Jefferson Alexis Hendley (1854-1947)

J. A. Hendley was a member of the Florida Constitutional Convention of 1885. He was born in Farmington, Kentucky, and graduated from Neophogen College and Washington and Lee University. He wrote that he began practicing law at age 14 and that in 1879 he moved to Texas, where he organized Mitchell county and was elected its first prosecuting attorney. He later moved to Florida, settling north of Blanton. In 1883 he was elected county surveyor of Hernando County. In 1886 he married Dolly Maynard of Perryville, Indiana. He was one of the organizers of the Bank of Pasco County. He was elected to the state senate in 1896. In the 1930s he wrote a series of newspaper articles on the history of Pasco County which were published in book form about 1943, when he was living in Dade City.

Pasco Elects Pioneer Florida Legislator, 86

This article appeared in the Tampa Sunday Tribune on May 7, 1944. Courtesy of the Pioneer Florida Museum, transcription by Jeff Cannon.

Jefferson Alexis Hendley DADE CITY, May 6 - (Special) — Jefferson Alexander Hendley, the only surviving signer of the Florida constitution which in 1885 wrested the state from the carpetbaggers, will be back in the state legislative halls next year, God willing, from Pasco County.

Hendley was elected to the legislature Tuesday over James A. Henderson, a much younger man, by a vote of 1705 to 1628.

Now 86 years old, and mellowed with the years, Representative-elect Hendley will carry with him to Tallahassee such a wealth of Florida history and Florida tradition as may be found in the mind and heart of but one other man.

He Knew Whitfield

That one other man, James B. Whitfield, retired justice of the state supreme court, Hendley will find waiting on a doorstep where he lives across the way from the state capitol.

They will walk, perhaps, arm in arm to a bench under the tree to talk of the day when Jeff Hendley fought to keep the new state from ever burdening its people with debt and Jim Whitfield covered the deliberations as a newspaper reporter.

Born in Farmington, Ky., the son of a surgeon in the Confederate army, Hendley had to earn his own way because money was scarce in the impoverished land.

Had Horror of Debt

He had a horror of debt and was largely responsible for the provision in the Florida constitution which prohibits the state from issuing bonds.

The years before the convention Hendley was elected surveyor of Hernando County, before it was cut into three pieces, and he was one of the men sent to Tallahassee later to the county divided by an act of the legislature. One of the sections was named Pasco and Dade City was made the county seat.

Tells What He Did

"I surveyed Dade City and I gave one church a lot on which to build a parsonage," he said, reviewing the years. The Negroes had nothing, and I gave them a lot and helped them to build their first church in Dade City.

"I helped get the right-of-way for the two railroads, and I gave away several lots to help a hotel in Dade City. Later I helped to get the Seaboard railroad to donate land for high school.

"I advocated the building of two hard surface roads running east and west and north and south through the county and proposed a levy of 40 mills to build 20 miles of road a year until they were completed.

"It would then be an easy matter to build laterals into each neighborhood so all could enjoy the benefits of good roads, but the people said 'No,' they could not stand 40 mills, but they would sell bonds and build the roads and be done with it.

"My last words at the meeting were, 'When you sell bonds to build roads you will double the cost and put a lien on you homes, and your grandchildren will come and go before these bonds are paid' which is so."

Works Way Through School

After working his way through several schools, Hendley was graduated with the class of 1878 of Washington and Lee University, where he received a diamond pin for oratory, and two years later went to Texas, where he lived in a dugout and commenced the practice of law.

He made a name there, helped to found a city or two in that frontier land and was the first prosecuting attorney of Mitchell County.

But he went after a few years there to see his parents, who were growing old, and he found that some of the neighboring boys were preparing to drive through to Florida.

He Had Pioneer Fever

Florida was another frontier, and young Jeff Hendley had the pioneer fever in his bones. He had a brother hastily harnessed up a team and joined the party.

"I have seen Florida prosper, and I have seen it in adversity," he said. "I have seen land dark as a funeral pall as frost swept over it and every fruit tree was killed.

"I stood on the bank of a lake and watched the wagons departing, filled with broken and disconsolate men and women and children who and lost everything, and they were on their way north.

"They had built their houses and planted their groves, and they saw them all swept away in a night. Those were dark days."

But Some Remained

But some remained, and Jeff Hendley remained with them. They said they could grow corn and cotton if they had a grist mill and a gin and he got up the meeting and told them to go home and get to work, because he would build the mill and the gin, and he did.

Hendley married Miss Dolly Maynard, of Perryville, Ind. in 1886. She became one of the leading women of Florida in club activities, and because of her Red Cross work during the first World War was listed in London’s Who' Who among famous women of America. She died in 1935.

Hendley practiced law for 40 years until his retirement. He was one of the organizers of the Bank of Pasco County, second oldest state bank and has long been active in Democratic and church affairs.

"When I look around and see my fellow citizens happy and growing prosperous," he said, "I feel that perhaps I have contributed a little toward their contentment and their wealth. If I have done that then I shall be content."

front page