James Henderson: From Virginia to Maryland
A Biography of an Early Settler
by Jason Illari
Before examining the life of James Henderson, it is important to have an understanding of the time in which he lived. Surveying the history of the Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland during the seventeenth century will place Henderson within an historical and geographical context. This context will allow for a better understanding of James Henderson, and also the people with whom he interacted throughout his life. Historian Jennings Cropper Wise writes "when we come, therefore, to trace the origin of our Eastern Shore colonists, while we should not dogmatically state as a matter of fact that many of them came from New England, yet we should bear in mind the strong evidence that points in that direction." Wise also notes that the colonists of the Eastern Shore had strong Puritan sentiments, in some cases desired religious freedom, and were, in general, eager
to take advantage of the region's rich natural resources. By the 1630's, Accomack County, which included the entire area of Virginia's Eastern Shore, consisted of approximately three hundred and ninety-six whites. By the 1640's, however, the population had more than doubled and reached about one thousand. The lands of Accomack attracted planters, fishermen, traders, merchants, and craftsmen. 
In 1643, Accomack County was renamed Northampton County. In 1663, however, the Eastern Shore of Virginia was divided in half, creating Accomack County in the north and Northampton County in the south. This is significant because one of the first historical references relating to James Henderson is a church account taken sometime between March 25, 1661 and March 25, 1662- a year before the area was divided. The account, administered by Northampton County Hungars Parish officials, indicates the baptism of John Henderson, the son of James and Mary Henderson in May of 1661. Did James Henderson and his family simply live in a part of Northampton County which later became Accomack County or did they move from the former to the latter? Certain factors make this question difficult to answer. First, there appears to be no extant patent specifically referring to land Henderson may have settled in Northampton County. Second, after studying available passenger lists, no historical reference could be found pinpointing James Henderson's arrival to the new world, thereby hinting at how and where Henderson arrived on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Nevertheless, after examining the area of land encompassed by Hungars Parish, and an Accomack land patent received by Henderson in 1666, it appears that Henderson did in fact move northward with his family (at least after the baptism of his son in 1661).
Historians may also use the baptismal record of John Henderson to speculate when James Henderson was born or even when he traveled to the new world. Henderson may have been around twenty five years old when his son John was baptized. In this connection, it is appropriate to note historian James Perry's observation regarding Eastern Shore demographics during the time Henderson lived in Virginia:
A detailed, statistical breakdown of the post-1625 English population on the Eastern Shore, although highly desirable, is impossible in the absence of necessary primary sources. For the period between 1625 and 1655, there are no records of births, marriages, or deaths and no detailed militia, census, or tithable lists. The county court record constitutes the single most important primary source, and does not allow a usable reconstruction of the peninsula's entire population, because a person's appearance there is entirely random.
Yet, Perry also states that the Eastern Shore of Virginia had "an unusually youthful population." If, in fact, 25 years of age is a reasonable historical estimate for approximating the age of Henderson during the baptism of his son John in 1661, it could be possible that the former was born sometime in the 1630's.
Fortunately, historical documentation pertaining to James Henderson's life in Accomack County is much more prolific. In fact, most of the documentation left to posterity concerning Henderson in Accomack comes in the form of Court Orders and Judicial Records. In 1663, for example, Henderson, along with twenty-two of his male contemporaries, was summoned by the sheriff of Accomack County for not attending church. Church wardens had initially called attention to the absentees, but based on primary sources, no real punishment was meted out against Henderson or the other men for their delinquency. In December of that same year, Henderson brought a man named John King to court in order to settle a debt. Yet, due to the debt's insignificant amount, the suit was dismissed by the court and two men Mr. John West and Mr. Deverax Browne were charged with handling the discrepancy. It is unclear what this debt specifically referred to, but apparently West and Browne knew the circumstances of the suit enough to be intimately involved with settling the matter.
