Joseph Henderson - Catharine W. McDonald Family Group

Parents   Parents
  Joseph Henderson Nancy (Ann) Hill   David McDonald Rachel Wright
  b. May 1777, Tyrone Co. Ireland b. 25 Jan 1778, Philadelphia   b. Abt. 1801, Philadelphia b. Abt. 1808. Philadelphia
  d. 17 Jul 1855, Morgantown, West Virginia d. 23 Feb 1850, Morgantown, West Virginia   d. 4 Mar 1867, Philadelphia d. 30 Oct. 1852, Philadelphia
Joseph Henderson Catharine W. McDonald
b. 25 Mar 1799, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania b. Abt. 1831 in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania
d. 19 Jul 1873, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania d. 12 Oct 1875 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Relationship Events
Marriage About 1820 Joseph Henderson to Zillah, MNU who died 23 Jun 1856 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Marriage 10 Dec 1857 Joseph Henderson to Catharine W. McDonald in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania
Marriage 6 Sep 1874 Catharine W. McDonald Henderson to John J. Ott in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died Young Mary Ann Hill Henderson b. 20 Nov 1858 in Philadelphia; d. 4 Nov 1863 in Philadelphia of croup at 5 years of age.
  Joseph Wright Henderson b. 7 Feb 1860 in Philadelphia; m. Elizabeth (Bess) Jones (b. 1859 in Barbados, West Indies; d. 28 Dec 1943 in Philadelphia); two children: Joseph W. Jr. and Elizabeth Jones Henderson; d. 14 Jan 1926 in Philadelphia.
Kate Gay Henderson b. 18 Jun 1861 in Philadelphia; d. 14 Jul 1874 in Philadelphia of scarlet fever.
  James Hill Henderson b. 1 Feb 1863 in Philadelphia; m. Ettie Thomas 16 Aug 1882; (b. 30 Dec 1865 in Pottsville, Schuylkill, Pennsylvania; d. 23 Mar 1948 in North Hills, Montgomery, Pennsylvania); four children: William Scott Thomas, James Hill (died as an infant), Marie Catherine, and Samuel Ruggles Henderson; d. 4 Jan 1948 in Ocean City, New Jersey.
Direct Ancestor Samuel Ruggles Henderson b. 29 May 1865 in Philadelphia, Philadelphia; m. 1. Martha M. Harris (b. 17 Jun 1867 in Marblehead, Essex, Massachusetts; d. 23 Jun 1899 of typhoid in Philadelphia) 4 Feb 1885 in Philadelphia; four children: Samuel Ruggles Jr., Harris (died as an infant), Joseph Harris, and Martha "Marto" Catherine Henderson; m. 2. Anna Julia Porter (b. 7 Aug 1875 in Philadelphia; d. April 1970 in Philadelphia, Philadelphia) on 2 Nov 1910 in Philadelphia; d. 23 Mar 1927 in Philadelphia.
Mary Wertz Henderson b. 23 May 1867 in Philadelphia; d. 7 Nov 1869 at 1.5 years of age of scarlet fever in Philadelphia.
Charles Price Henderson, b. 8 Jan 1871 in Philadelphia; d. 14 Jan 1874 at age 3 of scarlet fever in Philadelphia.


What We Know About This Family


Joseph Henderson married our direct ancestor Catharine McDonald later in life and had seven children, only three of whom survived to adulthood. He testified at the sensational trial of the son-in-law of his uncle's widow, who was murdered by that son-in-law. The murder and the trial were widely covered. Both parents died when the children were minors.

An Overview of Their Lives

Joseph Henderson was born 25 Mar 1799 in Philadelphia, the first-born child of Joseph and Anna Hill Henderson. His parents had eight more children in Philadelphia, then three more after they bought a farm and relocated the whole family to Monongalia County, West Virginia (minus Joseph, who remained in Philadelphia). Two of his sisters died young, but the other nine settled as adults in West Virginia (his youngest brother, James, retired and lived in Philadelphia a few years before returning to West Virginia at the end of his life).

Joseph married first a woman named Zillah, whose name we obtained from the burial records. Joseph, like his father and grandmother before him, invested in rental-income properties in Philadelphia. Census forms for 1830 and 1840 were found for a Joseph Henderson, but I do not know if these were for our Joseph Henderson. These census years were in the decades when the census asked for numbers of people by age and gender, but without names for those other than the head of household. If the two are for our Joseph Henderson, they indicate children living in the household. These could have been the children of Joseph and Zillah. Joseph and Zillah had a 14-year old girl with the name Taylor living with them in 1850, but her relationship to them was not captured on the census form. Zillah died in June of 1856.

