Issue #5

Who's James Pinckney Henderson?

By Anne Adams

We see the name all over Athens – on maps, on buildings or in print and it all identifies us as living in Henderson County. So who’s Henderson?  


James Pinckney Henderson was born in North Carolina in March 1808 and came from a family with a long record of service in business, the military and also in local politics. Educated at what is now the University of North Carolina he then became a lawyer, He proved to be a successful one since he was intelligent, and seemed to have the innate ability to know what to say or do in a situation.


He moved to Mississippi in 1835 and from there came to Texas where he fully embraced the Texas Revolution and even raised a company of troops from Mississippi. However, they arrived just after the Battle of San Jacinto. Still, Henderson stayed in Texas to set up a law practice in Nacogdoches in 1836 where he also became involved in local politics.


In the new Texas Republic Henderson served as attorney general and secretary of state, then in 1837, he was appointed as ambassador to England and France where he achieved some measure of success in arranging diplomatic recognition and treaties.


While serving in England Henderson met Frances Cox, a 19-year-old girl from a Philadelphia family but who had lived in Europe for most of her life. They were married then returned to Texas in 1839 to settle in San Augustine where Henderson resumed his law practice and again involvement in local politics.  


Then in 1844 Texas Republic President Sam Houston appointed Henderson to represent the Texas Republic in Washington during annexation discussions but though a first agreement was not approved a later treaty was approved by a Congressional joint resolution.


Actually Henderson did not really plan to be Texas governor but instead supported a friend for the position. However, when the friend died in July 1845 Henderson then became a candidate, and in November he won the vote.


Henderson’s becoming governor brought out great emotion in some. A reporter described it this way as Henderson assumed office: “There was a smothering sensation which all felt, yet few desired to display it in public. Broad chests heaved - strong hands were clenched, and tears flowed down cheeks where they had been strangers before.” Henderson’s inaugural address stressed Texas’ new start that came from the annexation to the U.S.


Governor Henderson’s emphasis was on Texas infrastructure, schools, and a state militia but an important issue was that Texas was not only its debt but it was broke. The legislature responded by passing measures dealing with the creation of new counties, such as the one named for the governor, state court organization, regulation of slavery and collection of taxes.  However, on the subject of the public debt, there was a difference of views and eventually, nothing was done. Other issues that the legislature failed with were infrastructure improvements and public schools.


When the Mexican war began in 1846, Henderson stepped down temporarily to lead a unit of troops, and then returned to his post when it was over.

Henderson’s term ended in December 1847 and he resumed his practice of law. However, when fellow Texas Revolution comrade Tom Rusk, because of his death, could not continue to occupy his U.S. Senate seat, Henderson was asked to succeed him. Though he was in ill health, Henderson took on the role and went to Washington, but he died there in June 1858.  He was interred there but in 1930 his remains were exhumed for burial in Austin.

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