Presidents: William Henry Harrison

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William Henry Harrison was the last President to be born as a British subject. He was also our first President to die while in office.

a young William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison was born on February 9, 1773 at his family’s plantation, Berkeley Plantation, in Charles City County, Virginia. He was the youngest of the seven children born to Benjamin Harrison V and Elizabeth Bassett Harrison.

William Henry Harrison would follow in the political footsteps of his father. Benjamin Harrison V served on the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence, and was the fifth governor of Virginia.

William Henry Harrison was taught at home until the age of 14, when he entered the Presbyterian school, Hampden-Sydney College. He studied there for three years before moving on, eventually entering the University of Pennsylvania. While at University, Harrison began his medical studies, at his father’s insistence. However, this was a subject he did not greatly enjoy.

In the spring of 1791, Harrison’s father died, leaving no money for further schooling. William Henry Harrison was only eighteen years old at this time. Harrison left his future medical career for a military career.

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison was commissioned as an ensign of the 1st Infantry Regiment in the U.S. Army after a meeting with Governor Henry Lee III. He quickly rose to rank of Lieutenant and learned under the tutelage of Major General Anthony Wayne.

In 1793, Harrison’s mother died. Upon inheritance of part of the family land, Harrison sold his portion to his brother.

On November 25, 1793 Harrison eloped with Anna Tuthill Symmes, after her father refused to give his blessing on their marriage. When his father-in-law confronted him and demanded to know how he would support a family, Harrison is claimed to have responded  “by my sword, and my own right arm, sir.” Judge Symmes did not accept his son-in-law until much success had come on the battlefield.

Anna Harrison would go on to provide her husband with ten children, however her many pregnancies often left her ill.

In July 1798, Harrison was appointed as territorial secretary to the Northwest Territoy. While there Harrison led a successful horse breeding enterprise and fought for lower land costs. He fought for further migration in the territory, which would eventually lead to statehood.

He became the first congressional delegate for the territory and served in the U.S. Congress. He became chairman of the Committee on Public Lands, which eventually led to the Land Act of 1800. He also helped to have the Northwest Territory divided into two smaller regions. One region would consist of modern day Ohio and Michigan; while the other consisted of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and portions of Michigan and Minnesota.

President William Henry Harrison

On May 13, 1800 President John Adams appointed Harrison as Governor of the Indiana Territory. He held this position until resigning on December 28, 1812, to continue his military career during the War of 1812.

During his time as governor, Harrison founded Jefferson University in 1801, built two homes in the territory, and supervised 11 treaties with Indian leaders.

Tensions rose with the Native Americans and Tecumesh, a Shawnee leader, threatened to side with the British, if demands over land rights and other issues were not met. A surprise attack was launched on Harrison’s army on November 7, 1811 near the Tippecanoe River. This became known as the Battle of Tippecanoe. Harrison defeated the tribal forces and became known as a national hero and the battle became famous.

The following year, Harrison left the governorship to join the military in the War of 1812. Harrison rose to the rank of brigadier general and had sole command of the new recruits for the Army of the Northwest. Harrison gained many victories on the battlefield, including the battle in which Tecumesh was killed {Battle of the Thames}. Upon the end of the War of 1812, Harrison resigned and was awarded a gold medal for his services during the war. He was also assigned to negotiate a peace treaty with the Indians, known as the Treaty of Greenville and in 1815 the Treaty of Spring Wells.

The following two decades continued to be busy with public service including the House of Representatives {1816}, Ohio State Senate {1819-1821}, and Minister to Colombia {1828-1829}.

William Henry Harrison

When not serving public office, William Henry Harrison and his family made their home on the farm they’d built in North Bend, Ohio. He lived on a small pension, the income from his farm and a whiskey distillery he’d established, which he closed when he noticed the effects the whiskey took on his customers.

Harrison was hailed as a National Hero based on his military career and about a dozen books were written on his life.

In 1836, he ran for President but Martin Van Buren won the election. He then served as the Clerk of Courts for Hamilton County for the next four years.

In 1840, Harrison again ran on the Whig party for President. The Democrats fought back by saying Harrison was an old man, out of touch with the times. John Tyler was elected as Harrison’s running mate. He was portrayed as a humble, down to earth man who lived in a log cabin and enjoyed apple cider. Their campaign slogan became “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too.” Harrison won in a landslide.

On March 4, 1841, William Henry Harrison was sworn in as President of the United States. The day was cold and wet and Harrison refused to wear a hat or overcoat. He also rode on horseback, rather than in a carriage, to his inauguration. He delivered the longest inaugural address in history, which took him almost two hours to read. On the day of his inauguration, a picture of Harrison was taken making him the first sitting President to have his picture made and the first Presidential photograph. {Pictures made of John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren were made after they left office}.

