James Wilson Henderson, governor, was born in Sumner County, Tennessee, on August 15, 1817. At the age of nineteen he left college near Georgetown, Kentucky, to travel to Texas, expecting to participate in the struggle for independence. He arrived in Texas shortly after the battle of San Jacinto and was sent back to the United States on recruiting service. When he returned to Texas, Sam Houston offered him a commission in the ranger service, but he declined, having decided to settle in Harris County and become a surveyor. While he was county surveyor of Harris County, Henderson began reading law in his spare time and was admitted to the bar. In 1842 he interrupted his practice to enlist as Orderly Sargeant to Capt. Jack Hays from September 1842 to January 7, 1843, on the Somervell expedition. On September 4, 1843, he defeated Col. James Morgan for a seat in the House of Representatives, to which he was reelected in 1844. After annexation Henderson was elected to the House of the First Texas Legislature. In 1847 he was reelected and chosen speaker, defeating former president Mirabeau B. Lamar.
On June 6, 1848, Henderson was married to Laura A. Hooker. He was defeated for lieutenant governor in 1849 but elected to the position on August 4, 1851. Governor Peter H. Bell resigned his office, effective November 23, 1853, and on that day Henderson was inaugurated governor of Texas; he served until December 21. He was reelected to the legislature in 1857. His wife died on July 21, 1856, leaving him with two sons. Later he was married to Saphira Elizabeth Price; they had three children.
When the Civil War broke out Henderson joined the Confederate Army and was made a captain under Gen. John B. Magruder. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1866, a member of the executive committee at the Democratic state convention in 1868, and vice president of the state Democratic convention in 1871. He was afflicted with paralysis in 1877 and died at the home of his sister in Houston on August 30, 1880.