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James McHenry
3rd United States Secretary of War
In office
January 27, 1796 – May 13, 1800
President George Washington (1796-1797)
John Adams (1797-1800)
Preceded by Timothy Pickering
Succeeded by Samuel Dexter
Personal details
Born November 16, 1753
Ballymena, Ulster, Ireland
Died May 3, 1816
Baltimore, Maryland

James McHenry (November 16, 1753May 3, 1816) was an early American statesman. McHenry was a signer of the United States Constitution from Maryland and the namesake of Fort McHenry, the bombardment of which inspired Francis Scott Key to write what became the national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner". He was also a delegate to the Continental Congress from Maryland, and the third United States Secretary of War, under Presidents George Washington and John Adams.

Early life and education

McHenry was born into a Presbyterian Scots-Irish/Ulster Scots family in Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland, in 1753. Alarmed that he was becoming sick from excessive studying, his family in 1771 sent him to North America to recuperate. Recent scholarship suggests that the family may have also sent him to the colonies as an "advanced scout" to see if the entire family would wish to relocate, which they did a year later. Upon arrival, McHenry lived with a family friend in Philadelphia before finishing his preparatory education at Newark Academy in Delaware. Afterward, he returned to Philadelphia, where he apprenticed under Benjamin Rush and became a physician.


James Mchenry
Letter from James Mchenry to Israel Shreve, 1779

McHenry served as a skilled and dedicated surgeon during the American Revolutionary War. In 1776 he was appointed surgeon at the age of 23 of the Fifth Pennsylvania Battalion stationed at Fort Washington (New York). He was taken prisoner the following November when the fort was taken by Sir William Howe. He was paroled in January 1777, and released from parole in March 1778.

Having sufficiently impressed George Washington, he was appointed aide as secretary to the commander-in-chief in May 1779. McHenry was present at the Battle of Monmouth. In August 1780 he was transferred to major-general Lafayette's staff, where he remained until he retired from the army in the autumn of 1781.

Following the war, McHenry was one of three physicians (others were Hugh Williamson and James McClurg) who participated in the Constitutional Convention to create the new Constitution of the United States.

Washington appointed McHenry Secretary of War in 1796 where he was instrumental in reorganizing the United States Army into one of four regiments of infantry, a troop of dragoons, and a battery of artillery. He is credited with establishing the United States Department of the Navy.


In 1792, McHenry had purchased a 95-acre property and he spent his remaining years there. An attack of paralysis in 1814 left him with severe pain and complete loss of the use of his legs. He died two years later.

Legacy and honors

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See also

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