Six months later at the age of 57, Joseph married our ancestor, Catharine, who was 32 years younger than he. She was the daughter of David (a grocer) and Rachel Wright McDonald. Over the next 14 years, they had seven children. Their first born, a daughter, died at age 5 of croup, and their sixth born, another daughter, died of scarlet fever before she was half way through her second year. In 1868, the widow of his uncle Samuel Hill, Mrs. Mary E. Hill, was murdered by her daughter's husband, George Twitchell. Mary Hill's maiden name was "Wertz", and Joseph and Catherine named their youngest daughter after her when she was born a few months before Mary Hill was killed. Sadly, their little girl died at the end of the year in which the trial was held. The murder of a wealthy widow by a family member was a sensational event in those days, and the murder itself and the subsequent trial were covered extensively in the newspapers of the time. Joseph had acted as her agent in collecting rents after the death of his uncle two years earlier and was called upon to testify about his knowledge of the defendant and his probable motive. Joseph was also a witness to his uncle's will, which left the income from the rentals to his wife during her lifetime, but bequeathed the real estate to two daughters of his brother after his wife's death. Significantly omitted from his will was his wife's daughter by a previous marriage, Camilla Twitchell. Her husband, probably with his wife's knowledge, changed the name on a deed of property to that of his wife, and Joseph had come to talk to his aunt about that before the murder occurred. He also testified that he brought her a significant amount of rental monies he had collected shortly before her death. She was killed with a beating to her head by a fire poker, and her body was thrown out of an upper story window. Twitchell tried unsuccessfully to attribute the murder elsewhere, but was convicted and sentenced to hang. He took poison on the morning of his execution. Newspaper clippings about the murder and trial are included in the documents section.

Joseph died suddenly in 1873 at the age of 75 leaving a large and complex estate, a widow, and five surviving children, but no will. The Orphans Court appointed an administrator to inventory and sell the real property that he had owned. If the dates on the death certificates are correct, Catharine lost two more of her children to scarlet fever on the same day about six months after the loss of her husband. Their share of Joseph's estate was divided among the three remaining children: Joseph, James, and Samuel.

On 8 Sep of that same year, Catharine married John J. Ott. The record of their marriage indicates he was from Quakertown. We've been unable to learn anything more about him. The Orphan's Court was promptly notified and gave new orders concerning the real property of Joseph's estate. Catharine and John Ott had been married for a little over a year when she died at the age of 44 after a lingering bout with a spinal abscess. No trace of Ott can be found after her death. Guardianship of her minor sons had to be determined. Catharine's brother, Hamilton McDonald, petitioned for guardianship of all three boys in 1875, but the Court awarded guardianship of the oldest, Joseph Wright Henderson, to his father's cousin, John Reed. John was the son of Alice Ruggles Reed, the daughter of Joseph's aunt, Hannah Henderson Ruggles. Guardianship of the two younger boys, James Hill and Samuel Ruggles, was granted in Nov 1875 to Joseph's youngest brother, James M. Henderson, who was two decades younger than his oldest brother. James had been born and raised on the Hendersons' West Virginia farm, then married and had five children, only one of whom survived. He had retired from farming and moved with his wife to Philadelphia at least five years before Joseph died. Handling three teen-age boys was probably not an easy task. For reasons not stated, guardianship of James was transferred to John Reed in Jun 1876. Samuel, however remained with his Uncle James until he married at age 20. A family tree of the Henderson branch appears below to make the relationships of the Hendersons, the Ruggles, and the Reeds more clear.

Proof of Relationship

Proof of relationship of the children to their parents starts with family history and is affirmed by the Orphan's Court records. Catharine McDonald was recorded on the 1850 census form along with her siblings in her father's household before her marriage. Her brother, Hamilton, appeared on that census and again in the petition for guardianship of her surviving children. Burial records, death certificates, and cemetery records offer further proof of relationship.

About the Children

  • Joseph Wright Henderson married a woman named Elizabeth Jones, who had been born in the Barbados, West Indies. Joseph applied for a passport in 1884. Their son Joseph W. Henderson, Jr., according to the 1900 census, was born in Jun 1885 in Pennsylvania, and their daughter Elizabeth was born about Sep 1889 in Pennsylvania. The 1900 census shows Joseph, Sr. as married, but living by himself in Philadelphia, and his wife Elizabeth (Bessie) and her two children living with her brother, Humphrey Jones, in Philadelphia. The 1930 census shows the same. At this point, neither of the children were married, and a descendant of Joseph Henderson reports from information she has from her family that neither of them ever did. Joseph Sr. died in Abington, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania 11 Jan 1926.

  • James Hill Henderson married Ettie Thomas on 16 Aug 1882, and they had four children: William Scott Thomas, James Hill, Jr. who died not long after he was born; Marie Catherine; and Samuel Ruggles Henderson. James died in Ocean City, Cape May, New Jersey on 9 Jan 1948, and his widow died not long after on 23 Mar 1948 in North Hills, Montgomery, Pennsylvania.

  • Samuel Ruggles Henderson married Martha Harris on 4 Feb 1885. They had four children: Samuel Ruggles, Jr.; Harris, who died at age 10 months, Joseph Harris, and Martha "Marto" Catherine Henderson. He worked with his father-in-law Thomas Harris, first manufacturing shoes, then manufacturing cut glass, Martha died in 1899. Samuel continued his partnership in cut glass with Thomas Harris until Thomas retired about 1903. Samuel married his second wife Anna Porter in 1910. He had continued with the cut glass on his own after Thomas retired, and by 1911 or so, he was the local agent for Liberty Cut Glass Works out of Egg Harbor City, New Jersey. He died in Philadelphia in 1927.

What Else We Need to Learn

The goal of this project is to trace every line of ancestry to the arrival of its first immigrant to America. The basic information of each couple is considered complete when we know the dates of birth, marriage, and death for both spouses. their parents' names (or whether they were the immigrant ancestors), and the child or children in our ancestry line.

The research on this family is basically complete. Although not necessary for the sake of documenting direct ancestry, the mystery of whether Joseph and his first wife had children would complete his basic history.


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