Henderson also appears serving on a jury in Accomack County in July of 1667. The jury consisted of Henderson and eleven other men who found that an individual named John Travally "had no cause for complaint of abuse against Captain George Parker." It is hard to determine what exactly Travally's complaint was, but a deposition given by another man named Richard Buckland indicates that it might have been connected with a dispute over three gallons of beer. Interestingly, in another Court Order dated December 1667, Henderson and two other men, German Gillet and Charles Rackliff, were taken under the custody of the Sheriff of Accomack to "be kept in safety." Apparently, authorities in Virginia representing the Majesty objected to Henderson and the others supporting a known criminal named Thomas Middleton. The records do not specify to what extent Henderson supported Middleton, but only state that Henderson and the other men spoke favorably of him. Later, Henderson, Gillet, and Rackliff "confessed the truth and craved the court's mercy. The Court released them from further censure. They paid court costs and posted bonds for their good behavior." Another Court Order reveals that James Henderson had at least one servant while living in Accomack County. In March of 1665, the court ruled that, "William Brookes, servant of James Henderson," was over the age of sixteen. This proceeding may have been initiated to determine whether or not Henderson was liable for paying a tax on Brookes or if Brookes' period of indenture was complete. Another record, dated September 1688, indicates that Henderson (then referred to as a planter) transported William Brookes to the former's residency in Somerset County.
Henderson was also involved in an intriguing story mentioned during an Accomack County Court proceeding dated 1669. Henderson and his neighbor Thomas Davis were involved with the burial of a servant named John Butt or Old John in 1666. The Court's proceedings attempted to determine wheather or not Old John met his death as a result of physical abuse from his master. A women named Jean Powell testified; "James Henderson said that since Old John died in a tobacco house so remote and amongst hogs and after such and manner along, it was not fit he should be buried until a jury had passed on him."
Aside from the records examined above, the only other sources that mention the activities of James Henderson in Accomack County are Court Order proceedings related to land being awarded to him. In November 1665, Henderson received a certificate of land for 400 acres by the Accomack County Court. An Accomack land patent dated April 1666 issued Henderson 400 acres of land which was bounded on the north by the Pocomoke River and the east by land granted to Thomas Davis. In this same document, Henderson was also charged with transporting eight individuals, five males and three females. It is quite possible that the land certificate of 1665 corresponds to the land surveyed and patented for Henderson in 1666. Additionally, in August 1667 Henderson received a certificate from the Accomack Court "for 150 acres for transporting Joseph Fuller, Davy Glascock, and Michael Towes" yet there seems to be no corresponding land patent mentioned in the Virginia land patent records. Examining Henderson's land records from this period can be somewhat of an enigma because of two major factors. First, the mid-seventeenth century witnessed large migrations of people (including Henderson) into Somerset County Maryland from Virginia, especially during the 1650's and 1660's. Second, it was during this period of time that Maryland and Virginia authorities constantly debated over where to draw the boundary line dividing the two States. In certain respects these two factors are interconnected, and should be examined to help shed further light on Henderson's shift of residency from Accomack to Somerset County.
Colonial Chesapeake historians tend to note significant migrations during the mid-seventeenth century, which brought many Eastern Shore Virginians to Maryland. One of these movements is characterized by an influx of Quakers to Somerset County. Historian Clayton Hall notes that "under these conditions, the number of Quakers in Maryland had become so large that in 1661 stated meetings were established." Men like Ambrose Dixon, George Johnson, and Thomas Price established themselves in Old Somerset and became active members of an ever-expanding Quaker community.
Another major group that migrated to Somerset County around the same time as the Quakers were, in the words of historian Clayton Torrence, "men who, though a liberal type in religious matters, yet conformed to the Church of England, having no other apparent reason for leaving the colony of Virginia than the economic one of greater opportunity afforded them by newly opened lands." Some of these men could have been part of yet another group who migrated to Somerset County as a result of the endeavors of Colonel Edmund Scarburgh of Accomack County. Jennings Wise explains;
In accordance with Lord Baltimore's directions to colonize the lower part of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Philip Calvert, in 1661, appointed Colonel Edmund Scarburgh of Accomac, John Elzey, and Randell Revell, Commissioners, to grant lands there to such persons as would take the oath of fidelity to Lord Baltimore.
