John H. Barrett, a prominent business man and capitalist of Henderson, is a son of the late John H. Barret and Susan D. Rankin.
His father, for whom he was named, was born in Louisa County, Virginia, February 4, 1818; died in Henderson in 1890. He (father) received a good education in his native county, and followed the plow and endured the hardships and performed the rough labors incident to the life of a farmer’s boy, but he was dutiful, obedient, energetic and thoughtful, and developed a sound judgment, exhibiting traits which qualified him for the higher responsibilities which he assumed later in life; and at the age of seventeen he left the parental roof in Virginia and joined his elder brother, Alexander Barret, who had gone to Henderson, Kentucky, about two years before. It was in December, 1835, that he accepted employment with his brother, who was then engaged in purchasing and stemming tobacco. He soon became a valuable assistant to his employer, and was with him about four years, when, having married Susan D. Rankin (December, 1839), he formed a co-partnership with his brother-in-law, James E. Rankin, and engaged in the sale of dry goods, which continued until 1852, when the firm dissolved by mutual consent, Mr. Barret having been tendered a partnership with his brother and former employer in the tobacco business. This business relation of the brothers continued until the death of Alexander B. Barret in 1861. The settlement of an estate of between three and four million dollars devolved upon the surviving partner as executor of his brother’s will, and this he accomplished within five years ; hundreds of legacies were paid off, accounts settled, books balanced and the estate divided without a jar, and this was considered “one of the most brilliant and successful financial and business achievements known to the business world.”
The great stemming interest was carried on in the meantime by the surviving partner, John H. Barret, who eventually associated with him his sons, John H. and James R., and his son-in-law, James F. Rankin, the firm being known as John H. Barret & Co. For sortie years prior to his death (1890), the senior member of the firm took no active part in the details of the business of his firm, except by counsel and advice.
He was a leading spirit in the promotion and construction of the Evansville, Henderson & Nashville Railroad; the city authorities placed $300,000 worth of its bonds in Mr. Barret’s hands as custodian, without security; he purchased the first locomotive for the road with his own money; was one of the organizers of the First National Bank; was mainly instrumental in establishing the woolen and cotton mills, in both of which he was a large stockholder; owned and cultivated hundreds of acres of land in Henderson County, large tracts in Hopkins and Breckinridge counties, and four thousand, eight hundred acres in Delta County, Texas, upon which he cultivated cotton and corn and was largely engaged in stock raising; had branch tobacco stemmeries in Uniontown and Owensboro; was a liberal supporter of the cause of rehgion, giving liberally to all denominations and all charitable organizations; was a Mason, but seldom attended his lodge; was no politician or office seeker, but was interested in the election of good men to office; a man of warm personal attachments and generous impulses, but not effusive, he was a good and true friend and a generous enemy. His death was a public calamity, and there was mourning in many households where his kindness had endeared him to the humble, and his exemplary life had commanded the love and respect of the whole community.
He was married December, 1839, to Susan D. Rankin, a woman of affectionate disposition, even temper, strong, good sense, active benevolence and earnest piety. Their three children, John H.,
James R. and Susan, were quite young, when their mother died in 1851. Mr. Barret was married again in 1852, to Mary Augusta Haddock of Smithland, Kentucky, and all of his four children by this marriage died in infancy. Upon the death of Mr. Barret in 1890, his sons, John H. and James R., and son-in-law, James E. Rankin, continued the business—in which they had been interested under the old firm name of John H. Barret & Co., the subject of this sketch taking the place of his father as senior member of the firm.
Peter Straghan Barret, farmer, and his wife, Matilda (Wilson) Barret (grandparents of John H. Barret, Jr.) were natives of Louisa County, Virginia. John Barret, his paternal great-grandfather, and Henry Pendleton, his maternal greatgrandfather, were born, lived and died in Virginia.
Susan D. Rankin Barret (mother) was a daughter of Dr. Adam Rankin, an eminent physician of Henderson, whose first wife was Elizabeth Speed, daughter of Captain James Speed and Mary Spencer. She was born in Virginia, February 7, 1774, came to Kentucky in 1782, and from that date until she was grown her life was spent amid the trials, dangers and privations incident to early Kentucky history. She was married to Dr. Adam Rankin, one of the pioneers of Henderson, to which place they went soon after their marriage, and his name is connected with the earliest events of that place. For many years he was prominent as a physician and public spirited citizen, and no man stood higher in the estimation of his fellow men. The distinguished naturalist, Audubon, made his home with Dr. Rankin while he was sojourning in Henderson, and these two were personal friends.
An interesting sketch of the Speed family, of which Mr. Barret is a descendant, will be found elsewhere in this work.
John H. Barret, the principal subject of this sketch, attended the Henderson schools; was prepared for college in the celebrated school of B. B. Sayre at Frankfort, and graduated from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville in 1861. From that time he was associated in business with his father until the death of the latter in 1890, when he became senior member of the firm, as before stated.
The great tobacco stemmery was established about 1830 and has grown considerably during the sixty years of its existence. The present building covers an area of 230×60 feet, is four stories high, and its average annual output is 800 hogsheads, and this, together with the product of the branch houses, goes to the markets in the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
Mr. Barret is also president of the Henderson Woolen Mills, manufacturer of Kentucky jeans and jeans pants, a stockholder and director in the Henderson Cotton Mills; director in the Henderson National Bank, and the Ohio Valley Bank and Trust Company, and has interests in other enterprises of more or less magnitude. His business relations are virtually the same as were those of his father, and his reputation as a business man and citizen is that of a worthy successor to his honored father.
Mr. Barret was married September 15, 1863, to Henrietta Offutt, a member of the distinguished family of that name of Shelby County. He has two children, Mary, wife of Dr. James W. Heddins of St. Joseph, Missouri, and Augusta, who is at home with her father, Mrs. Barret having died June 27, 1895.
Source: Biographical Cyclopedia of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. John M. Gresham Company, Chicago, Philadelphia, 1896.