In the month he was in office, Harrison was inundated with social obligations. He resisted pressure from associates and other Whigs who insisted that Harrison follow their propaganda. Harrison called a special session of congress to discuss the financial situation of the country.

William Henry Harrison

On March 26, 1841, Harrison became ill with a cold. Rest and quiet became quiet to find in the busy White House. Numerous treatments were tried, but did not work. Harrison died in the early morning hours of April 4, 1841. His last words were for Vice President Tyler and were  “Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.” 

Harrison became the first President to die while in office after serving on 30 days, 12 hours and 30 minutes. He was 68 years old.

His funeral was held on April 7, 1841 and he was eventually buried in North Bend, Ohio.

The death of William Henry Harrison revealed a flaw in the U.S. Constitution regarding the “Vice President acting as President”. This tradition of the Vice President becoming President held, until the 25 Amendment, ratified in 1967, provided greater detail to the laws of succession.

William Henry Harrison died penniless and Congress voted to provide a widow’s pension for his widow.

In 1889, William Henry Harrison’s grandson, Benjamin Harrison, would become the 23rd President of the United States. The Harrison’s are the only pair of grandparent-grandchild to hold office of the Presidency.

William Henry Harrison held the title of oldest elected President for over 150 years, until the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980. {Note: President Donald J. Trump became the oldest President upon his inauguration in 2017}.


9th President of the United States
(March 4, 1841 to April 4, 1841)Nicknames: “Old Tippecanoe“; “Old Tip”

Born: February 9, 1773, in Berkeley, Virginia
Died: April 4, 1841, in Washington, D.C.

Father: Benjamin Harrison
Mother: Elizabeth Bassett Harrison
Married: Anna Tuthill Symmes (1775-1864), on November 25, 1795
Children: Elizabeth Bassett Harrison (1796-1846); John Cleves Symmes Harrison (1798-1830); Lucy Singleton Harrison (1800-26); William Henry Harrison (1802-38); John Scott Harrison (1804-78); Benjamin Harrison (1806-40); Mary Symmes Harrison (1809-42); Carter Bassett Harrison (1811-39); Anna Tuthill Harrison (1813-65); James Findlay Harrison (1814-17)

Religion: Episcopalian
Education: Attended Hampden-Sydney College
Occupation: Soldier
Political Party: Whig

  • Secretary of Northwest Territory, 1798
  • Territorial Delegate to Congress, 1799-1801
  • Territorial Governor of Indiana, 1801-13
  • U.S. Congressman from Ohio, 1816-19
  • United States Senator, 1825-28
  • Minister to Colombia, 1828-29

Presidential Salary: $25,000/year



  • Delivered the longest inaugural address on March 4. It was an extremely cold day and Harrison did not wear a hat while delivering the 105 minute speech. He contracted pneumonia and died in the White House one month later.

1773 Born on February 9, 1773 in Charles City County, Virginia. He came from a prominent political family who lived on the Berkeley Plantation, the traditional home of the Harrison family.
He was well educated and attended the University of Pennsylvania.

1775–83 The American Revolution, the American War of Independence, led by George Washington was fought between Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.

1795 William Harrison married Anna Tuthill Symmes, they had 10 children, 9 of whom lived into adulthood

1798 Secretary of Northwest Territory, 1798

1799-1801 Territorial Delegate to Congress, 1799-1801

1801-13 Territorial Governor of Indiana, 1801-13

1812 The War of 1812 which has also been called the second War for Independence, between the United States and Great Britain

1816-19 U.S. Congressman from Ohio, 1816-19

1817 – 1818 He fought in the First Seminole War when American slave owners travelled to Spanish Florida in search of runaway African slaves and Seminole Indians who had been trading weapons with the British in the War of 1812.

1823 James Monroe implemented the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 which declared against foreign colonization or intervention in the Americas.

1825-28 United States Senator, 1825-28

1828-29 Minister to Colombia, 1828-29

1835 – 1836 The Texas Revolution (October 2, 1835 – April 21, 1836) which included the famous Battle of the Alamo. Texas settlers from the United States to join the Texan Army which defeated the Mexican Army

1838 More than 15,000 Cherokee Indians were forced to march from Georgia to Oklahoma Indian Territory. Approximately 4,000 died from starvation and disease along the “Trail of Tears.”

1841 He became the 9th President of America in 1841 and served just for 32 days

1841 William Harrison gave his inaugural address in freezing snow without adequate clothing that led to his death from pleurisy & pneumonia. He died within a month on April 4, 1841 in Washington D.C.


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