Descendants of William Lee Henderson and Eleanor Ann Selina Shelby
From the unpublished book written by Vivian Anderson Castleberry
Henderson Connections

William Daniel Henderson (1858–1929), the eighth child of William Lee and Eleanor Henderson, was 21 when he moved from Alabama to Texas, 30 when he married, and 71 when he died. This picture was made when he was in his 20s.

Will's Story


William Daniel Henderson, born on January 21, 1858, in Perry County, Alabama, was the eighth of William Lee and Eleanor Ann Selina Shelby Henderson’s nine children. He had five older sisters—Mary Amanda, who was married and a mother before his birth, Martha Elizabeth, Margaret Isabelle, Harriet Caroline, and Sarah Jane—and two older brothers, Joseph Asmon and John Madison Henderson. He would have one younger brother, Franklin Smith Henderson, shortly after his second birthday.

The Henderson children, all of whom were given double names, soon were known by shortened versions, and William Daniel was no exception. As a child, he became known as Will—the moniker that would follow him for the rest of his life. Some later members of the family referred to him as William Dan.

Nothing is known of Will’s personal childhood, though conditions of the times tell a story of war, deprivation and suffering. Will was three years old when Confederates fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861, the battle that began the Civil War. The four years that followed, from April of 1861 until the last surrender of Confederates on May 16, 1865, were especially hard for the seceded southern states. And the several years of “Reconstruction” that followed were equally unpleasant. Will was seven years old when the war ended. Though he was not old enough to remember specific details, he had to have been affected by the deaths of two brothers-in-law while in the service of the Confederate States of America and by other members of the family who wore Confederate uniforms.

Will was 21 when the Henderson family sold its farm near today's Heiberger, Alabama, and prepared to move to Smith County, Texas. There is every indication that this was high adventure for young Will. Different in disposition from his brother John, just two and a half years older than he, Will apparently welcomed the move. He made the trip with the other male members of the family on the wagon train that touched four states on its westward journey.

Will kept a small journal for a part of the trip, but he had neither the disposition nor the discipline to record details for a long period of time. This is unfortunate, for his small memento to the Henderson history is much more personal and colorful than John’s more erudite journals.

Neither Will nor John give the names of everybody who moved to Texas, but Will does give a few personal notes. He tells about “UB, Jessy and My Self” spending $18.30 for “flour, meat, cheese, crackers, shot (ammunition) and molasses” in Merian (Meridian). On another occasion, he writes about “Henry, Will, UB, Jessy and My Self” going to a preaching. Henry is Henry Calvin Crews, UB is Uriah B. Dobbins, Jessy is Jesse Crews. The identity of the Will he mentions is not known. It could have been William T. McGahey, Martha Elizabeth’s husband, but her family believes that McGahey—because he was crippled—traveled on the train with his father-in-law and the women and children. Will’s diary ends abruptly on Friday, November 28 when the wagon train is “campt 2 miles from V” (Vicksburg, Mississippi) where “it is cole and the wind blows so hard we don’t turn our hats luse.”

Some members of the family, descendants of Eleanor’s brother James Madison Shelby and his wife Amanda Ann Henderson Shelby, William Lee’s sister, claim that Will’s little diary belongs to them and was kept by someone named W. A. Henderson, a nephew of James and Ann, who moved from Alabama to Texas in 1869, 10 years before the William Lee Hendersons. There is even a certified affidavit to that effect. But this could not be true because the William Daniel diary coincides in every detail with that of his brother, John. The dates, numbers of miles traveled each day, campsites, and persons visited are alike in the two documents. Had they checked a perpetual calendar, the James Madison Henderson family would have seen that the dates are incorrect. During 1869, the date Will’s journal began, there was no Monday, November 9. In 1879, the year the William Lee Henderson family left Alabama, there was.

