William Henry Harrison (1773-1841)

Figure 1.--.

William Henry Harrison was the 9th president of the United States, one of the presidents elected based on military service, in his case the successful conduct of Indian wars. He had the most amazing boyhood of any American president. The Whigs found nominating a military hero was the only way they could win a presidential election. Harrison was the shortest serving president, serving only 31 days, and the first President to die in office. His basic precept was the greatest good for the greatest number of people. A grandson, Benjamin Harrison, also became president.


William's father was Benjamin Harrison V. He was among the most important patriot leaders in Virgina. He was as a result, one of the Virginia delegates to the the First Continental Congress. He was an intimate friend of George Washington. At the Continental Congress, he and Peyton Randolph roomed with Colonel Washington. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It is said that he mentioned to the other delegates that what they were doing was a hanging offense. Being a portly gentelman, he kidded the thiner delegates that they may dangle for some time. [Green, pp. 2-3.] After the Revolution he was a respected three-term governor of Virginia.


Harrison was in fact a scion of the Virginia planter aristocracy. He came from a wealthy Virginia skave holding family. He was born at Berkeley plantation on the James River in 1773. William was the youngest of seven children. Berekely was a plantation on the James River near the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown and Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia until the Revolution forced its relocation to Richmond which as inland and safer from British attack. Wiliam's relatives were among the earliest settlers. He grew up on the Berkley Plantation. He would have had few white boys to play with. His boyhood companions must have been mostly slave boys. Harrison was to describe himself as "a child of the Revolution". He was about 9 years old when the British with Benedict Arnold landed and marched triumphant through Berkeley plantation on the way to seize Richmond. Yorktown is also near Berkely and William remembered the British streaming back from defeats toward Yorktown. He also remembers the French and American troops as they moved to surround the British. Tge familyy's plantationn's location on the James River was close to of all places, Yorktown. Lafayette and Washington dined at Berkeley during the seige. William waved as his father rode off to joined the Virginia militia that reinforced Washinton's Continntal Army. His father was a close associate of General Washington and William remembers the General dining with his family at Berkely. He could here the guns from Yorktown. [Green, p. 1.] No other president, even President Adams' son John Quincey Adams had boyhood experiences like that. William grew up thinking of the British as America's enemy. In later life he recalls a British aristocrat who visited Berekely after the Revolution at the invitation of his father. The nobelman remarked that the exteriors of the Virginia plantations were the equal of those in Britain, but that the intriors were devoid of paintings and decorations. His father replied, "I can account for my paintings and decorations, sir--your soldiers buned thm in my back yard." [Green, p. 2.]


William was tutored at home and never attended a school as a boy. He studied grammar and classics. He enrolled at Hampden-Sydney College where he continued his study of the classics as well of history. His father looked on William and Mary as to influenced by loyalists. His father wanted him to be a dictor, si William begn the study of medicine in Richmond during 1791. Then he wnt to Philadelphia to persue his medical studies.

George Washington

William would have first remembered Washington as the dashing commander of the Continental Army visiting his father at their plantation. He would have heard the two discussing strategy. After the Revolution Wiliam would have heard his father discussing the country's future. One of the issues of greatest concerns to Washington was the West. When William's father was governor, Washington wrote to him stressing the importance of opening a road to Ohio, which at that time was the West, to bind it to the East. [Green, p. 10.] Washington realized that there would be a competition with the British over the West, even though it was clearly awarded to America in the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War. Surelyoverhearing these cinversations must have affected how the young William looked upon the West. Little did either his father or Washington realize that the boy who listenened to their conversations play such a pivital role in winning the West.

Military/Political Career

William Henry Harrison was along with Andrew Jackson, the most celevrated military commanders ofc thge earlyvAmerican Republic. Harrison's military exploit wre conducted in the Notyh wjile Jackson won his laurels in the South. Harroson's military victories at Tippecamoe and during the Ear of 1812, like Jackson's victories, propelled him into politics. He became aeader of the new Whig Party, along with Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Interestingly, it was his political career that left the most permanent stmpn on the early Republic. Despite serving only 3 days, Harrison rewrote the rules for ptrsidential candidates.

Army carer

Suddenly Harrison switched interests (1791). He obtained a commission as ensign in the First Infantry of the Regular Army. His commission was personally aproved by President Washington. He was assigned to Fort Washington in the Northwest Territory. An American army had been defeated by indians supplied by the British. Fort Washington was the main American strongpoint. It was here that he began his military career. And it was to be in the Northwest Territory rather than Virginia where he spent much of his life.

