Home New Hampshire John Langdon: New Hampshire’s Early Revolutionary

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.

Born on June 26, 1741, in Portsmouth, N.H.,  Langdon went to sea as a young man. Like many men seeking their fortunes in the 1750s and ’60s, he viewed a life of farming as too hard. Langdon apprenticed himself to a sea captain. By the 1770s he owned several ships and amassed one of the largest fortunes in New Hampshire.

As the British continued to control shipping and trade, Langdon avidly supported revolution. He saw it as essential to the economic development of the colonies. He served in the New Hampshire Legislature, but grew tired of its inability to reverse Britain’s suppression of trade. Langdon joined the Portsmouth committee of correspondence and supported the revolutionary cause both financially and physically.

Fort Willilam and Mary, 1705

Langdon vigorously supported 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.

John Langdon, Revolutionary

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. Langdon witnessed the victory, aturning point in the war. 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 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.

Governor John Langdon House

John Langdon After the War

When the war ended, John Langdon went on to serve in the Continental Congress. He 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.

Langdon had employed enslaved servants and laborers, but changed his mind about slavery. He manumitted his bondmen and women, and paid them a minimal wage for their work.

One later test of his diplomacy came when George Washington sent his nephew to New Hampshire to capture and return to Virginia his escaped slave, Ona Judge Staines.

Rather than provoke outright confrontation, he warned Ona so she could hide until Washington’s man had left.

By 1812, John Langdon had had enough of politics. He had declined Thomas Jefferson’s offer to serve as secretary of the Navy, though he greatly admired him. 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.

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Images: John Langdon House By Daderot – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5643711. This story was updated in 2024.


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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