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Joseph Henderson (pilot)

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Joseph Henderson
Joseph Henderson.jpg Joseph Henderson.jpg
Captain Joseph Henderson ca. 1880
Born(1826-09-09)September 9, 1826
Charleston, South Carolina, US
💀DiedOctober 7, 1890(1890-10-07) (aged 64)
Brooklyn, New York, USOctober 7, 1890(1890-10-07) (aged 64)
🏳️ NationalityAmerican
Other names
💼 Occupation
harbor pilot
💵 Salary :
🤑 Net worthUS$100,000 (October 1890)
👩 Spouse(s)Angelina Annetta Weaver
👶 Children6, including Alexander D. Henderson
Joseph henderson sr sig.jpg

Captain Joseph Henderson (September 9, 1826 – October 7, 1890) was a 19th century American harbor pilot who guided large vessels into and out of New York Harbor as a Sandy Hook pilot.[1]

Early life[edit]

Henderson was born in Charleston, South Carolina.[2][3] According to the 1880 Federal Census, Henderson's father and mother were born in South Carolina. At sixteen years of age (in 1842), Henderson left Charleston to find passage to New York as a cabin boy on a ship traveling there. By 1845, he must have been well established as a New York pilot. The New York Herald notes: "Some men on South street remember him in 1845 as a pilot of some standing even then."[4]

Henderson married Angelina Annetta Weaver on February 11, 1849, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church, near Chatham Square, in New York City. The marriage announcement appeared in The New York Herald newspaper.[5]

Sandy Hook pilot[edit]

Henderson was a Sandy Hook pilot in New York Harbor and along the Atlantic Coast during the American Civil War. In 1846, when Henderson was twenty years old, he took out his first pilot papers with the Board of Commissioners of Pilots of the state of New York. He became adept in all branches of piloting.[6]

Henderson was listed in the 1848 Doggett's New York City directory as a seaman at 325 Front Street, New York City. He owned several pilot ships in the Sandy Hook service.[7] By the age of twenty-one, he was captain of his own schooner, self-educated in seamanship, and a New York Sandy Hook pilot. He spent over 45 years as a New York pilot and was in more boat accidents than any other pilots.[8]

On September 13, 1853, Henderson became a Branch Pilot on the pilot boat Ellwood Walter, No. 7, belonging to the Merchant Pilot Association.[9] The pilot boat was named after Ellwood Walter, the president of the Mercantile Insurance Company, and was built by Edward T. Williams, of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.[10]

On December 17, 1856, Henderson was listed as being one of the captains for the pilot boat George W. Blunt, No. 11.[6] On January 21, 1857, Henderson was listed as being on the Blunt, anchored at Coney Island, but hemmed in by the ice.[11]

Civil War[edit]

Arago (1855)

During the Civil War, Henderson was a pilot on the transports Arago and Fulton, running from Newport News, Virginia to Port Royal, South Carolina.[12] The author Charles Edward Russell wrote about Henderson and the Sandy Hook men during the Civil War.

Russell said: "In 1862 he [Joseph Henderson] was snapped up by the Federal Government to do pilot work on the southern sounds, with which, it is said, he had some youthful acquaintance. His work for the Government was so valuable, ingenious, and efficient that he received not only thanks but unusual reward in bankable funds." Among the valuable services performed by the Sandy Hook men in that contest was the guiding of naval vessels through the intricate channels of southern waters, conspicuously Albemarle, North Carolina and Pamlico Sound.[6]

William Bell[edit]

The pilot-boat William Bell was built in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York, in 1863-64 by Edward F. Williams for Joseph Henderson, William Anderson, John Van Dusen, and James Callahan, all Sandy Hook pilots.[13] On August 11, 1864, the William Bell ventured too far out to sea and was captured and burned by the Confederate raiding steamer the CSS Tallahassee. Henderson was at sea at the time of the capture, acting as pilot for the Government on another vessel.[14]

On February 17, 1883, Henderson, John Van Deusen, William Anderson, and James Callahan petitioned the United States, via the Alabama Claims award, for compensation of their loss of the pilot boat William Bell during the Civil War. Henderson and Callahan had to testify to their ownership and status as Sandy Hook pilots during the Court of Commissioners of Alabama Claims. On June 5, 1883, they were compensated for their loss in the William Bell (Henderson was compensated with $6,170.31, since he owned 5/16 shares).[7]

