It’s a simple question — perhaps so basic that it’s been overlooked. How old were the key participants of the American Revolution?
Authors often reveal the age of a particular soldier, politician or other main character in books about the Revolution, but I routinely find myself wondering about their peers at the same time. As it turns out, many Founding Fathers were less than 40 years old in 1776 with several qualifying as Founding Teenagers and Twentysomethings. And though the average age of the signers of the Declaration of Independence was 44, more than a dozen of them were 35 or younger!
“We tend to see them as much older than they were,” said David McCullough in a 2005 speech. “Because we’re seeing them in portraits by Gilbert Stuart and others when they were truly the Founding Fathers — when they were president or chief justice of the Supreme Court and their hair, if it hadn’t turned white, was powdered white. We see the awkward teeth. We see the elder statesmen. At the time of the Revolution, they were all young. It was a young man’s–young woman’s cause.”
A list of ages of important American Revolution characters seems elementary enough, and certainly easy to assemble, yet I wasn’t able to find such a list anywhere I looked online. And I don’t recall ever stumbling upon such an appendix while researching my book, Reporting the Revolutionary War, so I figured I’d just make one. This is a list of ages, from youngest to oldest, of key American Revolution participants, providing the precise age as of July 4, 1776. If you spot any corrections or recommend any additions, let me know in the comments and I’ll continue modifying the list to make it more of a living resource. Looking for someone particular and don’t want to waste your time browsing? Hold down Ctrl+F (Command+F on a Mac) and use the “Find” feature of your web browser.
- Andrew Jackson, 9
- (Major) Thomas Young, 12
- Deborah Sampson, 15
- James Armistead, 15
- Sybil Ludington, 15
- Joseph Plumb Martin, 15
- Peter Salem, 16*
- Peggy Shippen, 16
- Marquis de Lafayette, 18
- James Monroe, 18
- Charles Pinckney, 18
- Henry Lee III, 20
- Gilbert Stuart, 20
- John Trumbull, 20
- Aaron Burr, 20
- John Marshall, 20
- Nathan Hale, 21
- Banastre Tarleton, 21
- Alexander Hamilton, 21*
- John Laurens, 21
- Benjamin Tallmadge, 22
- Robert Townsend, 22
- George Rogers Clark, 23
- David Humphreys, 23
- Gouveneur Morris, 24
- Betsy Ross, 24
- William Washington, 24
- James Madison, 25
- Henry Knox, 25
- John Andre, 26
- Thomas Lynch, Jr., 26^
- Edward Rutledge, 26^
- Abraham Woodhull, 26
- Isaiah Thomas, 27
- George Walton, 27*^
- John Paul Jones, 28
- Bernardo de Galvez, 29
- Thomas Heyward, Jr., 29^
- Robert R. Livingston, 29
- John Jay, 30
- Tadeusz Kosciuszko, 30
- Benjamin Rush, 30^
- Abigail Adams, 31
- John Barry, 31
- Elbridge Gerry, 31^
- Casimir Pulaski, 31
- Anthony Wayne, 31
- Joseph Brant, 33
- Nathanael Greene, 33
- Thomas Jefferson, 33^
- Thomas Stone, 33*^
- William Hooper, 34^
- Arthur Middleton, 34^
- James Wilson, 34*^
- Benedict Arnold, 35
- Samuel Chase, 35^
- Thomas Knowlton, 35
- William Paca, 35^
- John Penn, 35^
- Hercules Mulligan, 36
- Andrew Pickens, 36
- Haym Salomon, 36
- John Sullivan, 36
- George Clymer, 37^
- Charles Cornwallis, 37
- Thomas Nelson, Jr., 37^
- Ethan Allen, 38
- Charles Carroll, 38^
- King George III, 38
- Francis Hopkinson, 38^
- Carter Braxton, 39^
- George Clinton, 39
- John Hancock, 39^
- Daniel Morgan, 39
- Thomas Paine, 39
- Patrick Henry, 40
- Enoch Poor, 40
