The American Revolutionary War: Biographies

Figure 1.--.

One of the most notable observations when studying the great figures of the Revolution is the number of almost unbelievably talented and educated people in America that decided to separate from Britain and today are known as the founding fathers. It is almost unfathomable that such a small population as the American colonies could have produced the number of talented, deeply thoughtful individuals to lead their Revolution. Many were amazingly well educated, but one noted scholar enphasizes that they were not sophistcates in the sence of the British political and military leaders they faced. HBC has developed biographies on some of the individuals involved in the Revolution. The early American presidents were involved (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison). Another president (Jackson) fought in the War as a boy. Two important monarchs (George III and Louis XV). Also surprisingly a leading Roman orator (Cicero) was amazingly influential, especially in devising the Constitution which followed the War.

The Founding Fathers

One of the most notable observations when studying the great figures of the Revolution is the number of almost unbelievably talented and educated people in America that decided to separate from Britain and today are known as the founding fathers. These were for the most part, posperous, succesful men. We have to wonder why they would have risked everything everthing. In the 18th century, traitors to the Crown hanged. One hefty member of Congress even jocked that while it would be over swiftly for him, his lighter weight colleague would sance for some time on the end of the rope. All must have questiond what chance of success they had against the military might of the British Empire. It is almost unfathomable that such a small population as the American colonies could have produced the number of talented, deeply thoughtful individuals to lead their Revolution. Many were amazingly well educated, but one noted scholar enphasizes that they were not sophistcates in the sence of the British political and military leaders they faced. The founding fathers were creative men, but except for Franklin were unknown outside of their own Colony, living at the time of the margins of European culture. Why was it that these men were to lead the march of Western civilization from aristocratic rule and monarchy toward republican government. The America that they created was to "prove that was to demonstrate that "republicanism and popular sovereighty promoted the general welfare." [Bailyn] It may well be because thee men ere on the perifery that they developed the ideas they did. They were self-made men living, in comarison to European leaders, in modest homes. They were also free of the "corruption and corrosive cynicism" that so prevailed in Britain and Continental Europe. [Bailyn] Not only did the idea of challengung the British militarily sem the height of folly, but even if successful and that was a big if, the founding fathers were launching onto the political abyss. Many of the founding fathers had read classical history, authors like Ciscero. They were aware of the dangers of republican government. The very idea was a very radical proposition at the time. Fear of popular rule was to be well demonstrated in the Contitution that followed independence. This was an issue that was not finally resolved even in America until the Civil War. It was he issue Lincoln addressed in the Gettyburg Address. These issues were not fully resloved even in the 20th century. Winston Chuchill was no alone i thinking that the 20th century totalitarians (Communists, Fascists, and NAZIs) resulted from the break-up of the European empires and the principles of popular government promoted by Wlson and other Americans. [Caradine]

Destinct Groups

There were two destinct groups of revolutionaries. First were the politics, the men in Philadelphia who dec;ared independence and latter fashioned a workable constitution. Ghe colonists here had consixerable experience with democratic government because of the colonial legislatures. Many were very well read, both with classical Greek and Roman loyerature and with the works and ideas of the Enligtenment. Central to this group was the diminuative James Madison--father of the Constitution. These men were magnificently prepared for self rule and independemce. Second were the military men who were needed to make a new republic a reality. These men were totlly unprepared. The one indespensible man among the founding fathers was George Washington. He managed to turn poorly disciplined colonial militias, ardent amateurs, into a modern army that could go toe to toe with the British Army, arguably the best army in the world. One historian in a review describes what occured in America, "... how unlikely young Americans--an asthmatic Quaker with a limp, an overweight bookseller, a barely literate backwoods wagon master--discovered in 1776 an ability to outthink and outfight the generals and soldiers of the best army in the world." [Fleming] The lofty dreams of the politicos would have never materialized without the sacrifuce of these men and Washingtom who wielded them into an effective fighting force capable of carrying out the brutal work of war. [Kelly] Their victory was one of the remarkable feats of history, along the lines of the Greeks at Marathon Alfred at Eddington, the Scotts at Stirling, and the British at Waterloo.


