William Henry Harrison
Ninth President of the United States
b. February 9, 1773-d. April 4, 1841
The Harrison Tomb
North Bend, Ohio * Hamilton Co.
Between the Indiana boarder & Cincinnati, Ohio overlooking the Ohio river on Cliff Road off of U.S. 50.
William Henry Harrison is claimed by at least three states: Virginia, Ohio and Indiana. He was born at Berkeley Plantation, Virginia, his family home, on February 9th, 1773. His father, Benjamin, was a member of the Continental Congress and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. William Henry planned to be a medical doctor, but because of lack of funds after his fathers death, he made the military his career. By 1792 the ambitious young man was an aide-de-camp to General “Mad” Anthony Wayne during the Ohio Indian Wars. He fought bravely at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. He rose to the rank of Captain after receiving the command of Fort Washington at Cincinnati. There he met Anna Symmes (1774- 1864) who was the daughter of Judge John Symmes. John Cleves Symmes was a land baron who had purchased the land between the Miami and Little Miami Rivers known as the “Symmes Purchase”. He sold plots of land to settlers. William Henry and Anna eloped and Judge Symmes was furious thinking it a bad match for his daughter. When asked how he expected to support a wife, Harrison said, My Sword is my means of support, sir!”
Harrison resigned his commission in June, 1798 and settled on his large farm at North Bend. William Henry and Anna eventually had a large family of six boys and four girls. The family home at North Bend began as a four room log cabin which was expanded over the years to sixteen rooms and covered with clapboard. The Harrisons were famous for their hospitality and their home was always full of children and guests. Harrison was appointed secretary of the Northwest Territory. In 1799 he became the first delegate to Congress from the territory. His legislative agenda was twofold: (1) he insisted on the sale of small parcels of land so that the poor could afford to purchase land in the Northwest Territory, and, (2) he advocated the division of the Northwest Territory into the Ohio and Indiana Territories.
In 1800 he was appointed Territorial Governor of the new Indiana Territory. He served in this capacity for 12 years. He was also superintendent of Indian Affairs. Vincennes was chosen as the seat of government since, at that time, it was located in the most central location in the most populated part of the Indiana Territory. In 1801, Harrison bought 300 acres of cleared land in Vincennes along the Wabash River to build his governor’s mansion, Grouseland. During his tenure as governor, about 2,500,000 acres of land on the Wabash and White rivers were purchased from the Indians. The Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, known as “The Prophet” denounced the treaties and the sale of land. Tecumseh sent forth a call to all the Native American tribes to unite and return to the old ways by resisting European incursions.
While Tecumseh was in the south garnering support for his new confederacy, events in the Indiana Territory swiftly led to the Battle of Tippecanoe on November 7, 1811. As Harrison and his 1,000 troops approached “Prophet’s Town” (Tippecanoe), the capital of the Indian confederacy, “The Prophet” was under considerable pressure to attack. Tecumseh had warned his brother not to attack the white men until he had recruited more tribes in the south and strengthened the Indian Confederacy. “The Prophet”, in a religious furor, decided to attack anyway and promised his followers that the white man’s bullets could not harm them. At dawn on November 7, he lead his men against Harrison’s troops. The Indians after a fierce battle were routed. The Battle of Tippecanoe made Harrison a national hero. He was given the nicknamed “Old Tippecanoe.” Tecumseh’s dream of a Native American Confederacy was destroyed and “The Prophet” was discredited and almost lost his life at the hands of his demoralized and disillusioned followers. The scene of the battle is now a beautiful park with an interpretive museum at Battle Ground, Indiana.
Harrison’s treatment of the Indians, is a controversial issue today. Harrison was instructed to pacify the Indians and also acquire their land for American settlement. Opinions differ as to his tactics. Some see him as unscrupulously taking advantage of Native Americans by plying them with alcohol and taking advantage of their puzzlement about white culture. This is somewhat unfair. He seems to have had a rather paternalistic attitude which included a certain respect for Native American culture. It was tempered by the realization that removal was the most likely solution. Harrison did prevent the sale of liquor to the Indians and introduced inoculation against smallpox. He knew that the future would demand either total assimilation on the part of the Tribes or removal further west. The American fear of continuing British manipulation of the Tribes cemented the public demand for removal especially after the War of 1812.
At the beginning the War of 1812, Harrison was made a brigadier general in the regular army and given command of the Army of the Northwest. During the War of 1812 he achieved the rank of major general. The struggle between Harrison and Tecumseh continued. Tecumseh allied himself with the British since he saw this as the only option to counter the American settlement of Indian lands. The two leaders faced each other again twice at Fort Meigs, Ohio and finally at the Battle of the Thames in Canada. It was here that Tecumseh was killed.
Harrison returned to his farm at North Bend. In 1816 he was elected a Representative to Congress. In 1819 he was elected an Ohio State Senator. In 1825 he was elected to the United States Senate and became the chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. In 1828 he was appointed the American minister to Colombia. He was nominated for the Presidency by the Whig Party in 1836. Van Buren won but Harrison was a strong second. To the great surprise of Henry Clay who coveted the nomination, the Whigs nominated Harrison in 1840 teaming him with John Tyler, a man with distinctive southern sympathies to help balance the ticket. Because Harrison was associated in the public mind with the “west”, the Democrats ridiculed him as a “westerner” saying he should take his pension, go sit on his porch of his log cabin, and drink hard cider for the rest of his life. This political mud sling was transformed into a political campaign slogan. Harrison, even though he had been born in Virginia into an aristocratic family, became the “log cabin and hard cider” candidate. He and Tyler became, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too!”
Legend states that William Henry Harrison died from pneumonia which developed after he gave his one hour and forty-five minute Inaugural speech in a snow storm. He did catch a cold from the Inaugural, but, the “fatal” cold was caught a couple of weeks later after he went out shopping. It was most likely the combination of age and exhaustion which made him susceptible to pneumonia. One week after his election he was faced with the possibility of another war with England. This was avoided. He was constantly hounded by office-seekers. He had issued a call for Congress to meet in special session to consider the Whig legislative agenda which included a high tariff and the establishment a third United States bank. Before anything could be acted upon, Harrison was dead. Anna Symmes Harrison had been too ill to travel with her husband to Washington D.C. She never lived in the White House. Harrison’s body was returned to North Bend, Ohio where he is buried.