John Langdon

John Langdon (1741 - 1819)

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Hon. John Langdon
Born in Portsmouth, Rockingham, New Hampshiremap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married in Portsmouth, New Hampshiremap
Died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United Statesmap
Profile last modified | Created 13 Mar 2014
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Categories: Signers of the United States Constitution | Special Improvement Projects | North Cemetery, Portsmouth, New Hampshire | Presidents pro tempore of the US Senate | US Senators from New Hampshire | New Hampshire Governors | Collaborative Profile of the Week | American Founding Fathers.

Hon. John Langdon was a Founding Father in the American Revolution
Preceded by
US Constitution Ratified
March 4, 1789

Preceded by
Richard Henry Lee

Preceded by
1st Governor
Meshech Weare

3rd Governor
John Sullivan

5th Governor
John Taylor Gilman

6th Governor
Jeremiah Smith

Preceded by
US Constitution Ratified
March 4, 1789
John Langdon
President pro tempore
of the US Senate

President pro tem

2nd Governor
of New Hampshire

New Hampshire

US Senator (Class 3)
from New Hampshire
Seal of of the US Senate

Succeeded by
Richard Henry Lee

Succeeded by
Ralph Izard

Succeeded by
3rd Governor
John Sullivan

3rd Governor
John Sullivan

6th Governor
Jeremiah Smith

7th Governor
William Plumer

Succeeded by
James Sheafe



John Langdon was born June 26, 1741, on the family farm located at the head of Sagamore creek, a short distance east from Sagamore road, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.[1] John was the third child and second son of Captain John Langdon, Sr. and Mary Woodbury Hall. His father was a landowner, farmer and local ship builder. His mother was from two prominent New Hampshire mercantile families and descended from Thomas Dudley, Massachusetts Bay colony's second governor.

John Langdon's great grandfather, Tobias Langdon, Sr., was born about 1631 in Sheviock, Caradon, Cornwall, just a few miles from the port city of Plymouth. He emigrated to New England in his early 20's and settled north of Boston near the mouth of the Piscataqua River, which became a major sea port. In June 1656, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Sherburne, a 1632 immigrant from Hampshire; operator of the first Piscataqua ferry and owner of a tavern [aka "an ordinary" ] where he served food at "8d a meale" (8 pence). In 1658 John had an acre of land granted to him.[2]

Young John Langdon attended the local grammar school (Major Hale's School) in Portsmouth. When still a teenager, he served an apprenticeship as a clerk for a nearby merchant, Daniel Rindge. He and his older brother, Woodbury (b. 1739), apprenticed themselves to local naval merchants. John planned a mercantile sea-trading career and was very successful, trading along the New England coast down to Virginia, to the British West Indies and to England. At just 22 years old he was already captain of the Andromache, sailing to Barbados;[3]four years later he bought his first merchant vessel, engaging in the so-called "Triangle Trade" between England, Portsmouth and the Caribbean. Before he was 35 he had become one of the area's wealthiest citizens.[4]

On February 3, 1776, in Portsmouth, he married his distant cousin Elizabeth, born 1759, the only daughter of John Sherburne and Elizabeth Moffatt. They had just one daughter, Elizabeth Langdon, born December 4, 1777, in Portsmouth. She married Thomas Elwyn July 16, 1797, in Portsmouth NH. They had several children and lived in Portsmouth.[5]

England's increasingly-restrictive tax policies hurt Langdon's shipping interests and his colony's economy. Proud of New England 's accomplishments, like his older brother, he entered politics hoping to take control over America's economic affairs away from London. From 1772 he joined a number of patriot committees and assemblies designed to further cooperation among the colonies so as to present a united front facing English bureaucrats and the crown. In December 1774 he led an armed group that confiscated ammunition from the English garrison guarding Portsmouth's harbor after learning that King George III had banned further exports of arms and powder to British North America. It was the first armed colonial action against British troops and, with the Boston Tea Party, signaled the start of the American Revolution.

John Langdon participated in the Second Continental Congress in 1775-76 in Philadelphia but gave up his seat, returning to New Hampshire where he joined his colony's House of Representatives, while devoting most of his energy and money to building three colonial naval frigates, including the "Ranger," put under the command of John Paul Jones. In 1777, after British victories in New York and Pennsylvania, he used his personal fortune to equip a military expedition to defend New England, commanding a company called "Langdon's Light Horse Volunteers" that helped defeat General Burgoyne's army at Saratoga. He also saw action in Rhode Island. At the same time he was continental agent for New Hampshire and Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives (1777-1782).

With America's independence won, John Langdon first turned his attention to organizing local government in his New Hampshire home, serving two terms as "President of New Hampshire," between 1785 and 1789.[6] In 1784 he built a beautiful Georgian-style mansion in Portsmith as his primary residence.[7] He also participated in the USA's founding Constitutional Convention in 1786-1787 and signed the new Constitution. Although a Jeffersonian, not a Federalist, he supported the Constitutional framework of government and worked hard to ensure New Hampshire's ratification. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify, marking the 2/3-of-the-13-States majority required for that historic document to become the law of the land.

In November 1788 he was elected to the US Senate; the Senate in turn elected John Langdon as the first President pro tempore of the United States Senate.[8] In this role he oversaw the first national Presidential election and was given the honor of personally informing his friend, General George Washington, of his victory. On April 30, 1789, John Langdon administered the oath of office to President Washington and Vice President John Adams, now a duty of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (not yet appointed then).

