The Henry Martin Bradley Autobiography of 1907 Revisited

The Autobiography Reprint is now a 30 day Kickstarter project ending on December 17th.

Henry Martin Bradley produced three family history documents that he distributed to the extended family.  The first was the family portrait taken in Chicago in 1891.  The second was a genealogy book printed in 1898, tracing the Bradley family back to Yorkshire, England in the 1640s.  And the third was his Autobiography that he had printed in 1907.  According to my great aunt Lucile her father, my great grandfather Edward Luther Bradley, collected as many copies of his father’s Autobiography as he could locate and burned them in a can in the driveway of his house mentioned in a previous post.  He almost succeeded in destroying this family document and I want to explore the possible reasons in this post.

Only two copies of the Autobiography of 1907 exist to my knowledge.  They both can be traced to Ohio where Henry’s youngest daughter Addie May lived with her husband Carl Norpell.  That put them out of the reach of Edward.  Lucile could only say that her father was embarrassed by the books.  I have quoted extensively from the Autobiography in “Moving with the Frontier” which is available to download below and speculated that it was the description of Henry’s illness and his conversation with Jesus who appeared at the foot of his bed that his son found embarrassing.

As I read the Autobiography again after these many years I am not so sure.  Henry has described the three major parts of his life, growing up in and near Wellington, Ohio, his lumber business in Bay City, Michigan and his later life in Duluth, Minnesota when he became rich.  When Henry was an old man he lived with his son Edward and Aunt Lucile who lived to be 92 told me of her memories of her grandfather.  He preached the evils of drink but had a bottle of brandy in his room which he called “medicine”.  He boasted of his generosity to the Methodist Church but railed against Catholics.

Henry was a staunch Republican and there is quite a long passage about Democratic politicians that he fought against particularly in Bay City.  He was involved in litigation with the Sheriff when he was the Street Commissioner.

Another possibility is a description in his Autobiography of what might be called a nervous breakdown.  His lumber business in Michigan got so demanding that he was unable to sleep at night and describes what sounds like a manic episode.  His solution was to sell the lumber business and go into a less demanding line of work.

So what was Edward embarrassed by?  There was the boasting of what could be called spiritual pride where Henry ends his book saying that Jesus rewarded him for a good life lived, or the very candid description of the up and downs of his life, or something else.  If it was not for his sister Adie May in Ohio he would very nearly have succeeded in destroying this interesting family document.

I think the Autobiography should be reprinted and made available to a larger audience who would appreciate the insights into early Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota history that it provides.

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Addie May Bradley Norpell with her grandchildren in Ohio.  Photo provided by Melissa Rumsey Young, Addie May Norpell’s great granddaughter.


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