- John Adams, 40^
- Daniel Boone, 41
- William Floyd, 41^
- Button Gwinnett, 41*^
- John Lamb, 41*
- Francis Lightfoot Lee, 41^
- Paul Revere, 41
- Thomas Sumter, 41
- Robert Morris, 42^
- Thomas McKean, 42^
- George Read, 42^
- John Dickinson, 43
- John Glover, 43
- Benjamin Edes, 43
- Samuel Huntington, 44^
- Richard Henry Lee, 44^
- Charles Lee, 44
- Francis Marion, 44
- Lord North, 44
- George Washington, 44
- Joseph Galloway, 45
- Robert Treat Paine, 45^
- Friedrich von Steuben, 45
- Richard Stockton, 45^
- Martha Washington, 45
- William Williams, 45^
- (Dr.) Thomas Young, 45*
- Josiah Bartlett, 46^
- Henry Clinton, 46
- Joseph Hewes, 46^
- William Howe, 46
- George Ross, 46^
- William Whipple, 46^
- Caesar Rodney, 47^
- John Stark, 47
- Mercy Otis Warren, 47
- William Ellery, 48^
- Horatio Gates, 48
- Artemas Ward, 48
- Oliver Wolcott, 49^
- Abraham Clark, 50^
- Benjamin Harrison, 50^
- George Mason, 50
- Lewis Morris, 50^
- Lord Stirling, 50
- George Wythe, 50*^
- Guy Carleton, 51
- John Morton, 51*^
- Comte de Rochambeau, 51
- Lyman Hall, 52^
- James Rivington, 52*
- Samuel Adams, 53^
- Comte de Grasse, 53
- John Witherspoon, 53^
- John Burgoyne, 54
- Johann de Kalb, 55
- Roger Sherman, 55^
- Thomas Gage, 56
- James Smith, 56^
- Israel Putnam, 58
- Comte de Vergennes, 58
- Lewis Nicola, 59*
- George Germain, 60
- Philip Livingston, 60^
- George Taylor, 60*^
- Matthew Thornton, 62^
- Francis Lewis, 63^
- John Hart, 65*^
- Stephen Hopkins, 69^
- Benjamin Franklin, 70^
- Samuel Whittemore, 81
*Evidence exists that this age is not precise, or only a birth year is known
^Signers of the Declaration of Independence (average signer age was 44)
You did not include the Father of the United States Navy.
Commodore John Barry age 30.
Thanks, Larry. It looks like Barry’s birthday was March 25 (1745), which would make him 31 on July 4, 1776. He’s been added.
There’s a good case made that Hamilton was actually 19 or so at the time.
Added an asterisk to bring any questions of exactness to the attention of future readers. It will be up to the reader to investigate and decide at that point. In any case, where a precise age is not available, my goal will be to include the “generally accepted” age on the list (along with the asterisk). Thank you!
Some are surprisingly older than i expected, some are younger, I didn’t think Jefferson was as young as 33 and Franklin as old as 70. Its also surprising how young British general Charles Cornwallis was. He is often portrayed in popular culture as an old man, but he was actually considered a rising star in the British army at the outbreak of war, officers like Howe, Clinton, and even Burgoyne were much older
Thanks Todd for doing the research & posting it. I think it’s AMAZING the number of teenagers – early twenties on that list. I know that there was a 16 year old militia man, Thomas Young, at Cowpens in January 1780.
I guess that would make him about 12 years old on July 4, 1776.
Good stuff, Ed. Thomas Young, age 12, has been added. Thanks!
That Thomas Young should not be confused with Dr. Thomas Young who organized the Boston Tea Party
George Leonard of Lenox, MA, 27
Edward Cole of Swansea MA (became Warren, RI), 25
Thanks for the suggestions. I am not familiar with George Leonard or Edward Cole. Are they major characters in the Revolution, or well known through modern histories of the era? In case they’re lineage, I need to draw the line somewhere and can’t include every distant relative. Hope you understand.
