10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States

Larry Holzwarth - May 15, 2018

When talking about the founders of the United States the names Adams, Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin come to mind readily, as well as several others such as Hamilton and Madison. There were many others, political, military, and social leaders who are all but forgotten. When asked to name a signer of the Declaration of Independence how many remember Button Gwinnett, or that Roger Sherman was a member of the committee tasked with drafting that document? In fact the majority of the founders who debated and shaped the early movement for independence and the new government are for the most part forgotten, their roles ignored by history. That’s unfortunate because their contributions were significant.

Prior to the Revolutionary War civic leaders and influential businessmen contributed to the growing dissent with the British Parliament and the King of England. During and after the war influence in the formation of a government was felt coming from the newly opened territories and expanding western settlements. These leaders helped develop the new nation alongside the well-remembered of the founders, and deserve to be counted among them. Many are remembered in places which reflect their names, but the individuals and their contributions to American history are of little moment.

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 included many delegates who are all but forgotten. Wikimedia

Here are ten of America’s Founders who are for the most part forgotten in the history books.

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
The Delaware Regiment was one of the best in the Continental Army, and Rodney insured the state continued to support them. US Army

Caesar Rodney

Caesar Rodney served as a soldier, politician, and statesmen in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, becoming a leading citizen of the tiny colony of Delaware. Rodney was descended from a prosperous family, major landowners in the colony, whose eventually 1,000 acre farm produced wheat and other grains, worked by more than 200 slaves. Rodney was 27 when he entered the political arena as Sheriff of Delaware’s Kent County, a powerful and lucrative position which served as a springboard into others, and he became aligned with a political party which positioned itself against the British Parliament and its approach to taxation.

Rodney served in the Congress called to oppose the Stamp Act, and in the late 1760s he represented Kent County in the Delaware Assembly. In the mid-1770s, while still serving in the Delaware Assembly he also served in the Continental Congress, where Delaware was represented by three men, Rodney, Thomas McKean, and George Read. Rodney and McKean supported the movement towards independence. Read did not, arguing for reconciliation with England. Rodney also served in the Delaware militia suppressing Loyalist movements in Delaware, and was engaged in that duty in late June, 1776.

Rodney was in Dover when he received a message from McKean that the colonies were to vote on independence, with each colony receiving one vote. With McKean voting in favor and Read opposed, Delaware’s delegation would be forced to abstain, having not a majority. Rodney traveled on horseback the seventy miles between Dover and Philadelphia in an unbroken ride (though he changed horses), through severe thunderstorms, to arrive in the Congress still wearing spurs, and cast the deciding vote allowing Delaware to vote for independence on July 2, 1776. He later signed the document on August 2, when most of the delegates affixed their names.

The Delaware Regiment of the Continental Army was one of the best to serve under Washington, and when its commander was killed in the Battle of Princeton Rodney offered his services to succeed to the command, but Washington preferred that he remain in control of the Delaware militia. In that capacity he suppressed or dispersed several Loyalist groups, and as governor of the state he exhausted himself struggling to find financial support for Washington’s army. The governor’s office was essentially an honorific, with little authority, and it was only through Rodney’s influence in the assembly that his efforts were rewarded.

Under the Articles of Confederation Rodney was elected to Congress, but his declining health prevented him from attending after 1777. Rodney suffered from a debilitating facial cancer, which the treatments of the day could do little to alleviate, and during the final years of his life he concealed his face in a scarf. He died in 1784 at the age of 55 and was buried in an unmarked grave at his farm in Delaware. Today the farm is called Byfield, in Rodney’s day he referred to it as Poplar Grove. Several of Rodney’s ancestors, including his father, were similarly buried in unmarked graves on the family estate.

