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John Langdon: New Hampshire’s Early Revolutionary


As a merchant and ship owner, it was not at all difficult to persuade John Langdon that the British needed to be driven from the American colonies.

John Langdon

John Langdon

Born on June 26, 1741, Langdon, along with many men seeking their fortunes in the 1750s and 60s, chose to go to sea rather than pursue the hard life of farming. He had apprenticed himself to a sea captain as a young man and by the 1770s he owned several ships and was amassing one of the largest fortunes in New Hampshire.

As the British continued to control shipping and trade, Langdon was an avid supporter of the revolution, seeing it as essential if the colonies were to develop their economies. He served in the New Hampshire Legislature, but grew tired of its inability to create any change in the conditions of the colony. Langdon joined the Portsmouth committee of correspondence and supported the revolutionary cause both financially and physically.

Langdon was a vigorous proponent of war. He participated in the 1774 raid on Fort William and Mary, drumming up a band of more than a hundred men to rush the fort and overpower the small contingent of British guards. Langdon and his men made off with the gunpowder from the fort, and it came in handy in the siege of Boston following the attacks on Lexington and Concord.

While Langdon’s wealthy brother Woodbury was slower to support independence, John had no reservations. He established a shipyard to begin fitting out the first ships of the Navy, and he used his trading connections to import and distribute weapons among the colonies.

And in one of his greatest contributions, Langdon paid from his own pocket the funds to send General John Stark and his militia to New York to help defeat British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga, an event Langdon was on hand to witness. He saw funding the war as a necessary investment, famously saying:

“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.”

John Langdon was one of dozens of patriots who managed the practical aspects of the war, first acquiring weapons and then apportioning them among the competing colonies. He also spent considerable time persuading the other colonies of the need to support the efforts to build a navy, despite no immediate or obvious return on their investments. He also engaged in the lucrative business of privateering.


Gov. John Langdon’s house in Portsmouth, N.H.

When the war ended, John Langdon went on to serve in the Continental Congress and helped draft the Constitution, which he then persuaded his fellow citizens of New Hampshire to support. He would serve as New Hampshire governor, U.S. senator and as a state legislator.

One later test of his diplomacy came when he learned that George Washington had dispatched his nephew to New Hampshire to attempt to capture and return to Virginia his escaped slave, Ona Judge Staines.

Rather than provoke outright confrontation over the matter, he sent a warning to Ona so she could go into hiding until Washington’s man had left New Hampshire.

By 1812, John Langdon had had enough of politics. He had declined an offer from Thomas Jefferson, of whom he was a great admirer, to serve as secretary of the Navy, and in 1812 he refused entreaties to serve as vice president. He was too old, he declared, and he lived the remaining seven years of his life in Portsmouth.


Orrin C. Winton
Orrin C. Winton June 26, 2014 - 1:52 pm

The name Langdon is in my family tree, Electa Langdon who married a Brewer in or near Tyringham Mass. Of course I don’t know if this man is related.

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