Wise also states that the Maryland-Virginia line "was not really well defined" and "had been a subject of dispute for years." This dispute eventually resulted in an attempt by Scarburgh to claim lands for Virginia in Somerset County. By 1663, he was even claiming lands as far north as the mouth of the Wicomico River.
Therefore, when examining the activities of James Henderson during this period, it is important to keep in mind the various scenarios which could have affected the way he acquired land in Somerset County. There is no definitive evidence proving Henderson was a Quaker. Yet, could he have been one of those individuals who came into Somerset County looking for economic gain simultaneously with the Quaker migration? Did he play a part in Scarburgh's scheme to push Virginians northward? Scarburgh is present when Henderson is awarded his certificate of land for 400 acres in 1665. To what extent did Henderson actually migrate to Somerset County if, in fact, his land was in close proximity to the disputed Virginia-Maryland border? Again, these are important questions to keep in mind while examining the life of Henderson in Somerset County.
It appears that by the late 1660's Henderson gained considerable foothold in the lands of Pocomoke Hundred. Therefore, it would be safe to assume that Henderson was considering moving northward into Maryland. Some of these newly purchased lands include; America (300 acres) located on the north side of the Pocomoke River and east of Dividing Creek, Hindersons Second Choice (170 acres), Landing Purchased (130 acres), Barren Lott (110 acres), and Haphazard (70 acres) located "back from the Pocomoke River on Poquadenorton Road." Yet, the most significant patent received by Henderson in Somerset County was probably Double Purchase, a tract consisting of 1100 acres of land "situated lying and being on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay on the south side of the Pocomoke River."
Interestingly, there is evidence to show that Henderson was still active in Accomack County after he acquired lands in Pocomoke Hundred. In 1668, Henderson was ordered by the Accomack County Court to pay tithable taxes accumulating 100 pounds of tobacco. The Court also stated that Henderson was required to pay expenses related to the suit. This is significant because Henderson may have still been living in or traveling to Accomack County while he acquired land in Somerset County. Maybe he was a gifted entrepreneur and attempted to acquire land in Maryland which he knew would be sought after by individuals moving northward into Somerset.
Whatever the case may be, primary sources indicate that Henderson was indeed a busy man during the 1660's and 1670's. Besides the various duties he no doubt performed to acquire the abovementioned lands, Henderson was also concerned with more personal affairs. Sometime before 1668 Henderson's wife Mary must have died; for a document recorded the same year states he transported his "new" wife Alice to Somerset County along with his children John, William, and Jane. Furthermore, Henderson and Alice gave birth to their son James in 1669. According to Somerset County Liber I.K.L. James was born at Pocomoke on the 10th day of June. Nor was Henderson remiss in getting his livestock in order. One primary source recorded, "James Hindersons marke vizt, cropt on the right ear and a nick of the upper side of the same ear recorded the 9th March A.D. 1669."
Various other Somerset County records highlight the life of James Henderson and the community in which he lived. A County Court document dated 1674 shows Henderson appointed overseer "for his Lopps high wayes [...] for Pocomoke hundred." An account taken for John Hilliard in 1671 noted that Henderson was due five bushels of salt worth 200 Lbs of tobacco. There is also an interesting Somerset Court case which involved Henderson and a man named Thomas Skinner, who accused Henderson of borrowing and losing the latter's horse. This case, dated 1676, was decided by a jury of Henderson's peers who eventually found him innocent of the charges. In 1689, Henderson signed an Oath of Loyalty, part of which read "Wee your Majesty's Subjects in the County of Somersett and Province of Maryland [...] do cast ourselves at your majesty's feet [...] in the confidence whereof wee resolve to continue (by the grace of God) in the Profession and defense of the Protestant Religion [...]" The Oath, which included Henderson's son John, also mentioned that those who signed the document swore fealty to the King and would fight against intruders such as the French and "other Papists that oppose and trouble us."