Joseph Warren died the year before
Hilarious! I totally laughed out loud when I read your comment. You’re absolutely right and I will remove him. For the record, had Warren lived beyond Bunker Hill he would have been 35 on July 4, 1776. But he didn’t.
Why not include Warren with the note – deceased. A list without him begs something.
Slow day(s) at work, Todd?
The age question is something I looked at for the unit on which I based my thesis and found some interesting statistics. Of the 60% of the men whose ages I found, 30% joined the unit in their teens. Two of the serjeants were 17 when they held that rank. What makes that a bit more special is that these teen-agers led missions to watch the Brits around Montreal for several days.
What about Thomas McKean?
Samuel Whittemore, who has been under consideration to be named the official state hero of Massachusetts (Deborah Sampson is the
heroine), was born on July 27, 1696 (some sources say 1694). He performed an extraordinary act of soldiering on April 19, 1775.
Thanks! Added, but be careful about Whittemore and what’s fact vs fiction. I recommend you search his name on Boston1775.net.
The Marquis de Lafayette was only 18? Incredible. I had no idea he was that young.
This is a fascinating list. Thanks for compiling it, Todd.
Thanks, Melissa! Funny how ages help humanize the Revolution for us. In the case of Lafayette, it helps us better reflect on the father-son-like relationship he had with Washington.
What about Stephen Hopkins from Rhode Island??? He should have been around 69. How can you not love this guy?
In the summer of 1776, with worsening palsy in his hands, Hopkins signed the Declaration of Independence while holding his right hand with his left, saying, “my hand trembles, but my heart does not.”
Hercules Mulligan, 36?
John Lamb, 41?
Added. Thank you.
Abraham Woodhull, 26?
Robert Townsend, 23?
Suggest adding Dr. Thomas Young, an early Son of Liberty in Boston and physician in the Continental Army hospital. He was best known for suggesting the name of Vermont and for his deist views. He was 45 on July 4th 1776.
Thank you. We have a Thomas Young on the list already, of Cowpens fame, so I’ll think about how to distinguish the two. Good stuff.
William Washington – 24
Tadeusz Kosciuszko – 30
Andrew Pickens – 36
Enoch Poor – 40
Thomas Sumter – 41
John Glover – 43
John Stark – 47
William Alexander, Lord Stirling – 50
Andrew Jackson –
I included Andrew Jackson who was 9 years old in 1776. At age 13, he became a courier for the militia, eventually being captured by the British.
Great additions. Thank you, SPM!
I remember from the film 1776 (which is a not a terrific source, but now it raises the question in my mind) that Edward Rutledge, of whichever Carolina he was from, was considered the youngest of that Congress that signed the Declaration, but I don’t see him on this list. Did I just skim it too quickly and missed him?
Thank you for compiling this. It’s fascinating!
Thanks, Kaerla. Rutledge is on the list, age 26.
May I suggest David Humphreys? He was the Aide-de-Camp and “beloved” friend of George Washington. He was chosen to take the British standards to Congress. He was also the first Ambassador from the new United States to Portugal and Spain. His birth day was July 10, 1752, making him 23 on July 4, 1776
Thanks, Mercy. Yep, he’s already on the list, age 23. A young whippersnapper.
Robert R. Livingston of New York was 29
Added. Thanks, Geoff.
Thomas Knowlton, 36?
Haym Solomon, 36?
Thanks, Publius. Added both though Knowlton is 35. Good suggestions.
You need to add Major Patrick Ferguson, age 32* (Battles – Brandywine, King’s Mountain …)
Thanks for the list. It is very intriguing. It would be nice if you could denote the men who actually signed the Declaration of Independence.
Yes, I second that!
Thanks, Heath. Great idea and very doable. I just added all 56 signers and included an ^ next to each name. Turns out the average signer age was 44.
Awesome! Thanks for you hard work!