Post-Civil War[edit]

Steamship Tybee[edit]

In December 1869, Henderson offered his services to pilot the steam vessel Tybee out of the port of New York, leaving for San Domingo, Dominican Republic; but the shipmaster refused to employ him. The Tybee proceeded to sea without having any pilot of the port on board. In the trial, "Henderson v. Spofford," a judgment was made in the district court of New York City in favor of Joseph Henderson (plaintiff) for thirty-eight dollars and eighteen cents plus the costs for pilotage fees out of the Port of New York.[15]

Brooklyn Bridge[edit]

Brooklyn Bridge

In 1879, during the construction of the east river bridge, Captain Henderson was called upon as an expert seaman to determine the height of the water span of the Brooklyn Bridge, a new bridge from Brooklyn to New York City.[16] He testified to the Assembly Sub-Committee on Commerce and Navigation, as to the difficulties masters of ships would experience in bringing their ships under the bridge when completed.

Another witness, Edward W. Serrell, who was a civil engineer, said that he had examined the plan and sections of the bridge and that the calculations of the assumed strength of the bridge were not accurate; and the effect of gales or wind would have upon the structure and upon foot passengers. There was a fear of cars being overthrown and woman being raised by the wind and cast over the railing.[17][18]

Statue of Liberty[edit]

Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World), 1886, New York City

Hendersons appearance with the Isère was reported in several New York newspapers. On June 16, 1885, at ten o'clock Tuesday night, the Pilot Boat Pet, No. 9 was sighted by the French steamer Isère, laden with the Statue of Liberty. She was about ten miles outside the Sandy Hook lightship. Captain Joseph Henderson set sail to her and when near enough launched a dingy and pulled alongside the Isère. He was taken on board and they then headed for the Sandy Hook Lightship. Henderson judged that the night was too dark with rain falling for safe crossing of the bar. He took charge of the ship, brought the ship to an anchor, and stood offshore waiting for daylight. Henderson was expressly selected to escort the French steamer Isère into the New York Harbor.[19][20]

The New York Tribune reported that on Wednesday, June 17, 1885, a rainy and foggy morning, the Isère was able to cross the bar and anchor on the Horseshoe of Sandy Hook. At 5 o'clock, the Isère moved to Gravesend Bay.[21] Thursday's New York Herald reported on the arrival of the Isère at Gravesend alongside the man-of-war USS Omaha.[22]

On Friday, at 1 o'clock, the Isère reached Bedloe's Island. The ferryboat Atlantic left the ferry house at the foot of Wall Street and then passed Governors Island. Then the Atlantic came next to the Isère. The first man from the Atlantic was Pilot Henderson, "who jumped from the skylight down on to the quarter deck, between Admiral Lacombe, Captain De Saune, commander of the Isere, and Lieut. Amet. Pilot Henderson, not speaking French, was somewhat embarrassed when the officers, who did not speak English, took off their caps to him, and he looked wistfully back to the Atlantic, but Capt. De Saune slapped him on the back, and then the old pilot went aft to find a sailor who could speak French."[23]

Steamship Martello[edit]

On May 8, 1887, Henderson was mentioned as a pilot on the steamship Martello in the United States Supreme Court case regarding a collision between the American barkentine Freda A. Willey and the British steamship Martello near the Sandy Hook Lighthouse. The suit said "The Martello was at fault for proceeding at an excessive rate of speed in fog and was responsible for the collision and should pay $23,943.43." The suit said "Pilot Henderson has been a New York and Sandy Hook pilot for nearly forty-two years." [24]

Blizzard of 1888[edit]

In 1888, Henderson was on board the pilot boat America, No. 21 during the Great Blizzard of 1888, when the vessel rode out the storm off the Shinnecock Light.[25] On November 9, 1888, a newspaper account titled: "Overdue Vessels Come In. Rough Weather Reported by all. Few, Of Them Seriously Damaged", which talks about not hearing from the pilot-boat Pet. no. 9. She had left port twelve days ago, and when last heard from was 300 miles east of Sandy Hook. She had a crew of six men and Joseph Henderson was in charge.[26]

Pilot Boat Pet[edit]

New York Sandy Hook Pilot Boat "Pet, No. 9"

On October 28, 1872, Henderson, Captain of the New York pilot boat "Pet, No. 9", sighted the brig Emily during a heavy gale. The crew of the Emily came on board the pilot boat Pet, which lay by the brig until 7 p.m., at witch time the Emily capsized. It was not until the next day that the crew members were transferred from the Pet to the steamship Italy, from Liverpool, and brought to the New York port.