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
Roger Sherman’s skill at compromise helped break the deadlock at the Constitutional Convention, though not all were satisfied. Wikimedia

Roger Sherman

Roger Sherman was a Connecticut lawyer and judge despite having little formal education. His knowledge came from access to his father’s substantial library, and he eventually became adept enough in mathematics that he contributed calculations for astronomy tables to the almanacs popular in New England. By the time he was 24 he was serving as the government surveyor for New Haven County and was an influential citizen of New Milford. Eventually he fathered fifteen children with two wives, his first having died in 1760. Thirteen of his children survived to adulthood, ensuring a long line of descendants. One of his great, great, great grandsons was Archibald Cox, special prosecutor during the Watergate investigation.

Sherman represented Connecticut in the Continental Congress when it passed the Articles of Association, which established a boycott of British goods in 1774. He later signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, the only of the founders whose signature is on all four above documents. His influence in the Revolutionary congresses was relatively small in comparison to his later work on the Constitution. Sherman attended the Constitutional Convention in the belief that it would amend the Articles of Confederation and initially opposed a new Constitution. Later he became instrumental in its shape.

It was Sherman who, along with Oliver Ellsworth, presented the compromise which established a bicameral legislature. Sherman had supported a unicameral legislature representing the states, and when it became evident that such a goal was unachievable he proposed an upper and lower house – Senate and House of Representatives – with Senators elected by state legislatures and Representatives by the people. In Sherman’s proposal, called the Great Compromise, each state would have two senators, thus the small state of Connecticut was represented there equally with the larger states.

It was also Sherman who broke the deadlock on the manner in which the population of the Southern states would be calculated when determining the number of representatives allotted. Sherman suggested that slaves be counted as three fifths of a freeman for the purposes of assessment for representation, and that was how the Constitution remained until after the Civil War. As for the executive branch of the government, Sherman believed that the Constitution granted it little power beyond ensuring that the laws enacted by the legislature were enforced.

Sherman strongly opposed the twelve amendments proposed by Madison, ten of which were passed as the Bill of Rights. He also strongly opposed the creation of paper money, believing only gold and silver coin should be produced by the government. Sherman believed that the Bill of Rights weakened the control of the states over the people, and especially over the general commerce of the states. Sherman held both a seat in the United States Senate and the Office of Mayor of New Haven at the time of his death in the summer of 1793. He is buried in New Haven.

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
The Continental Navy Ship Alfred, Captained by Dudley Saltonstall, with Lieutenant John Paul Jones aboard, at Philadelphia in 1775. US Navy

Robert Morris Jr.

Robert Morris Jr. was born in the English port of Liverpool, moving to Maryland at the age of 13. Apprenticed to a Philadelphia merchant and banker, Morris eventually became a full partner with the banker’s son in 1757. The Willing, Morris and Company they formed was involved in the slave trade, both funding voyages of their own and handling the sale of slaves for other companies. To avoid paying the tariff on imported slaves demanded by the Pennsylvania legislature, the company docked its ships and unloaded their cargoes in Wilmington and other ports. Eventually Willing, Morris, and Company became extremely profitable, eliminating most of the slave trading and importing and exporting to other British colonies.

Morris was a port warden for the Port of Philadelphia when the ship Polly, carrying a cargo of tea, was denied access to Philadelphia. Polly’s captain brought the ship in anyway, and Morris led a meeting which released the captain from custody after he agreed to leave the port without unloading the tea. During the early days of the Revolutionary War Morris devised a system of secret trade with France and Spain, handling the financial aspects of the smuggling of war supplies. Morris provided the ships and the trade goods exchanged for flints, uniforms, and especially gunpowder. Morris also relied on his international trade contacts for information regarding British plans, which he forwarded to Washington via Congress.

On July 2, 1776 Morris, who had opposed independence while serving in the Continental Congress, agreed to abstain from voting, along with like thinker John Dickinson. Their absent votes allowed the critical support of Pennsylvania – then home of America’s largest city – in the cause of independence. Although Morris had personally opposed independence until the country was better prepared economically he signed the Declaration on August 2, 1776. Morris explained that he did so because, “…it is the duty of a good citizen to follow when he cannot lead.” When it came to financing the Revolution, Morris followed nobody.

