Skip to Main Content

Convention: A Daily Journal

Center for Civics Education

Convention: A Daily Journal

Convention: A Daily Journal is a day-by-day journal of the 1787 Constitutional Convention convened by twelve of the original thirteen states to amend the Articles of Confederation and create a “more perfect union.” It chronicles the daily activities of the Convention, profiles the delegates and their interactions with each other, and looks back to life in America in the 1780s. Writing in the first person, the story is told from an “observer” hearing events as told in contemporary newspaper accounts and delegates’ personal notes and letters.

Wednesday, August 1, 1787

August 01, 2020 - 4 minute read

Gilman Nicholas & John Langdon

John Langdon and Nicolas Gilman attended their first session of the Convention on July 23, only three days before the Convention adjourned for an eleven-day recess. By that time, two of New York’s delegates had left in protest. Langdon, Gilman and two others were first appointed delegates by the New Hampshire legislature on January 17 but had provided neither funds nor letters of credit. On June 27, the legislature acted again, reappointing Langdon and Gilman and two new men. Again, it provided no funds.

Either frustrated, anxious or patriotic, Langdon simply decided to pay the expenses for himself and Gilman, although they did not travel to Philadelphia together. In a letter to a friend, Langdon could scarcely hide the sense of exhilaration he felt as he entered the East Room of the State House. “Figure to yourself,” he began, “the Great Washington, with a dignity peculiar to himself, taking the chair. The Notables are seated; in a moment and after a short silence the business of the day opened with great solemnity and good order. The importance of the business, the dignified character of some and the regularity of the whole process gives a tone to the proceedings which is extremely pleasing. Your old Friend takes his seat. Conscious of his upright intentions and as far as his poor abilities will go, his eye single to what is righteous and of good report.”

New Hampshire was 1623 as a “fishing plantation” at Rye Beach. Off-and-on boundary disputes with Massachusetts eventually resulted in New Hampshire becoming a full-fledged colony in 1741, but the two colonies had much in common and a shared history. When the British closed the Port of Boston in June 1774 in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party, tensions heightened even more when the  British removed gun powder from a locked storehouse near Boston, sending shockwaves through the countryside. Rumors began to fly that provincial powder was being seized; that war was at hand; and people had been killed.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of militia from New Hampshire began to descend on  Boston. Militia from other States joined in. Once the rumors were discredited by facts, many of the militia returned home, but General Thomas Gage, the royal governor of Massachusetts, was surprised by the size and intensity of the colonial reaction and immediately requested reinforcements from London.

The incident put patriotic militia on alert as they became more cautious and protective of their own supplies and intensified their efforts to gain information about Gage’s troop movements. Early in December 1774, four months before his famous ride to warn the patriots at Lexington and Concord, Paul Revere rode to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to notify local patriots that the British were preparing to seize munitions and stores at Fort William and Mary. 

It turned out that Revere’s information was not completely accurate but on December 14, patriots quickly raided the Fort and removed its supplies. Among their leaders were John Sullivan and John Langdon, the latter making his way through Portsmouth with a drumbeat, collecting several hundred men as he advanced. When Captain John Cochran refused to capitulate to the patriots’ demands, Langdon’s men rushed the fort and its five defenders opened fire. A brief scuffle quickly subdued the British soldiers and the patriots made off with five tons of gunpower and fifteen cannons, carrying them to hiding places while hauling down the British flag in the process. British warships arrived in Portsmouth the next day.

This was the first and often overlooked real skirmish of the Revolutionary War and the only “battle” fought in New Hampshire. However, New Hampshire sent hundreds of militia, equal to three regiments, to fight at the Battle of Bunker Hill, Bennington and elsewhere, making good use of the stores they had “liberated” in Portsmouth. 

New Hampshire also contributed to the war effort by building ships for the Continental Navy at the shipyards in Portsmouth. On November 20, 1776, the Continental Congress authorized construction of three seventy-four gunships of the line. One of these was the USS America, laid down in May 1777 in John Langdon’s shipyard. The project was delayed until 1781, due to a chronic scarcity of funds, skilled craftsmen, well-seasoned lumber, and vacillations on design by the Marine Committee of Congress. John Paul Jones was appointed commanding officer and Congress decided to present the America to France’s King Louis XVI to replace the Magnifique, which had run aground in Boston Harbor. 

John Langdon was born in 1741, the year New Hampshire became a separate colony. Born into a prosperous farming family as the youngest of nine sons, he went to sea as a young man and learned the merchant’s trade. Developing his own business, privateering,  blockade-running, and trading goods with the West Indies, he prospered and became very wealthy, giving generously to the patriot cause.  During the war, Langdon helped mobilize Gen. John Stark’s expedition against Gen. Burgoyne; commanded a detachment in the Rhode Island campaign; and was elected to the State Senate and the Continental Congress where he sat on the committee that helped develop the Continental Navy.

Six months before the Continental Congress declared independence, New Hampshire had already done so and was the first State to have its own constitution. While its January 5, 1776, constitution declared it would “rejoice” if a reconciliation could be reached with Great Britain, it resolved “for taking up Government in Form. With the Declaration of Independence.”

John Langton was elected president of New Hampshire in 1785 but lost in 1786 and 1787 to General John Sullivan, his “co-conspirator” at Fort William and Mary in 1774.

Back to top