SKETCH OF DR. CHARLES K. HENDERSON
(As Read At His Funeral Service On Thursday, Jan. 21st)
This sketch appeared in the Cedartown Standard on Thursday, February 4, 1937.
By Wm. G. England
Charles Kennon Henderson, son of John Carter Henderson and Rhoda Elizabeth Kennon, was born on June 18, 1846. His mother died at his birth, and an aunt, Mrs. Eliza Read cared for him for six weeks at which time his grandmother, Elizabeth Hall Turner Kennon, came for him and carried him to her home at Waverly Hall, Harris County, Georgia, where he made his home until her death in April, l868, while he was a student at Mercer University.
At seven years of age he entered school at Mt. Vernon, about six miles west of Talbotton, Georgia his first head teacher being Appleton Williamson. He next attended school at Mt. Airy Academy, three miles south of Waverly Hall, Ga., where William Strickland and George M. Dews were his instructors. His next school was at Rutledge, where he was taught by John E. Fuller and Captain Neil. He continued in the common schools until he entered college in 1866. Early in January, 1866, he (in company with G.W. Epps, a Baptist minister from Virginia, and the second husband of Mr. Henderson’s maternal grandmother) left for Penfield, Green County, Georgia, where he entered Mercer University. While at Penfield he boarded in the home of his father’s niece, Matilda Cogburn, who married Augustus Sharpe.
In June 1868 Mr. Henderson graduated with an A.B. degree from Mercer and afterwards obtained his A.M. degree from that institution. He was the first graduating class after the war between the states and he is now the oldest living graduate of Mercer University. His education was further persued in Theological Seminaries.
Dr. Henderson is the most learned man the writer has ever known. I have heard him preach many able sermons; but two particularly stand out in my memory as gems of oratory and food for thought. Both were necessarily delivered without preparation. One was a commencement sermon at Cedartown. The congregation had assembled in the City Hall auditorium; the graduates were seated on the stage and the out of town preacher had failed to arrive. Professor Purks the Superintendent of Public Schools asked me to go get Mr. Henderson. When I explained the dilemma to Mr. Henderson he readily agreed to “help them out” and without a moment’s preparation, he walked to the City Hall, opened the Bible, selected a text, and preached a magnificent sermon.
The other occasion was when the Georgia Baptist Association met in Athens, Georgia, in 1902 or 1903. Dr. Henderson had been invited by Dr. Hopkins, pastor of the First Methodist church of Athens, to fill his pulpit on Sunday. Because of painful illness, Dr. Henderson was unable and made no effort to prepare a sermon; but he was unwilling to disappoint his host, and though sick, filled his appointment. The church was crowded to capacity and people were standing in the back. Inspired by the opportunity for service, Dr. Henderson preached a wonderful sermon and thrilled his audience; and this sermon was discussed by the people of Athens for months afterward. Only one with a great store of general knowledge from which to draw, could have preached such sermons as these without specific preparation.
Dr. Henderson can read and speak fluently Latin, Greek, Hebrew, German, French and Spanish. He is the author of “The Countryman,” Commentary on Romans,” and various articles on religious history. In his young manhood he taught school at Warrior Stand, Alabama, Aberfoil, Alabama, Farriorville, Alabama, and in the public schools at Cedartown, Georgia.
Mr. Henderson was a valiant soldier in the Confederate army. He modestly refrains from discussing the deeds which would reflect glory upon himself, and in his own language gives his military history as follows: “in my teens (sixteen to be exact) I volunteered for the war between the states, and enlisted in the army—3rd Georgia Regiment, Company F, Captain Cronwell and Colonel Moore. We were mustered in at Camp Oglethorpe, Macon, Georgia. For some months we helped to guard the Andersonville prison, near Americus, Georgia. Thence we were transferred to General Hardee’s Corps. This regiment was in seven engagements fighting Sherman. I do not claim all these battles. My regiment was sent into South Carolina, and in April 1865, the regiment was brought from South Carolina following Sherman to Columbus, Ga. There, on the Alabama side of the Chattahoochee river, we were in battle line all day Sunday, April 16, 1865, seven days after General Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. This in conjunction with one at Ft. Tyler, West Point, Georgia, was the last battle of the Civil War. I was captured by Federals after the battle and my gray mare, worth $600, was taken from me, and I was given a mule. Upon this mule I rode late at night through General Wilson’s army, encamped at Waverly Hall, Harris County, Georgia, and went to bed at Uncle John Kennon’s. I am now commanded of Camp 169 United Confederate Veterans of Fulton County.” Mr. Henderson relates the following interesting experience in connection with his military career: One night, when it was extremely dark, an officer appeared with orders to “fire to the right and left, and a General gave the command to “obey your orders, boys.” Mr. Henderson said he recognized the duty of a soldier to “obey orders,” but he also recognized the disastrousness of executing such an order and did not do so. It developed later that the orders were given by Federal officers, who could not be discerned in the darkness and that a Federal regiment was marching across not more than 15 or 20 feet in front of them.