He paid from his own pocket to support Washington’s army throughout the war, in addition to using his international trading network to generate additional funds. Morris at one time had over 250 ships engaged in trade and in privateering, leading to some politically opposed to him to accuse him of profiteering. A congressional investigation in 1779 cleared him of any wrongdoing, and the President of the Congress sent him a letter apologizing for the damage done to his reputation. How much of his own money was spent financing the war is difficult to accurately assess, it was likely more than 10 million pounds.

Morris attended the Constitutional Convention and was later asked by George Washington to be the first Secretary of the Treasury. Morris recommended Alexander Hamilton for the position. In the early days of the republic Morris started canal companies and speculated in western lands, which eventually led him to debtor’s prison and bankruptcy. One of the nation’s first bankruptcy laws was enacted specifically to release Morris from prison. He never recovered his losses from speculation and was never reimbursed for his expenses during the Revolution. Robert Morris, who personally funded most of the American Revolutionary war and signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, died in 1806.

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
Robert R. Livingston by Gilbert Stuart, as he appeared when serving as US Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Wikimedia

Robert R. Livingston

Another of the committee of five who were responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence (along with Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, and Sherman) Robert Livingston never signed the document, being away from Philadelphia at the time of signing. Livingston was a New York attorney and judge who served as the state’s Chancellor, its highest ranking judicial authority. In that role it was he who administered the oath of office to President George Washington in 1789. Livingston developed into an opponent of the Federalist Party as it emerged, and aligned himself with the Democratic-Republicans supporting Jefferson.

When Jefferson entered office as President he appointed Livingston as the United States Minister to France, then ruled under First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. It was Livingston who negotiated the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France. Napoleon was motivated by the need to fund his military as it became apparent that another war with England was imminent. When the United States offered to purchase the port of New Orleans in order to obtain access to the sea for its growing river cities of Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Louisville, Napoleon offered to sell the entire territory he had taken from Spain.

When Livingston heard Napoleon’s offer, which occurred just before the arrival of James Monroe in France, bearing the authority to offer $10 million for New Orleans alone, he and Monroe were concerned that the offer could be withdrawn before they could consult again with Washington. The American ministers accepted the offer quickly, exceeding both their authority and the amount budgeted for the purpose. The Louisiana Purchase more than doubled the acreage of the United States and eventually became fifteen states. Livingston returned from France the following year.

While in France Livingston had seen Robert Fulton’s experimental steamboat, and in New York Livingston and Fulton started America’s first scheduled steam ferry service. From this innovation came the steamboats which roamed America’s rivers and lakes in the antebellum age, moving people and goods to the cities which grew rapidly in the lands which had been purchased from the French for the equivalence of about three cents per acre. After his return from France Livingston retired to private life, though he maintained a steady correspondence with political leaders.

Like George Washington, who famously warned his countrymen about political parties, Livingston distrusted the party system which evolved in the United States, but found himself aligned with the Democratic Republicans. In this, as a New Yorker of considerable wealth, he was somewhat unusual. Livingston also doubted the constitutionality of the Louisiana Purchase he negotiated, at least initially, but defended Jefferson against the Federalists who claimed that the act exceeded the authority of the Executive Branch. Livingston died in 1813 at his home in Clermont, New York.

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
George Wythe (pronounced with) trained lawyers who created American law for nearly a century. Wikimedia

George Wythe

George Wythe was the first Professor of Law in what eventually became the United States, teaching at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, as well as apprenticing several future lawyers, including Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and a young Henry Clay. Wythe entered the political arena as a clerk for Virginia’s House of Burgesses – the colonial legislature – and eventually served as an alderman for Williamsburg and a Burgess for the College of William and Mary. Wythe was involved with the funding for Virginia troops during the French and Indian War and was considered a loyal supporter of the British Crown.

