Revolutionary War

Key Personalities

General biographies for research on the American Revolution’s key personalities

Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams by John Singleton Copley
September 27 1722 – October 2, 1803

Samuel Adams was one of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution. He was a leading speaker and coordinator behind American resistance to British economic tyranny. He was one of the figures at the Continental Congress that pushed for complete independece from Britain. After the war he became governor of Massachusetts. (He was also a cousin of the 2nd President John Adams.)

Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry by George Bagby Matthews
May 29, 1736 – June 6, 1799

Patrick Henry was a spokesman in favor of independence before the American Revolution. He is famous for his speech where he said “Give me Liberty or Give me Death!”. He was also leader of the Anti-Federalists during the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787.

John Hancock

John Hancock by John Singleton Copley
January 23, 1737 – October 8, 1793

John Hancock was one of the Founding Fathers and the president of the Second Continental Congress. He is remembered for signing the Declaration of Independence with a very large signature. After the war he was governor of Massachusetts.

John Dickinson

John Dickinson by Charles Willson Peale
November 13 or 15, 1732– February 14, 1808

John Dickinson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States who worked heavily to reconcile the American colonies and Great Britain in the run-up to the American Revolution, particularly in the Continental Congress. He also helped to write teh Articles of Confederation that governed the country before the Constitution was written.

Light-Horse Harry Lee

Henry Lee by William Edward West
January 29, 1756 – March 25, 1818

Henry Lee III, nicknamed Light-Horse Harry, was a cavalry officer in the American army during the Revolution. He later served as governor of Virginia and as a representative to the US Congress. He was the father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Paul Revere

Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley
December 21, 1734 – May 10, 1818

Paul Revere was an American patriot best remembered for alerting the militia in Massachusetts of the approach of British forces before the Battles of Lexington and Concord. His exploits were celebrated in a famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called “Paul Revere’s Ride”. [Link]

Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale by Frederick MacMonnies
June 6, 1755 – September 22, 1776

Nathan Hale was an American soldier who was executed by the British. His famous last words before being hanged were “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones by Charles Willson Peale
July 6, 1747 – July 18, 1792

John Paul Jones was a prominent naval officer during the American Revolution who has sometimes been called the Father of the United States Navy.

Ethan Allen

Sculpture of Ethan Allen by Larkin Goldsmith Mead
January 21, 1738 – February 12, 1789

Ethan Allen was an American soldier during the Revolutionary War known for capturing Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and later being one of the founders of the state of Vermont.

George Washington

George Washington by Gilbert Stewart
February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799

George Washington was the Father of the Country, Commander in Chief of the Contiental Army, and the First President of the United States. He established government traditions such as the inaugural address and the cabinet system as well as the tradition of only serving two terms, a tradition only broken once by Frankin Roosevelt in 1940.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Siffred Duplessis
January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790

Benjamin Franklin was a leading diplomat, scientist, and inventor of the 18th century as well as one of the most famous of the Founding Fathers. He made many discoveries about electricity as well as inventing the lightning rod, bifocals, and a type of stove known as a Franklin stove. He was a major figure in Philadelphia civic life, creating both a university and fire department there. He was also a spokesman for the colonies who played a crucial role in creating both the Declaration of Independence and in convincing the French to form an alliance with the new country.

John Adams

John Adams by Eliphalet Frazer Andrews
October 30 1735 – July 4, 1826

John Adams was the spokesman of the American Revolution, playing a central role in convincing the Continental Congress to vote for independence. He also worked with Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to write the Declaration of Independence. He also served as a diplomat in the Netherlands and Britain before eventually becoming the second President of the United States. He and Thomas Jefferson died on the the same day within hours of each other.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson by Charles Peale
April 13 1743 – July 4, 1826

Thomas Jefferson was a one of the most important and prominent figures in American history. He was a founding father who was responsible for writing the Declaration of Independence as well as the third President of the United States. During his career he was a diplomat, the governor of Virginia, and Vice President under John Adams. He also organized the main opposition to the Federalist party, known as teh Democratic-Republican party. He and John Adams died on the the same day within hours of each other.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull
January 11, 1755 or 1757 – July 12, 1804

Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury, a chief of staff to George Washington during the Revolution, and founder of the Federalist Party. Hamilton established the financial system of the United States and was instrumental in the creation of the first nation bank. He was shot and killed in a duel with then vice-President Aaron Burr in 1804.

