Eleanor Le Monnier Henderson, 1811-1880

Eleanor Le Monnier Henderson, called Ellen, was JLN’s older sister, and the middle child of Mary Sophia Waters Le Monnier and Alexander Le Monnier. In 1836, Ellen married William Henderson, a crockery merchant in New Orleans. She came to live in New Orleans, and then Jo (JLN) came to live with the couple. JLN would be a resident then in New Orleans until her own marriage in 1845.

What did the sisters share besides their early history together? They shared a love of their mother. Both Eleanor and Josephine named their daughters in part for their mother. Eleanor named her daughter Victorine Sophia and Josephine named her daughter Harriott Sophie.

They also shared one another’s cares and worries in letters. In the court case, the letters of Jo to her sister and brother-in-law are the longest ones among the some 350. Both sisters put a great amount of trust and love in William Henderson. Jo called him Brother (or Bror, as an abbreviation in the letters) and relied on him to help with her money after the death of her husband in 1866. Ellen and William also named their second son after Jo’s husband Warren. Ellen, in turn, was godmother to Sophie.

What was Ellen like? One of the letters mentions her being “so lively and gay” and her similarity to French ladies. Both sisters remained close to their French cousins and were probably bilingual. The sisters discussed clothes worn by others, and cloth such as poplin and satin with which to make new gowns for themselves. Jo seeks out curtain material for Ellen. On a visit to Baltimore, with Sophie in 1867, Jo tells Ellen of visiting the houses where the family lived at different times, including the house where Ellen gave birth to her two first children. Ellen, on the other hand, had noted that she does not go back to Baltimore because it made her too sad though no particular reason is given.

The sisters were very close to one another; the letters from the printed court case attest to this shared affection. On the other hand, the letters also show something of the argument they had beginning in 1871. Shortly after Sophie’s death, in January 1871, the sisters traveled from New York to New Orleans together. Since Ellen’s husband had died in Mary of 1870, and since she then found herself in some financial hardship, Jo arranged for $50,000 to be given to her and $25,000 each to Ellen’s four children. However, before the checks arrived, Jo became convinced that they considered her mentally ill, and that they were gathering information on having her hospitalized. She departed quickly and asked her sister not to open the checks. Her sister chose otherwise and she and her children cashed them, as well. For some months, the sisters remained cordial to one another but ceased corresponding in the summer of 1871. The sisters never spoke to one another again, and JLN remain convinced that her nephews and her sister were a threat to her.