That changed with the Stamp Act of 1765 as Wythe emerged as a radical opponent of the notion that Parliament had the right to enact taxes and other duties on the colonies. Wythe’s views naturally were presented to his students, including Jefferson. In 1768 the Governor of Virginia dissolved the House of Burgesses, and they continued to meet in the Raleigh Tavern and other locales in town. In 1773 another Governor, Lord Dunmore, reconvened the Burgesses but the activities of Wythe and the other Virginians supporting the Sons of Liberty in Boston led him to dissolve the assembly again.

Wythe was selected as a delegate to the second Continental Congress after George Washington surrendered his seat in that body in order to accept his commission as Commander of the Continental Army. Wythe actively supported the motion for independence and though he was not a member of the committee of five which drafted the document, Jefferson consulted his mentor as he wrote the draft. Wythe later returned to Virginia to assist in the creation of the State’s government and constitution. It was Wythe who proposed the motto Sic Semper Tyrannis, for the state seal of Virginia.

Wythe also served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, where he helped establish the convention’s rules before being forced to leave to care for his dying wife. In 1779 Jefferson, then serving as Governor of Virginia, appointed Wythe as the first law professor in the United States. Among the legal minds trained by Wythe, were Jefferson, James Monroe, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall, John Breckinridge, and Bushrod Washington. Wythe developed the mode of teaching using mock trials and legislative procedures, one of the first systems of role playing as a means of teaching his students.

In 1788 Wythe became the only judge of Virginia’s Chancery Court, today the Virginia Supreme Court. Wythe continued to serve as Chancellor and as a mentor to young students and lawyers throughout his life. In May of 1805, Wythe and two others with whom he had breakfasted became ill, and Wythe informed his doctors that he had been poisoned. After Wythe’s death his grandnephew was convicted of his murder, but the conviction was overturned on a legal technicality. Wythe was buried in Richmond. The legal minds he personally trained were still involved in American politics and law at the time of the Civil War.

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
George Mason was the driving force behind the Bill of Rights which was ultimately proposed by James Madison. Wikimedia

George Mason

George Mason attended the Constitutional Convention through the debates and voting, but refused to sign the document which the convention produced. He argued against ratification, his chief dissatisfaction being the lack of definition of and protection for the basic rights of citizens. To this end he wrote Objections to this Constitution of Government. Although James Madison is generally considered to be the Father of the Bill of Rights, the amendments were based for the most part on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which had been authored by Mason in 1776. Mason alienated himself from many of the Virginia delegates through his opposition.

Mason’s Objections went beyond the absence of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution. He argued in his pamphlet for an immediate end to the importation of slaves (though he was a slave owner himself). Mason was also concerned that the more numerous northern states with their larger populations would dominate the government at the expense of the southern states and thus argued for a supermajority in the case of navigation and interstate commerce acts. Mason argued that the new central government was supreme over the state governments, hence state Bills of Rights such as his own in Virginia were no security for citizens.

Prior to the Constitutional Convention Mason had served in the Virginia legislature in its varying forms throughout the Revolutionary period, and had developed a reputation which was well known by delegates from all of the attending states. During the convention itself he was a frequent speaker, winning some points but failing to carry those he deemed most critical, which led to him opposing the document produced by the convention. As a neighbor and long-time friend of George Washington, Mason found his reputation damaged by his opposition to a Constitution which Washington endorsed.

Mason sent a copy of his objections to Washington, who by consensus would become the first president following ratification. Among the objections he wrote, “There is no section preserving liberty of the press or trial by jury in civil cases…” but Washington maintained silence during the ratification debate. The majority of the two men’s neighbors in Fairfax County and Alexandria supported ratification. Mason found his influence waning as a result of his arguments against the document. He fought ratification to the bitter end (for him) and despite history proving many of his arguments to be correct, Virginia voted to ratify by a vote of 88 – 80.

