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Who Really Was John Hanson, Black Man Erroneously Called The First Black President Of U.S.?

Who Really Was John Hanson, Black Man Erroneously Called The First Black President Of U.S.

Years before the internet, the claim that John Hanson was the first Black president of the United States spread. In recent years, social media has promoted that false claim. In 2020, some social media posts proclaimed Hanson as the first Black president of the United States, rather than Barack Obama. In the posts, there is a black and white photograph of a man wearing spectacles. According to the postings, Hanson was the first president of the United States, preceding George Washington.

In the 1990s, the late comedian Dick Gregory is reported to have promoted this notion. According to a Facebook post quoted by USA Today in May 2016, Hanson, which was misspelled Hansen, was the first Black president of the United States. “Barack Obama was not the first African-American president. Even before George Washington, John Hansen was the first black president and the first president of the United States. “We Never Hear About Him In Black History At All,” the post said, which was a snapshot of another post.

Two years ago, that post went viral once more. Meanwhile, the post, which has been shared thousands of times on Facebook, has caused a misunderstanding between two individuals named John Hanson. Both are historical personalities, yet one is White and the other is African-American. The first Black president of the United States, Black John Hanson, was actually a former slave from Maryland who bought his freedom and moved to Liberia in 1827.

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Liberia, a West African colony at the time, had been created by freed American slaves only a few years before Hanson arrived. The American Colonisation Society (ACS), founded in 1816 by a collection of Quakers and slaveholders, was drawn to colonization and began planning a voyage to move freed Blacks to western Africa in the mid-1800s. The ACS began sending ships to West Africa from New York in January 1820. The ACS planned for 86 emancipated Blacks to board sail from New York on February 6 with $100,000 from the US Congress, and by March 9 the team had arrived on a small island off the coast of Sierra Leone.

Unfortunately, the released Blacks suffered on the island throughout the course of the year after contracting malaria and being attacked by indigenous people. According to reports, an ACS agent then purchased land in present-day Liberia, which became the team’s home the next year. In 1824, the colony was renamed Liberia, and the capital was named Monrovia. Between 15,000 and 20,000 liberated slaves and Africans rescued from illegal slave ships joined the colony within four decades, but diseases, attacks from locals, the severe climate, inadequate living conditions, and a shortage of food and medicine plagued the colony.

As opposition to colonization developed, the ACS became increasingly impoverished by 1840, and the settlers were encouraged to proclaim independence in 1846. In 1847, the immigrants established the Republic of Liberia, “Africa’s first sovereign democratic republic, and only the second republic—after Haiti—to be created by blacks.”

Hanson arrived in Liberia via the ACS in 1827. Hanson was born into slavery in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1791, and little is known about his early life except that he bought his freedom before emigrating to Liberia. He quickly rose through the ranks of the political elite formed by the former slaves in the area, becoming a trader and a member of the political elite. The ACS, which ruled the colony until its independence in 1847, established the Commonwealth of Liberia in 1839 and nominated Thomas Buchanan as its first governor. In December 1840, Hanson was elected to the Colonial Council as a senator from Liberia’s Grand Bassa County.

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Hanson died in Liberia at the age of 69, 20 years later. He was regarded as a “faithful, devoted, and patriotic servant of the newborn nation” by then-Liberian president Stephen Allen Benson. In the late 1850s, Augustus Washington, a Black photographer working for the ACS, took photos of Liberian emigrants, including a daguerreotype of Hanson.

As previously noted, Hanson is frequently mistaken for a White politician of the same name. This other John Hanson, who was identified as “president before George Washington” in the Facebook posts, was the first president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, the agreement that governed the United States before the Constitution was introduced in 1781. Before the United States Constitution established the position of president of the United States, this John Hanson served as president of the Continental Congress.

The Articles of Confederation, which were enacted in 1781 during the Revolutionary War, “established a loose confederation of autonomous states and a weak central authority, leaving most of the power with state governments,” according to Reuters.

From 1780 to 1782, this White John Hanson served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and then as its president from 1781 to 1782. Some have incorrectly claimed that he, not George Washington, was the first president of the United States because of his role as president of the Congress. In general, neither John Hanson nor any of the individuals who served as president before Washington were African-American.

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In January 2009, Barack Obama became the first Black president of the United States. The John Hanson depicted in the daguerreotype image was a Liberian senator, not the same John Hanson who served as the first president of the Continental Congress.

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