On November 5, 1872, Henderson spoke at a meeting of the Board of Commissioners of Pilots in their office, No. 75 South Street, in the City of New York, about how he and his pilot boat Pet, No. 9, rescued the crew of the brig Emily.[27] The Board of Pilot Commissioners acknowledged Henderson's effort with a resolution, which granted that a reward for such acts of personal risk be paid to the pilots for a sum of $250.

On February 3, 1877, an article from the Spirit of the Times newspaper wrote about Henderson and the pilot-boat Pet. "This week, in connection with a picture of the pilot-boat Pet, Captain Joseph Henderson, we give a brief sketch, the object of which is to explain how the business of these craft is conducted in the port of New York."[28]

On September 22, 1880, the pilot boat Pet, No. 9, ran across the schooner Gladiator, which sailed from Barbados for Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, that was overturned bottom up. The crew lowered a boat, which went alongside the vessel. They cut a hole in her side to sink her but discovered a terrible stench that was coming from below. A man was discovered with a rope around his neck hanging from the bowsprit. The crew of the vessel were laying dead in her cabin.[29]

On November 20, 1889, Henderson was commander of the pilot boat Pet, No. 9, which was lost in the Newport, Rhode Island harbor. Pilot boat Pet, No. 9, of New York went ashore this morning on the east side of Conanicut Island, halfway between Beaver Tail and Mackerel Cove, Rhode Island. The wind died out and they let go her anchor, but it would not hold, and the heavy sea drove the boat on the rocks. The seas broke over her and she filled and sank. The agile Henderson and other pilots escaped with their lives. She was later reported as having gone to pieces and left abandoned; she was partly insured.[30][31]

Teutonic and City of New York[edit]

Photo of the Teutonic
RMS Teutonic
Photo of the City of New York
SS City of New York

On August 13, 1890, Henderson took the White Star Line passenger steamer RMS Teutonic to sea on her first westward race across the Atlantic with the steamship SS City of New York. The race ended in victory for the Teutonic. The race from Queenstown harbor, Ireland to Sandy Hook, took five days and nineteen hours.[32]

On August 21, 1890, the big steamship liner Teutonic and liner City of New York raced from the New York pier to the Sandy Hook bar out to the bay. Hundreds of people were present to observe the famous liners as they departed. The pilot on the Teutonic was Captain Joseph Henderson, the pilot on the City of New York was Peter McEnneny. After seeing the vessels safely outside the bay, the pilots were taken off by Pilot boat Lillie, No. 8. Pilot Henderson said the Teutonic crossed the bar at 9:42 AM. Pilot Peter McEnenerny said the City of New York crossed at 10:20 AM. The Teutonic went at the rate of 17 knots an hour. It was expected that the vessels would be in sight of each other for 2–3 days. The best eastern record was held by the New York's twin sister, the City of Paris, which made the passage in 1889 in less than 6 days. [33]

USS Baltimore[edit]

On August 23, 1890, Henderson was allotted the task, an honor he was proud of, to take the cruiser USS Baltimore safely out to sea when she carried inventor Captain John Ericsson remains to their final resting place in Stockholm, Sweden. Ericsson was regarded as one of the most influential mechanical engineers and inventors of his time.[8][34]


Joseph Henderson (1826-1890) obituary in The Evening World of New York on October 8, 1890
Joseph Henderson tombstone at Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Lot #13244 and Section #88

In what would become Joseph's last outing, on October 4, 1890, Henderson left home in good health and sailed to Sandy Hook on board his pilot boat America, No. 21. During this trip, he became ill and was brought home to New York. Peritonitis set in. On October 7, at age sixty-four, Joseph Henderson died at his family home at 633 Willoughby Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper carried a front-page article titled: "Captain Joseph Henderson Dead – An Old Pilot and a Long Resident of Brooklyn Passes Away".[8]