Mason’s long friendship with George Washington was destroyed by his opposition to ratification, as was his health. Washington referred to Mason in a letter as a “quondam” (former) friend. Mason retired to his estate, Gunston Hall where he became ill in the summer of 1792. Jefferson visited him that October and found him remaining of sound mind, but within a week of the visit Mason was dead, possibly of pneumonia. He was buried at Gunston Hall. Madison introduced what became the Bill of Rights during the first congress and the third through the twelfth of Madison’s proposals, based on Mason’s, were ratified in December 1791.

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
Dayton fought in most of the major engagements of the Continental Army, including at Germantown in 1777. Wikimedia

Jonathan Dayton

Jonathan Dayton was a merchant’s son in Elizabethtown New Jersey (today’s Elizabeth) where he was schooled locally, with one of his classmate’s being a young Alexander Hamilton. Dayton was attending the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) at the age of fifteen when he learned of the formation of the Continental Army outside of Boston. His father, Elias Dayton, recruited a regiment known as the 3rd New Jersey and Dayton joined his father’s command, commissioned as an Ensign, the lowest rank for a commissioned officer. The New Jersey regiment saw extensive action in the early years of the war and by 1777 Dayton was promoted to lieutenant.

Dayton’s regiment served with the main body of the Continental Army under Washington, and fought in the New York campaign of 1776 which ended with the long retreat across New Jersey. During the Philadelphia campaign the following year the regiment was engaged at the defeats at Brandywine Creek and Germantown. Following the winter at Valley Forge Dayton was present at the battle of Monmouth Court House, the last major engagement in the northern theatre of the Revolutionary War. By the time Dayton was 19 he was a captain and transferred to the Second New Jersey Regiment, during which he served as an aide to General John Sullivan during the punitive campaign against the New York and Pennsylvania tribes.

Dayton was at Yorktown during the siege and surrender. After the war he was highly regarded by many of the men with whom he had served. He returned to New Jersey to study law. He also speculated in western land, in the Great Miami Valley in Ohio. The speculation and his successful law practice made him wealthy. As a prominent attorney he was selected to represent New Jersey at the Constitutional Convention, and he was the youngest man to sign the Constitution when he did so at the age of 26. Dayton quickly aligned himself with the Federalists, and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1789 and 1791.

In 1799 he was offered the rank of Major General in the Provisional Army of the United States, which he declined. In 1795 he was elected Speaker of the House, an office which he retained through the Fifth Congress which convened two years later. He was vocal and effective in support of Federalist policies and although Jefferson was a Democratic-Republican Dayton supported his purchase of Louisiana, which most Federalists decried as illegal. After becoming friendly with Aaron Burr, in 1805 the wealthy Dayton loaned the former Vice President money to help finance a trip through the Ohio River Valley to the Mississippi and thence to New Orleans.

When Burr was later indicted for treason in connection to his actions on the trip, suspicion of Dayton’s complicity arose. The subsequent investigation led to Dayton’s complete exoneration, but the extent of the scandal surrounding Burr had already destroyed Dayton’s reputation and political career on the national stage. As an effective Speaker of the House he had been considered a possible Presidential candidate. Instead he returned to local politics and the practice of law in New Jersey, dying there in 1824. The city of Dayton, Ohio was named for him, built on the lands he had once owned, but which he never visited.

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
Daniel Carroll’s contributions to the Constitution were subtle, but reserved many rights and obligations to the people. New York Public Library

Daniel Carroll

Only two Catholics signed the Constitution of the United States, Thomas Fitzsimons of Pennsylvania and Daniel Carroll of Maryland. Daniel Carroll was from the wealthy and influential Carroll family of Maryland, his cousin Charles Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence and his younger brother John would go on to found Georgetown University, as well as become the first Roman Catholic Bishop in the United States. Carroll was a wealthy slaveholder in Maryland whose support of the American Revolution was based on financial grounds more than political opposition to the King and Parliament. Until 1776 there was little Carroll could do politically.