HBC has developed biographies on some of the individuals involved in the Revolution. The early American presidents were involved (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison). Another president (Jackson) fought in the War as a boy. Two important monarchs (George III and Louis XV). Also surprisingly a leading Roman orator (Cicero) was amazingly influential, especially in devising the Constitution which followed the War.

John Adams (America, 1735-1826)

John Adams was the second American president. He was a giant of the Revolution. He is, however, now the least remembered of the early presidents. There is no monument to Adams in the Mall in Washington. Most Americans cannot name a single accomplishment of Adams. Yet there has been a reconsideratin of Adams in recent years and his reputation has grown, especially his role in moving America toward Revolution and his diplomatic triumphs. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment as President was in keeping the young nation from declaring war on Revolutioinary France which would have pribably ended disaterously and may have made Jefferson's Louisana Purchase difficult. Adams also played an important role in the development of the political party ststem in America. An important role of an American president is as leader of his party. It was Adams' failure here that was to doom his presidency an reelection.

Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold is a singular figure in American history. He was close to General Washington. Arnold was a respected war hero and perhaps the most tragic figure of the Revolution. Few Americans have fought so vigorosly and valiantly for their country. He is one of the greatest military commanders in American history. He played a central role in the Battle of Saratoga--arguably after Trenton, the most important battloe of the War. He helped force a British field army to surrender--something the French never were bke to sccomplish. It brought France into the War. And yet he is also the greatest traitor in American history.

Daniel Boone (1734-1820)

Daniel Boone is such a remarkable figure in American history that he often is viewed as more of a fictional folk hero than a historical figure. In fact his exploits are even more remarkable than fictional accounts. He was born in Pennsylvania to a family of English Quakers (1734). We know very little about his early childhood. His father moved their large family to Virginian when Daniel was a teenager and then on to the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina. Still a teen ager, Daniel developed a reputation as a skilled trapper and hunter and particularly as an expert markesman. He married at age 19 to Rebecca Bryan who was 15. Rebecca is surely one of the most notable backwoods American women. The marriage resulted in a deep and lasting attachment and a number of children. Boone led the first small party through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky (1769) at at a time that the British Government was trying to restrict the colonists to the Eastern Seabord. This is widely seen as the beginning of the American western movement. Boone is often associated with the Scotts-Irish because so many of the families he led into Kentucky were of Scotts Irish ancestry. He founded Boonesborough and helped lead the resistance to Native Americans backed by the British.

Aaron Burr (1756-1836)

Aaron Burr is best known as the vice president who attempted to steal the presidency from Thomas Jefferson and then shot Alexander Hamilton in duel. And if that wan't enough to make him a villan in American history, he tried to break up the fledling American republic by detaching the western states in military venture. But before all of that he was a Revolutionary War hero. He was an early volunteer to the Continental Army. He destinguished himself during Arnold's invasion of Canada and latter in the defense of New York. Somehow he seemed to have incurred General Washington's displeasure, but the sctual detaiols are unknoen.

Charles III (1759-1788)