In 1801 Langdon resigned his US Senate seat and returned to the New Hampshire state legislature, serving from 1801 to 1805, before serving six one-year terms as Governor during the period June 1805 - June 1812. In 1805 Dartmouth University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Law degree. In 1812 he refused James Madison's request that he be nominated for Vice President of the United States, citing his advancing years. He retired from public service to his elegant Portsmouth mansion on Pleasant Street and died there September 18, 1819. He was buried on September 20 in the Langdon family vault at Portsmouth's North Cemetery.[9]


Burial (FindAGrave)l:
Cemetery: North Cemetery
Place: Portsmouth, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, USA
Plot: GPS (lat/lon): 43.07803, -70.76308[10]

Stories about John Langdon

Although less well known than his contemporaries and colleagues like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or George Washington, John Langdon of New Hampshire was an important American patriot and contributor to the success of both the American Revolution and the government of the United States, under its 1787 Federal Constitution. The following two stories told about him demonstrate the depth of his commitment to the American cause of "Liberty and Justice for All".

In 1777 at one of the lowest morale times of the entire Revolutionary War, after significant British victories and a real threat by General Burgoyne to split the colonies by occupying New York and the Hudson Valley, John Langdon stood up in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, meeting in Exeter, and said:

"I have two thousand dollars in specie, I will pledge my plate for as much more, I have eighty hogsheads of Tobago rum which will be sold for the service of the State. The country shall have it all, if we succeed in establishing our liberty I shall be repaid; if not, property is of no value..."[11]

This courageous speech, which John Langdon backed with cash, allowed New Hampshire to equip a vounteer company, led by General John Stark, that helped defeat the British at Bennington in August 1777 and later contributed to General Burgoyne's decisive defeat at Saratoga that autumn. Saratoga was a key factor in France's decision to ally itself with the American rebels, an important contribution to the final American victory in 1783.

The second story of John Langdon's moral integrity and dedication to liberty is less well known and less public. From 1790 to 1800, during George Washington's Presidency, the US capital was in Philadelphia. Washington and his wife, as well-to-do Virginians, had always held black slaves at their Mount Vernon estate and plantation. When elected President, they naturally selected some household slaves to accompany them. A young mulatto woman named Oney Judge, whose father had been an English indentured servant, was chosen by Martha Washington as her pesonal maid.[12]

In 1788 Pennsylvania had adopted an anti-slavery law that stated that any slave-holder who established residence and kept his or her slaves for 6 continuous months in the state would lose them and they would be free. To get around this, President Washington began the practice of rotating his domestic slaves at least once a year back to Virginia. In 1796, when it was Oney's turn to be sent back, she escaped to Portsmouth NH by boat. New Hampshire opposed slavery and no one would send her back to it.

In 1798, however, George Washington asked his nephew, Burwell Bassett Jr., who was going to New Hampshire on business, to kidnap Oney Judge and any children she might have (under Virginia law they too were slaves) there. When Senator Langdon found out about this plan from Bassett himself, who mentioned it at a dinner party, he secretly sent word via one of his household staff to Oney to warn her. His warning gave her time to escape from Portsmouth, gaining refuge with a free black family in another New Hampshire town. Bassett had to return to President & Mrs. Washington without her, much to his and the President's dismay. It was a small incident but one that foreshadowed the rising tensions between the free abolitionist North and the slave-holding South, a conflict that would require a second, much bloodier, war on American soil to resolve. Again, John Langdon acted on the side of Liberty despite the personal cost of his friendship with the President.


1741: Birth of John Langdon
1775 to 1776: Participated in Second Continental Congress
1776: Married Elizabeth Sherburne (distant cousin)
1785 to 1789: President of New Hampshire,"
1789: Administered "Oath of Office" to President George Washington
1788 to 1801: US State Senate (New Hampshire)
1801 to 1805: New Hampshire State Legislature
1805-1812: Governor of New Hampshire:serving six one-year terms
1805: Dartmouth University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Law degree
1819: Death and Burial in Portsmouth's North Cemetery


  1. Seacoast Newhampshire, John Langdon's Family Tree - Family tradition says that in the winter of 1741 the old farmhouse caught fire and baby John had to be thrown out a 2nd story window into a snowbank to save his life. He was made of tough stock.
  2. The pioneers of Maine and New Hampshire, 1623 to 1660, a descriptive list, drawn from records of the colonies, towns, churches, courts and other contemporary sources pp. 120, 186.
  3. The ship was owned by his previous employer Daniel Rindge who clearly thought highly of the young man's abilities; cited on:
  4. John Langdon on Wikipedia
  5. Fowkes from the Past
  6. Wikipedia: List of Governors from New Hampshire
  8. Under the Constitution the President pro tempore presides in the absence of the Vice President of the US, who is constitutionally the President of the Senate.
  9. John Langdon on Wikipedia
  10. FindAGrave [: John Langdon]
  11. Cited on
  12. Ona Judge Stains, A Thirst for Complete Freedom & Her Escape from President Washington, by Evelyn Gerson.

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Images: 6
John Langdon
John Langdon

Gov Langdon Thanksgiving address
Gov Langdon Thanksgiving address

Governor John Langdon ca. 1785
Governor John  Langdon ca. 1785

John Langdon's Portsmouth Mansion 1784
John Langdon's Portsmouth Mansion 1784

John Langdon portrait
John Langdon portrait

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On 29 Jan 2015 at 12:12 GMT Paula (Brooks) Jacunski wrote:

Nicely done! I did search NEHGS, no birth records.

John is 31 degrees from Jelena Eckstädt, 13 degrees from Theodore Roosevelt and 17 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

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