Why is this Historic Site Important?
William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States, was born in Virginia, but as an adult he settled in North Bend, Ohio, on land overlooking the wide, northward sweep of the Ohio River. Here his grandson, Benjamin, the twenty-third President of the United States, was born. Today, all that exists of the family’s association with the North Bend area is Harrison Tomb State Memorial, where William Henry Harrison was laid to rest in 1841.
William Henry Harrison, who became a national hero during his own lifetime, was born in 1773 In Berkeley, Virginia, on the James River, not far from Richmond. He was the son of Benjamin and Elizabeth Bassett Harrison. His father had been a governor of Virginia and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
As a child, William witnessed the history-making events in which his father had been a leading participant. When the time arrived for him to decide upon a career, he enrolled, at his father’s urging, in the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. However, the death of his father, his disenchantment with the medical profession and the lure of Indian wars on the western frontier, all combined to prompt the student to leave behind his education. President George Washington commissioned him an ensign in the First Regiment of Infantry.
Arriving in 1791 at Fort Washington – the site of current day Cincinnati – Harrison served in the garrison and within a year became aide-de-camp to General Anthony Wayne. In this capacity he took part in the campaign which culminated in the Battle of Fallen Timbers [link to either Ohio History Central or Fallen Timbers site page] and in the negotiations in 1795 for the Treaty of Greene Ville. That year, now with the rank of captain, he took command of Fort Washington, the principal military outpost in the Northwest Territory.
In 1796, he married Anne Symmes, the daughter of Judge John Cleves Symmes, owner of the vast tract known as the Symmes Purchase which stretched between the Little and Great Miami rivers. Their marriage took place in the log house at North Bend where Judge Symmes lived.
In 1798 Harrison resigned his commission and was appointed by President Adams as Secretary of the Territory. From that point forward, his responsibilities increased and changed rapidly. In 1799 he became a member of the United States Congress, where he sponsored the liberal sale provisions in the Land Act of 1800. Another Adams appointment made his Territorial Governor of Indiana, which forced a move to the frontier capital at Vincennes. As governor, Harrison proved to be a negotiator with the Native American tribes, concluding fifteen treaties and purchasing 70 million acres of land for settlement.
When the Native American retaliated to this constant encroachment, Harrison was responsible, as governor, for protecting the settlements. The threat grew when, in 1809 Shawnee leader Tecumseh [Ohio History Central link] and his brother, known as The Prophet, began to strength a confederation of tribes. In 1811 Harrison received orders to gather his forces against the confederacy. They found victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe on November 7, 1811. With his military reputation enhanced, Harrison was the logical selection to command the army of the northwest after General Hull’s surrender of Detroit to the British early in the War of 1812. At Fort Meigs [link] and at the Battle of the Thames in Canada, the general became well known as an administrator and strategist. He is credited with having used mounted infantry for the first time in the United States.
After the war, William Henry Harrison once again resigned his commission and returned to his thousand-acre farm at North Bend. Around the original Symmes log house he built a stately mansion, a landmark with is gleaming white paint. His home became the destination for dignitaries visiting the new western lands. However his new found status as gentleman-farmer was short lived. He was elected at various times to the state legislature and to both house of Congress. In 1828 he became minister to Colombia.
"It has ever appeared to me, that the office of President of the United States should not be sought after by any individual; but that the people should spontaneously, and with their own free will, accord the distinguished honor to the man whom they believed would best perform its important duties."
--William Henry Harrison
Speech given at the Log Cabin Campaign at Fort Meigs, 1840
In 1840 he was the Whig party’s candidate for president, and the famous “Log Cabin ad Hard Cider” campaign – “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” – swept him into office. “Old Tip” was by now 67 years old. As if the hardships of soldiering, the arduous political campaign, and the bombardment of insistent office-seekers wasn’t enough, he caught a cold and succumbed to pneumonia on April 4, 1841. He had served for exactly one month and became the first president to die in office. The Whig party died with him.