Henderson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Henderson Surname Meaning

Henderson has Scottish roots. It comes from the first name Henry or in Gaelic Earnruig.  Son of Henry became Henryson. The Scots found Henryson a bit of a mouthful. So Henderson emerged; and has remained.

Henderson Surname Resources on The Internet

Henderson Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland and Northern England
  • to  America (incl. African Americans), Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Scotland. Unlike some Scottish clans, the Hendersons do not really have a focal point and have, through history and a diversity of origins, spread over Scotland and later overseas. The Henderson name was to be found in the Shetland Isles, as well as in the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland.

Shetlands.  Perhaps their old traditions have been best preserved in their remotest outpost, the Shetland Isles. In the 1620’s, Magnus Henderson of Nordic roots was the first there to take the Henderson name. He became a patriarch of a large family which is traceable down to the present day. Bruce Henderson from Yell has kept up the old art of story-telling; and traditional arts of fiddle playing and singing are still appreciated.

Highlands.  The Hendersons had held sway at Glencoe in the Highlands from early times. The last Henderson chief at Glencoe was Dugald MacEanruig. The leadership then passed through marriage to the MacDonalds. But both were wiped out in 1692 by the English at the massacre in Glencoe.

Many Hendersons had slipped away before that time. One group established themselves in Caithness; others in the Lowlands, Robert Henderson at Fordell in Fife and various Hendersons at Liddlesdale and elsewhere in the Border country. By the mid-18th century, Hendersons had spread to Caithness and Aberdeen in the north, to Fife and to Perth; but the numbers then had started to decline in the Borders.

Lowlands.  Hendersons in Fifeshire descended from a family of Henrysons in Dumfriesshire. They date in Fifeshire from 1511 when they were granted land there and commenced building Fordell castle. Alexander Henderson from this family was one of the drafters of the National Covenant in 1637, John Henderson a settler in Virginia in the 1740’s. The castle itself stayed in family hands until 1866.

Hendersons can be found in Kinclaven near Perth from the 1700’s.  Dr. William Henderson gained renown and some wealth as the inventor of “Henderson’s Stomachic Vegetable Elixir,” a supposed cure for chronic indigestion. When he died in 1870, he left in his will “Henderson’s Mortification,” a beneficiary fund for elderly distressed gentlefolk.

Perth also produced Hamish Henderson (or Seamus MacEanruig) who did much to revive traditional Scottish culture in the twentieth century.  After a nomadic early life, he returned home and lived for months with travellers, collecting and recording their oral repertoire of songs, ballads, and stories. In the 1950’s, he was instrumental in starting the People’s Ceilidh, a forerunner to today’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Ireland. The Borders were economically ravaged during the 17th century. A large number of Hendersons took up the chance for a new life and new lands in Ulster. They settled first in Donegal and then in Tyrone and Antrim.

Many, discriminated against in their new homes, did not stay. Another exodus began, this time to America and Australia. Among those who left were Alexander Henderson and his family, in 1803, from Killybegs in Donegal to America; and Thomas and Mary Henderson and their infant son on the Sugar Cane as convicts to Australia.

Among those who stayed was James Henderson, a prominent merchant in Belfast in the 18th century.  Some of his offspring in the 19th century were newspaper proprietors, others Presbyterian ministers.  The most notable of these on the newspaper side was Sir James Henderson who became the mayor of Belfast in 1898.

England.  The surname was unknown in England prior to the 17th century. It was first mentioned in a marriage document between one of the Borders Hendersons and the daughter of a Carlisle merchant at Hexham. Scottish Hendersons later began moving to England, to Northumberland and to Durham where many became miners.

There was a cluster of Hendersons along the Tyne river. One family has traced its Hendersons back to Bedlington in the 1750’s. The splendidly named Charles Chipchase Henderson took over the Hexham racecourse on the Tyne in 1890 and made it a premier place for steeplechasing.

Further south in Yorkshire, a Henderson family had been clockmakers at the seaside town of Scarborough since the 1680’s.  Their name appeared in the local press in tragic circumstances in 1791 when Robert Henderson, known as the sailing Quaker, was drowned in his coble in the sight of the whole town.

America. The Scots Hendersons first crossed the Atlantic in the 1650’s.

The first influx was into Virginia:

  • James Henderson was an early settler on the Eastern Shore.
  • a century later, in 1737, came Alexander Henderson from Dumfries who prospered as a merchant.  He was a neighbor, friend and confidant to George Washington. His family later settled in the Ohio valley where Henderson Hall still stands.

North Carolina.  A later and larger Henderson influx (including many more Ulster Scots) was into North Carolina. A number became prominent.

One such was Richard Henderson, a pioneer merchant who hired Daniel Boone to open up the route to Kentucky for settlers: another, later, was James Pinckney Henderson who moved to Texas and became the first Governor of that state.

