Henry Harford Cumming

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Henry Harford Cumming (1799–1866) was an important figure in antebellum Augusta, Georgia.

His main business was in cotton but he also engaged J. Edgar Thomson to design the Augusta Canal to run his mills and had also started a law firm with politician George W. Crawford. His brother was Governor of Utah Territory Alfred Cumming and his son, Alfred Cumming, was a general in the American Civil War.



In 1799, Henry Harford Cumming was born to Thomas Cumming and Ann Clay. The Cumming family was an accomplished and prominent family in The South, they were based in Augusta Georgia. In 1798, Cumming's Father, Thomas, was the first mayor of Augusta, Georgia when the--then town--was first incorporated. Henry Cumming's matriarch grandfather was Joseph Clay, one of the first members from Georgia in the first continental congress. Clay was additionally a Deputy Paymaster General for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Cumming's brother, Alfred, was also a mayor of Augusta, Georgia and later the first non-Mormon governor of the Utah territory. Another brother of Cumming's, William, was offered the U.S Army's Quartermaster General position on two occasions, in 1818 and 1847. However in 1822, William Cumming had gained a nationally notorious reputation when he fought George McDuffie in a duel on two separate occasions that were believed to have political motivations behind them.

John Forsythe, the Secretary of State at the time, had appointed Henry Cumming to Spain to be the U.S. Minister; mainly he would have been an attache for Spain as the American Legation. However, Cumming had other ideas and turned down the post. Instead of being an American attache in Spain he decided to stay in Georgia to marry Julia A. Bryan of Hancock County.


In the 1840's, the South--including Georgia--was enduring a downturn in their economy. Henry Cumming envisioned a canal in Augusta to help alleviate some of the economic misfortunes that the town was facing. The county and city of Augusta was considered a commercial epicenter for the southern cotton trade in that region of Georgia and some of the south-eastern region of South Carolina. Augusta is located at the headwaters of the Savannah River which made the city a perfect place to trade and transport goods up and down river.

The 1840's economic situation in the South was precarious for multiple reasons, one definite factor for Augusta to be in bad shape during the period was the depression of 1837; which consequently had significantly lowered the cotton prices. It was Cumming that believed that a canal in Augusta could give the city the vigor it needed to propel out of its distressed lull. Cumming imagined that the canal would allow and give reason for a manufacturing industry to develop in Augusta. The logic behind wanting a manufacturing base in Augusta was that it would balance out its economy giving the city commercial diversity.

The other appeal of the Canal, as Cumming had seen it, is that in the case that it did develop an industrial manufacturing base in Augusta then the South would have something to compete with in the manufacturing industry against The North. Cumming looked at Augusta--if it would build the canal--as a possible "Lowell of the South"--Lowell is a notable industrial center in Massachusetts. These arguments may have been appealing to Cumming, however, they were less inclined to persuade the common Southern plantation owner.

The Industrialization of the South wasn't only discouraged by the southern plantation owner, but also by its local/general public; local citizens overall had mixed reactions to ideas of industrialization. To overcome the public sentiment and doubt: Cumming showed his confidence in the canal project by donating the necessary funds to carry out the initial survey for the site. Cumming had eventually gained the public and private support with his show of confidence and the project was approved. Augusta's city council had established a commission for the canal project and made Cumming the head of that commission.

After the Augusta Canal's completion, Augusta had developed an industrial base for the region. By the 1850's, the canal had allowed for a sawmill, a gristmill, a textile mill, and other types of factories to erect in Augusta; this proved that Cumming's vision had some validity behind it. During the Civil War (1861-1865), the newly founded Confederate Government had built their Confederate Powderworks along two miles of the Augusta Canal. This also shows the importance of the canal to the Southern economy.

Henry Cumming may have had commercial interests and business pursuits, but he was first and foremost a lawyer. Cumming started practicing law when he established his own law firm with his partner George W. Crawford. Crawford went on to be a successful politician and was appointed the Attorney General for the State of Georgia from 1827 to 1831, he then served as a United States congressman in Georgia, which eventually lead to him becoming the 38th Governor of Georgia from 1843 to 1847.

Cumming was also driven by a civic duty for his hometown. His strong sense of civic duty had borne many fruits in Georgia, this includes the Augusta Canal--which is his crowned public service achievement. Between the success of the canal and in his business, Cumming gained the confidence of his local brethren and was able to be far more persuasive in his later attempts of civil services. Although Cumming was known for being rather passive in personal affairs, he had once risked his own life to safe William H. Pratt from being lynched--Pratt had shot William H. Harding over an insult.

Cumming's Courtship[edit]

Henry Harford Cumming is known and commonly sited in historical southern courtship books and papers for his courtship effectiveness. This is most likely the case because Cumming recorded his courtship with Julia A. Bryan in his journal. Cumming noted that when he had the intention to write love letters to his "sweetheart", he had found that "he just wrote about himself" and the he had "display accomplishments in fine style" rather than trying to "romance" Ms. Bryan. Cumming had married his sweetheart, Julia A. Bryan, with the support and encouragement of both of their families. Cumming and Bryan shared a successful forty year marriage that, in addition, produced eight children. Cumming married Julia close to Mount Zion, Georgia at the Rotherwood Plantation on February 24, 1824.[1]


Henry Cumming (1799 - 1866); David Connolly; Rice University, Houston, Texas; 8/19/2005

  1. ^ Society and Culture in the Slave South; J. William Harris; Routledge, London, 1992; Chapter 7: Love and Biography; p. 193

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