Henderson was buried in the historic Green-Wood Cemetery. The Evening World newspaper said, "He was one of the oldest and best known of the Sandy Hook crew. The flag on the New York Sandy Hook pilots’ building, at 20 State Street, hung at half-mast this morning in respect to the memory of Capt. Joseph Henderson, one of the oldest pilots in the service, who died at his home, 633 Willoughby avenue, Brooklyn, yesterday of peritonitis."[12]


In 1912, The Lookout published by the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York at One State Street, offered memorial bedrooms at $100.00. Joseph's son, Alexander D. Henderson, contriubted to a memorial "In memory of Capt. Jos. Henderson."[35]

In 1929, Charles Edward Russell published the book, "From Sandy Hook to 62°", which is about the Sandy Hook Pilots including references to Joseph Henderson.[6]


  1. "Death of an Old Pilot" (PDF). The Evening Post. New York. October 8, 1890. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 24, 2015. Retrieved January 22, 2020 – via fultonhistory.com. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  2. "New York State Census, Brooklyn Ward 9". FamilySearch.org. 1865. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  3. "U.S. Passport Application". www.familysearch.org. U.S. Government. 1878. Retrieved January 28, 2020. Login required through familysearch.org open access.
  4. "Half a Century of Piloting" (PDF). New York Herald. October 12, 1890. Retrieved January 22, 2020 – via Fultonhistory.com. The late Joseph Henderson's extraordinary record of distress, accidents and lucky escapes.
  5. "Married". The New York Herald. New York. 1848-02-13. p. 4 – via ProQuest. On Sunday evening, the 11th, by the Rev. Mr. Lathrop, at the Baptist Tabernacle, in Mulberry street, Mr. Joseph Henderson, of Charleston, S. C., to Miss Angelina A. Weaver, of New York.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Russell, Charles Edward (1929). From Sandy Hook to 62°. New York: The Century Co. pp. 148–153. OCLC 3804485. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Joseph Henderson vs. The United States". babel.hathitrust.org. United States. Court of Commissioners of Alabama Claims. January 22, 1883. pp. 3, 13. Retrieved January 30, 2020. I reside in Brooklyn, N. Y.; I am a Sandy Hook pilot, born at Charleston, South Carolina, Sept. 9th, 1826
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "Captain Joseph Henderson Dead". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York. 1890-10-09. Archived from the original on 2019-06-01. Retrieved 2019-06-01 – via bklyn.newspapers.com. An old pilot and a long resident of Brooklyn passes away. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  9. Document provided by the Board of Commissioners of Pilots of the State of New York, September 13, 1853.
  10. "The Pilot-Boat Elwood Walter, No. 7". New York Courier and Enquirer. 1853. Retrieved January 21, 2020. This magnificent vessel, belonging to the Merchant Pilot Association, went down the bay on Friday afternoon, with a large party of guests on board.
  11. "The Day After The Storm, Terrible Shipwrecks on the Coast and Looss of Life". The New York Herald. January 21, 1857. p. 1. Retrieved 2020-01-30. George W. Blunt, No. 11 (list of pilots including Joseph Henderson). She is now at anchor at Coney Island, hemmed in by the ice.
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Pilot Henderson Dead". The Evening World. Oct 8, 1890. Archived from the original on January 8, 2014. Retrieved January 22, 2020. He was one of the oldest and best known of the Sandy Hook crew. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help) }}
  13. "The Tallahassee, Complete Rebel History of Her Depredations". New York Times. 1864-09-29. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2020-01-28. Retrieved 2020-01-28 – via Richmond Dispatch. This was pilot-boat "No. 24," or, the William Bell, one of the finest vessels I have ever seen. We hastily gathered a few things from her, nautical instruments, telescopes, charts, clocks, medicine chest, etc. And then, pouring turpentine ever the cabin floor, this fine boat was fired. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  14. "The William Bell, A New York Pilot Boat". Issue of The Log of Mystic Seaport. 1969. p. 17. Retrieved 2020-01-28. One of the pilot boats of the 1860s, the William Bell, ventured too far out one day in 1864 and was captured and burned by the Confederate raiding steamer Tallahassee.
