Home sweet home

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 2, 2010

Selah Henderson came home 172 years after her death.

Henderson, with her husband John Henderson, was the original owner of Pleasant Hill in Natchez, and now her face once again fills the halls. Her portrait was recently loaned to current Pleasant Hill owners John and Valerie Bergeron to be displayed in the house.

The portrait, painted on wood around 1825 by Kentucky artist Joseph Henry Bush, was loaned to the Bergeron’s by Selah Henderson’s great-great-great-great granddaughter Selah Henderson Lambdin Willard.

Willard said it is more than appropriate for the portrait to be displayed in the family home.

“She was part of a very important family in Natchez,” Willard said. “They were very instrumental in the early history of Natchez. A lot of the family history is from Pleasant Hill and it is nice that she is home again.”

Pleasant Hill was built between 1803 and 1835 by John Henderson. The house was the original meeting place for the current First Presbyterian Church, Willard said.

She said Selah Henderson was a strict Presbyterian and dedicated to mothering her 13 children.

“Every generation there has been a Selah Henderson,” she said. “The name feel on me, and I think I fell a great connection to my family’s history because I’m carrying on the legacy of Selah Henderson.”

Willard grew up in historic Mistletoe where the portrait of Selah Henderson was displayed until the family sold the house.

“When I was growing up she was always hanging in my bedroom,” Willard said. “When we were on tour, I’d do the narrative for my bedroom and I’d always say ‘This is Selah, and I am Selah.’”

When Mistletoe was sold, the portrait of Selah Henderson was given to Willard to display in her family’s house.

“We always knew that Selah would come with me,” she said.

The portrait remained in Willard’s house until a bathroom leak made a large-scale renovation necessary.

“I have several old family portraits and knew they could not stay in the house during the repair so I brought them to display (at Natchez Coffee Company),” said Willard, a co-owner of the restaurant. “I knew here they would be protected and viewed by people who were interested in the history of Natchez.”

And while the portrait was being displayed at Natchez Coffee Company, John Bergeron, a regular customer, asked Willard about the portrait.

“He said ‘Where is the portrait of John’s Selah?’” Willard said. “I told him ‘It’s right over there’

“She was just in the right place at the right time.”

Bergeron said after seeing the portrait hanging on the restaurant’s wall, he was immediately interested in “bringing Selah home.”

“I just thought, if there was any way possible, she should be displayed at Pleasant Hill,” he said.

Now the painting hangs in the entrance hall at Pleasant Hill where it will remain for an undetermined time.

Bergeron said there was a good bit of thought put into where the painting should be displayed, but ultimately the entrance hall was deemed the most suitable location.

“There was some discussion about hanging it in (Selah’s) bedroom, but portraits were never put in bedrooms and they were never put in dining rooms,” Bergeron said. “She is where she would have been when the Hendersons were living in the house.”

Willard said she was amenable to the idea of loaning the portrait to Pleasant Hill because having the portrait at the house gives tourists a sense of the family that originally lived in the home.

“People who come to Natchez to learn about our history are interested in hearing the stories of the people who made our town great, but when they can see the faces of those people, the experience is even more personal for them,” she said. “Now when people hear the history of Pleasant Hill and the Henderson family, they can look and see who Selah Henderson was.”