David Henshaw (American politician)

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David Henshaw
David Henshaw SecNavy.jpg
14th United States Secretary of the Navy
In office
July 24, 1843 – February 18, 1844
PresidentJohn Tyler
Preceded byAbel Upshur
Succeeded byThomas Gilmer
4th Collector of the Port of Boston
In office
Preceded byHenry Alexander Scammell Dearborn
Succeeded byGeorge Bancroft
Member of the Massachusetts Senate from Suffolk County
In office
May 31, 1826 – May 30, 1827
Personal details
Born(1791-04-02)April 2, 1791
Leicester, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedNovember 11, 1852(1852-11-11) (aged 61)
Leicester, Massachusetts, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic

David Henshaw (April 2, 1791 – November 11, 1852), son of Captain David Henshaw and Mary Sargent, was the 14th United States Secretary of the Navy.

Henshaw was born in Leicester, Massachusetts in 1791 and educated at Leicester Academy. Trained as a druggist, he achieved notable success in that field, then expanded his energies into banking, transportation and politics. Before he was 33 he had acquired means to become a banker and to establish an insurance company.  The panic of 1837 forced his "Commonwealth Bank' into bankruptcy. He was elected to the Massachusetts Senate in 1826 and served as Collector of the Port of Boston from the late 1820s until 1838. Though he suffered business reverses during the later 1830s, Henshaw regained his political position as a leader of the Massachusetts Democratic Party within a few years.

In July 1843, President John Tyler selected Henshaw as Secretary of the Navy to follow Abel P. Upshur. During his brief term in office, he addressed shipbuilding problems, selected senior officers for important seagoing commands, revised supply arrangements in the Navy Yards and attempted to establish a school for Midshipmen. Another accomplishment during his tenure was saving the USS Constitution from the scrap heap. His recess appointment as Secretary failed to receive Congressional confirmation, requiring that he leave office when his successor, Thomas W. Gilmer, was confirmed. (Gilmer was killed, after only nine days in office, by a canon explosion while firing a salute to a ship passing in review) Henshaw then returned to Massachusetts politics. After he left this post he dominated Democratic affairs in Massachusetts until the slavery issue began to disrupt parties. He died in 1852, buried Pine Grove Cemetery, Leicester, Massachusetts.

David was conservative, he was a capitalist, a Mason, an opponent of prohibition and a friend of slaveholders.  He read much and possessed a keen knowledge of men.  Although he never married, he dispensed a generous hospitality at his country home in Leicester.

USS Henshaw (DD-278) was named in his honor.

See also[edit]


  • Loring, James Spear. The Hundred Boston Orators Appointed by the Municipal Authorities from 1770 to 1852 David Henshaw Biographical Chapter - page 564. published 1852, 694 pages.
  • "Dictionary of American Biography", Charles Scribner's Sons and "American Secretaries of the Navy", Navy Institute Press.
  • "Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans", Johnson, Rossiter, ed.; The Biographical Society, 1904.
  • History of Henshaws in Scotland, in England and in America to the Present Time", Edith Henshaw Kuntz, 1956
  • "Genealogy of the Denny family in England and America", Denny, Christopher Columbus; Leicester, Massachusettes, 1886.
  • Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Political offices
Preceded by United States Secretary of the Navy
Succeeded by