  15. Henderson v. Spofford. Abbott's Practice Cases - Volume 10 - Page 141. 1871. Retrieved February 1, 2014. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  16. Green, S. W. (Samuel W.), compiler. (1973). A complete history of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge from its conception in 1866 to its completion in 1883. Research Publications. OCLC 669900311.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  17. "The Obstacles to the Bridge, Views Of New Yorkers—Its Supposed Shakiness". The New York Times. 1879-03-21. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-01-24. There were glances of admiration bestowed by the inland members of the committee upon Capt. Joe Henderson, one of the oldest pilots around New-York, when that mariner reeled off a lot of nautical terms in his testimony.
  18. "The East River Bridge; Doubts Expressed of its Asserted Strength" (PDF). The Evening Post. March 21, 1879. Retrieved January 23, 2020 – via fultonhistory.com. Captain Joseph Henderson, a Sandy Hook pilot, was the next witness called.
  19. "The Isère, Bartholdi's Gift Reaches the Horseshoe Safely" (PDF). The Evening Telegram. New York. 1885-06-17. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-03-12. Retrieved 2020-01-24. It was learned that pilot boat No. 9 had spoken the Isère at ten o'clock last night. Pilot Henderson was taken aboard, but judged that the night was too dark for safe crossing of the bar. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  20. "A Sentinel". The World[disambiguation needed]. New York. 1885-06-18. Retrieved 2020-02-13. Capt. Joseph Henderson, of pilot-boat Pet No. 9, brought the Isère over the bar. I was cruising around outside Sandy Hook looking out for some deep-draught ship, and about sundown of Tuesday night sited a craft that looked as though she might be either a man-of-war or a transport steamship of some kind. External link in |newspaper= (help)[dead link]
  21. "Arrival of the Big Statue". New York Tribune. New York. 1885-06-18. Retrieved 2020-01-24. On Tuesday Pilot Boat No. 9 was sighted and Pilot Joseph Henderson was taken on board.
  22. "The Isère Arrives". New York Herald. 1885-06-18. Retrieved 2020-01-24. The French transport vessel Isère, with the Bartholdi statue on board, arrived in this port yesterday. Pilot Joseph Henderson, of the pilot boat Pet, No. 9, ran across her about ten o’clock on Tuesday night, about ten miles outside the lightship.
  23. "Welcoming The Statue, A Brilliant Scene on the Waters of the Harbor". New York Times. New York, New York. 1885-06-20. Archived from the original on 2020-06-25. Retrieved 2020-06-25. The first man from the Atlantic was Pilot Henderson, who jumped from the skylight down on to the quarter deck. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  24. Willey v. The Martello. The Federal Reporter. 39. July 31, 1889. Retrieved February 2, 2014. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  25. The New York Herald
  26. New York Herald-Tribune (New York, NY) Page 3.
  27. Nov 5, 1872; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times, pg. 2.
  28. "The Pilot Boat Pet - Number Nine of the New York Harbor Fleet" (PDF). Spirit Of The Times. February 3, 1877. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 24, 2015. Retrieved July 20, 2014 – via Fultonhistory.com. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  29. "New York, A Pilot's Ghastly Discovery". The Morning Journal-Courier. New Haven, Connecticut. 1880-09-23. Retrieved 2020-04-12.
  30. "A New York Pilot Boat Sunk". The Sun. November 20, 1889. Retrieved 2020-01-30. Pilot Boat Pet, No. 9, of New York went ashore this morning on the east side of Conanicut Island, half way between Beaver Tail and Mackerel Cove.
  31. "ASHORE NEAR NEWPORT". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. November 21, 1989. Retrieved December 26, 2019.
  32. The New York Evening Post
  33. "Neck and Neck On The Ocean" (PDF). The New York Herald. August 21, 1890. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 24, 2015. Retrieved 2013-09-25 – via Fultonhistory.com. The Teutonic and the City Of New York again racing. The pilot on the Teutonic was Joseph Henderson. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  34. "Homeward Borne Like A Viking. Captain John Ericsson's Body Begins Its Journey to the Land of His Birth". New York Herald. 1890-08-24. Retrieved 2020-01-26. Captain Joseph Henderson, one of the oldest pilots in the service, who piloted the Baltimore to sea this afternoon, states that she is the first government vessel in seven years to take a Sandy Hook pilot.
  35. "The Lookout, Memorial bedrooms at $100" (PDF). The Seamen's Church Institute of New York. III (2): 5. 1912. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-01-31. Retrieved 2020-01-31. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)

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