Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief


Elias Boudinot, American's First President

Few men have the virtue to withstand the highest bidder.

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force.
Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth.

The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

- all from George Washington

Although one of the many historical figures from the Revolutionary War period, the name and accomplishments of Elias Boudinot aren't widely known.  However, he played a major role in the creation of the United States.

Elias Boudinot was born in Philadelphia on 2 May 1740.  His great-grandfather Elias was a French Huguenot, who had fled to the colonies after the revocation of the edict of Nantes.

After spending his formative years in Newark, the young Elias moved to Philadelphia where he was a neighbour of Benjamin Franklin.  Boudinot's family later moved back to New Jersey where Elias received a classical education, studying law with Richard Stockton, and also religion.  Elias soon became eminent in his profession, practicing in New Jersey.

As a young man Elias joined the Whig party, whose members believed the function of the government was to protect property.  Elias saw the repressive policies of the British government in the Thirteen Colonies and knew something must be done to change an explosive situation.  Like other men of property, he was a supporter of the British, but, as the British sent more and more soldiers to America and resentment to their rule grew stronger, Boudinot decided to enter the political arena.  Following the Boston Tea Party, he was elected by the leaders of New Jersey to the Committees of Correspondence, which called for a union of all the colonies.

As fighting intensified between the colonists and the British, Boudinot served as a delegate to the Provincial Congress and worked secretly to get ammunition for General Washington's new army.  In 1777, Boudinot was appointed commissary-general of prisoners.  (This meant he had to deal fairly with the the 100s of British prisoners that were in colonial jails - overseeing their care, providing food, shelter, and arranging prisoner-of-war exchanges; he also tried to ensure Americans held by the British were well-treated.  That the British considered Americans to be traitors didn't help the situation.  Further, a lack of funds meant he had to use his own money to buy supplies for prisoners of both sides.)  In the same year, Boudinot was elected a delegate to congress from New Jersey, serving from 1778 till 1779, and again from 1781 till 1784.

When the members of the Continental Congress gathered together to choose a president, they elected Elias Boudinot as the new chief executive (President of the United States in Congress Assembled) on 4 November 1782.  Thus he was, in effect, the first President of the United States.*  He also took over the job of acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and actively led negotiations for a treaty of friendship with Sweden.  The new Swedish envoy brought the news that Great Britain had agreed to a treaty ending the war with the colonies.  Boudinot signed the treaty of peace (the Treaty of Paris) with England.

Boudinot moved the capital of the new republic to Princeton, where he effectively ran the country.  His first fight was over the establishment of a US Bank.  He proposed in Congress the creation of the bank, with Alexander Hamilton as its chief.  The bill provided for Hamilton to have broad powers, responsible for the collection of debts and the expenditures of the country.

Budinot eventually resumed his practice of law but, after the Constitution was ratified, was subsequently elected to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd congresses, serving from 4 March 1789, till 3 March 1795.

On 25 September 1789, Elias Boudinot of Burlington, New Jersey, introduced in the United States House of Representatives a resolution "That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favours of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness."

The House was not unanimous in its determination to give thanks.  Aedanus Burke of South Carolina objected that he "did not like this mimicking of European customs, where they made a mere mockery of thanksgivings."  Thomas Tudor Tucker thought the House had no business to interfere in a matter which did not concern them.  "Why should the President direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do?  They may not be inclined to return thanks for a Constitution until they have experienced that it promotes their safety and happiness.  We do not yet know but they may have reason to be dissatisfied with the effects it has already produced; but whether this be so or not, it is a business with which Congress have nothing to do; it is a religious matter, and, as such, is proscribed to us.  If a day of thanksgiving must take place, let it be done by the authority of the several States."

Citing biblical precedents and resolutions of the Continental Congress, the proponents of a Thanksgiving celebration prevailed, and the House appointed a committee consisting of Elias Boudinot, Roger Sherman, and Peter Silvester to approach President Washington.  The Senate agreed to the resolution on 26 September and appointed William Samuel Johnson and Ralph Izard to the joint committee.  On 28 September the Senate committee reported that they had laid the resolution before the President.  Washington issued the proclamation on 3 October, designating a day of prayer and thanksgiving.