Indian campaign

Harrison , in the campaign against the Indians, Harrison served as aide-de-camp to General "Mad Anthony" Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which opened most of the Ohio area to settlement.


After resigning from the Army (1798), he became Secretary of the Northwest Territory, was its first delegate to Congress, and helped obtain legislation dividing the Territory into the Northwest and Indiana Territories. He was appointed Governor of the Indiana Territory (1801), serving 12 years.


Harrison's prime task as governor was to obtain title to Indian lands so settlers could press forward into the wilderness. When the Indians retaliated, Harrison was responsible for defending the settlements. The threat against settlers became serious (1809). An eloquent and energetic chieftain, Tecumseh, with his religious brother, the Prophet, began to strengthen an Indian confederation to prevent further encroachment. Harrison received permission to attack the Indian Confederacy (1811). While Tecumseh was away seeking more allies, Harrison led about 1,000 men toward the Prophet's town. Suddenly, before dawn on November 7, the Indians attacked his camp on Tippecanoe River. After heavy fighting, Harrison repulsed them, but suffered 190 dead and wounded.


The Battle of Tippecanoe, upon which Harrison's fame was to rest was in truth only a minor skirmish. The foe was a badly outnumbered and poorly organized Native American village. [Collins] Harrison did not manage the fight well. And the Americans suffered most of the casualties. It was, however, a victory. And it disrupted Tecumseh's confederacy but failed to diminish Indian raids. By the spring of 1812, they were in the settlers view again terrorizing the frontier. Of course from the Indian perspective they were protectiing their land from encroaching settlers.

War of 1812

Both Harrison and Jackson won military laurels during the War of 1812. They were among the few army commanders who destinguished themselves duruing the War. He was given the command of the Army in the Northwest with the rank of brigadier general. Harrison's military performance was much stronger in the War of 1812 than had been the case at Tippecanoe. [Collins] At the Battle of the Thames, north of Lake Erie, he defeated the combined British and Indian forces, and killed Tecumseh (October 5, 1813). The Indians scattered, never again to offer serious resistance in what was then called the Northwest. There after Harrison returned to civilian life.

Election of 1840

Harrison's 'Log Cabin and Hard Cider' campaign managed to transform in a single year how presidential candidates pursued the office. "Give him a barrel of hard cider and settle a pension of $2,000 a year on him, and my word for it," a Democratic newspaper foolishly gibed, "he will sit ... by the side of a 'sea coal' fire, and study moral philosophy. " The Whigs, seizing on this political misstep, in 1840 presented their candidate William Henry Harrison as a simple frontier Indian fighter, living in a log cabin and drinking cider, in sharp contrast to an aristocratic champagne-sipping Van Buren. The Whigs, in need of a national hero, nominated him for President in 1840. Harrison was the first presidential candidate to campaign actively for the offiuce. The campaign became known as the "Log cabin campaign". Harrison won by a majority of less than 150,000, but swept the Electoral College, 234 to 60.


Harrison was the oldest man up to that time to be elected president. He also was to have the shortest presidency. When he arrived in Washington in February 1841, Harrison let Daniel Webster edit his Inaugural Address, ornate with classical allusions. Webster obtained some deletions, boasting in a jolly fashion that he had killed "seventeen Roman proconsuls as dead as smelts, every one of them." Webster had reason to be pleased, for while Harrison was nationalistic in his outlook, he emphasized in his Inaugural that he would be obedient to the will of the people as expressed through Congress.


Harrison before he had been in office a month, caught a cold that developed into pneumonia. On April 4, 1841, he died--the first President to die in office--and with him died the Whig program and eventually the very existence of the Whigs as a national political party. The Whigs had nominated a democrat, John Tyler for President.

Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison (1775-1864)


Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison as a girl of 19, bringing pretty clothes and dainty manners, she went out to Ohio with her father, Judge John Cleves Symmes, who had taken up land for settlement on the "north bend" of the Ohio River. She had grown up a young lady of the East, completing her education at a boarding school in New York City.


A clandestine marriage on November 25, 1795, united Anna Symmes and Lt. William Henry Harrison, an experienced soldier at 22. Though the young man came from one of the best families of Virginia, Judge Symmes did not want his daughter to face the hard life of frontier forts. The Judge apparently withheld his blessing, complaining that his daughter had "made rather a run away match of it." Harrison the Judge said, "can neither bleed, plead, nor preach, and if he could plow I should be satisfied." Eventualy, seeing her happiness, he accepted her choice.


