Did You Know?

Compatriot Rick Greathouse, president of the Daniel Boone Chapter and an excellent scholar contributed this interesting side bar on Fort Henry:

In early June 1774, John Connolly sent out a broadside from Fort Pitt that was a call for Virginia militia to join him at Wheeling Creek to begin construction on Fort Henry. Lt. Francis McClure and ensign Samuel Kinkade set out with their company from Laurel Hill and Springhill, PA to rendezvous with John Connolly at Wheeling Creek but was attacked by Logan and his men in the area of Dunkard’s Creek. At the time Col. George Wilson, commander of Westmoreland County, PA rangers and a magistrate of the county, marched with his son Cpt. John Wilson to Dunkard’s Creek to bury the dead. Col. Wilson wrote a letter that eventually reached PA Governor John Penn from the site, in which he related that John Connolly had marched to Wheeling Creek to build a fort there but his efforts had been delayed by the recent Indian hostilities that occurred in the area.

Work on Fort Henry would soon continue when Maj. Angus McDonald’s regiment arrived at Wheeling Creek where they continued the work on Fort Henry before he embarked with his regiment on the Wakatomika expedition which ended about August 1, 1774. Maj. McDonald reported that his mission had failed to Lord Dunmore about August 10, 1774.

At the same time the magistrates of Westmoreland County, PA had negotiated peace with the Delaware and their friendly bands, excluding the Mingos. When news of the peace reached the Earl of Dartmouth he sent orders for Lord Dunmore to cease his plans for basically the battle of Point Pleasant. Of course Gen. Andrew Lewis’s division was on the march and Lord Dunmore had left Winchester, VA with his northern division headed for Fort Pitt. So the Earl of Dartmouth’s orders appear to have not been received by Lord Dunmore until he returned to Winchester, VA victorious after the Battle of Point Pleasant and the signing of the peace treaty at Camp Charlotte.

This can all be found in the letters between the Magistrates of Westmoreland County, PA and Governor John Penn which are available in the Pennsylvania Archives for 1774.




Compatriot John E. Osborne contributed this interesting article about the early days of our nation’s government under the Articles of Confederation.

I’m sure that George Washington was your best guess. After all, no one else comes to mind.

But think back to your history books — The United States declared its independence in 1776, yet Washington did not take office until April 30, 1789.

So who was running the country during these initial years of this young country?

It was the first eight U.S.  Presidents.

In fact, the first President of the United States was one John Hanson.

I can hear you now — John who?

John Hanson, the first President of the United States.

Don’t go checking the encyclopedia for this guy’s name — he is one of those great men that are lost to history. If you’re extremely lucky, you may actually find a brief mention of his name. (It’s in the Encyclopedia Britannica.)

The new country was actually formed on March 1, 1781 with the adoption of The Articles of Confederation.

This document was actually proposed on June 11, 1776, but not agreed upon by Congress until November 15,1777.

Maryland refused to sign this document until Virginia and New York ceded their western lands (Maryland was afraid that these states would gain too much power in the new government from such large amounts of land).

Once the signing took place in 1781, a President was needed to run the country.

John Hanson was chosen unanimously by Congress (which included George Washington). In fact, all the other potential candidates refused to run against him, as he was a major player in the revolution and an extremely influential member of Congress.

As the first President, Hanson had quite the shoes to fill. No one had ever been President and the role was poorly defined. His actions in office would set precedent for all future Presidents.

He took office just as the Revolutionary War ended. Almost immediately, the troops demanded to be paid. As would be expected after any long war, there were no funds to meet the salaries. As a result, the soldiers threatened to overthrow the new government and put Washington on the throne as a monarch.

All the members of Congress ran for their lives, leaving Hanson as the only guy left running the government. He somehow managed to calm the troops down and hold the country together. If he had failed, the government would have fallen almost immediately and everyone would have been bowing to King Washington.

Hanson, as President, ordered all foreign troops off American soil, as well as the removal of all foreign flags. This was quite the feat, considering the fact that so many European countries had a stake in the United States since the days following Columbus.