Charles was the son of King Philip V by his second marriage with Queen Isabella Elizabeth (Farnese) and was a grandson of French King Louis XIV. He was not initially in line to become king of Spain. This Parma and Piacenza in Italy were obtained for him as a youth to gratify the ambitions of his mother. Still a young prince, in 1734 he invaded the two Sicilies which at the time belonged to Austria. Charles succedded to the Spanish throne in 1759 on the death of his childless half-brother, Ferdinand VI. He allied Spain with France against Britain in the Seven Years War. Spain was forced to ceed Florida. Spain again joined France to assist the American colonies against the British. Efforts to take Gibralter in 1781 and 1782 failed. Some domestic reforms proved more succesful. The Jesuits wre expelled (1767). Major progress was made in restricting the reach of the Inquisition. He also made profress in reducing bringandage and piracy. He supported commerece, the arts, and science.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin is perhaps the most intriguing of the Founding Fathers and among the key individuals who made the Revolution. He was atually an unlikely revolutionary. Franklin at the time of the Revolution was an acclaimed scientist with an international reputation. He also loved England. He spent several years in London as aoung man and came to love it. Had his wife been more encouraging, he might well have settled permanently in England. Franklin felt that the British Empire was the height of political developmnt. He saw America maturing and becoming an equal partner with England. Here he proved wrong. The British Government was not prepared for America to develop along those lines. The British were determined to control developments in America. Franklin's second trip to England was less felicitous. He has become a spokesman for the Colonies. He worked in England before the onset of the War to prevent it. was called before the Star Chamber and castigated. It was a turning point for Britain and France. If Britain could not command the loyalty of Franklin, it meant it has lost the loyalty of a substantial part of the Colonial elite. Franlin returned to the Colonies a revolutiinary. After the War began, the Coninental Congress appointed him commissioner (ambassador) to France. He was aensation in France and milked his popularity for all it was worth. He was more than any other individual responsible for the successful negotiation of the treatly with France which was critical for the success of the Revolution.

George III

George III (1738-1820) was one of the longest reigning British monarchs--reining for an incredible 60 years. He is one of the best known English kings to Americans as he was king at the time of the American Revolution and played an important role in it. He is also well known for the mental illness he suffered in the later years of his reign.

Nathanael Greene

General Nathanael Greene was one of the most important coomanders in the Continental Army. He rose from Rhode Island militia private to Continental Army General in less than a year. He played an important role at Valley Forge. After the British destroyed the Southern Army under Horatio Gates, Washington sent Greene south. His performance at Guilford Court House (March 1981) showed the revival of the Continental's Southern Army. He destoyed a third of Cornwallis' army. This set in motion a retreat to Yorktown where Cornwallis hoped to be resupplied and reinforced by the Royal Navy. As good a generakl as Greene was, he was anxious to leave the army and go into business supplying it. This of course was where the money was.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton is one of the least discussed of the founding father's, but after Washinton, perhaps the most important. He was a war hero and perhaps the leading voice for the ratification of the Constitution. In the new Federal Government it was Hamilton who devised a plan to establish the credit of the government and a sound fiscal system. It is Jefferson who has a momunent on the Mall and who is often seen as founding spirit of the nation with his image of an agrarian utopia. Hamilton it turned out was usually correct in his many debates with Jefferson. It was Hamilton who conceived of a new nation people with the woken an Europe and financed wih European capital.

William Henry Harrison

Another future president was a boy at the time of the Revolution. He remembers having dinner on the family plantation with General Washington while the seige guns at Yorktown could be heard. [Green]

Patrick Henry (1736- )

Patrick Henry is sometimes called the 'forgotten founding father'. He was, however, very influential with the independence movement. Few people know much about him other than his, 'Give be liberty or give me death' sopeech. He was a Virginia attorney and planter as well as a gifted irator in the Virginia House of Burgess. He was an early and fervent adocate of independence. He became the first givernor of an independent Virginia. He declined to attend the Constitutional Convention and opposed adoption of the new charter, believing that the national goverment it proposed would be too powerful. He was a strong pronent of the Bill of Rights. After ratification, he stringly supported President Washingto. [Kukla]

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was just a boy during the Revolution. His father had died. Like many of the Scotts-Irish he and his brothers joined the Patriots. A brother died in battle. He an his brother were captured. An English officer slashed him with his saber when he refused to polish his boots. His mother rescuded Andrew and another brother from a diseased prison ship. His brother died and so did his mother. By the end of the Revolution, his entire family was dead. Andrew was left with an abiding hated of the British and desore to meet them in battle again.

