north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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      Richard Henderson, founder of the Transylvania Company and of Nashville, Tennessee, was born in Hanover County, Virginia, on April 20, 1735. Raised on the frontier in Granville County, North Carolina, far from any school, he was educated by private tutors. Under his father Samuel Henderson, the sheriff of the county, he served as a constable and deputy sheriff. After studying law in the office of John Williams he was admitted to the bar. On March 1, 1768, he was appointed associate justice of the colony’s Superior Court. Henderson served on the bench during the height of Regulator violence in the backcountry. He managed to escape out a back door of the courthouse in Hillsborough when Regulators attacked it in September 1770. In November 1770, Regulators burned his home near Williamsborough.

      Through his work, Richard Henderson came to know Daniel Boone. As early as 1764, Boone acted as an agent for Henderson’s land company, Richard Henderson & Company, securing land in parts of Kentucky and Tennessee. To devote his attention to the development of western lands, Henderson retired from the bench in 1773 and organized the Louisa Company, later known as the Transylvania Company. In a March 1775 treaty signing at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River, the Transylvania Company purchased from the Cherokee the land lying between the Kentucky and Cumberland rivers. Henderson then traveled into Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap and established the colony of Transylvania with the settlement of Boonesborough on the Kentucky River. Neither Virginia nor North Carolina nor the Continental Congress would recognize Transylvania’s attempts to become the fourteenth colony. Without federal recognition, the Transylvania Company eventually lost control of the land. Henderson continued to engage in land speculation and, in 1779-1780, he led a group of settlers into the Cumberland Valley in Tennessee and founded French Lick, better known today as Nashville.

      When he was not busy settling land in the west, back east Richard Henderson was a supporter of the American cause in the Revolution. He returned to the bench for a brief time in 1778, served on the state’s Board of War, and was a militia colonel. In 1781 he was elected as Granville County’s representative to the state legislature. Henderson died at age of forty-nine on January 30, 1785, and was buried on his farm at “Ashland” near Williamsboro in present-day Vance County.


References:
Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, VIII, 530
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, III, 105—sketch by Mark F. Miller
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