James McHenry was an early American statesman who represented
as a delegate to the Continental
Congress and signed the United States Constitution. He has the honor of having Maryland Fort McHenry
in , named after him. (Fort McHenry was the site of a battle during
the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that became our
national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner.") He also served as United States Secretary of
War (1796-1800) under President George Washington and President John Adams. Baltimore, Maryland
McHenry was born on November 16, 1753, into a Scots-Irish family in Balymena,
. He received a "classical education"
at a school in County
Antrim, Ireland Dublin before being was sent to North America at age 17 to recuperate from an illness
caused by "excessive studying."
He had an older brother in the colonies but lived with a family in . There he studied under the direction of Doctor
Benjamin Rush and became a physician. He
became financially independent upon the death of his father in February 1782
and apparently joined his brother in a mercantile business partnership. He married Margaret Allison "Peggy"
Caldwell in 1784. The couple had one
son, John McHenry. Philadelphia
Doctor McHenry wrote some poetry, mostly love letters to his wife. He wrote one poem specifically as a wedding gift to his friend, Alexander Hamilton, in December 1780.
McHenry served during the American Revolutionary War as a "skilled and dedicated surgeon." He was appointed to be the surgeon of the Fifth Pennsylvania Battalion on August 10, 1776, and was stationed at
in . When Sir William Howe captured New York
in November 1776, Doctor McHenry was taken prisoner. While he was a prisoner, he was a witness of
situations where prisoners received "very poor medical
attention." He reported what he
witnessed but nothing came of his reports.
He was paroled in January 1777 and released from parole in March
1778. He was assigned to serve at Fort Washington Valley Forge where he impressed General George Washington enough that he was appointed as
secretary to the commander-in-chief in May 1778. He was a participant in the Battle of
Monmouth and transferred to the staff of Major-General Lafayette in August
1780. He remained there until he retired
from the army in the fall of 1781.
Doctor McHenry was elected to the Maryland Senate on September 17, 1781, and as a delegate to congress (by the
legislature) on December 2,
1784. He was one of three physicians
(along with Hugh Williamson and James McClurg) who were delegates to the
Constitutional Convention that created the new Constitution of the Maryland . He missed many of the proceeding of the
Constitutional Convention due to the illness of his brother; therefore, he
played "an insubstantial part in the debates when he was
present." He did however write a
"private journal that has been useful to posterity." United States of America
McHenry was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates on October 12, 1788, but retired two years later from public life to work in his mercantile business. In November 15, 1791, he was again elected to the Maryland Senate and served there for five years. After some problems in his cabinet in his second administration, George Washington appointed McHenry as Secretary of War in 1796.
As one of his first assignments, McHenry was given the task in 1796 of transitioning
Western military posts to American control as outlined in the Jay Treaty. He convinced the senate committee to not reduce
military forces and reorganized them into four regiments of infantry, a troop
of dragoons, and a battery of artillery.
He is also credited with establishing the Department of the Navy. President John Adams appointed McHenry as
Secretary of War but asked him to resign after losing re-election in 1800. Great Britain
McHenry purchased a 95-acre tract from Ridgely's Delight in 1792 and named his new property
in honor of his friend Lafayette. He
spent his remaining years on this property.
In 1814 he suffered an attack of paralysis and was left with severe pain
and complete loss of his legs. He died
two years later on May 3, 1816. Fayetteville
Mrs. McHenry wrote the following statement upon the death of her husband: "Here we come to the end of a life of a courteous, high-minded, keen-spirited, Christian gentlemen. He was not a great man, but participated in great events and great men loved him, while all men appreciated his goodness and purity of soul. His highest titles to rememberance are that he was faithful to every duty and that he was the intimate and trusted friend of
Lafayette, of Hamilton, and of ." Washington
McHenry is memorialized at Independence Hall and the
in . Philadelphia Henry
Street in , is named in his honor. Madison,
McHenry in ,
was named after him. Baltimore, Maryland