This is an excellent site if you’re interested in knowing about each signer, including their “attachment to the land”:
What I’d also like to know: Who were landowners, who weren’t, their wealth at the time. Possible as a chart?
Those are definitely good questions that will require the efforts of other researchers to tackle — I haven’t figured out how to squeeze 32 hours in a day yet. 🙂
Absolutely fascinating!!! Thank you for taking the time and considerable effort in compiling this information.
You’re welcome! Thank you!
b. 26 July 1739.
This list is great and it attests to the fact that these were the flowers of the age of Enlightenment, those who actually were engaged in The Revolution, our actual Founding Fathers, and as we know for the most part, young men are the most Liberal and Optimistic when young, they were the most Liberal men alive in their time. This lie that America was founded by Theocratic Conservatives is lunacy a perversion of history by our ever more Fascist Right Wing..
Fail. The old white men meme comes from the always fascist left wing. You know, the people who want to control your life, your health care, and in NYC, how big your sodas can be.
I’m told that my great-great+ grandfather is Horatio Gates through the Loveless line. My grandfather handed over to me years ago a collection of research his brother, an historian, had on Gates. I’m not sure any of it is unique, original or readily available elsewhere but I would be happy to send you copies if you’re interested.
George Mason of Virginia. Age 50.
John Quincy Adams?
@Bill – Thanks, I will add George Mason.
@Steve – Aside from being a son of a famous Founder, is JQA a main character of the American Revolution?
@Steve – Good stuff about Gates; perhaps someone studying him will read this and want a copy. Thanks for offering!
@Christopher F. Minty — Added. Thank you!
You can add:
Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley aka “Molly Pitcher” who was around 31 on July 4, 1776.
Molly Corbin who was 24
The Slate article misses a lot of the ones you added recently like George Mason.
Without George Mason, there is no Declaration of Independence, and no Bill of Rights.
Also Lt William Lewis who would have been 42-43 years old in ’76
This is a really interesting list, Todd. At least regarding some individuals, though, it is slightly misleading in that it gives their ages on July 4, 1776 but many of the figures named played roles later in the Revolution whether in the 1780s or some even in the 1790s and 1800s. But generally they weren’t old geezers (if only because the average lifespan for males back then was well under 40). Approximately half of the population in 1775 was 16 or under. The other interesting thing is that there doesn’t seem to have been the correlation between class and life span that we have now because doctoring and medicine was still more voodoo than science (e.g., bleeding), so wealthier people who could afford doctors didn’t necessarily live longer as a group than poorer people.
I would also point out that thinking of the “founders” or revolutionaries as a single group is also a bit misleading because, in fact, there were two revolutionary generations (with the cut-off, if I had to guess, somewhere around 1750). Though there were figures like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin who played key roles in the imperial resistance to Britain, the war effort, and the post-war period through 1800, on a broad scale, the generation of politicians and local leaders who started the Revolution was not the same as that which concluded it or dealt with its immediate aftermath in the 1790s and early 1800s.
Good points, Michael. I think our readers know that the people on this list played different roles at different times and that many were yet to accomplish their greatest resume builders as of 1776. Likewise, many had already earned an important spot in history long before 1776. And I believe this list helps underscore your second point. If Founders or Revolutionaries ranged in age from 9 to 81 in 1776 then surely there were generations of major influence before and after independence. To me, this list helps stretch the periodization of the Revolution.
That is an excellent point, Todd.
It makes quite evident the power of those who choose history.
We live the Heritage of the American revolution and strive tokeep alive the sacrifices of those great men who gave up everything for our future. I fear we pale in that same obligation and effort for our Ancestors to think back on us with the same glow and admiration.
“We need to try harder and work better together”!
Grat information. Now I have to figure out how to add it to my next tour.
I am a docent at Bayou Bend in Houston.I weave Amrerican History into my tours.
