James Pinckney Henderson had a habit of showing up late for important events. For example, he arrived in Texas in 1836 two months late to fight in the Texas War of Independence. Then in 1858 he showed up 72 years late for his Texas funeral.
Henderson, born March 31, 1808, In North Carolina, was the first governor of Texas. He was a remarkable person who played a major role in the early development of Texas. For his efforts, the city of Henderson (in Rusk County) and Henderson County (Athens is the county seat.) are named in his honor
A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Henderson was a lawyer and colonel in the North Carolina Militia.
He arrived in Texas in June 1836 to participate in the Texas War of Independence from Mexico. However, he got here two months after the battle of San Jacinto, where independence had been won.
Henderson nevertheless joined the Texas Army, was appointed attorney general for the new Republic of Texas and in late 1836 succeeded Stephen F. Austin as secretary of state.
In early 1837, Henderson was appointed minister to France and England, where he helped secure treaties and diplomatic recognition from both nations. While in Europe, he courted and married Philadelphia’s Frances Cox in 1839.
A year later the Hendersons returned to Texas where he set up a law practice in San Augustine, east of Nacogdoches.
In 1844, Texas President Sam Houston sent Henderson to Washington, D.C., to help negotiate an annexation treaty with the United States.
A popular figure, Henderson was elected Texas’ first governor in 1845 when it finally joined the Union. In formal ceremonies in February 1846, it was Henderson who raised the first Old Glory to fly over the new Lone Star State.
However, Henderson didn’t spend much time in Austin. When the Mexican War broke out, the governor took a leave of absence and assumed command of Texas troops south of the border. He returned to his governor’s duties after the war but didn’t run for a second term.
Henderson resumed his East Texas law practice but, in 1857, Texas again called on him. Henderson was appointed to the U.S. Senate when Thomas J. Rusk died.
Henderson served in Congress until his death from “consumption” in June 1858, and was buried in Washington’s Congressional Cemetery. Today that historic D.C. graveyard is home to 90 U.S. senators and representatives, but Henderson isn’t one of them.
Speaking on the U.S. Senate floor, fellow Senator Sam Houston told his colleagues, “(Henderson) will long be remembered. You will perceive that he was no ordinary man.” The Weekly Telegraph of Houston agreed: “His distinguished services for nearly a quarter of a century are interwoven with the history of the State, and his noble deeds will live after him in the hearts of the people of Texas.”
In the late 1920s, the Texas Legislature adopted a plan to “Place all heroes of Texas in the State Cemetery” in Austin. A movement began to relocate Henderson’s remains from the District of Columbia.
“Texas soil will receive the empire’s first governor … on the 94th anniversary of the victorious battle of San Jacinto,” reported a San Antonio newspaper on April 21, 1930. “Services will be held in the State Senate with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in charge of the program.”
Henderson and wife Frances (who died in 1897) rest in peace in the tree-shaded cemetery just a few blocks east of the Texas State Capitol. Their interment came 72 years after Henderson’s death.
In addition to the East Texas municipalities named for him, a large statue of James Pinckney Henderson sits on the grounds of the San Augustine Courthouse.