Robert H. Harrison

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Robert Harrison
Robert Hanson Harrison.jpg
Personal details
Born 1745
Charles County, Maryland,
British America
Died 2 April 1790 (aged 44–45)
Charles County, Maryland,
Political party Federalist

Robert Hanson Harrison (1745 – April 2, 1790) was an American jurist.

Born in Charles County, Maryland, Robert Hanson Harrison was the son of Colonel Richard Harrison and Dorothy Hanson Harrison. Little is known of his life before his removal to Northern Virginia, where he studied law and married. By 1769, he was a working attorney and subsequently met and represented George Washington on several legal matters in the years before the American Revolutionary War.[1] Harrison supported the Virginia Nonimportation Resolves in 1770 and served as the clerk for the Fairfax Resolves in 1774. Additionally, he served as an officer in the Fairfax Independent Company in 1774 & 1775,[2] and was appointed Major of the Fairfax County militia in September of 1775.[3]

On November 6, 1775, Robert Hanson Harrison was appointed an aide-de-camp to General Washington.[4] The following May, Harrison was appointed military secretary to General Washington in lieu of Joseph Reed.[5] The Continental Congress approved to grant him at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel on June 5, 1776.[6] In this capacity, he assisted with the drafting, writing and organization of the Commander-in-Chief’s voluminous correspondence for almost five years. Moreover, President James Monroe testified that “in all the actions in which General Washington commanded, Colonel Harrison was present, near the person of the General.” [7] Along with Alexander Hamilton, Robert Hanson Harrison negotiated for the exchange of prisoners of war. The death of his father, Richard Harrison, in 1780 began a chain of events that led to Robert Hanson Harrison's resignation from the Continental Army in the spring of 1781. George Washington attested that Robert Hanson Harrison discharged his duty “with conspicuous abilities – That his whole conduct during all the interesting periods of the war has been distinguished marked by the strictest integrity and the most attentive & faithful services while by personal bravery he has marked his conduct upon many occasions been distinguished on sev[era]l occasions” [8]

Returning to Maryland, Robert Hanson Harrison was appointed Chief Justice of the General Court of Maryland on March 12, 1781.[9] When the federal government was established, President George Washington nominated Harrison to the Supreme Court of the United States as an Associate Justice on September 24, 1789.[10] The United States Senate confirmed his appointment two days later.[11] However, Harrison declined the appointment, citing familial responsibilities and his health as two prime reasons. Moreover, he was truly torn in weighing the position and declined chiefly out of embarrassment for having taken so long to decide.[12] Indeed, the stress on Harrison was so great that it caused George Washington’s old friend, Dr. James Craik, to request the President write Harrison, believing “A Letter from you…would I am convinced act more powerfully upon him than all the Anodynes in an Apothecarys Shop” [13] Robert Hanson Harrison died weeks later, on April 2, 1790 at his home in Charles County, Maryland.[14]


  1. ^ See, for example, George Washington, Mount Vernon, October 7, 1769, to Robert Hanson Harrison [1]
  2. ^ His signature can be found in Fairfax Independent Company, Alexandria, October 19, 1774, to George Washington [2]
  3. ^ Lund Washington, Mount Vernon, September 25, 1775, to George Washington [3]
  4. ^ General Orders, November 6, 1775
  5. ^ General Orders, May 16, 1775
  6. ^ [Ford, Worthington C., ed. The Journals of the Continental Congress: Vol. V, 5 June-8 Oct. 1776. (Washington, D.C.: U.S.G.P.O, 1906), p. 418. ]
  7. ^ [Revolutionary War Bounty Warrants of Robert Hanson Harrison, Records of the Executive Branch. Office of the Governor (Record Group 3), Library of Virginia]
  8. ^ Certificate of Service for Robert Hanson Harrison, signed by George Washington, 25 March 1781 [4]
  9. ^ Steiner, Bernard C., ed. Archives of Maryland: Vol. XLV. Journal & Correspondence of the Council of Maryland: Vol. V, November 13, 1780–November 13, 1781. (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1927), p. 349.
  10. ^ Marcus, Maeva, et al, eds. The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States. Vol. One, Part 1, Appointments & Proceedings. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), pp. 9-10.
  11. ^ Marcus, Maeva, et al, eds. The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States. Vol. One, Part 1, Appointments & Proceedings. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), pp. 9-10.
  12. ^ George Washington to Robert Hanson Harrison, 28 September 1789. Twohig, Dorothy, ed. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, Vol. IV, 8 September 1789–15 January 1790. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), pp. 98-102. [5]
  13. ^ James Craik to George Washington, 3 February 1790. Twohig, Dorothy, et al, eds. The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, Vol. V, 16 January-30 June 1790. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), pp. 95-98. [6]
  14. ^ Maryland Gazette, Thursday, April 8, 1790

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