George Mason was the Father of the Bill of Rights and was at the Philidelphia convention, the only reason his name is not on the constitution is in protest to it not (origionally) containing his Bill of Rights…which was added later and mostly copied James Madison from his version, the Virginia Bill of Rights. Mason was born: December 11, 1725 making him age 50 i think when the Declartion was signed (he was not there)However he needs to be added to any list of “Founding fathers” as he is most certainly one of them.
No surprise, but Charles Pinckney (The Forgotten Founder) was left off. He was a principal author and signer of the Constitution, and would have only been 18 in 1776.
Although John Quincy Adams was mentioned in another reply, I don’t see him added to the list. Historian Sammuel Flagg Bemis gives a very interesting account of young Adams in his book “John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy.”
Timothy Matlack, Jr. was 40 years old on July 4, 1776. He as clerk to the secretary of the Second Continental Congress, penned the official version of the Declaration of Independence on display in the National Archives.
What’s new is really old: See Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, “The Founding Fathers: Young Men of the Revolution,” Political Science Quarterly 76, no. 2 (June 1961).
Francis Marion (Swamp Fox) 43
Arthur St. Claire, 39, Maj. General. 9th Continental President and Governor of the Northwest Territory.
You forgot Lord Charles Cornwallis, Major John Andre, Samuel Graves, Lord Rawdon, Sir Robert Pigot who were British officers in the revolutionary war. And forgot Charles Lee and Colonel William Ledyard who were important & interesting on rebel side.
That sparks an intersting question: While those men figure prominently in the American Revolutionary *War*, how prominently do they figure in the political “American Revolution”? Which is, after all, how this discussion was originally framed.
How about GW’s good friend from Indian wars days, Hugh Mercer?
Philip Schuyler was 42
Marinus Willett was 35
Peter Gansevoort was 27
Unfortunately Peyton Randolph didn’t live to see 1776, but his nephew Edmund (August 10, 1753 – September 12, 1813) was aide-de-camp to general Washington & went on to become the seventh Governor of Virginia, the second Secretary of State, and the first United States Attorney General.
The Randolph family is the perfect example of a family torn apart by the revolution. John the loyalist left for England while his brother Peyton & son Edmund remained to fight for independence.
Thank you for listing Benjamin Edes of Boston, Mass. He is my 2nd cousin 7x removed. Him and his sons involvement in the revolution was critical to it’s success.
This really puts things in perspective. As you said most of these men are portrayed as being our “elderly” statesmen, when in truth they were as young as our Nation.
Job well done, sir!
i didnt see Joseph Reed any where, would he be around 35?
Col. William Prescott, commanding the Patriot redoubt on Breed’s Hill, was 49.
It surprised me that Henry Knox, my favorite general of the war was merely 25! They always portray him 40 + in the movies, like in The Crossing, for some reason.
So young and so talented he was!
Knox is there. It’s in chronological order. He’s right after Madison.
Todd, here are a few others…hopefully I’m not duplicating any recent additions:
James Wilkinson, 19
Henry Dearborn, 25
Silas Deane, 38
Barry St. Leger, 43
Simon Fraser, 46 (DOB: 10/19/1729?)
William Tryon, 47
Joseph Spencer, 61
Re: your article on ages in “Journal of the American Revolution”, I may have found an “oversight”. I cannot say it is “wrong”, but it is certainly misleading to me. On page 89 of JAR is a painting of Charles Pinckney by Henry Benbridge (c1773), showing what appears to be an officer in his late 20s with a distinct 5-o’clock shadow. Right in the middle of the list of names and ages on that same page is Charles Pinckney, age 18 on 7/4/1776. That would make that Charles Pinckney just 15 or 16 when that portrait was painted. For some reason the date and age, and the 5-o’clock shadow, jumped out at me. I checked Wikipedia and found that there were two Charles Pinckneys, both served in the Revolution, and they were 1st cousins once removed. The younger, born 10/26/1757, is listed only as Charles Pinckney http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Pinckney_%28governor%29 . He would have been 18 on 7/4/1776. The older is listed as Charles Cotesworth “C.C.” Pinckney, born 2/25/1746 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Cotesworth_Pinckney That would make him 27 when the portrait was painted. In face, if you scroll down on the Wikipedia page for “C.C.” Pinckney you will see the very same portrait shown on page 89 of JAR. “C.C.” apparently served with more distinction than his younger cousin, both later served with distinction in their native state of SC and both had a good deal to do with the US Constitution. By the way, “C.C.” is not on the list of ages. Assuming thet Wikipedia is correct, referring to both men as ‘Charles’ is not wrong, but it is confusing and misleading.