Thomas Jefferson (1800-1809)

Thomas Jefferson is one of the greatest of American presidents. By a stoke of a pen he made America a continental power when he approved the Louisana Purchase. But he is perhaps best known for the force of his ideas and eloquence uin expressing them. Jefferson is perhaps is also the most enigmatic of all presidents. No American president wrote so eloquently about liberty and yet relied on slave labor his entire life for his livelihood and unlike fellow Virginia planter George Washington--never freed them. Many American presidents owned slaves, but none wrote so eloquantly about liberty and the natural rights of man. He has been described as the conceiving spirit of the Ameican Republic.

John Paul Jones (1747-1792)

John was born in Scotland to gardener father. His prospects as a son of a commoner were limited. Without money or an education there was little more to which he could aspire. [Thomas] At the age of 13 in 1760 he went to sea, hoping to advance in life. Jones in 1774 fled to America facing legal problems after hanging a mutionous sailor. The Continental Congress in 1775 the Continental Congress desperately needing naval officers commissined Jones. He became the leading American naval officer of the Revolutionary War--bedelving the Royal Navy throughout the War. He was not rewarded with the rank of admiral and never received the public acclaim of other important Revolutionary War leaders. He died in Paris largely forgotten by the American public.

Henry Knok

Henry Knox was one of the amateurs that made the Revolution. He was an over-weight Boston bookseller and only 25-yeas old when he assumed command of the fledgling American artillery force. He had no military experience or knowledge of artillery science. He proved to be a fast learner. It was his artillery that forced the Briish out of Boston. This as essentially the story of the American Revolition. Ordinary indiviuals with little or no military experience were able ro acquire military skills and go toe to toe with the highly professional British army and its Prussian mercinaries. Fort Knox is mame after Henry Knox.

Charles Lee (1732-82)

Charles Lee unrelated to the Lees of Virginia was born in Cheshire, England (1732). His parents were Colonel John Lee and his wife Isabella. He was unusually sent to school in Switzerland and learned sevral languages. He also received a basic military education. He returned to England as a 14-year old teenager. He then received a more conventional English education at Bury St. Edmonds. His father than purchased him an ensign's commission in the British Army. He served in his father's regiment, the 55th Foot (later 44th Foot). Lee spent time in Ireland before purchasing another commission, this time a lieutenant's commission (1751). With the outbreak of the French & Indian War, his egiment was ordered to North America. He arrived (1755) ans participated in Major General Edward Braddock's disastrous campaign into the wilderness. It was here that he first met George SWashington. He would ;ater vbe involved with the Mowhawk and then in Canada. He later served in continental battles as part of the Seven Years war. After his regiment was disbanded he served with the Polish Army. He wanted aernant commision with the British Army, as did Washington. When he failed in this he retuned to North america where he becme symthetic to the Patriot cause. He assumed thh he woukd be appointed commander of the Contibental Army, but was shocked that wshington got the command. Early in the war he was kinapped vy a British raiding party. [McBurney] He commited trason as a British prisoner, telling the Bitush iw they could win the war. This was, however, not known at the time. Benedict Arnold is considered the great tritor in American military jistory. Lee comes in a close second. He was exchanged for a captured British general and participated in the Battle of Monmouth Court House (1778). He retreated under fire and Washington releaved him of command.

Henry Lee (1756-1818)

A vey young Henry Lee was a dashing American calvalry commander. He was better known as Light-horse Harry Lee. He was born in Prince William county, Virginia (1756). He graduated from the College of New Jersey (modern Princeton University). Lee joined Washington’s fledgling Continental Army as itvwas forming around Boston (1775). Washington advanced him to the rank of major and commanded three troops of cavalry and three companies of infantry (1778). He won important engagements and gained his nickname. His most important engagement was the storming of Paulus Hook, New Jersey (1779). Washington personally praised him. He served as a lieutenant colonel of dragoons in the Southern theater leading up to final battle at Yorktown (1780–81). Hi son was Conederate general, Robert E. Lee. It was lee who author of the resolution passed by Congress upon the death of retired Preident George Washington, lauding him as 'first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen'.

