John Langdon


Public life


NA/New England region


Maritime Republic (1751-1815)








Merchant and politician� Investing first in some of Rindge's West Indian voyages and then skippering a few himself in the early 1760s, Langdon entered the town's maritime bonanza. Within a few years his own vessels headed out of the Piscataqua laden with lumber, hides, beef, and dried cod and returned carrying sugar and rum. By 1770, having abandoned seafaring, he and Woodbury Langdon, his brother and partner, claimed a tenuous place in Portsmouth's tightly knit mercantile elite.

Though he was hampered by the tightened British trade regulations of the 1760s, it was a personal brush with imperial power that pushed Langdon toward colonial resistance and led him, ultimately, to revolution. In October 1771 British customs agents in Portsmouth seized the Resolution, a brig owned by another local merchant but carrying goods that belonged to Langdon. Because the cargo contained 100 hogsheads of allegedly undeclared molasses, port officials under British law condemned the ship along with its entire contents�

With its chilling effect on trade, the American Revolution played havoc on the old merchant aristocracy in Portsmouth. Runaway inflation and taxes on speculative lands also diminished many established families, while those who remained loyal to the Crown faced confiscation of their property. Langdon, by contrast, made a fortune on the Revolution, emerging afterward as one of the wealthiest men in the state� Mainly through his connection with New Hampshire congressman William Whipple, who sat on the Marine Committee, he also landed contracts to build ships for the Continental navy, including the Ranger, which Captain John Paul Jones made famous during the war�

Turning down both a third Senate term and an offer from President-elect Jefferson to be secretary of the Navy, Langdon chose comfortable Portsmouth over the swampy new federal capital.

Related Images

Date: 1795
Date: 1795