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William Sidney Porter was born in Greensboro, North Carolina on September 11, 1862 He was a voracious reader as a child reading anything and everything from classics to cheap dime store novels. He graduated from his aunt’s elementary school in 1876 and then enrolled at the Lindsey Street High School. At age 17 in 1879 he started working in his uncle's drugstore and two years later he was licensed as a pharmacist. Porter travelled to Texas in March 1882, hoping a change of air would help relieve a persistent cough. In Austin he led an active social life as well as singing and playing both guitar and mandolin. He became a member of the "Hill City Quartet," and through this began courting Athol Estes, then seventeen and from a wealthy family. Her mother objected to the match because Athol was suffering from tuberculosis. On July 1, 1887, Porter eloped with Athol. The couple continued with musical and theater groups, with Athol encouraging Porter to pursue his writing. 1n 1888 Athol gave birth to a son who died hours after birth.
In 1889, a daughter, Margaret Worth Porter, was born. Porter's friend Richard Hall became Texas Land Commissioner and offered Porter a job as a draftsman at the Texas General Land Office (GLO) in 1887 at a salary of $100 a month, drawing maps from surveys and field notes. As a developing and popular writer he continued to contribute to magazines and newspapers. Porter resigned from the GLO in early 1891 and began working at the First National Bank of Austin as a teller and bookkeeper. The bank was informally run and Porter was careless in keeping his books and was fired for suspected embezzlement. He went to work full time on his humorous weekly called The Rolling Stone, which he had started while working at the bank. Although eventually reaching a top circulation of 1500 it failed in April 1895. However, his writing and drawings had caught the attention of the editor at the Houston Post. Porter and his family moved to Houston in 1895, where he started writing for the Post. Porter gathered ideas for his column by loitering in hotel lobbies and observing and talking to people there. While he was in Houston, the First National Bank of Austin was audited by federal auditors and they found the embezzlement that had led to his firing. A federal indictment followed and he was arrested on charges of embezzlement. Porter's father-in-law posted bail to keep Porter out of jail. Porter was due to stand trial on July 7, 1896, but the day before he fled to Honduras. Whilst in Trujillo he wrote Cabbages and Kings. Porter had sent Athol and Margaret back to Austin to live with Athol's parents. Unfortunately, Athol became too ill to meet Porter in Honduras as Porter had planned. When he learned that his wife was dying, Porter returned to Austin in February 1897 and surrendered to the court, pending an appeal.
Once again, Porter's father-in-law posted bail so Porter could stay with Athol and Margaret. Athol died on July 25, 1897, from tuberculosis. Porter was found guilty of embezzlement in February 1898 and sentenced to five years in prison in Columbus, Ohio. There, as a licensed pharmacist, he worked in the prison hospital as the night druggist. Fourteen stories of his were published whilst still in prison under various pseudonyms, but he was becoming best known as "O. Henry". Porter was released in July 1901, for good behaviour after serving three years. Porter reunited with his daughter Margaret, now age 11, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Athol's parents had moved after Porter's conviction. Porter's most prolific writing period began in 1902, in New York City. While there, he wrote 381 short stories. Porter was a heavy drinker, and his health deteriorated markedly in 1908, which affected his writing. He died on June 5, 1910, of cirrhosis of the liver, complications of diabetes, and an enlarged heart. After funeral services in New York City, he was buried in the Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina.
Publisher: Copyright Group