Whence is a perfectly good interrogative pronoun, if somewhat
archaic, meaning 'From where?'.
Note to pedants: the "correct usage" is usually said to be
"Whence did he come?", and not "From whence ...", which is thought
to be redundant. [I once studied Shakespeare with Frank Kermode and
Old English (Beowulf et al.) with Richard Sax, both at
Columbia, whence I picked up such good words.]
American Heritage Dictionary ALERT!
"USAGE NOTE: The construction from whence has been
criticized as redundant since the 18th century. It is true that
whence incorporates the sense of from: "... a remote village,
whence little news reached the wider world." But from whence
has been used steadily by reputable writers since the 14th century,
most notably in the King James Bible: "Therefore the LORD God sent
him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from
whence he was taken." (Genesis 003:023) "I will lift up mine
eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." (Book 19
Pslams 121:001) It is difficult to label as incorrect a
construction with such respectable antecedents. Still, it may be
observed that whence (like thence) is most often used nowadays to
impart an archaic or highly formal tone to a passage, and that this
effect is probably better realized if the archaic syntax of the
word - without from - is preserved as well.
[Middle English whennes : whenne, whence (from Old English hwanon;
see kwo- below) + -es, genitive sing. suff.; see -S3.] -s3 suff.
Used to form adverbs: They were caught unawares. He works nights.
[Middle English -es, -s, genitive sing. suff., from Old English
kwo-. Important derivatives are: who, what, why, which, how, when,
where, whether, neither, either, quorum, quip, quasi, quote,
quotient, quantity, quality, neuter, alibi.
kwo-. Also kwi-. Stem of relative and interrogative pronouns.
1.f. (i) WHEN, from Old English hwenne, hwanne, when; (ii) WHENCE,
from Old English hwanon, whence. Both (i) and (ii) from Germanic
[Pokorny kšo- 644.]"
END American Heritage Dictionary ALERT!
Note that my handy concordance of the King James Bible (just whipped up
in a minute on my Mac with Conc 1.80b3 fat)
gives 27 instances of "from whence", 45 instances of "whence"
without "from", and 72 instances of "whence" altogether.
Please, stop me before I etymologize