John Langdon and the First Battle of the American Revolution

John Langdon and the First Battle of the American Revolution

The Battle of Fort William & Mary is the first major instance of Patriots taking up arms against the British in the American Revolution.  John Langdon was at the head of the first attack.  What follows is a much under appreciated story.


The American Revolutionary War is commonly known to have broken out because the British were collecting unfair taxes and trampling on colonial rights.

While this is a correct assessment of the backdrop to revolution, the actual hostilities broke out over one thing: gunpowder.

During the tense years leading up to war, many officials on both sides of the Atlantic were attempting to find a peaceful resolution to the troubles.  The common people, however, could not be certain.

The Powder Alarm

When Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage began collecting gunpowder from colonial storehouses, the people freaked out.  If they didn’t have powder, they couldn’t shoot guns.  If they couldn’t shoot guns, tyranny could trample through their villages.

For the first time, militias in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire prepared to descend on Boston in a moment’s notice.  

John Langdon

John Langdon had a bright future.  Over the next thirty years he would lead troops at Saratoga, attend the Continental Congress, sign the Constitution, be in attendance for the first decade of the U.S. Senate and be a multi-term Governor of New Hampshire.

On December 12, 1774, however, John Langdon was a 33-year-old resident of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  He had made his name as a successful ship captain and merchant in his early 20’s.

Like many merchants at this time, Langdon’s business was severely affected by Britain’s harsh trade regulations.  He was one of Portsmouth’s leaders in the resistance movement.

Calling out the Militia

The previous day, Paul Revere took a not-so-famous mid-day ride to Portsmouth.

His news was dire.  The British, he warned, were coming.  They were sending a ship to take the gunpowder stored at Fort William & Mary.  

This information was false.  Though Governor Gage had considered this plan, he had decided against it.  That did not matter, as the colonists took Revere at his word.

John Langdon took matters into his own hands.  He recruited a drummer and marched through town calling for the militia.

The Raid of Fort William & Mary

Langdon successfully recruited 400 men that day.  They went up river to Fort William & Mary to seize the gunpowder before the Brits could.

The Fort was guarded by six men.  Though extremely outnumbered, they refused to give up.  They fired on the militia as it approached and continued to throw fists as they were tackled by the much larger group of men.

Despite the engagement, no one was killed and there were only minor injuries.

Langdon had his men remove the gunpowder and release the captured soldiers.


It is interesting to reflect on why this is not considered to be the first battle of the American Revolutionary War.  It has all the same elements of Lexington and Concord (almost universally considered the first battle).  Paul Revere road up to warn ‘the British are coming.’  The British were simply retrieving gunpowder to bring back to Boston.  It was a short battle that the Patriots won.

The most likely reason for this, in this author’s opinion, is twofold.  

First, there was no bloodshed.  No one to make a martyr to the cause.  No ‘shot heard round the world.’

Second, it was only the New Hampshire militia involved.  Lexington and Concord attracted troops from New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island to assist those from Massachusetts.  Additionally, those troops proceeded to Boston to continually hold the British in their position.

What this battle did do, however, was bring fame to John Langdon, who would spend the next thirty years of his life as a leading Founding Father of the United States.


There is no modern biography of John Langdon.  He is a major player in 'New Hampshire and the Revolutionary War' and a minor figure in 'Plain, Honest Men.'  I keep recommending 'Plain...' because I just completed it and cannot speak highly enough about it.  I am not sponsored by these books but I am an affiliate of Amazon so we do get a VERY small cut if you pick one up.

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