Civil War Column Brought Surprises
Anna Minerva Henderson and her Parents
By Ruby M. Cusack
Aunt Sadie had been to town so Cliff and I knew that could mean a treat might be waiting for us when we got home from school. We were not disappointed. On the kitchen table were two small brown paper bags tied with ribbons. Surprise bags were wonderful as we never knew whether we would find a little toy or some candy.
Last week’s column on the Civil War Veterans brought its share of surprises to me.
Dan Johnson sent me a message concerning William R Henderson, a black man who was a native of the United States and was reported to have served in the American Navy during the Civil War. A grave marker at Fernhill Cemetery, however, states that he belonged to Maine 31st Infantry. He received a pension for his service. He was a barber by trade and familiarly known as `Professor'. The local newspapers referred to his occupation as tonsorial artist.
In January of 1893, while attempting to board the front platform
of a horse car which was
moving at a rapid pace, he slipped and the wheels passed over one of his legs. Amputation of the injured limb was deemed necessary, but already in a weak condition, Mr. Henderson was
unable to withstand the shock. He expired on January 19th, 1893 at age 48, leaving a wife and three daughters.
A visit to the office of Fernhill Cemetery held another surprise for me. Attached to the Henderson Lot Card was a documented account that had been researched by Vivian Wright and Joan Pearce concerning three members of the family buried here. The widow of William R. Henderson was the former Henrietta Leake, born in Kingsclear, York County, the daughter of William and Frances Leake. She was a graduate of the Provincial Normal School and had taught in Nova Scotia. After her husband’s death she taught school for a number of years in Saint John’s North End. This lady was particularly well known for her beautiful lace and needlework which won many prizes at exhibitions.
Their daughter, Anna Minerva Henderson, born in 1887, received her schooling in Saint John, getting her teacher’s certificate in Halifax but due to being black, she was not able to teach in New Brunswick or Halifax, thus she taught for two years in the black comunities of Nova Scotia.
Next she took a business course and wrote the Civil Service examination, obtaining the third highest results in Canada. She was hired in 1912 and became the first black to be permanently employed in the Federal Civil Service. She held the position for 33 years until retirement in 1945 when she returned to Saint John to work as a stenographer for the law firm of Fairweather & Stevenson. Then she went on to Washington, D.C. and for several years was a secretary at the American University.
While living in Ottawa, she wrote a column for the Ottawa Citizen. In 1967 she published “Citadel” a small volume of verse.
I was pleasantly surprised to find her picture in the July 22, 1974 issue of the Telegraph-Journal. The article titled, “Anna Henderson, Student - 86 And Still Looking Ahead” tells of this remarkable lady who seemed to defy Father Time by remaining active at an age when most mortals are content to live on memories, rather than create new ones.
On July 21, 1987 at the age of 99 years and 11 months, Anna Minerva
Henderson was laid to rest in the plot at Fernhill Cemetery with her parents
and sister Mabel.
Ruby M. Cusack is a genealogy buff living
in Saint John. Send your queries to her at: 47 Jean St., Saint John, N.B.,
Canada, E2J 1J8. Or E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Include your name and mailing address for the benefit of those who do not
have access to E-mail. Please put Family Surname followed by the
word 'Query' in the subject line.
Published in the
Saint John Telegraph-Journal on Tuesdays