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A Child of the Revolution

William Henry Harrison and His World, 1773–1798

Hendrik Booraem V

Publication Year: 2012

Indian wars in early Ohio as seen through the eyes of a future presidentThe American Revolution gave birth to a nation, forever changed the course of political thought, and shattered and transformed the lives of the citizens of the new republic. An iconic figure of the Old Northwest, governor, Indian fighter, general in the War of 1812, and ultimately president, William Henry Harrison was one such citizen. The son of a rich Virginia planter, Harrison saw his family mansion burned and his relatives scattered. In the war’s aftermath, he rejected his inherited beliefs about slavery, religion, and authority, and made an idealistic commitment to serve the United States.

This led him to the United States Army, which at the time was a sorry collection of drunks and derelicts who were about to be reorganized in the face of a serious conflict with the Indian nations of the Ohio valley. Author Hendrik Booraem follows Harrison as Gen. Anthony Wayne attempted to rebuild the army into a fighting force, first in Pittsburgh, then in Cincinnati and the forests of the Northwest. A voracious reader of history and the classics, Harrison became fascinated with the archaeology and ethnology of the region, even as his military service led to a dramatic showdown with the British army, which had secretly been aiding the Indians.

By age 21, Harrison had achieved almost everything he had set his heart on—adventure, recognition, intellectual stimulation, and even a small measure of power. He was the youngest man to put his name to the Treaty of Greenville, which ended Indian control over Ohio lands and opened the way for development and statehood. He even won a bride: Anna Symmes, the Eastern-educated daughter of pioneer landowner John Cleves Symmes. When Congress voted to downsize the army, 25-year-old Harrison, now a family man, fumbled for a second career.

Drawing on a variety of primary documents, Booraem re-creates military life as Lieutenant Harrison experienced it—a life of duels, discipline, rivalries, hardships, baffling encounters with the natives and social relations between officers and men, military and civilians, and men and women.

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vi

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pp. vii-x

Of the two subjects in this book’s subtitle, William Henry Harrison and His World, 1773–1798, the world is the dominant one—the exciting world of the new United States after the fighting had stopped, stirring with high ideals and noble...


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pp. xi

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1 An Ardent Ambition to Become a Soldier

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pp. 1-14

Various reasons exist for being concerned with the early life of a president of the United States, and each affects differently the amount and nature of source material preserved for each individual. Even before achieving the presidency, for example, a candidate...

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2 An Education Manqué

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pp. 15-28

William Henry Harrison’s difficult relationship with his father, the most important person in his early life, can be best evaluated by considering it in the context of the world in which he grew up—the rich, complex world of the great Virginia and Maryland planters. The culture of what Allen Kulikoff has called....

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3 Friend of Human Liberty

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pp. 29-38

At the beginning of 1790, Benjamin Harrison took his sixteen-year-old son out of Millfield and launched him into an inexpensive, second-class preparation for a career in medicine. The Reverend Burges’s school, like most one-man schools in Virginia, had no set list of requirements...

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4 The Grand Gesture

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pp. 39-46

In consequence of his father’s plan for him, Billy Harrison found himself in Philadelphia in the summer of 1791, where the blistering hot days of early June gave way to thunderstorms that brought some relief toward the end of the month. It was a relatively healthy season without major epidemics—just the...

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5 Parallel Lives

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pp. 47-60

Before following young Harrison out to the frontier, where the data on his life becomes more continuous and his motivations somewhat easier to discern, I would like to consider the lives of a few other Virginia boys, contemporaries of his from..

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6 Introduction to the Ohio Country

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pp. 61-72

Ensign Harrison had to march his new recruits to the theater of war in the West, but it is not likely that he did so alone. Standard procedure called for him to unite his new men with an existing company under a more experienced officer...

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7 Aftermath of a Disaster

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pp. 73-79

Fort Washington, headquarters of federal authority in the Northwest Territory and the largest, most solidly built post west of the Alleghenies, stood on the north bank of the Ohio high above the river—an imposing compound of twelve two-story frame houses, all connected, facing inward to form...

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8 The First Regiment

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pp. 80-87

The officers of Harrison’s regiment, the First, were every bit as dissolute as Harrison’s Virginia acquaintance had painted them and proud of it: red-faced and loud-voiced, they were a tight-knit group of men in their thirties and forties, most of...

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9 Cincinnati

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pp. 88-96

The signs of spring appeared early that year, heralding a real frontier spring, wild and beautiful. A warm spell at the end of February sent gallons of melted snow hurtling down the Ohio; by 10 March, as the troops prepared for their second expedition to the interior, the river had rampaged out of its...

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10 Anthony Wayne Takes Over

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pp. 97-105

Toward the end of the first week in June, a small river convoy began assembling at the foot of the bluffs below the fort—two large boats, capable of carrying a hundred soldiers, who were being transferred to the new command post at Pittsburgh and on the way could provide protection for General Wilkinson’s...

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11 Legionville and a Trip East

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pp. 106-115

Duty at the new camp was not exactly like fighting savages in the wilderness, but it was as close to it as Harrison had yet come. A few weeks before, the camp had been an unnamed spot on the high north bank of the Ohio River; now, by order of the commander...

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12 The March into the Woods

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pp. 116-125

When the Poseys, the Wilkinson party, and their escorts rolled into Pittsburgh late in May, they found that the Legion was no longer there. It had made the long-delayed move to Fort Washington on 30 April 1793. Harrison learned that a particular officer he was looking for, Captain Samuel Tinsley, who owed...

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13 Nerves

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pp. 126-134

As soon as Wayne decided to “hut” the Legion (halt and erect quarters) where it was for the winter, the Kentucky Volunteers drew their provisions and galloped away, several hundred in one night, for a quick foray westward through the Northwest Territory before they returned home. The Legion...

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14 Toward a Showdown

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pp. 135-142

For most of the occupants of Fort Greenville—two thousand men trying to maintain military order in the squalid isolation of what their commander called “a cold and dreary wilderness”—9 February was an ordinary day. It was a Sunday, but since the Legion had no chaplain, there was no divine service; there...

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15 Consummation

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pp. 143-151

Midsummer warmth and the steady beat of military drums enveloped the Legion as it began its march, an hour after sunrise. Around Fort Greenville it was the height of summer; the officers’ gardens were flourishing, and on the edge of the clearings blackberries and plums were ripe. But the Legion’s route lay...

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16 The End of the Dream

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pp. 152-165

In August 1794 William Henry Harrison experienced the thrill of battle in a good cause and won his commander’s approval; he was happy in his chosen career and could reasonably expect it to continue. Yet within two years, in disillusion,...

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pp. 166-168

When William Henry Harrison in later life described himself as a child of the Revolution, he meant it in a political context: that the time and the circumstances of his early life, in the middle of America’s defining event, had given him a special access to authentic American heroism and values, and that voters...


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pp. 169-224


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pp. 225-242


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pp. 243-249

E-ISBN-13: 9781612776439
E-ISBN-10: 1612776434
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606351154

Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Harrison, William Henry, 1773-1841 -- Childhood and youth.
  • Harrison, William Henry, 1773-1841 -- Career in the military.
  • United States. Army -- Military life -- History -- 18th century.
  • United States -- History -- 1783-1815.
  • Presidents -- United States -- Biography.
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