The history of the Isham Henderson House just outside New Castle city limits holds a fragmented piece of our county and nation’s dark, and violent, history.
The Historic Commission put the house on the National Historic Registry in June of 1984. The commission declared the construction of the house took place between 1830 and 1835. It notes the owner of the house as lawyer, state senator (1820-1824) and prominent county citizen Isham Henderson. An entry appearing in the 1940s from Courier Journal staff artist Walter H. Kiser’s series called Neighborhood Sketches, contradicts the commission report crediting the construction of the structure in 1810.
From research gathered by Betty Bowles and lists on other genealogical sites, Isham Henderson was the son of Bennett Henderson and Elizabeth Lewis. In Bowles’ research, Henderson was born Nov. 23, 1782, in Charlottesville, Va., and the family moved from Albemarle County, Va., to Shelby County in 1798. A document with Henderson’s place of burial lists his date of birth as 1783 and his death as Dec. 6, 1838.
Henderson married Harriet Kirtley, and the couple had two daughters: Emily and Catherine. Henderson was listed in Henry County documents as early as 1810 for the construction of a public well; and was elected twice as trustee of New Castle - in May 1818 and 1821. His name appears on an order pertaining to disorderly taverns in May of 1817. Kiser described Henderson as a “…a noted lawyer, debater and State Legislator.”
Little evidence exists of Isham Henderson in regards to any legislation. A bill created by General Elias Barbee, a state senator, for the Kentucky School for the Deaf in 1822 lists Isham Henderson as one of the senators voting for the bill. The dates are in agreement with the commission’s dates of 1820-1824. Henry Clay is credited for getting federal grants for the school in 1826 and later in 1836. Clay and Henderson later crossed paths in a scandal through Henderson’s daughter Emily.
Duel or murder
Henderson’s daughter Emily married lawyer William Jordan Graves, a native of Henry County, Graves served in the State House of Representatives in 1834, four years before Henderson’s death. He later served in Congress as a Whig for the 24th, 25th and 26th Congresses.
Clay allegedly used Graves as his instrument in a duel. Although not as historically infamous as the Burr— Hamilton duel, the scandal created outrage in Congress ultimately leading to the congressional act prohibiting the act of accepting or giving the challenge to a duel within the District of Columbia.
In the March 9, 1844 issue of the Hartford Times, the article reports a congressional committee investigated the incident.
It was reported that a letter anonymously published in the Columbian Observer four weeks before the election of John Quincy Adams, that Clay would vote against the wishes of his state in exchange for a higher station. Clay voted for Adams in the Presidential Election in the House of Representatives, as the letter indicated he would against the wishes of Kentucky. Adams then appointed Clay to Secretary of State in 1824. The article states Clay’s role in the duel of Jonathan Cilley, a House Representative for Maine, depicts Clay’s and the bipartisan hostility of the time.
Cilley, a Democrat, criticized New York Courier and Enquirer editor James Webb as being biased, favoring the Whig Party in the paper’s coverage of Congress. According to a Hartford Times article, Graves, “…was a bearer of a challenge from James Webb to Mr. Cilley.” The Hartford Times, in its own biased reporting, blamed Clay for helping instigate the murder, not the duel, of Cilley. The paper declared the investigation proves Clay’s involvement to be, “…more bloody and disgraceful to him than then that of either of the many duels in which he has engaged.” It was reported that Cilley would not accept the challenge from Graves as he was considered a superior marksman. Clay allegedly demanded with Graves that satisfaction for Cilley’s insult could only come from a written statement from Cilley retracting his statements about the editor. Many reportedly begged Clay to stop the duel but Clay wrote in a letter that, “…I could not invoke the authority of the police to prevent the duel.”
Graves shot Cilley in the femoral artery causing him to bleed to death in a short amount of time. Nathaniel Hawthorne released two biographical sketches of his friend and former college graduate shortly after his death.
In a publication titled Some Old Homes in Henry County, Kentucky, the entry describes an old stone house belonging to Senator Graves’ father-in-law Isham Henderson in which it states that, “… He (Henderson) brooded over the fact so that his son-in-law had killed Cilley, that Henderson committed suicide.”
Built in the early 1800s, the one-story dry-stone house has a unique façade of limestone masonry not common in Henry County. Early evidence suggests the old mortar is comprised of cement and sand. The masonry technique is similar to stone houses in Carroll County. Repair, prior to 1984, reveals pointing of the stone joints with concrete. Two chimneys lay in the interior of the house with fireplaces back to back for the four rooms laid side by side. A back room has a chimney on its north wall with a fireplace for the cellar.
The architectural style depicts a transitional fashion between the Federal and Greek Revival fads of the 1800s. The commission’s report describes the cellar windows with horizontal diamond bars divided with mullion.
Kiser wrote after the War Between the States Robert Tyler lived in the house. Isaac Kelley owned the house from 1870 to 1920. Kaiser published several sketches with brief histories during the 1940s and he listed L.G. Forquer, of New Castle as the owner at the time. The Heritage of the Lacie Powells, a Clara and Andrew Powell, “…set up housekeeping in the Rock House on the old Kelly Farm.” It is referred as one of Mr. Forquer’s farmhouse.
Andrew Powell worked for Forquer and the house is described to have 18-inch wide rock walls, with no insulation, a fireplace and “…warm morning stove served to keep everyone from freezing in the winter.” The entry lists Joan in 1929, Sue in 1930 and Ann 1933, assuming Powells, as being born in the house delivered by the same midwife in the same Susan Anthony bed. Carol and Fred Miller owned the house at the time of the commission’s report. The current owners are Mr. and Mrs. Jim Hawk.
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