7 Facts About The Founding Fathers That’ll Make You Rethink American History

Published July 3, 2014
Updated March 12, 2024

Patrick Henry Locked Up His Mentally Ill Wife

Patrick Henry Portrait

Wikimedia CommonsPatrick Henry refused to hospitalize his mentally ill wife even though he had the money.

On the eve of the American Revolution, Patrick Henry famously exclaimed “Give me liberty, or give me death!” But what most people aren’t aware of is that this founding father didn’t afford his wife the same freedom — and kept her locked up in the cellar.

Henry’s wife, Sarah, began to mentally decline around 1771 following the birth of their last child, Edward. At first, she appeared to be merely emotionally unsettled but then began to act out violently. Henry’s mother wrote, “We feel Sarah is losing her mind after the birth of little Neddy.”

Eventually, Sarah had to be restrained in a strait-dress to keep her from self-harm.

Henry resolved to keep her restrained in a room in the cellar of his plantation and ordered a slave of his to tend to her.

Despite the condition in which she was kept, some could even reasonably argue that Henry’s choice was better than the alternative, which was to send her to the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Eastern State Hospital

Wikimedia CommonsThe Eastern State Hospital was notorious for its torturous treatments.

The asylum had just recently opened by the time Henry’s wife had become particularly ill. But the treatments at Eastern State Hospital ranged from bleeding and blistering to being purposefully subjected to shock, pain, and terror. Patients were dunked into water while restrained.

Henry’s decision to leave her at home, even without medical assistance and shut in a room, was perhaps better than the alternative.

The woman died of unknown causes in 1775 and was buried in Henry’s backyard.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
Leah Silverman
A former associate editor for All That's Interesting, Leah Silverman holds a Master's in Fine Arts from Columbia University's Creative Writing Program and her work has appeared in Catapult, Town & Country, Women's Health, and Publishers Weekly.
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Margaritoff, Marco. "7 Facts About The Founding Fathers That’ll Make You Rethink American History." AllThatsInteresting.com, July 3, 2014, https://allthatsinteresting.com/founding-fathers-facts. Accessed May 21, 2024.