Until the Maryland Constitution was adopted in 1776 the colony’s laws prohibited Catholics from holding public office. In this Maryland was no different from the twelve other English colonies. Maryland’s Constitution was thus an important step forward towards freedom of religion in the United States, and once enacted Carroll entered public service in the state Senate. Maryland contributed some of the best trained and equipped units of the Continental Army, and Carroll was instrumental in developing financial support for them in the Senate. Carroll signed the Articles of Confederation for Maryland but blocked their enforcement.

Carroll wanted the states claiming to hold land west of the Appalachian Mountains to relinquish them to the Confederation, which had little power to force them to do so. That any of the states could ignore the enforcement of the Confederation Congress’s acts demonstrates just how ineffective an instrument that document was. When the call for a convention to amend and strengthen the Articles was issued, Carroll was immediately supportive of the idea and he was selected as a delegate from Maryland. Carroll arrived at the convention convinced that the states must be subordinate to the new federal government and worked tirelessly towards achieving that goal.

Nonetheless Carroll lobbied hard to ensure the rights of the people were represented in the new government. He opposed the election of the President by the state legislatures or by the Congress. He believed that the states should be subordinate to the central government, which in turn should be subordinate to the people, and he was a strong supporter of the checks and balances which ensure that no one branch of government can dominate the other two. Carroll was the author of the clause which closes the Constitution ensuring that powers not specifically assigned to the federal government are reserved to the states or to the people.

Carroll was elected to the First Congress and served on the three man committee which surveyed the area of the new federal city to be built on land acquired from Maryland and Virginia. He later returned to the Maryland Senate and to business interests, including the improvement of infrastructure connecting the states, necessary for commerce. He supported both the National Road and the construction of canals connecting the rivers which ran to the sea with those inland. He died in 1796, after several years of failing health.

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
James McHenry was alive to witness the fort bearing his name successfully repulse a British attack in Baltimore Harbor. Wikimedia

James McHenry

There were three physicians present as delegates during the Constitutional Convention, one of them being Revolutionary War veteran and accomplished surgeon James McHenry. During his war service McHenry, an immigrant from Ireland, was held prisoner by the British, paroled, served as an aide to Washington, and finished the war on the staff of the Marquis de Lafayette. Before the war was over McHenry was elected to the Maryland Senate, he later served in the Confederation Congress as a delegate from Maryland. At the Constitutional Convention he generally acted as directed by the majority of the Maryland legislature.

McHenry supported his colleague from Maryland, Daniel Carroll, but in private caucuses and discussions rather than in open debate on the floor of the convention. He both supported ratification of the resultant document and was a signatory to the Constitution. In 1788 he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, but two years later he decided to retire from political life and go into business as a merchant. By 1791 he was back in the Maryland Senate and remained there until his old commanding officer, George Washington, summoned him to Philadelphia and a position within his Cabinet.

Washington appointed McHenry as his Secretary of War, a position previously held by Henry Knox and later Timothy Pickering. After Pickering’s resignation Washington attempted to lure several men to accept the position, but few wanted the responsibility of enforcing the recent Jay Treaty, which compelled the British to abandon western posts. McHenry reinforced the Army, established a new organizational structure, and created a commission of marine, a precursor of the Department of the Navy. He convinced the Senate to fund his modernization of the War Department, presenting his plans and needs before Senate Committees, and so impressed Vice President Adams that he retained him as Secretary of War for his Presidency.

Adams did not remain enthralled with McHenry for long, and frequent clashes with the President and the Secretary of War marked the early days of the Adams Administration. There was a lot of backbiting in the Adams cabinet and among members of Congress, and the President was frequently absent from the Capital, leaving the running of the government to his department heads. By 1800 Adams had had enough of the recalcitrant Secretary of War and asked for his resignation. The problems within the Adams cabinet were not restricted to just McHenry, several others resigned, or were dismissed when they refused to resign. The turmoil contributed to John Adams losing his re-election bid that year.

