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Governor John Langdon

 
LANGDON IN THE REVOLUTION (Continued)

Of Politics And Wealth

In 1775 John Langdon was elected as one of New Hampshire's representatives to the Second Continental Congress. At that time Portsmouth was suffering from the lack of trade and the people needed work, so when Congress voted to build 13 frigates, John Langdon managed to have one assigned to Portsmouth. He returned to Portsmouth early in 1776 to oversee the building of the vessel.

After building the "Raleigh", Langdon won contracts for two ships, "Ranger" and "America". Langdon recommended John Paul Jones as captain of the "Ranger", but the two men remained at odds over the building and outfitting of both ships.

John Langdon/ SeacoastNH.comIn March of 1776, the Continental Congress legalized privateering as a means of attacking Britain's economic backbone, its merchant marine. John Langdon resigned from Congress to accept the lucrative position of agent of prizes for the colony of New Hampshire. He took charge of the sale of all prizes brought into Portsmouth and amassed a fortune on the side by outfitting several privateers of his own.

Langdon was elected speaker of the New Hampshire House in December, 1776 and he held that position until 1782. As speaker he displayed great ability in guiding the passage of legislation during the critical war years. During these years he also presided over various state conventions called to deal specifically with such matters as currency and a new state constitution.

Politically, Langdon was often at odds with Weare, Bartlett and their associates. The legislature was dominated by the small rural towns, and their aims for the new state were not necessarily the same as those of mercantile Portsmouth. Langdon was quick to support his fellow townspeople, especially, his critics believed, when it seemed to be financially advantageous to do so.

He used all his influence to be named continental agent, but had to resign from the Continental Congress to accept the lucrative position. As agent and as the owner of seven privateers, he became wealthy while many others who were involved in the civil government placed public service ahead of personal finances. Langdon also promoted the political career of his brother, Woodbury, whose loyalties were questioned by many. All these factors made Langdon a controversial person in state government. While he retained his house speakership, it is significant that he was never appointed to the powerful Committee of Safety. Langdon might well be contrasted with William Whipple. Also a Portsmouth merchant, Whipple was appointed to the Committee of Safety and while friendly with Langdon, he was politically associated with Weare and Bartlett and certainly above reproach in his public service.

Perhaps Langdon's greatest contribution in the legislature was to pressure the state toward fiscal responsibility. He was an early advocate of taxation, price controls and the use of silver and gold instead of paper currency. He also led the opposition to a stiff confiscation act against Loyalists who had fled the state. He reasoned that the taking of property would result in embezzlement and that the British might take similar action against Americans with property in England.

Like many other men of this period, Langdon also had military aspirations, although he complained in a letter to Bartlett that since he and other merchants of the Piscataqua had been passed over in favor of others, he wouldn't accept a commission from the legislature if one were to be offered. Nevertheless, as a colonel, he did lead a voluntary company to Saratoga, where he witnessed the surrender of Burgoyne, and in the summer of 1778, he was in command of 46 men as part of John Sullivan's army in Rhode Island. It is doubtful that he saw any action at either time.

When Ticonderoga fell to the British under Gen. Burgoyne in July, 1777, there was a general fear in New Hampshire that the british would soon cross the Connecticut. The state legislature desperately needed to raise an army to protect the western frontier, but New Hampshire had no money. At the moment of despair, legend has it, John Langdon, then speaker of the house, rose before the legislature and said, "I have three thousand dollars in hard money. I will pledge the plate in my house for three thousand more, and I have 70 hogsheads of Tobago rum which shall be disposed of for what it will bring. These and the avails of these are at the service of the state. If we defend our homes and our firesides, I may get my pay; if we do not defend them, the property will be of no value to me." It is not clear whether thc story is true, or whether Langdon donated personal funds to the cause, but the legislature managed to provide backing for troops.

CONTINUE Life of John Langdon

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