Budinot was appointed by Washington in 1795 to succeed Rittenhouse as director of the Mint at Philadelphia, and held that office till July 1805, when he resigned, and passed the rest of his life at Burlington, New Jersey, devoted to the study of biblical literature.  He had an ample fortune, and, a philanthropist, gave liberally.

Boudinot had had a house built in 1803 on West Broad Street in Burlington.  He took up residence in 1804, accompanied by his daughter, Susan Boudinot Bradford (see article below).  As a private citizen, Boudinot was a trustee of what is now Princeton University, where he founded the natural history department in 1805, endowing it with a gift of $3,000.  In 1812 he was chosen a member of the American board of commissioners for foreign missions, to which he gave £100 in 1813.  His views on religious tolerance and opposition to slavery led him to assist in founding the American Bible Society in 1816.  He was its first president, and donated $10,000 to the cause.

Budinot was interested in attempts to educate the Indians, and when three Cherokee youth were brought to the foreign mission school in 1818, he allowed one of them to take his name.  This boy became afterward a man of influence in his tribe and in 1835, he helped arrange the signing of the Treaty of New Echota, in which a small minority group of Cherokee agreed to the emigration of the entire Cherokee Nation, resulting in most Cherokee eventually being rounded up by the Army and detained in concentration camps.  (Elias Budinot the native American was murdered on 10 June 1839 by Indians west of the Mississippi for his part in this.)

Boudinot was also interested in the instruction of deaf-mutes, the education of young men for the ministry, and efforts for the relief of the poor.  He died peacefully in Burlington, New Jersey, 24 October 1821, in his 81st year.  He is buried in St Mary's churchyard (see below) with his wife, Hannah Stockton Boudinot.  He bequeathed his property to his only daughter, Susan Bradford, and to charitable uses.  Among his bequests were one of $200 to buy spectacles for the aged poor, another of 13,000 acres of land to the mayor and corporation of Philadelphia, that the poor might be supplied with wood at low prices, and another of 3,000 acres to the Philadelphia hospital for the benefit of foreigners.

Boudinot published The Age of Revelation, a reply to Paine (1790); an oration before the Society of the Cincinnati (1793); Second Advent of the Messiah (Trenton, 1815); and Star in the West, or An Attempt to Discover the Long-lost Tribes of Israel (1816), in which he concurs with James Adair in the opinion that the Indians are the lost tribes.  (See related article at the bottom of this page.)  He also wrote, in The Evangelical Intelligencer of 1806, an anonymous memoir of the Rev William Tennent.

Source: "Elias Boudinot, America's First President" from New Jersey History by Peter Kross 1987 and

*My Note: The Wikipedia page on Elias BoudInot states: "November 1782 he was elected the President of the Continental Congress for a one year term.  The President of Congress was a mostly ceremonial position with no real authority, but the office did require him to handle a good deal of correspondence and sign official documents."  Let me clearly state that I have done little research and thus cannot qualify as a source on this topic.  I have neither followed up the sources of my two sources cited above, nor followed any of Wikipedia's sources.  But it seems a dispute may have arisen over just what Boudinot's job would be called today if we objectively were discussing some other country's founders.  Most of the true rationale for treating his job one way or another in importance are likely lost to history (if you even care).  Today, there would little if anything to gain and much to lose to say otherwise than the Wikipedia position.  That Boudinot stayed on (he was a multiple-term Congressman and later Director of the US Mint) says he likely wasn't overly-disgruntled with the way history was being written.  (That his brother became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey and his daughter married the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania probably isn't all that surprising considering the fact that Elias was a lawyer himself and they probably all knew many of the same people.)

This message was posted via the Feedback form.
Name: David Chiu
Comments: Your site is great!  I googled it by searching on "Bond of Affection".  I'll keep on exploring it.

By the way, in New Jersey site, you stated that Mr Elias Boudinot was born in Newark.  But the site says he was born in Philadelphia on the same date.  Which one is right?


According to New Jersey History by Peter Koss (1987), page 41, "Elias Budinot came from Newark, the son of French Hugenots.  After spending his formative years in Newark, he moved to Philadelphia and was a neighbour of Benjamin Franklin.  His family later came back to New Jersey where Elias studied law and religion."

However, since most online references agree that Boudinot was born in Philadelphia, I have made that correction.

