John Hanson – The first black President?
In 2019 an article emerged claiming that the first president of the United States was an Afro-American man by the name of John Hanson. Amongst these claims was a photograph of the man in question, and people speculated that there had been a cover up to hide the fact that the first president was black.
After doing my own research in the matter at hand, I have found that there was an afro American president by the name of John Hanson – however despite being American by birth he was never the president of the United States of America but rather a senator of Liberia, in Africa. So, is it possible that we are just simply looking at a mix-up between two men? Yes, we are. Below is an account of two men – both John Hansons.
Our first John Hanson was born near Port Tobacco, Maryland, on the 14th of April 1721, on his family’s Plantation “Mulberry Grove”. As plantation owners, John’s family were prominent in colonial America. His grandfather (also named John) originally came to Maryland as an indentured servant in 1661. As was usual for an indentured servant in that period, he worked for a set period of time to pay off his debts – either crimes or the accumulated fees to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Europe. An indentured servant, although working for his keep for a set period of time, was not a slave. Indentured servants had more rights than slaves and once their debt had been paid they became “freemen”.
Some confusion still exists about John Hanson’s heritage – whether he was British or Swedish – but research during the 20th century showed that he was not related to the Swedish Hansons who had immigrated to New Sweden in 1642, and neither was he any relation to the “frimannen” Andrew Hanson in New Sweden.
John Hanson was privately tutored and followed his father’s path as planter, slave owner and public official. In 1750 John Hanson took his first public office as sheriff of Charles County and by 1757 he represented Charles County in the lower house of the Maryland general assembly, where he served for 12 years . Throughout his career he opposed the Stamp Act, the Townshend Act and any other taxes that Britain tried to impose on the colonies after the 7 Years’ War. When the colonies went into crisis in 1774 Hanson became Fredericks County’s leading patriot and chaired many meetings to pass resolutions opposing the Boston Port Act. In 1773 he signed the Association of Freemen and called for military resistance against the enforcement of the Coercive Act.
As the fighting broke out, Hanson Proved to be an excellent organiser for the American army with the first troops arriving from Fredericks County, and he also frequently funded the army with his own money. Hanson also chaired the meeting to encourage Maryland’s delegates in the continental congress to declare independence from Britain. He served in many roles within the Continental Congress, eventually being delegated to the 2nd continental congress in 1780. A year later he signed the Article of Confederation and by November the 5th he became the 1st president of the confederate congress. This was mostly a ceremonial position which required the president to be a neutral moderator. Hanson served his one year term, exiting office and retiring on the 4th of November 1782. John Hanson died in November 1784.
Now let’s look at the other John Hanson. He was an African American born into slavery, who eventually purchased his freedom and immigrated to Liberia at the age of 36. When in Liberia he joined the growing mercantile class and became involved with American colonisation society, which sought to relocate freeborn and emancipated black Americans to Liberia. In December 1840 Hanson was elected to the colonial council, and in 1847 he became one of two senators for Grand Bassa County, after the country declared independence from the American colonial society.
After his term as senator Hanson served as Grand Bassa County’s commissary, and furnished a house for the storage of weapons and ammunition. Hanson died in 1860 and was mourned by the people he served and by
Liberia’s second president Stephen Allen Benson, who declared John Hanson to be “a faithful and patriotic servant”.
These were the two John Hansons. Not much information is available regarding the senator Hanson except what I have noted here. The photograph used to state that he was ‘the’ John Hanson of the continental congress can be debunked on the sole basis that the photograph was taken forty years after that John Hanson’s death. The first black president of the United States was Barack Obama who was elected in 2008 and served from 2009 until 2017.