Hanson established the Great Seal of the United States, which all Presidents have since been required to use on all official documents. President Hanson also established the first Treasury Department, the first Secretary of War, and the first Foreign Affairs Department. Lastly, he declared that the fourth Thursday of every November was to be Thanksgiving Day, which is still true today.

The Articles of Confederation only allowed a President to serve a one year term during any three year period, so Hanson actually accomplished quite a bit in such little time.

Seven other presidents were elected after him — Elias Boudinot (1782-83), Thomas Mifflin (1783-84), Richard Henry Lee (1784-85), John Hancock (1785-86), Nathan Gorman (1786-87), Arthur St. Clair (1787-88), and Cyrus Griffin (1788-89) — all prior to Washington taking office.

So what happened?

Why don’t we hear about the first eight presidents?

It’s quite simple — The Articles of Confederation didn’t work well. The individual states had too much power and nothing could be agreed upon. A new doctrine needed to be written — something we know as the Constitution.

And that leads us to the end of our story.

George Washington was definitely not the first President of the United States. He was the first President of the United States under the Constitution we follow today.

And the first eight Presidents are forgotten in history.


Books, journals, and encyclopedias

  • Burnett, Edward Cody (1941). The Continental Congress. New York: Norton.
  • Chaney, Kevin R. (2000). “Hanson, Alexander Contee”. American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press.(subscription required)
  • Fanelli, Doris Devine; Diethorn, Karie (2001). History of the Portrait Collection, Independence National Historical Park. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.
  • Hanson, George A. (1876). Old Kent: The Eastern Shore of Maryland. Baltimore: Forges.
  • Lee, Jean B. (1994). The Price of Nationhood: The American Revolution in Charles County. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Levering, Ralph B. (1976). “John Hanson, Public Servant”. Maryland Historical Magazine 71 (Summer): 113–33.
  • Mereness, Newton D. (1932). “Hanson, John” (PDF). Dictionary of American Biography VIII. New York: Scribner. pp. 231–32.
  • Morris, Richard B. (1987). “The Origins of the Presidency”. Presidential Studies Quarterly 17 (4 [Fall]): 673–87.
  • Newman, Harry Wright (1970) [First published 1940]. Charles County Gentry: A Genealogical History of Six Emigrants... Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing.
  • Papenfuse, Edward C.; Day, Alan F.; Jordan, David W.; Stiverson, Gregory A. (1979). “Hanson, John, Jr.” (PDF). A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635–1789 1. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 405–06. ISBN0-8018-1995-4. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  • Russel, George Ely (October 1988). “John Hanson of Maryland: A Swedish Heritage Disproved”. The American Genealogist 63 (4), cited in Elisabeth Thorsell (December 30, 2002). “Was the First President of the United States a Swede?”. The Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies. Retrieved October 10, 2007.
  • Sanders, Jennings B. (1930). The Presidency of the Continental Congress, 1774–89. Chicago.
  • Stiverson, Gregory A. (2000). “Hanson, John, Jr.”. American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press.(subscription required)
  • Wilson, Rick K. (1994). Congressional Dynamics: Structure, Coordination, and Choice in the First American Congress, 1774–1789. Stanford University Press.
  • Winquist, Alan H.; Rousselow-Winquist, Jessica (2006). Touring Swedish America. Minnesota Historical Society.

Newspapers and online sources

Further reading

  • Kremer, J. Bruce. John Hanson of Mulberry Grove. New York: A. & C. Boni, 1938.
  • Nelson, Jacob A. John Hanson and the inseparable union: an authentic biography of a revolutionary leader, patriot and statesman. Boston: Meador Publishing Company, 1939.
  • Smith, Seymour Wemyss. John Hanson, our first president. New York: Brewer, Warren & Putnam, 1932.

Thomas, Douglas H. John Hanson, President of the United States in Congress Assembled, 1781–1782. 1898. According to the American National Biography, the biographies of Hanson are not “adequate”, though this is one, written by Hanson’s grandson, is “perhaps the most satisfactory” of the lot.