Henderson's will and inventory dated 1690 and 1692, respectively, are two key documents which allow for a closer examination of the closing years of his life. In his will, Henderson bequeaths his soul to "God almighty" and assures himself of salvation by the "merits of Jesus Christ." He then directs attention to settling his temporal estate and for the most part concerns himself with dividing up his land amongst his children. There are interesting references to take notice of, including Henderson's bequest of various household goods and livestock. For example, he divides among all four of his children- "cowes, horses, sheep, and cattle and other household or whatsoever goods to be equally divided amongst my four children and John Henderson to have his first choice [...]" These children are; John Henderson, William Henderson, James Henderson, and his daughter Jane Williams. Judging by the tone of his remarks, Henderson seemed to have cherished all of his children. Yet, one can clearly see how the law of primogeniture took precedence in the Henderson family. John Henderson, the eldest son, is given a considerable amount of land, along with items such as his father's pistol and sword. John Henderson is also given James' Negro servants Mary and Bess. Interestingly, at the end of his will James Henderson leaves his marke, which may indicate that he was illiterate. Also, another point to consider is that Henderson's wife Alice is not mentioned in the will, which probably means she died sometime before 1690.
Furthermore, Henderson's inventory is another excellent source of information. Its combined total equals over £140 sterling. Some of the items listed include over thirty farm animals, farming equipment, kitchenware, washing tubs, threads, blankets, beds and earthenware. There are also four Negro servants listed and one girl servant. Additionally, money was owed to a man named Benjamin Aydelotte for making Henderson thirty-nine pairs of shoes. Other research has shown that a thriving shoe making business did indeed exist on the Eastern Shore during the second part of the seventeenth century. Finally, two appraisers, William Whittington and Miles Gray, set their seal on Henderson's inventory dated November 6, 1692.
Based on the records examined for this study, Henderson was probably a hard working and ambitious individual, ready to travel to uncharted territories to make a profit for the benefit of his family. Further research regarding Henderson's origins before his arrival to the Eastern Shore of Virginia would cast considerable light on his person and additional research concerning his two wives and children would also be helpful in reconstructing his life. Hopefully, this brief biographical sketch of James Henderson will inspire other historians of Delmarva history to search the local records with even more resolve, and answer some of the questions which have surfaced as a result of this examination.
1 Jennings Cropper Wise, Ye Kingdom of Accawmacke the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the 17th Century (Richmond: The Bell Book and Stationery Co., 1911), 75.
2 Ibid., 75-76.
3 Ibid., 81-82.
4 Ibid., 68.
5 James R. Perry, The Formation of a Society on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1615-1655 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 9.
6 James Handley Marshall, abstracts of the Wills and Administrations of Northampton County, Virginia 1632-1802 (Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1994), 67.
7 Nell Marion Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, 1623-1666 (Baltimore: Genealogical Co., Inc., 1983), 552.
8 James R. Perry, The Formation of a Society on Virginia's Eastern Shore, 1615-1655 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 40-41.
9 Ibid., 41.
10 JoAnn Riley Mckey, Accomack County, Virginia Court Order Abstracts 1663-1666 Vol.I (Bowie: Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 62.
11 Ibid., 57.
12 JoAnn Riley Mckey, Accomack County, Virginia Court Order Abstracts 1663-1666 Vol.II (Bowie: Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 43.
13 Ibid., 43.
14 Ibid., 66.
15 Ibid., 69.
16 JoAnn Riley Mckey, Accomack County, Virginia Court Order Abstracts 1663-1666 Vol.I (Bowie: Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 115.