The family that believed the diary to have been written on their trek west in 1869 did add some accurate footnotes to Will’s brief notations. Will wrote that on November 25, the wagon train went through Brandon, Mississippi. A family descendant, Mrs. E. M. Walton of Beulah, Mississippi, filled in this detail: “One prominent Shelby, Anthony Bledsoe Shelby, returned from Texas and lived his last days at Brandon. Born in 1789, he married Marian Winchester, fathered eight daughters and five sons, migrated to Texas and helped found the Republic of Texas of which he became justice in the Texas Supreme Court, died in Brandon, Mississippi in 1855.”

In John’s journals there are numerous references to his brother Will after the family is settled in Smith County. Though they farmed separately, the two brothers often helped each other. Apparently, after William Lee Henderson died in 1883 when Will was 25 and still single, he lived in the house with his mother.

Then, in December of 1888, John wrote in his journal that he put his brother Will on the train to go to Perry County, Alabama. The family had then been in Texas for nine years; there is no indication that any of them had been back home for a visit. John, in the sometimes maddening omission of human interest details, nowhere mentions that his brother is going back to Alabama to get married.

William Daniel Henderson and Elizabeth Rebecca Isadora Mitchell Perkins [1] (called Dora) were married on January 6, 1889. The license was issued to W. D. Henderson and Dora Perkins on January 5 by Jno. Sherman or Sher . . .  (illegible), judge of probate in Bibb County, Alabama. The couple married the next day, by Rev. William T. Wallen in Centreville, Bibb County. [2]

The details of the romance between Dora Perkins and William Daniel Henderson are sparse, and where and when he met Dora is lost in history. At the time of their marriage, he was an “old bachelor” at 30, and she was a 29-year-old widow. She had been married to William Basil Perkins, [3] who died in 1885 at age 29, leaving her with three little girls.

Will Henderson and his new family—his wife and three stepdaughters—traveled back to Texas on the train. His new stepdaughters were Lillie Eva (called Eva), 10; Willie Mae, 8; and Lovie Dee, 6. Lillie Eva Perkins, my grandmother, recalled in vivid detail the train trip to East Texas. I remember her telling the stories, but I failed to get details, and now all connections, I am sure, are lost.

It certainly was a shocking experience for the three little girls, who were entrenched in her mother’s Alabama family. Even though their father was deceased, the little girls had grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and many friends they left behind in Alabama. There were many aunts in and around Selma and Marion, Alabama, who continued to correspond with Eva even after she became a grandmother.

The Henderson-Perkins marriage produced five children—Minnie Lee, Thomas Ward, William Paul, Lewis Earl, and Lois Pearl. Minnie was born nine months and 11 days after her parents were married. Ward came along 22 months later, Paul in 1894, and the twins, Lewis and Lois, in 1896. Lois died when she was eight months old.

The marriage was not the happiest of unions. The Henderson men were noted for being frugal, and Will doubtless took it to the extreme, even though by the standards of the day, he was a prosperous farmer.

Once, when the children were all school-aged and their father was away from home on business, school was starting and the kids had no school clothes. Dora asked her older sons to hitch the horse to the buggy. She took herself into Lindale where she called on the banker and asked if Mr. Henderson had an account there. Assured that he did, she told the banker that her husband was away from home and had overlooked giving her money to provide their children with shoes and clothes. He asked how much she wanted and she replied that she would like to have $25 if he could spare that much. The banker assured her that he had an account entirely sufficient to provide that amount. She went away with her money, bought shoes and clothes for her kids, and enrolled them in school.

Family stories tell of Will’s return home to find that his wife had taken money from his account while he was away, and he became very angry. Dora, the story goes from many different sources, moved her clothes and personal effects into a spare bedroom where she resided for the rest of her life.

A second story that has come down in the family confirms something of Will’s nature. He was, depending on who is doing the remembering: “Peculiar.” “Unusual.’ ‘Penny-pinching.” “Odd.” “Dowdy.’ One niece remembers that he never dressed up. “Uncle John,” she said, “was a spiffy dresser. You never saw him out in public without a coat and tie. You seldom saw Uncle Will out in public and when you did, he was never dressed up.” One family photograph of siblings Hattie, Sallie, John, and Will adds credence to the story. John wears a coat over a white shirt with a bow tie; Will’s clothes look like they were made for some other person. They are wrinkled and appear old.

