his work for the Minnesota Historical Society were memoirs of Joseph Nicolas Nicollet,[12] Hercules L. Dousman[13] and Jean Baptiste Faribault.[14]

He died in St. Paul, Minnesota on February 18, 1891, two days before his 80th birthday and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in St. Paul.

Legacy and honors

A white grave column worn by weather set among trees.
Close-up of a weather worn side
  • He was awarded an honorary LL.D. from the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton University), in 1888.

See also


  1. ^ The ancestry, life, and times of Hon. Henry Hastings Sibley By Nathaniel West page 4
  2. ^ Wisconsin Magazine Of History Archives. Retrieved on 2011-09-10.
  3. ^ Jane Lamm Carroll, "Who Was Jane Lamont?: Anglo-Dakota Daughters in Early Minnesota," Minnesota History, Spring 2005, 192-193.
  4. ^ Jane Lamm Carroll, "Who Was Jane Lamont?, 193-194
  5. ^ Sibley, Henry H. (1880). "Reminiscences of the Early Days of Minnesota". Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  6. ^ Shortridge, Wilson P. (August 1919). "Henry Hastings Sibley and the Minnesota Frontier". Minnesota History Bulletin 3 (3): 115–125. Retrieved August 19, 2014. 
  7. ^ Butterfield, Consul Willshire (1884). History of Crawford and Richland Counties, Wisconsin. Springfield, IL: Union Publishing Company. p. 41. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  8. ^ Henry Hastings Sibley, Minnesota Research Reference Library-Legislators Past and Present. Retrieved on 2011-09-10.
  9. ^ Ostermeier, Eric (December 6, 2013). "Can Dayton Catch Lightning in a Bottle Twice?". Smart Politics. 
  10. ^ Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Index to Politicians: Siaca to Sifford". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2010-07-20. 
  11. ^ Elder, Robert (2010-12-13) Execution 150 Years Ago Spurs Calls for Pardon, New York Times
  12. ^ Memoir of Jean N. Nicollet Note that the name "Jean" in the article (and its title) is wrong, but it is not known if the mistake belongs to Sibley or a later editor. Nicollet's first name was Joseph.
  13. ^ Memoir of Hercules L. Dousman
  14. ^ Memoir of Jean Baptiste Faribault
  15. ^ Upham, Warren (1920). Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance. Minnesota Historical Society. p. 518. 
  16. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 152. 

Other references

  • Henry Hastings Sibley, Biographical information, Minnesota Historical Society
  • Gubernatorial records, Minnesota Historical Society
  • Henry Hastings Sibley Papers, Minnesota Historical Society
  • Rossiter, John (1906). "Henry Hastings Sibley". Biographical Dictionary of America IX. Boston: American Biographical Society. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  • Pedersen, Kern Owen (1949). Makers of Minnesota: An Illustrated Story of the Builders of Our State. St. Paul, MN: Pederson. Retrieved August 19, 2014. 
  • Williams, John Fletcher (1894). "Henry Hastings Sibley: A Memoir". Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society (Minnesota Historical Society) 6: 257–310. Retrieved August 19, 2014. 

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John H. Tweedy
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Wisconsin Territory's at-large congressional district

October 30, 1848 - March 3, 1849
District abolished
New district Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Minnesota Territory's at-large congressional district

July 7, 1849 - March 3, 1853
Succeeded by
Henry Mower Rice
Political offices
Preceded by
Samuel Medary
as Territorial Governor
Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Alexander Ramsey
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