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Template:Infobox Governor Henry Hastings Sibley (20 February 1811-February 18, 1891), was the first Governor of the U.S. state of Minnesota. was born in Detroit, Michigan on February 20, 1811.

Early life and education[]

Henry Hastings Sibley was born in Detroit, Michigan, where his parents, Solomon Sibley (1769 – 1846), a native of Sutton, Massachusetts, and Sarah Whipple (Sproat) Sibley had moved in 1797. It was part a major westward migration after the American Revolutionary War by people from New England. The father Sibley became a prominent judge in the early history of the city and state.

As a young man, Henry Sibley "read" (studied) law in his father's office to prepare for the bar and licensing.


In 1828, the young Sibley started as a clerk at a mercantile house in Sault Ste. Marie, a prominent fur trading center on both the United States and Canadian sides. From 1829 – 1834, he worked as a supply-purchasing agent of the American Fur Company at Mackinac. In 1834, Sibley became a partner in the company and relocated to their headquarters in St. Peter's (now called Mendota), Minnesota. He lived there from 1834 – 1862.[1]

Marriage and family[]


Sibley's House at St. Peter, now Mendota

In 1836, Sibley built the first stone house in Minnesota; his home in Mendota overlooked Fort Snelling. Seven years later, on May 2, 1843, Sibley married Sarah Jane Steele, daughter of General James Steele, commander of Fort Snelling, and his wife Mary (Hume).

The political boundaries changed so frequently from 1836 through 1862 that, although all of Sibley's children were born in this house, they were each recorded as having been born in different political units: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota Territory and finally, the state of Minnesota. In 1862, the Sibley family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota.

Political career[]

File:Firstlady 04-full.jpg

Sarah Jane Steele Sibley

Sibley started his political career in 1838 when he was appointed the first Justice of the Peace west of the Mississippi River by the governor of Iowa Territory, John Chambers. He was elected a delegate from Wisconsin Territory to the 30th US Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of John H. Tweedy.[2] He served in the 30th, 31st, and 32nd congresses from January 15, 1849 to March 4, 1853. His influence in the 30th Congress included causing a part of Wisconsin and a tract west of the Mississippi River to be separated as the Territory of Minnesota.

Sibley was elected to the territorial legislature, convened from January to March 1855, as the representative of Dakota County. He was a member of the Democratic Party wing of the first Minnesota constitutional convention. Assembled July 13, 1857, the convention resulted in adoption of the constitution as framed on October 13, 1857.

In 1858 Sibley was elected as the first governor of the state. He served from May 24, 1858, until January 2, 1860.[3] After narrowly defeating Republican Alexander Ramsey in the first state gubernatorial contest, Sibley declared in his inaugural address, "I have no object and no interests which are not inseparably bound up with the welfare of the state." He did not seek reelection.

Railroad bond issue[]

When the legislature voted for the state to issue bonds to the railroads to provide for construction of the transcontinental route, Sibley refused. He said the railroads did not give priority of lien to the state on their property. The state supreme court ordered the governor to issue the legislatively authorized state bonds to railroads. The legislature asked him to market the bonds in New York. Although he made an effort to do, the capitalists refused to buy the bonds. The state subsequently repudiated the issuance.

Military career[]

File:Henry Hastings Sibley.jpg

Henry Hastings Sibley in uniform, 1862

The U.S. Dakota War of 1862

In 1862, after the American Civil War began, Sibley was appointed colonel of the state militia. He was directed to the upper Minnesota River to protect exposed settlements from the Sioux American Indians. After the massacre at Acton, August 18, 1862, he was involved in the following engagements:

The last engagement was a decisive battle. It resulted in Sioux bands' releasing about 250 captive whites. In the action, the militia captured 2,000 Sioux, both men and women. Of these captives, 321 warriors were tried for capital crimes and 303 were sentenced to death. Thirty-eight men were hanged at Mankato, December 26, 1862.

For "gallantry in the field", Sibley was promoted to brigadier-general of volunteers, September 29, 1862. He established his headquarters at St. Paul and created a new military department, which included Minnesota, Dakota Territory, Iowa, and Wisconsin. He fortified the large territory with posts and garrisons. In 1863, he led a second successful expedition against the Sioux in Dakota Territory. This campaign included the battles of Big Mound (July 24), Dead Buffalo Lake (July 26), and Stony Lake (July 28).

Sibley continued to defend the western frontier, 1864 – 1865. On November 29, 1865, he was brevetted as major-general of the volunteers for "efficient and meritorious services." He was relieved from the command of the district of Minnesota in August 1866 after the end of the American Civil War.

Post-military career[]

After his military service, Sibley was active in settling several Indian treaties. Upon reentering business life in St. Paul, he served as president of the chamber of commerce, as well as the president of several railroads, banks, and other large corporations.

He also served a variety of civil organizations. He became a member of the Minnesota Historical Society in 1849 and eventually served as president. He joined the Old Settlers' association of that state in 1858. He contributed to the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, to Spirit of the Times, and to Turf, Field and Farm.

Legacy and honors[]

  • In 1867 he was appointed to the board of visitors to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
  • He was also president of the board of regents of the University of Minnesota, and president of the Board of Indian Commissioners from 1875 – 1876.
  • He was awarded an honorary LL.D. from the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton University), in 1888.
  • Sibley was memorialized in numerous place names, including: Sibley County, Minnesota, Sibley, North Dakota, Sibley, Iowa, Hastings, Minnesota, Sibley State Park, and Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights, Minnesota.

He died in St. Paul, Minnesota, on February 18, 1891.


External links[]

See also[]

32x28px United States Army portal
32x28px American Civil War portal

Further references[]

  • Johnson, Rossiter, ed., ed (1904). The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans: Volume IX. Boston, MA: The Biographical Society. pp. 364. [A corrected edition of The Cyclopedia of American Biography (1897 – 1903) and Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States (1900 – 1903).] (Republished by Gale Research Company, Book Tower, Detroit, 1968) Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 68-19657: Accessed from on January 18, 2006.

Editors note: Currently at This tends to move around, so to find this entry, search for 49390 on this page: 

  • Pedersen, Kern, Makers of Minnesota: An Illustrated History of the Builders of Our State. St. Paul: Minnesota Territorial Centennial (1949)

Template:Start box Template:S-off |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Samuel Medary (territorial) |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Governor of Minnesota
1858 – 1860 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Alexander Ramsey |- |}

Template:Governors of Minnesota

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