17 Somerset County Land Records, 1667-1668, MW 1, 11, Clerk of the Court, Somerset County Courthouse, Princess Anne, Maryland (microfilm SR 7353, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland), 373.
18 JoAnn Riley Mckey, Accomack County, Virginia Court Order Abstracts 1663-1666 Vol.II (Bowie: Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 160.
19 JoAnn Riley Mckey, Accomack County, Virginia Court Order Abstracts 1663-1666 Vol.I (Bowie: Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 136.
20 Nell Marion Nugent, Cavaliers and Pioneers, Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, 1623-1666 (Baltimore: Genealogical Co., Inc., 1983), 552.
21 JoAnn Riley Mckey, Accomack County, Virginia Court Order Abstracts 1663-1666 Vol.II (Bowie: Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 56.
22 Clayton Torrence, Old Somerset on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1979), 13-19, 25-27.
23 Ibid., 29-30.
24 Clayton Hall, Narratives of Early Maryland 1633-1684 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910), 392.
25 Clayton Torrence, Old Somerset on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1979), 85-88.
26 Ibid., 25.
27 Jennings Cropper Wise, Ye Kingdom of Accawmacke the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the 17th Century (Richmond: The Bell Book and Stationery Co., 1911), 161.
29 Clayton Torrence, Old Somerset on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1979), 29-30.
30 JoAnn Riley Mckey, Accomack County, Virginia Court Order Abstracts 1663-1666 Vol.I (Bowie: Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 133.
31 Ruth Dryden, Calvert Papers Rent Rolls of Somerset County Maryland 1663-1723 (San Diego: Bozman, ND), 32, 76, 101.
32 Somerset County Land Records, 1684-1689, NSB, 32, Clerk of the Court, Somerset County Courthouse, Princess Anne, Maryland (microfilm SR 7370, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland), 283.
33 JoAnn Riley Mckey, Accomack County, Virginia Court Order Abstracts 1663-1666 Vol.II (Bowie: Heritage Books Inc., 1996), 88.
34 Somerset County Land Records, 1667-1668, MW 1, 11, Clerk of the Court, Somerset County Courthouse, Princess Anne, Maryland (microfilm SR 7353, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland), 373.
35 Jody Powell, Somerset County Maryland Liber I.K.L. 1649-1720 (Roanoke, TX: Jody Powell, 1992), 55.
36 Jody Powell, Somerset County Maryland Livestock Marks 1665-1722 (Roanoke, TX: Jody Powell, 1991), 16.
37 Wilmer O. Lankford, Court Records of Somerset County, Maryland 1674 (Princess Anne: Manokin Press, 1992), 70.
38 Somerset County Judicial Records, 1671-1675, vol. 87, page 86, Archives of Maryland Online http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us accessed 18 May 2005.
39 Somerset County Judicial Records, 1675-1677, vol. 89, page 54, Archives of Maryland Online http://www.mdarchives.state.md.us accessed 18 May 2005.
40 William Hand Browne, ed., Archives of Maryland (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1890), 139.
42 James Henderson, Maryland Prerogative Court Wills, 1688-1700, 6, 50 (Microfilm, SR 4402, Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland), 50.
45 G. Ray Thompson, Early Settlers of Old Somerset: A Revision and Expansion of Bogerternorton Hundred and Surrounding Areas of Old Somerset County, Maryland vol. 1, 1665-1700 (Salisbury: Nabb Research Center, 2004), 201.
46 Susie M. Ames, Studies of the Virginia Eastern Shore in the Seventeenth Century (New York: Russell and Russel, 1973), 82-85.
47 G. Ray Thompson, Early Settlers of Old Somerset: A Revision and Expansion of Bogerternorton Hundred and Surrounding Areas of Old Somerset County, Maryland vol. 1, 1665-1700 (Salisbury: Nabb Research Center, 2004), 203.