Did NH Governor John Langdon Own Slaves?
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
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He led the 1774 raid against the king’s fort, built America’s first frigates, fought, financed the war, designed and signed the US Constitution, served as New Hampshire senator, “president,” and governor. So was this “founding father” also a slave owner? Signs point to NO. (Complete article below)
John Langdon is arguably the most important man in Portsmouth, New Hampshire history. An active patriot, he led America’s first revolutionary attack on a king’s fort at nearby New Castle in 1774, months before the battle at Lexington and Concord. He built the famous warship Raleigh, depicted on the state seal, and Ranger, captained by John Paul Jones. He served on the first Continental Congress and was New Hampshire’s first Speaker of the House during the Revolution. And Langdon was just warming up.
You know his stately white mansion on the corner of Pleasant and Court Streets. But have you ever gone inside? President George Washington did in 1789, and he called it the most eminent house in the city. I’m pretty certain it was Langdon who convinced Washington to take on Tobias Lear as his personal secretary. Lear was Langdon’s nephew and Tobias later married Washington’s niece, a pretty cozy arrangement. Lear’s semi-restored house is also a Portsmouth landmark.
By the time Washington visited those two Portsmouth homes in 1789, Langdon had served in the state Senate, been “President” of New Hampshire, and signed the United States Constitution. That is what he’s best known for. Langdon arrived late to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The state of New Hampshire, in its wisdom, had refused to support the cost of sending any delegates to Philadelphia, so Langdon paid the expenses out of pocket for himself and his fellow delegate Nicholas Gilman of Exeter. New Hampshire proudly became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution and make it official.
John Langdon became the first president pro tempore of the US Senate in 1789 and served two terms as the state’s governor. He turned down Thomas Jefferson’s offer to serve as Secretary of the Navy and declined the post of Vice President to President James Madison.
So why isn’t he a revolutionary rock star? Where are the Langdon statues, postage stamps, and bubblegum cards? His one and only full-length biography was written in 1937 by Lawrence Shaw Mayo. It’s a good book, I’m told, but it hasn’t been updated in 75 years.
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