Many of the Founding Fathers Were Actually Twentysomethings During the American Revolution 

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Aug. 20 2013 5:30 AM

How Old Were the Leaders of the American Revolution on July 4, 1776?

Younger than you think.

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress.
Declaration of Independence

Image courtesy of John Trumbull/Wikimedia Commons

It’s a simple question—perhaps so basic that it’s been overlooked: How old were the leaders of the American Revolution?

As it turns out, many Founding Fathers were younger than 40 years old in 1776, with several qualifying as Founding Teenagers or 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 John Adams biographer 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.”

Advertisement

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. And I don’t recall ever stumbling upon such an appendix while researching my book, so I figured I’d just make one. This is a list of ages, from youngest to oldest, of key American Revolution figures, providing their age as of July 4, 1776. An asterisk signifies that the individual was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. A double asterisk means that there is evidence that the person’s age is not precise, or only a birth year is known. If you spot any corrections or recommend any additions, let me know in the comments and I’ll continue modifying the original list.

  • Andrew Jackson, 9
  • (Major) Thomas Young, 12
  • Deborah Sampson, 15
  • James Armistead, 15
  • Joseph Plumb Martin, 15
  • Peter Salem, 16**
  • Peggy Shippen, 16
  • Marquis de Lafayette, 18
  • James Monroe, 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**
  • Benjamin Tallmadge, 22
  • Robert Townsend, 22
  • George Rodgers 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 Solomon, 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*
  • 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

This piece is reprinted from Journal of the American Revolution.

Todd Andrlik is the author of Reporting the Revolutionary War and editor of Journal of the American Revolution.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 17 2014 12:27 PM Listen to Our Ultimate Holiday Playlist Holiday tracks for the season, exclusively for Slate Plus members.