The following article in reference to Mr. Henderson appears in the Magazine Section of the Atlanta Journal of January 17, 1937. “When the big battle painting in Grant Park was being made three dimensional, with plaster figures of soldiers, horses and wagons being added to the foreground of the painting, there was one Confederate veteran who simply haunted the place, watching every detail of the restoration with keen interest. He was a hale, erect old man, who had served throughout the conflict and who had later entered the ministry. He kept bemoaning the fact that while he had fought in most of the major battles of the war, he had not been present at the Battle of Atlanta. One day the sculptor, seeing the old veteran watching him eagerly, asked him to come over and pose. Today the old gentleman’s face, made more youthful but still recognizable as his, can be seen in several places in the Battle of Atlanta. The largest of his effigies stands, holding a long musket, just behind a barricade of cotton bales in front of the brick house painted on the great cancas. The face, while younger than that of the original, is still recognizable, strong, and clean shaven, with high cheek bones. The Confederate veteran still comes to the Cyclorama and delightfully shows his friends how he final got into the battle of Atlanta seventy two years after it was fought.” The Confederate veteran referred to is Reverend C.K. Henderson, the subject of this article, and his picture appeared in the magazine section of the Journal of the date above mentioned.
Of all things in the long career of Dr. Henderson, he is proudest of the fact that he is a minister of the gospel of Christ. He says: “I have had a blessed time in my ministry, and I thank and praise God for all His goodness to me.” Though he was christened at eight days of age by the Reverend Dave Perry, a Methodist minister of the Alabama conference, and in boyhood attended a Methodist church of which his grandmother was a member and his grandfather, Dr. John Kennon, was a member of the North Georgia conference, Dr. Henderson spent most of his life as a Baptist minister. It was thru the influence of his grandmother’s second husband, Reverend G.W. Epps, a Baptist minister, that Mr. Henderson was sent to Mercer University, and it was in the Chapel of Mercer that he joined the Baptist church and was baptized by the pastor, Reverend Dan A. Bell. He was ordained a Baptist minister at Goodhope church, located at Uchee, Alabama, in December 1871. Congressman Marshall Wellborn, Major Gordon, brother of General Gordon, and Dr. Brown comprised the presbytery. Immediately thereafter in December, 1871, he was called to the pastorate of four churches in Russell county, Alabama; Goodhope at Uchee, Friendship, near Hotchechobee, Providence at Ft. Mitchell and the First church at Hurtsboro, Alabama.
He served these churches (except Providence which was later dissolved) until 1875, when he accepted a call to Cedartown, Georgia, where he became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Cedartown, and also Friendship and Lake Creek churches of Polk county, and New Prospect church of Floyd county. He held these until October 11, 1879, when he left for Rochester, New York to attend the Colgate Rochester Divinity School from which he graduated in May 1882.
After graduation he preached in Royalton, New York, and Pike, New York until 1885 when he entered the Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisville, Ky., for a special course. When he completed his course at Louisville, he preached at Princeton, Kentucky, until he accepted a call to Gadsden, Alabama, where he remained until 1888.
In 1888 he was called to the First Baptist church at Cedartown where he preached until 1892, when he was called to the pastorate of the Woodlawn Baptist church at Birmingham, Alabama.
In 1896 he was called for the third time to the First Baptist church at Cedartown, and served the church until 1910, thus completing twenty-one years of faithful and highly efficient service for this church. Because he served them long and well, and because of his loving ministrations to them in times of sorrow and under all the circumstances attendant to human life, he is greatly beloved by the people of Cedartown whom he served and by their descendants.
After 1910 he preached at LaFayette, Rome, and other places unknown to the writer, and in 1918 he accepted the presidency of Bowden College which he held for two years, resigning the latter part of 1919 because of ill health, and moving to Atlanta where he now resides at 290 Ormond street, S.E.
Dr. Henderson speaks of many interesting experiences during early preaching career. He says that in those days the circuit rider received a salary and paid for his meals and lodging just as anyone else did; but that the salary was small and was supplemented by gifts, usually in the form of produce. One proud bride-groom gave him a hive of bees as a marriage fee.
On February 4, 1874, Dr. Henderson was married to Miss Gertha Long, of Hurtsboro, Alabama, who passed away in Cedartown April 28, 1889. Five children blessed this union, two of whom died in infancy. Charles, Gertha and Edgar lived to maturity. Charles passed away in February, 1931, and Edgar in November, 1935. The surviving child, Mrs. Gertha H. Hollis, is a resident of Richburg, South Carolina.
In December, 1891, Dr. Henderson was married to Miss Grace Letcher Pittman, of Polk county, whose loving companionship he now enjoys. To them was born one son who died in infancy.
As these lines are written Dr. Henderson, in his ninety-first year, peacefully and confidently awaits the summons. The end is not far—a few days, and possibly only a few hours. He has fought a good fight, and soon will receive the commendation from on high, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joys of thy Lord.” I shall not attempt to extol the many virtues of this good man. By his works he has erected a monument for himself that will stand through eternity. Thousands who have come within his beneficent influence will reflect his glory. The most expressive term that could be applied to him is that he is a “Christian Gentleman” with all that this broad term embodies.
He has served his fellow man and his God. “A fragrance in the path he trod.”
Thanks to Margaret for transcribing.