John Q. Adams deserves to be included as much as Andrew Jackson. He was a witness to the battle of Bunker Hill and accompanied his father to Europe where he was to accompany our ambassador to Russia as his secretary. Jackson’s major accomplishment seems to be getting captured by the British.
John Rogers of Maryland was approximately 53. As a delegate to the Continental Congress he voted for independence in July 1776. He then returned to Maryland and did not sign in August.
If you are going to include Richard Townsend and Abraham Woodhall…then you should include Anna Strong-36, Caleb Brewster-26 and Austin Roe-27
Enoch Crosby soldier and spy
Thomas Crafts was 36/7 at the time of the Revolution (born 1740). He was one of the Loyall Nine/ Sons of Liberty, served in Paddock’s Artillery Co., commanded the Massachusetts militia during the first two years of the Revolution, participated in the Boston Tea Party, and was the first person to read the fully and newly signed Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Old State House in Boston on July 18, 1776.
Todd, two more you might consider adding to this wonderful list are:
John Quincy Adams, 8 (born July 11, 1767, he was involved, with his father, in several important diplomatic missions to European nations during the Revolution, and served as President immediately before the first person on this list, Andrew Jackson)
Phyllis Wheatley, 23* (born about 1753, she was an active and acclaimed American poet, admired by George Washington, among others)
What about Micheal Hillegas? He was born April 22, 1729 so he would’ve been 47 in 1776. He was the first Treasurer of the United States and shared the position with George Clymer until 1776. Along with that, he edited the Declaration of Independence but George Clymer, who shared the position, was the one to sign it.
James Armistead was born around 1748 wasn’t he? That would put him at 28 instead of 15. Or do I have the date wrong.
This is an excellent observation, Cassondra.
The wikipedia entry on James Armistead gives his date of birth as December 10, 1760, but also says, “Most sources indicate that James Armistead was born in 1748 in New Kent County, Virginia, though others put his birth around 1760 in Elizabeth City, Virginia.” Perhaps a careful researcher can sort out this ambiguity.
See our article about James here: https://allthingsliberty.com/2017/09/james-lafayette-james-armistead-american-spy/
The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown believes that James Armistead Lafayette was born in 1748. This is based on the application for a pension he submitted in 1818, in which he states he was 70 years old. We tend to believe that a literate man, apparently sound of mind at that point in his life, would not make a 12 year mistake; and also that a 12 year mistake would have been obvious to observers at that time.
By the way, the pension was granted; $60 immediately with $40 per year afterwards.
(I am not a designated spokesperson for the museum. Visit https://www.historyisfun.org/ for more)
While this is quite interesting to consider the Founding Teenagers/Young Adults, I don’t think a direct comparison can be made to today’s teenagers/young adults. The Founding group were considered adults and most were independent of their parents at a much younger age to today. They were often finished with their professional education as well.
What about Charles Willson Peale, aged 35, a battle-hardened captain in the Pennsylvania militia? A prolific portrait painter, in addition to his military equipment, he carried his art supplies to the field and made miniatures of officers. He later enlarged the miniatures. He did over 50 portraits of George Washington, including “Washington at Princeton” (1781), which sold for $21.3 in 2005. He had many interests, a renaissance man. Just so you know, the 1776 portrait of George Washington you have at the start of your article is by Charles Willson Peale, commissioned by John Hancock. Loved the article! Please excuse any errors; I am tapping on my Kindle.
How about Pastor Peter Muhlenberg?
Silas Deane, 38