Thanks very much for writing and for the compliment.

Ruth Hatch

First President Number Three?

Man Seeks Library for "Real" First President

Norwich, Connecticut - A local man believes the first president to serve under the Articles of Confederation - Samuel Huntington of Norwich - was technically the nation's first president.  Now, Bill Stanley is seeking $10 million to build a presidential library for Huntington here.  Stanley, president of the Norwich Historical Society, asked the City Council on Monday night to donate $1 million from funds it expects to receive from the Mohegan American Indian Tribe, owners of Mohegan Sun casino.  Stanley is also seeking funding from state and federal governments.  "Facts are on our side.  History is on our side, and the first president came from Norwich, and we should have a presidential library," he said at a news conference.

But Norwich Mayor Arthur Lathrop said he plans to use the $1 million from the Mohegans for downtown redevelopment, not a presidential library.  Huntington signed the Declaration of Independence and served as the state's governor from 1786 until his death in 1796.  The Articles of Confederation were replaced by the US Constitution in 1789.

Source: Tuesday 19 April 2005

Susan Boudinot Bradford

Daughter of Elias Boudinot, Susan Boudinot Bradford was the wife of William Bradford, a Colonel in the Continental Army during the Revolution, Pennsylvania state attorney general, justice of the Pennsylvania state supreme court, and US Attorney General under George Washington.  Tragically, her husband died at the age of 40.

When her father retired to Burlington in 1804, Susan accompanied him to his new home, a mansion standing on 10 acres of land.  After her father's death in 1821, she continued to occupy the house, and was recognised as a leader in Burlington's social circles.  Her closest friends included Alexander Hamilton's widow, Elizabeth, and first lady Dolly Madison.  In all, Susan Boudinot Bradford lived in Burlington for 47 years, until her death in 1851.


Old St Mary's Churchyard

The ground upon which the Old Church sits was purchased by John Tatham, Edward Hunloke, Nathaniel Westland and others "for the conveniency of a burying place for themselves and also for all other Christian people" in July 1695.  This land was supplemented by additional purchases and bequests in 1702.

The earliest known headstones date from 1706 and 1707, respectively marking the graves of Mary and Edman Steward.

Also buried within the Churchyard are Bowes Reed, a Revolutionary leader and mayor of Burlington; Joseph Bloomfield, a Revolutionary War officer, mayor and governor of New Jersey; Elias Boudinot, patriot, president of the Continental Congress, and director of the US Mint; William Bradford, Boudinot’s son-in-law and Attorney General of the US; and, several bishops of the Episcopal Church (G W Doane, William H Odenheimer, and Wallace John Gardner).  A few distinguished parishioners, such as Colonel Daniel Coxe, and the first rector, John Talbot, were accorded the ancient honor of being buried within Old St Mary’s Church.

The burying ground was expanded several more times in the 19th and 20th centuries.


The Roots of Mormonism

During and even before Joseph Smith's time it was believed by many people that the Indians were the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.  Although the Book of Mormon does not claim that the Indians are the Lost Ten Tribes, it does claim that they are descendants of Joseph, thus making them Israelites.

Because of this similarity anti-Mormon writers have suggested that Joseph Smith borrowed his idea concerning the origin of the Indians from the thinking of his time.  Several books had been published prior to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon which contained the idea that the Indians were of Israelite origin.  In 1816, at Trenton, New Jersey, Elias Boudinot published a book entitled, A Star in the West; or, a Humble Attempt to Discover the Long Lost Tribes of Israel.  On pages 279-80 of this book is the following rhetorical question: "What could possibly bring greater declarative glory to God, or tend more essentially to affect and rouse the nations of the earth - and thus call their attention to the truth of divine revelation - than a full discovery, that these wandering nations of Indians are the long lost tribes of Israel..."

Furthermore, the following was published in the Wayne Sentinel (the paper to which the family of Joseph Smith apparently subscribed) on 11 October 1825:

Those who are most conversant with the public and private economy of the Indians, are strongly of opinion that they are the lineal descendants of the Israelites, and my own researches go far to confirm me in the same belief.

- Wayne Sentinel, 11 October 1825, as photographically reprinted in Larry Jonas, Mormon Claims Examined, p45


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