Though Harrison won fame as an Indian fighter and hero of the War of 1812, he spent much of his life in a civilian career. His service in Congress as territorial delegate from Ohio gave Anna and their two children a chance to visit his family at Berkeley, their plantation on the James River. Her third child was born on that trip, at Richmond in September 1800. Harrison's appointment as governor of Indiana Territory took them even farther into the wilderness; he built a handsome house at Vincennes that blended fortress and plantation mansion. Five more children were born to Anna. Facing war in 1812, the family went to the farm at North Bend. Before peace was assured, she had borne two more children. There, at news of her husband's landslide electoral victory in 1840, home-loving Anna said simply: "I wish that my husband's friends had left him where he is, happy and contented in retirement."

Washington D.C.

Anna Harrison was too ill to travel when her husband set out from Ohio in 1841 for his inauguration. It was a long trip and a difficult one even by steamboat and railroad, with February weather uncertain at best, and she at age 65 was well acquainted with the rigors of frontier journeys. When she decided not to go to Washington with him, the President-elect asked his daughter-in-law Jane Irwin Harrison, widow of his namesake son, to accompany him and act as hostess until Anna's proposed arrival in May. Half a dozen other relatives happily went with them. On April 4, exactly one month after his inauguration, he died, so Anna never made the journey. She had already begun her packing when she learned of her loss.


Accepting grief with admirable dignity, she stayed at her home in North Bend until the house burned in 1858; she lived nearby with her last surviving child, John Scott Harrison, until she died in February 1864 at the age of 88.


The Harrisons had 10 children. Unusually for the 19th century, all but one of the children survived childhood. Many died, however, before their illustrious father. One son produced a future president.

Elizabeth Bassett (1796-1846)

The oldest girl was Betsey. Her father was often away fighting Indians or on military postings during her childhood. She wed John Cleves Short who farmed land given rhem by hisfather-in-law. She was affected by the death of her father as well as several brithers and sisters. She died a few years after herfather.

John Cleves Symmes (1798-1830)

John was named after a friend of his father and normally called Symmes. He lived in the Indian Territory (Indiana) and became a respected figure there. He married Clarissa Pike, daughter of General Zebulon Pike foe whom Pike's Peak is named. The couple had six children. His father helped secure a position with the government land office. At a time that officials often used government office to enrich themselves, he was noted for his honesty. During one of his father's political campaigns, however, he was accused of embezzelment political foes and fired. He was hurt by the accusation and died during the controversy, several years before his father became president.

Lucy Singleton (1800-26)

Lucy married David Este who became a judge in Ohio's Superior Court. They had four children before she died at the young age of 26.

William Henry Jr. (1802-38)

William was not a particularly good student, but became a lawyer in Cinncinati. He married Janr Findlay, the daughter of a family friend. He turned to drink which affected his health.

John Scott (1804-78)

John Scott lived a relatively uneventful life. He was, however, the only one of the Harrison children to live to an advanced age. He was elected to Congress twice. He was primarily occupied with the family farm in Ohio. He an his first wife Lucretia had three children. With is second wife Elizabeth he had six children. All but one of the children lived realtively short lives. The son, Benjamin, would survived to an advanced age would participate in the Civil War and become a future president, making John Scott the only person whose father was both a president and whose son was a president.

Benjamin (1806-40):

Benjamin participated in the Texas War for independence and was captured by the Mexicans. After the War he was accussed of cowardice by his father's political enemies. He became a doctor. His first wife wife Louisa had three children. His second wife Mary had two. Despite his meduical career, he died at a rather young age a few months before his father was elected president.

Mary Symmes (1809-42)

Mary married a doctor when she was 20 years old. The couple had six children. She died relatively young only a year after her father.

Carter Bassett (1811-39)

Carter opened a law practice. He married Mary Anne Sutherland and they had a child. Carter died, however, at a young age before his father was elected president.

Anna Tuthill (1813-45/65)

Anna married a cousin, William Henry Harrison Taylor, who had been named for her father. There are varying accounts of Anna. One account reports her death in 1865, much later than most other accounts. One report suggests thatvshe had six children.

James Findlay (1814-17)

James was the only one of the Harrison children that did not survive childhood.


Collins, Gail. William Henry Harrison. American Presidents Series.

Green, James A. William Henry Harrison: His Life and Times (Garrett and Massie:Richmond, Virginia, 1941), 536p.


Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main President's page]
[18th Century] [19th Century] [20th Century] [21st Century]

Created: June 25, 1999
Last changed: 4:15 AM 4/10/2007