Louis XV (1715-74)

Louis XVI was born in 1710 at Versailles, the famed palace of Louis XIV. Like his great grandfather, he became king at an very young age. He began his reign as "Louis the well beloved", but when he died he was unmourned. Serious failures in his upbringing and character prevented him from ruling effectively. He became king in 1715 when he was only 5 years old. He was France's longest serving monarchs. His ineffectual rule contributed to the decline of royal authority that led to the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789. Louis was born at Versailles in 1710, the son of the Duke of Burgandy, who died only 2 years later in 1712. Because of the death of his parents and only surviving brother in 1712, he became King at the age of 5 years on the death of Louis XIV (Sept. 1, 1715). Until he attained his legal majority in 1723, France was governed by a regent, Philippe II, duc d'Orleans. I have no information at this time on Louis' childhood or how he was dressed as a boy. Louis' tutor Cardinal Fleury was to become his head of government. Neither Louis' education nor his character prepared Louis for the task of ruling France, This was critical at Louis XIV had centered French Givernment in the person of the king. A weak king meant a weak goverrnment. Louis was handsome and an imposing figure. He was also intelligent. This potential was spoiled by an inadequate education that taight him that he was the center of his country's life, but failed to inspire in him any real concern for the welfare of his subjects. Court life at Versailles served to emphasize his personal importance and cut him off from contact with his subjects. Boored by court life, Louis let his personal pleasure govern his life.

James Madison (1751-1836)

James Madison was the 4th president, another in a long line of Virginian-born presidents. He played a limited role in the Revolution itself, but a central role in the foundation of the reoublic. He was not an imposing man and in our modern world of mass-media, he would certainly have never become president. It was his mind that set Madion apart and his colleagues recognized this. Madison was a close associate of Thomas Jefferson. He is best known for his role in creating the Constitution. He proved to be the itellectual force behind both th Coenstitution and the foundation of the Republic. [Cheney] In one of the most unlikely political partnerships in American history, Masison and Alexander Hamilton, were largely responsivle for its ratification. As a Republican stalwart, he had led the fight in the new Congress against creating a U.S. Navy. The emerging Republican Party he led were hostile to both a standing army and even the existence of a navy. Ironically, while the Federalists avoided war, President Madison was the first president to ask for a declaration of war and led a largely unprepared counrty into the War of 1812 with the British. And the new U.S. Navy he opposed w one of the few brightspts in thoe ensuing military struggle.

James Monroe (1758-1831)

James Monroe was a dashing junior office in the Revolutiinary War. A young James Monroe joined the Continental Army. He was the only president of the Revolutionary War generation to be a certified war hero. The Revolution was for Monroe the great struggle of his age and after the War he would consciously use the Revolution as a great symbol on national unity. His first action was with a group of school friends at William and Mary College. They raided the govenor's mansion and turned arms held them there over to the local militia (1775). He was commisioned a lieutenant in the 3rd Virginia Infantry. He then went ith the Regiment to join Washington's Continental Army in New York. He fought at Harlan Heights and White PLains. And then retreated south with the Army. He destinguished himself at arguaably the key battle of the War--Trenton. He was a part of the advanced guard that crossed the Deleware before the Army, securing the roads to Trenton. Duting the actual battle in Trenton he was severly wounded while attacking the Hessians, taking a musket ball in the chest. He almost died. The ball was so deeply embeded, he lived with for the rest of his life. He was promoted to captain and returned to Virginia to recover and help recruit. When he rejoined the Continental Army, he was promoted again to major. He fought at Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. He spent the winter at Valley Forge. The Continental Army had more officers than men to command. Monroe got a staff appointment which he did not like. He returned to Virginia which was organizing four new regiments to protect the state as the fighting shifted south. Monroe was appointed colonel to command one of the regiments, but Virgini was able to affird to arm four regiments or recruit the men. Monroe never got his command. He liked the title and for the rest of his like was often called Colonel Monroe. This was essentially the the end of his military career. Jeffereson sent him to North Carolina as an observer and he served with the Virginia militia, but he saw no further action.