McHenry retired to his Maryland home near Baltimore and although he remained a strong supporter of the Federalist party he took no further roles in politics, other than the exchange of views in conversation and correspondence. The harbor fortress in Baltimore which protected the city from British destruction during the War of 1812 was named Fort McHenry in his honor. He was still alive at the time of the British attack and was aware of the successful defense, but he was by then paralyzed in both legs, and often in considerable pain. He died in 1816.

10 Forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States
John Langdon’s home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire clearly speaks to his success in business and politics. Wikimedia

John Langdon

John Langdon ran away to sea rather than join his father’s farming businesses, and by the time he was in his early twenties he had acquired several ships of his own, operating out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Langdon engaged in the Triangle trade, his ships carrying goods to Africa, exchanged for slaves carried to the Caribbean, and there exchanged for sugar and rum before returning to Portsmouth. His brother Woodbury engaged in a similar enterprise, and the two became leading members of Portsmouth society before the Revolutionary War. They were also quite wealthy.

It was their wealth, or rather the threat to it, which led the brothers to begin to oppose British rule of the colonies, as Parliament’s mercantile laws began to affect their bottom lines. John Langdon became an avid supporter of the Sons of Liberty in Boston and organized similar groups in Portsmouth. In 1774 a Portsmouth demonstration organized by Langdon and some others seized the arms and munitions in Fort William and Mary in Portsmouth Harbor, claiming that they belonged to the Province and not to the few British troops stationed there. This was one of the earliest acts of defiance against armed British troops.

Langdon served briefly in the Second Continental Congress but decided he could better serve the cause of the Revolution by building and operating ships. Several ships of the Continental Navy were built by Langdon’s yards and others were fitted out as privateers to harass British shipping. John Paul Jones stayed at Portsmouth for a time to supervise the building of the ship of the line America. The ship was completed after the war was over and given to France. Jones earlier in the war commanded the sloop Ranger, built by Langdon. It was in Ranger that Jones raided the port of Whitehaven in the British Isles.

Langdon was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention from New Hampshire, and participated in the manner expected of a delegate of a small state when the debate was over proportional representation. He supported the Great Compromise as well as the designation of slaves as three fifths of an individual person for the purposes of representation. Following ratification he was elected to the US Senate and served as the first President pro Tempore of the Senate. He served two terms in the Senate, at first supporting the Federalist policies of Hamilton, though he gradually began to adopt the position of the Democratic-Republican Party of Jefferson and Madison.

Langdon remained active in New Hampshire politics following his departure from the national stage. When the war of 1812 began he was serving as the governor of New Hampshire. Later that same year he was suggested as the nominee for the office of Vice President of the United States, a motion supported by President James Madison, but he declined the opportunity to return to a national office. Langdon died in 1819 in Portsmouth, having served the young nation as a shipbuilder, a financier, and as a Senator, as well as contributing significantly to the success of the state of New Hampshire.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Rodney, Caesar”, by John A. Munroe, entry, American National Biography Online, February 2000

“Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic”, by Mark David Hall, 2013

“Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution”, by Charles Rappleye, 2010

“Negotiating the Louisiana Purchase: Robert Livingston’s Mission to France, 1801-1804”, by Frank W. Brecher, 2006

“George Wythe”, online biography, Colonial Williamsburg, online

“George Mason, Westerner”, by Kenneth P. Bailey, The William and Mary Quarterly, October 1943

“Jonathan Dayton”, entry, US Army Center of Military History, online

“Daniel Carroll: A Framer of the Constitution”, by Mary Virginia Geiger, 1943

“James McHenry, Forgotten Federalist”, by Karen E. Robbins, 2013

“John Langdon”, entry, US Army Center of Military History, online

Advertisement