James Henderson from North Carolina was granted land in Tennessee in 1787:

“Know ye, that we, for and consideration of the sum of ten pounds for every hundred acres hereby granted, paid unto our treasury by James Henderson, do give and grant unto the said James Henderson a tract of land containing two hundred acres lying and being in one county of Greene on the south side of the Nolachucky river.”

His descendants subsequently moved onto Missouri and one son, who converted to Mormonism, to Nauvoo and Salt Lake valley.

Hendersons in the South.  Many Hendersons owned plantations in the South, in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and also in Mississippi and Louisiana:

  • John Henderson had left his native Scotland in 1770 and was an earlier settler in Natchez, Mississippi. The family plantation home there was Magnolia Hall.
  • Stephen Henderson came out to New Orleans twenty years later. He made his money, married well, and inherited the nearby Destrehan plantation. However, his wife Zelia died young and he died a few years later. The ghost of their owners are still said to haunt Destrehan manor.

Joseph Henderson was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1826, an orphan who was raised by his uncle.  He left Charleston for New York in 1842 and was a pilot in the harbor there until 1890, a period of forty-four years.  One of his sons Alexander was the founding investor and first treasurer of a company that became Avon Products.

African Americans.  There is a long history of African American Hendersons:

  • some like the Hendersons of Dudley date from the early 1800’s in North Carolina where there had been a free black population.
  • a marker in Meadville, Maryland is “dedicated to Richard Henderson who escaped slavery around 1824 and helped others in their own escape on the underground railway.” As did Ben Henderson later in Missouri.

More Hendersons came from the plantations after emancipation. Cornelius Henderson, whose family had migrated to Detroit, became an accomplished civil engineer in the 1920’s at a time when racial prejudice was still strong. Edwin Henderson, who lived around the same time, has been called “the father of black basketball.” More recently, Hendersons have distinguished themselves in American sports, in basketball, baseball, and football.

Canada.  John Henderson, Scots Irish from Fermanagh and a man who joined the British army in its fight against Napoleon, departed with his wife Elizabeth for Quebec around the year 1822.  He became a tenant farmer a few miles north of Quebec City.  Most of his sons were farmers in the area, although William involved himself in railroad construction.

Australia.  The first Henderson arrivals into Australia were convicts, more than fifty between 1790 and 1840 (Thomas and Margaret Henderson from Tyrone in Ireland are among the few whose lines have been traced).

The first free settler was probably Robert Henderson who farmed land near Lake Macquarie in the 1830’s.

New Zealand.  Thomas Henderson was a pioneer settler in New Zealand, arriving in 1840 and starting his Henderson’s Mill outside Auckland. David Henderson from Fife arrived at the Nelson settlement in South Island in 1842. The influx of Hendersons increased as the 19th century proceeded.

Henderson Surname Miscellany

The Hendersons of Glencoe.  The ancestors in Glencoe are as old as any clan in the Highlands.  Through them the Hendersons claim descent from Eanruig Mor Mac Righ Neachtan – Big Henry, son of King Noctan, the king of the Picts in 710 – who settled the southern shore of Loch Leven.

Although it would be difficult to pinpoint when the MacEanruig chiefs first held the land embracing Glencoe, they held the chiefship there for three centuries before King Robert the Bruce granted lordship of Glencoe to Angus of the Isles for his support at Bannockburn in 1314.

The last Henderson chief at Glencoe was Dugald MacEanruig.  The chiefship passed as a result of his daughter’s marriage into clan Donald.  Ian, her son and progenitor to the MacIans, established the MacEanruigs as the hereditary pipers for the MacDonalds of Glencoe.  At the time of the massacre, our Gaelic-speaking ancestors were the bodyguards to the chief of Glencoe.

Magnus Henderson of the Shetlands.  Magnus Henryson or Henderson of Buness, styled eldest son of his father:

  • in a sasine dated January 30, 1627 had a charter to him and Katherine Neven, his spouse, of 8 merks land
  • in Burrafirth from David, son to John Swannieson, petitioner of Windhouse, September 1, 1633
  • and of 23 merks land in Cunningsetter from Peter Nisbetson, son to James Nisbetson, December 26, 1627
  • and from Alexander Douglas of Spymie, commissioner for the Earldom, he had a charter of his 69 merks, 2 ures land in Uist, 51 in Yell, and 17 in Fetlar, August 10, 1664.

He married Kathleen Neven and had issue:

  • Ninian, his heir
  • William of Gloup
  • John of Pettister
  • Gilbert of Midgarth
  • and Janet who married William Craigie, merchant of Lerwick.

He is also said to have had issue:

  • Ursula, who married John Craigie
  • Barbara, who married Magnus Norie
  • and Nans and Sara.