Ricahrd Montgomery

Ricahard Montgomery launched a full-scale invasion of Canada. There are 18 counties named after him, but few people in those countries are aware of who he was or his role in the Revolution.

Daniel Morgan

Daniel Morgan was a nearly iliterate backwoods wagonmaster who out fought some of the best, highly experienced generals in the British Army.

Paul Revere (1734-1818)

Few people so symbolize the Revolution as Paul Revere. His emense fame came largely after the Revolution because of Longfellow's poem, 'The midnight ride of Paul Revere' written as thre posibility of Civil War became possible (1860). Tevere was a noted Boston silversmith and one of the Sons of Liberty at the time at the time. Revere helped organize an intelligence service to keep watch on the British military garisoned in Boston. and he was most noted for waring the militia organized outside Boston if the British sallied outside the city. And this is just what happened. General Gage was ordered to disarm the rebels and had learned that they wre stockpiling arms and amunition at Concord. Ans on a signal from the Old North Church warned the militia (April 18-19, 1775). The result was the 'shot heard around the world'--esentially launching the American Revolution. Revere's participation in the Revolution did not end there. He played an imprtant role in the Penobscot Expedition (1779). The objective was to force the British from Maaine. It was, however, a disaster. The entire American flotilla was lost.Lieutenant Colonel Revere was the artillery officer. He was cahrged with neglect of duty, disobeting orders, and cowardice. Revere insisted on a court martial to clear his name. [Greenburg]

Benjamin Rush

Dr. Benjamin Rush was the son of a Philadelphia blacksmith. He was 32 years old when he signed the Declaration of Indepndence. He was among first Sons of Liberty in Philadelphia. He write anonymously, helping to inspire the Boston Tea Party. He also had a pioneering medical career, alled at the time, the American Hippocrates for his impact on medical traininh institutions, achievng internatiinal stature. He championed public education and was perhaps the first American criticize racial, religious, and gender prejudice. [Fried]

George Washington (1732-99)

George Washington was the military commander of the Revoluntionary armed forces. In a very real way Washington was the Revolution. Although not perhaps a brilliant tactician, it is very unlikely that the Colonists would have precailed without him. Washington was also the first president of the United States. Argueably our greatest president because of the standards and precedents he set. A republic governed by an elected president and congress was in the late 18th Century a radical experiment in democracy. Most doubted that it could exceed. The character and integrity of Washington played a key role in the suceess of the young Republic, a Republic that would in the 20th Century save Britain, France, and indeed western civilization itself.


Bailyn, Bernard. To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders (Knopf: 2002), 185p.


Cheney, Lynne. James History (2014), 576p.

Fleming, Thomas.

Fried, Stephen. Rush: Revolutio, Madness, and the Visionary Doictor Who Became a Founding Father (Crown).

Green, James A. William Henry Harrison: His Life and Times (Garrett and Massie: Richmond, Virginia, 1941), 536p.

Greenburg, Michael. M. The Court-artial of Paul Revere: A Son of Liberty & America's Forgotten Military Disaster (2014), 320p.

Kelly, Jack. Band of Giants: The American Soldiers Who Ameica's Independence (2014), 272p.

McBurney. Christia, Kidnapping the Enemy

Kukla, Jon. Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty (Simon abd Schuster).

Thomas, Evan. John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy (Simon & Schuster, 2003), 383p.


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Created: January 26, 2003
Last updated: 12:10 AM 8/2/2018