Leonard Henderson

2nd NC Supreme Court Chief Justice

Date Born: October 6, 1772

Date Died: August 13, 1833

Place Born: Granville County

Place Buried: Montpelier Plantation Family Cemetery near Williamsboro, NC


Chief Justice 1829-1833
Associate Justice 1818-1829

Leonard Henderson was born on October 16, 1772 in the Nutbush community near Willliamsborough (later shortened to Williamsboro) in Granville County (part which later became Vance County), the son of Richard Henderson, himself a pioneer, state Superior Court judge and politician, and Elizabeth (Keeling) Henderson.

Leonard Henderson's education included instruction by local teachers and the Reverend Henry Pattillo, the prescribed courses at Springer College, and one or two sessions at a school in Salisbury. He later read law under his father's cousin, Judge John Williams. He was admitted to the bar and for a time was Clerk of the District Court in Hillsborough.

On November 3, 1795, Leonard Henderson married Frances Farrar; they had four sons and two daughters.

In 1802, Leonard Henderson was elected to the Council of State, and in 1807 he was appointed a Commissioner of the town of Williamsborough.

In 1808, two years after the district system of courts was abolished, Leonard Henderson was elected by the General Assembly to fill a vacancy on the Superior Court bench caused by the death of Judge Spruce Macay. About this time Henderson also opened a law school at Williamsborough and soon earned a reputation for thoroughness and accuracy.

In 1816, Leonard Henderson resigned from the NC Superior Court to resume his law practice in Williamsborough and teach in his law school. In 1817, he was elected a trustee of The University of North Carolina, serving until his resignation in 1828.

In 1818, the NC Supreme Court was established by and Act of the Legislature, and Leonard Henderson was one of three men who were elected as an Associate Justice, along with John Louis Taylor and John Hall. These men elected their first leader, Chief Justice John Louis Taylor.

In 1829, upon the death of Chief Justice John Louis Taylor, Leonard Henderson was elected the next Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court, a position he held until his own death.

On August 13, 1833, Leonard Henderson died and was buried at Montpelier, his childhood home near Henderson in what is now Vance County, NC.

A Judge of the NC Superior Court and a Justice of the NC Supreme Court. His education was a good as the country afforded. His father (late Judge Richard Henderson) was distinguished for his learning, sagacity, and intellect. His life and services were spent in the highest duties of our land - the administration of law - whose decision is the perfection of reason, "whose voice is the harmony of the world, and whose seat is the bosom of God."

Such duties are among the most elevated functions that can exercise the mind of man. In this the comprehensive mind of Judge Henderson delighted, and no one who knew him, or who may read his opinions, will doubt for a moment his intellectual greatness. He was more remarkable for his genius than for labor. His mind, with instictive rapidity, seemed to arrive at a sound conclusion, but the modes and method by which he arrived at that opinion was to him laborious to explain. He was distinguished for his kindness of heart and generous sentiments.

Henderson was never in the Legislature. Public honor and popular applause never was an object of his idolatry. He felt that the law was a jealous mistress, and allowed no rival in his attentions or affections.

He was first elected to the NC Superior Court in 1808, yet he resigned in 1816.

On the formation of the Supreme Court, he was elected one of the first Associate Justices, along with John Hall and John Louis Taylor, and on Taylor's death in 1829 he was elected as the second Chief Justice on August 13, 1829.

Full of years, and full of honors, he died at his residence in Williamsboro on August 13, 1833, in his 61st year of his age. He married Frances Farrer and left two sons and two daughters, one of whom married Dr. Richard R. Sneed; the other Dr. William C. Taylor.

Leonard Henderson was born in that part of Granville County which is now Vance County, in 1772. His sister married Spruce McKay, and his niece became the wife of Judge Boyden of the NC Supreme Court.

Henderson was elected to the NC Superior Court in 1808 and resigned in 1816. Elected to the NC Supreme Court in 1818, he became Chief Justice in 1829 and died in August of 1833.

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