The Longcase Clock by Thomas Henderson.  The clock is made from four differnt types of wood, oak, walnut, ebony, and sycamore.  Thomas Henderson made this clock.  He was born in Scarborough in 1712.  His father Robert was also a clockmaker.  Thomas moved to Hull to set up his own clock making business in Silver Street.  We don’t know when the business was established.  It closed down in 1767 when William Pridgin took over the workshop in Silver Street. Thomas returned to Scarborough.

John Henderson of Fife and Virginia.  In 1902 Dr. Joseph Lyon Miller published a small book, Ancestry and Descendants of Lieut. John Henderson.  He reproduced in this book a handwritten inscription from an old book in his possession dated 1707.

  • “William Henderson born Apr 30, 1676  died Aug 1, 1737, aged 61
  • Margaret Henderson born March 1, 1760 died December 15, 1739, aged 59
  • William Henderson gent and Margaret Bruce married Feb 7, 1705
  • John son, born Feb 9, 1706
  • James son, born Jan 17, 1708
  • Bruce son, born May 10, 1710, died Sept 1719
  • Samuel son, born Nov 28, 1713
  • John Henderson, died May 1 1766, aged 60
  • Samuel Henderson, died Jan 19, 1782

This record set down from the memory of James Henderson, now aged 75.”

The Captain William Henderson who married Margaret Bruce was apparently the son of Sir William Henderson, the second baronet of Fordell.

Alexander Henderson in Virginia.  Alexander Henderson, an enterprising young man from the land of the Scots, was enticed by the stories of the opportunities of land and wealth in the Americas and sought to make his way in the wilds of Virginia. 1737 was the year of his epic voyage as well as the beginning of his family’s legacy in America.

He became a wealthy merchant, member of the House of Burgesses, and member of the Compact Committee.  He was a friend, neighbor, and political supporter of George Washington.  Both were members and vestrymen of the Pohick church in Fairfax, Virginia, where they occupied adjacent pews.  George Washington recorded in his diary his attendance at the marriage of his friend Alexander Henderson and Miss Sarah (Sally) Moore.  The friends were to meet on numerous other social occasions.

Ben Henderson and the Runaway Slaves.  At dawn one morning in the mid-1840’s, Ben Henderson of Jacksonville began preparing to deliver some cradles to Springfield. Henderson, a black man, was a former slave who paid his master $250 for his freedom before settling in Jacksonville.  But before Henderson had loaded his wagon, two runaway slaves – a man and a woman – came to his home and asked for help on their journey to freedom.  A bounty of $1,000 had been offered for the man.

Henderson put some hay in the bottom of his wagon and had the couple lie in it.  He spread a wagon cover over them, then put some more hay and his cradles on top.  During the day Henderson drove around the Springfield city square, shopping and talking to people before taking the slaves to the home of a Springfield area man who could help them continue their journey to freedom.

No one ever suspected Henderson was risking his own freedom by breaking federal and state laws against harboring or assisting runaway slaves.  His role was documented by Jacksonville author John Wolcott Carter in The Underground Railway, a story of abolitionist activity in the area.

The Henderson Plantation in Louisiana.  The year is 1853 and slavery is alive and well on the Hendersons’ cotton plantation in Louisiana.  Mr. Henderson rules his plantation like a lord, keeping a close watch over more than one hundred slaves.   Mrs. Henderson oversees the daily operations of the home and looks after the children.

Daddy Major and his family are among the most prominent slaves on the plantation.  Daddy major is the chief driver, one of the highest positions a plantation slave can hold, and his wife Rosena is the Hendersons’ cook.

Experience life on a southern plantation – impressively recreated through detailed photographs, illustrations, and diagrams – and follow the Hendersons and the Majors through a typical day in their closely connected yet strikingly contrasted lives.

Henderson Names

  • Robert Henryson was a fifteenth century Scottish poet of fables. 
  • Alexander Henderson, a Presbyterian minister, drafted the National Covenant in 1636 and was largely responsible for keeping the Church of Scotland Presbyterian. 
  • Richard Henderson was the pioneer merchant in North Carolina who hired Daniel Boone in the 1770’s to cut a wilderness trail through the Cumberland Gap and open up Kentucky for settlement. 
  • James Pinckney Henderson was Texas’s first Governor in 1845. 
  • Fletcher Henderson, who grew up in Georgia, was the big-band jazz leader of the 1920’s. 
  • Arthur Henderson from Glasgow was part of Labor’s first Government in the 1920’s and became Foreign Secretary in 1929.   
  • D.A. Henderson was the American physician who headed the international team that eradicated smallpox as a disease.

Henderson Numbers Today

  • 47,000 in the UK (most numerous in Midlothian)
  • 76,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 53,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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