William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison was born in 1773, at the Berkeley Plantation on the James River. His father was one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.
This is a region where historic markers along the road are as common as poison ivy.
Though Harrison would make much of his later associations with log cabins during campaigns, he was born into a family that was as landed as gentry gets, at the time.
The main house at Berkeley Plantation, built in 1726, is believed to be oldest three-story brick house in Virginia. Each of the first ten presidents dined here at some point in history.
The first settlers arrived at Berkeley’s riverfront in 1619, celebrating Thanksgiving in the New World more than a year before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Attacked by Indians, they abandoned the settlement a few years later.
Harrison lived on this historic plantation until the age of 16 or so, when he went away to school, then joined the Army and was assigned to a part of the Northwest Territory now known as Ohio.
Much later in life, he returned to Berkeley Plantation after being elected President, to write his inaugural address. He died a month after delivering the address in the Capitol, ending the shortest presidential term in history, just 32 days.
One year later the plantation was sold, and over time it became known as an encampment in the Civil War which was visited by Lincoln, and as the place where the bugle call “Taps” was composed.
In 1907, Berkeley Plantation was purchased by John Jamieson, a Scotsman who had served as a drummer boy in the Union army during the Civil War.
It has stayed in that family ever since, undergoing periodic restorations that, thankfully, are not too thorough. It is open to the public.
William Henry Harrison is more identified with Grouseland, his home in Vincennes, Indiana, where from 1800 he served as the first Governor of the Indiana Territory.
He started building this house in 1803, and it has some similarity to his boyhood home at Berkeley Plantation, though its walls are 18 inches thick (to help protect its occupants from Indian attacks).
Grouseland had 17 rooms, enough for his wife and eight children.
After the Harrisons moved to Ohio in 1812, the house was used as a hotel for railway workers, and as a grain storage silo. It was slated for demolition to make room for a municipal water storage tank, but was acquired by a local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Today Grouseland is operated by a historical foundation and is open to the public.
Harrison fought in the War of 1812, then returned to his family in North Bend, Ohio, where his wife’s father owned a large amount of land in the region, as part of a federal grant for his service in the Revolutionary War.
Harrison lived in North Bend for the rest of his life, expanding an existing log cabin on the farmstead near the river into a 16-room mansion. The house burned down in 1858, and nothing remains at the site, except a plaque that celebrates it as the birthplace of his grandson, Benjamin Harrison (who served as the 23rd President).
William Henry Harrison was 68 years old when he was elected president in 1840 - the oldest president to be elected, until Ronald Reagan came along 140 years later. When Harrison died after only a month, he was the first president to die in office. His body was brought to North Bend, where a large memorial tomb was later constructed.
The tomb includes a large tower overlooking the river. Even though Harrison was born at a historic plantation, his rustic life on the frontier was promoted in his campaigns for president, and he made much of his time living in log cabins, even if they were enlarged into timber-framed mansions.
Since Harrison was known to have made whiskey at his farm before his first run for the presidency in 1836, he became known as the “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” candidate, and popular log cabin shaped glass whisky bottles were produced by the E.C. Booz company for the campaign (the origin of the term “booze”).
Some historians see William Henry Harrison as the first president to campaign in a modern way, traveling the country stumping, and managing his identity through publicity events. His bravado continued through his delivery of the longest inaugural speech in history, nearly two hours, in the cold winter of Washington DC, without a coat, after arriving dramatically on horseback.
Though his death was perceived to have been caused by pneumonia and an excessive display of fortitude, later research suggests he might have died from enteric fever, contracted from primitive sewage ponds near the White House.
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