But there is another side to this “odd and different” man. When land was needed to establish Bethesda Cemetery, Will Henderson was the first to offer acreage of his property. Joined by his oldest sister Mary Amanda Henderson McGahey Dobbins, he gave the land to start the cemetery where his younger brother had been buried. Years later his grandchildren provided a block of the estate they inherited to enlarge the cemetery.

Nobody can ever know exactly what transpired in the Will-Dora marriage. We know that Dora had emotional problems and at one stage Will took her to the mental hospital in Terrell where she was briefly a patient. In the light of new discoveries and more recent studies, there is every evidence that Dora suffered from nothing more serious than menopausal complications and perhaps postpartum depression, brought about by the birth of her twins and her baby daughter’s illness and death.

Mildred Davey had numerous memories of Dora, her grandmother. “She spent most of her later years with us,” Mildred said. “I do not have happy memories of her. I was just a kid and when Grandma was at our house, which seemed to me all the time, we were always being told to keep quiet because she was resting. I was quite a tomboy and loved to play with my brothers and my cousins. Usually Mama let us do whatever we pleased so long as it didn’t harm us or anyone else, but when Grandma was at our house, Mama would tell us again and again not to slam the door because Grandma was resting. I’d forget and get in trouble. Grandma had violent headaches. We know now they were probably migraines, but then, kidlike, we thought she was just pretending.”

In yet another of the twisted Henderson history, Will’s oldest stepdaughter, Eva, grew up to marry John Lee Henderson, her stepfather’s nephew, the son of his deceased older brother, Joseph Asmon. Eva was 17 and Lee 20 when they married and from every story—every evidence through the years—they enjoyed one of the very happiest of relationships.

Even though the two—Eva Perkins and Lee Henderson—were unrelated, their nuptials brought about generations of descendants who were doubly related. Dora’s children by her first marriage—Eva, Willie, and Lovie—were half siblings of the children of her second marriage—Minnie, Ward, Paul, and Lewis. But John and Eva’s children—Jessie, Raymond, Charlie, DeWitt, and Mildred—claimed William Daniel Henderson as both their step-grandfather and their legitimate great-uncle, the brother of their grandfather Joseph Asmon Henderson. Will Henderson was the grandfather of Minnie, Ward, Paul, and Lewis’s children. Dora Mitchell Perkins Henderson was the legitimate grandmother of both the Perkins and the Henderson offspring. The relationship is so convoluted that few of the ancestors have bothered to try to understand it—and it would take a genealogical logician to determine the blood relationship of the several generations.

William Daniel Henderson died on February 5, 1929, at the age of 71. He had lived and worked in the Saline Community near Lindale for most of his adult life. He had outlived Dora, his wife, for six and a half years. They lie side by side in Bethesda Cemetery with their baby daughter, Lois Pearl. Two of their other children—Ward and Paul—are also buried at Bethesda. Minnie Lee Henderson Hawkins is buried in Athens City Cemetery; she and her husband Solomon Robbins Hawkins had lived all their married life in Athens. Lewis Henderson is buried in West Texas.

[1]      There has been disagreement over Dora’s full name. See Dora’s footnote in the Family Outline for more info.
[2]       Dora’s background: The marriage record of Dora’s parents, James Mitchell and Elizabeth Tucker Mitchell, is on record in Marion, Perry County. They were “joined in holy bonds of matrimony” on December 3, 1849. James and Elizabeth were the parents of five children—Mary Sophronia, Margaret, William, Dora, and James Jr.
[3]      There is disagreement over the proper spelling of “Basil,” but I found some answers that confirm this spelling. See William Basil Perkins’s footnote in the Family Outline for more info.

Chapter 8:

William Daniel Henderson

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