In recent weeks I’ve devoted space to the legacy of Gen. William Whipple, the Seacoast-based Founding Father who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. This was primarily in advance of yesterday’s Independence Day celebration in Kittery, where “Whipple” returned for a public reading of the famous document.

But it took many heroes – most of them forgotten today – for the United States to win its freedom from British tyranny, and New Hampshire had more than its fair share.

Portsmouth’s own John Langdon could have also signed the Declaration, but he gave up his seat in the Continental Congress in order to win contracts for building warships. His friend Whipple was not pleased with this move, writing in a letter “there cannot be a greater evidence of patriotism than preferring the public good to one’s private interest.”

In his capacity as naval agent, Langdon engaged in legendary disputes with the great John Paul Jones, who captained the Langdon-built vessel the Ranger and lived in Portsmouth during its construction. In one memorable exchange, Langdon told the Father of the American Navy he “knew as well as myself how to Equip, Govern or Fight a Ship of war,” Jones wrote in an October 1777 letter.

Although he gave up his opportunity to sign the Declaration, Langdon went on to put his name to the U.S. Constitution in 1787. He was chosen as both a U.S. senator and governor for New Hampshire, and was the first man to serve as the Senate’s president por tempore.

The Gov. Langdon House he called home is now one of Portsmouth’s most revered historic sites.

Josiah Bartlett and Matthew Thornton, who also signed the Declaration as part of New Hampshire’s delegation with Whipple, were both well-regarded physicians. Bartlett was a militia colonel as well, and tended to wounded soldiers at the Battle of Bennington. He was New Hampshire’s first governor, chief justice of the state Superior Court and founder of the New Hampshire Medical Society.

And for those who recall the classic TV series "The West Wing," he is also the ancestor of fictional U.S. President Josiah Bartlet (with one L), who was portrayed by Martin Sheen. This Bartlet, like his near-namesake, was a former New Hampshire governor and congressman.

Thornton, who was born in Ireland and immigrated to America at age 3, was the first president of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and a justice of the state Superior Court.

Gen. John Stark, perhaps the most renowned military commander in New Hampshire history, won fame for his heroic leadership at the Battle of Bennington. He also served with distinction at Bunker Hill, and prior to the Revolution was a member of the legendary Roger’s Rangers.

Stark was such a badass that when taken prisoner as a young man by Native Americans of the Abenaki tribe and forced to run a gauntlet between two lines of warriors with sticks, he proceeded to attack his captors with a stick of his own. And when ordered to hoe corn with the women of the tribe, he tossed his tool into a river and proclaimed it was “the business of squaws, not warriors.”

The band’s chief was so impressed by Stark’s courage he adopted him into the tribe.

Stark survived numerous battles to live to the ripe old age of 93. He may be best remembered today for writing the phrase "Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils." The first segment of that sentiment is now New Hampshire’s state motto.

Gen. John Sullivan of Durham was also elected a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, along with Langdon, but departed to serve in the Continental Army under George Washington. He became one of Washington’s most valued officers, eventually achieving the rank of major general.

Sullivan had a controversial military career, but few questioned his bravery. He was reportedly fighting Hessians with a pistol in each hand when taken prisoner at the Battle of Long Island in 1776. He was later released in a prisoner exchange and in 1779 led the Sullivan Expedition in New York against the Six Nations of the Iroquois.

After the war he returned to the Continental Congress, was elected as New Hampshire’s chief executive and then appointed a federal judge by President Washington.

Nicholas Gilman signed the U.S. Constitution in 1787 along with Langdon as the state’s other delegate to the Continental Congress. He was a captain in the Continental Army during the war, serving alongside Washington at Yorktown and other engagements.

Gilman went on to represent New Hampshire in the very first U.S. Congress and later in the U.S. Senate. His brother John Taylor Gilman was the state’s governor for a total of 14 years. Their family home in Exeter is now the American Independence Museum.

There are many others one could add, just from this tiny state. While we tend to lionize the giants like Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison and others around this time of year, it’s worth remembering there were numerous brave men who sacrificed much to win our independence nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago.

D. Allan Kerr wishes today’s lawmakers would follow the example of their predecessors. Kerr may also be found on the Sloth Blog at and on Facebook at