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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Clark, Henry Selby

by Roy Parker, Jr., 1979; Revised November 2022.

9 Sept. 1809–8 June 1869

Henry Selby Clark, congressman, legislator, and lawyer, was born at the family home near Leechville, Beaufort County, the son of Henry Clark and his wife, whose family name was Selby. The Clark family had owned land there for at least two generations.

Clark was graduated from The University of North Carolina in 1828 and returned to his native county to practice law in Washington. At twenty-five he was elected as a Democrat to the House of Commons, where he served three terms, 1834–36. He was solicitor for the district in 1842. In the fiercely contested two-party politics of the day, he was a frequent campaigner and orator. When Democrats gerrymandered congressional districts in 1842, he was chosen as a Democratic candidate for a sharply divided district. During the course of his campaign, he challenged Henry Dimock, editor of the North State Whig, to a duel, claiming that untruths had been printed about him. The affair was held outside Beaufort County, as duels were illegal there. Shots were fired, but neither man was wounded. Clark was elected and served a single term in the Twenty-ninth Congress, 1845–47. As a member of Congress he supported U.S. claims to Oregon, and his speeches, several of which were published in pamphlet form, were widely acclaimed. He was defeated for reelection by the Whig candidate, Richard S. Donnell, whose measure he had taken in 1844.

The political ardor of "the chivalric Mr. Clark" cooled, and he moved to Greenville to practice law, taking little part in political affairs from that time on. During the early years of the Civil War he served as a member of a disbursing and safety committee of Pitt County. He owned extensive land at Gourdin's Depot in South Carolina and was there in 1861 and 1864. He supervised farm operations as they were performed and executed by enslaved people. 

Clark was married in 1835 to Alvaney M. Staton of Pitt County; they had no children. He was buried in the family cemetery near Leechville.


Biog. Dir. Am. Cong. (1971).

Henry S. Clark letters (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

Raleigh Daily Sentinel, 23 June 1869.

Raleigh Register, 2 June 1835.

H. T. Shanks, ed., The Papers of Willie Person Mangum, 5 vols. (1950–56).

Additional Resources:

"Clark, Henry Selby, (1809 - 1869)." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Washington, D.C.: The Congress. (accessed January 8, 2014).

Stewart, W. A. Blount. "Part 3: Henry Selby Clark." Washington and the Pamlico. [N.C.] Washington-Beaufort County Bicentennial Commission. 1976. 402-403. (accessed January 8, 2014).

Francis M. Manning Collection (#488), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University. (accessed January 8, 2014).

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