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John Nathaniel Henderson (1843-1907)

Judge, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, 1894-1907

John Nathaniel Henderson was born February 26, 1843 in Abbeville District, South Carolina. When he was three years old, his family moved to Texas. He attended Baylor University in Independence, but his education was interrupted when the Civil War broke out. Henderson served in Hood's Texas Brigade, and when the war ended he resumed his studies at Baylor, graduating from the law department in 1867.

After completing his studies, Henderson began practicing law in Millican, near College Station in Brazos County. Millican had been a prosperous community that was the terminus of the railroad until after the Civil War. The combination of railway expansion in 1866, a yellow fever epidemic in 1867, and race riots in 1868 led to a dramatic population decline during that time.

Henderson was elected district attorney of the Bryan district in 1874, and was elected to represent the district in the Texas Senate in 1880. His judicial career began in 1888, when Gov. Lawrence S. (Sul) Ross appointed him district judge of the Bryan district. He was elected to the position in 1890. Henderson was married twice; he had one child with his first wife and three with his second wife.

Henderson wrote and published The Lease System in Texas, which exposed abuses of the convict leasing system. Convict leasing was intended as a solution to prison overcrowding, state treasury shortages, and a labor shortage during the period of Reconstruction. Convicts provided free labor for projects that included railway construction beginning in 1867 and the construction of the state capitol in the 1880s, but mistreatment of inmates and lack of oversight caused the demise of the lease system by 1912.

Henderson was elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in November 1894. He served on the court until his death on December 22, 1907.


Cristina L. Gray. Millican, Texas, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).

Carolyn Hyman. Henderson, John Nathaniel, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).

Donald R. Walker. Convict Lease System, Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001).