James Madison

James Madison by John Vanderlyn
March 16, 1751 – June 28, 1836

James Madison was the fourth President of the United States. He was called the Father of the Constitution and Father of the Bill of Rights for his role in drafting both documents as well as for his working to have them ratified. He was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers together with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.

John Jay

John Jay by Gilbert Stuart
December 12, 1745 – May 17, 1829

John Jay was a Founding Father, governor of New York State, and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Jay was a Federalist and played a major role in creating and helping to have the Constitution ratified. Together with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton he wrote the Federalist Papers. He was also responsible for the abolition of slavery in New York State.

Marquis de Lafayette

Marquis De Lafayette by Joseph-Désiré Court
September 6 1757 – May 20 1834

The Marquis De Lafayette (full name: Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette, Marquis de Lafayette) was a French military officer who fought beside George Washington and the Continental Army during the American Revolution, particularly at the battle of Yorktown. Lafayette played an important role in the French Revolution as well, trying to steer a moderate course that failed when the French Revolutionaries became radical and murderous. He spent five years in prison during the French Revolution until after it ended, Napoleon arranged for his release. In World War One in 1917 when American troops entered France and American commanders visited his tomb, to honor for his role in the American Revolution, they said “Lafayette, we are here”.

Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross presenting the first American flag to George Washington by Edward Percy Moran
January 1, 1752 – January 30, 1836

Betsy Ross is credited with making the first American flag in 1776 at the request of George Washington. 

King George III

King George III by Allan Ramsay
June 4 1738 – January 29 1820

King George III was the King of Great Britain from 1760-1810. During his long reign he fought many wars, including the French and Indian War, The Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars. He was the tyrant described in the Declaration of Independence who sought to restrict the legitimate rights of American colonists. In the later part of his life he suffered from an unidentified mental illness.

Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold by H.B. Hall
January 14, 1741  – June 14, 1801

Benedict Arnold was a traitor who defected from the Continental Army to the British for money to pay his debts. He planned to betray control of West Point New York to the British but fled to them after the plan was discovered. He died in debt in London in 1801.

William Pitt

William Pitt 1st Earl of Chatham by Richard Brompton
November 15 178 – May 11 1778

William Pitt The Elder was a major figure in the British government during the French and Indian War who argued favorably in Parliament against the tyrannical policies enforced on the American colonies.

Prime Minister Frederick North

Frederick North Lord North by Nathaniel Dance
April 13 1732 – August 5 1792

Frederick North, known as Lord North was the British Prime Minister from 1770-1782, during the entire crisis period prior to the American Revolution and then during the Revolution itself.

General Thomas Gage

General Thomas Gage by John Singleton Copley
1719 or 1720 – April 2 1787

Thomas Gage was the military governor of Massachusetts in 1774. His actions in trying to enforce the Intolerable Acts created the conditions that lead to the Battles of Lexington and Concord. He was also the general in charge of the British side at the Battle of Bunker Hill where he won but with heavy losses. In 1775 he was replaced by General WIlliam Howe.

General William Howe

General William Howe 1777 Color Mezzotint
August 10 1729 – July 12 184

William Howe was one of the Commander-in Chief’s of the British army during the American Revolution. He took control of British forces after the Battle of Bunker HIll in 1775 and then captured both New York City and Philadelphia. He resigned his post in 1778 in response to his poor planning of the Saratoga campaign undertaken by General John Burgoyne and whose failure led to the entry of France into the conflict on the side of the United States.

Lieutenant General John Burgoyne

General John Burgoyne by Joshua Reynolds
February 24 1722 – August 4 1792

John Burgoyne was a British general during the American Revolution. He is mostly known for his defeat at the Battle of Saratoga which was seen as a turning point in the war. His defeat there led to the entry of France into the war on the side of the United States.

General Charles Cornwallis

General Charles Cornwallis by John Singleton Copley
December 31 1738 – October 5 1805

Charles Cornwallis was a British general during the American Revolution. In 1781 he was defeated by the Continental Army led by George Washington. His defeat and surrender at Yorktown marked the end of the American Revolution. After the war he served Britain in India and Ireland.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine by Auguste Millière
February 9, 1737 – June 8, 1809

Thomas Paine was a professional revolutionary activist who was influential in both the American and French Revolutions. In 1776 he wrote a pamphlet titled “Common Sense” which strongly laid out the need for independence from Great Britain. It was considered then and now to be one of the most influential works that rallied the colonists in support of breaking with England. After the American Revolution he moved to France to pursue Revolution there. He wrote a defense of the French Revolution known as “The Rights of Man” in 1791. He returned to the United States in 1802 where he lived isolated and rejected by the public.