Men and women of the founding generation

By Chuck Springston
Men and women of the founding generation
James Monroe was the last president from the country's founding generation.

      The “founders” are the men who helped create one of the nation’s two founding documents.

       They are signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. 
       The preeminent members of that group are Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.
       The oldest founder was Pennsylvanian Franklin (1706-1790). The youngest was Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey (1760-1824). Both were at the Constitutional Convention. Franklin was 81; Dayton, 26.
       Other Americans who fought in the military, served in the Continental Congress or aided the country in other ways during the Revolutionary War are members of the “founding generation.”
       In this context, a generation does not refer to the typical 20- to 30-year period between the birth of a parent and the birth of a child, but rather to the people who have witnessed  the same dramatic historical events and lived in the same cultural period.
       This webzine defines the founding generation as the 54-year period between Franklin’s birth in 1706 and Dayton’s birth in 1760. The Revolutionary War and Declaration of Independence were defining events in the lives of everyone born during that period—even the youngest. In early 1776, when Dayton was just 15, he marched off to war as part of his father’s New Jersey regiment.
       Anyone younger than Dayton most likely would have been too young to fight, at least early in the war. Future President Andrew Jackson joined the Continental Army as a messenger at 13 in 1780, near the end of the war, but he is more appropriately placed in country’s second generation of leaders. That generation includes the founders’ children, prominently John Quincy Adams who, like Jackson, was born in 1767 and turned 9 the same month his father’s dream of independence became a reality.

       The signers of the Declaration of Independence

       The Declaration of  Independence was signed in Philadelphia by 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress, which met from May 10, 1775 to March 1, 1781. Six signers of the declaration also signed the Constitution. Their names are in bold. The Independence Hall Association has short bios of each signer.

       Roger Sherman (1721-1793)
       Samuel Huntington (1731-1796)
       William Williams (1731-1811)
       Oliver Wolcott (1726-1797)
       Caesar Rodney (1728-1784)
       George Read (1733-1798)
       Thomas McKean (1734-1817)
       Button Gwinnett (1735-1777)
       Lyman Hall (1724-1790)
       George Walton (1741-1804)
       Samuel Chase (1741-1811)
       William Paca (1740-1799)
       Thomas Stone (1743-1787)
       Charles Carroll (1737-1832)
       John Hancock (1737-1793)
       Samuel Adams (1722-1803)
       John Adams (1735-1826)
       Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814)
       Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814)
       New Hampshire
       Josiah Bartlett (1729-1795)
       William Whipple (1730-1785)
       Matthew Thornton (1714-1803)
       New Jersey
       Richard Stockton (1730-1781)
       John Witherspoon (1723-1794)
       Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791)
       John Hart (1711-1779)
       Abraham Clark (1725-1794)
       New York
       William Floyd (1734-1821)
       Philip Livingston (1716-1778)
       Francis Lewis (1713-1802)
       Lewis Morris (1726-1798)
       North Carolina
       William Hooper (1742-1790)
       Joseph Hewes (1730-1779)
       John Penn (1741-1788)
       Robert Morris (1734-1806)
       Benjamin Rush (1745-1813)
       Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
       John Morton (1724-1777)
       George Clymer (1739-1813)
       James Smith (1719-1806)
       George Taylor (1716-1781)
       James Wilson (1742-1798)
       George Ross (1730-1779)
       Rhode Island
       Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785)
       William Ellery (1727-1820)
       South Carolina
       Edward Rutledge (1749-1800)
       Thomas Heyward Jr. (1746-1809)
       Thomas Lynch Jr. (1749-1779)
       Arthur Middleton (1742-1787)
       George Wythe (1726-1806)
       Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794)
       Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
       Benjamin Harrison (1726-1791)
       Thomas Nelson Jr. (1738-1789)
       Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734-1797)
       Carter Braxton (1736-1797)


   The delegates to the Constitutional Convention

       There were 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, held May 25-Sept. 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, but 16 delegates did not sign. Three of those, with ** after their names, refused to sign. The other 13, with * after their names, were not in Philadelphia at the time of the signing. John Dickinson of Delaware was also absent because he was sick but had delegate George Read sign for him. He is counted as one of the signers.  
       Six of the 39 signers of the Constitution also signed the Declaration of Independence. Their names are in bold. The National Constitution Center has short bios of the convention delegates.

       Oliver Ellsworth (1745-1807)*
       William Samuel Johnson (1727-1819)
       Roger Sherman (1721-1793)
       Richard Bassett (1745-1815)
       Gunning Bedford Jr. (1747-1812)
       Jacob Broom (1752-1810)
       John Dickinson (1732-1808)
       George Read (1733-1798)
       Abraham Baldwin (1754-1807)
       William Few (1748-1828)
       William Houstoun * (1755-1813)
       William Leigh Pierce* (1740?-1789)
       Daniel Carroll (1730-1796)
       Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer (1723-1790)
       Luther Martin * (1748-1726)
       James McHenry (1753-1816)
       John F. Mercer* (1759-1821)
       Elbridge Gerry ** (1744-1814)
       Nathanial Gorham (1738-1796)
       Rufus King (1755-1827)
       Caleb Strong * (1745-1819)
       New Hampshire
       Nicholas Gilman (1755-1814)
       John Langdon (1741-1819)
       New Jersey
       David Brearly (1745-1790)
       Jonathan Dayton (1760-1824)
       William Churchill Houston* (1746?-1788)
       William Livingston  (1723-1790)
       William Paterson (1745-1806)
       New York
       Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804)
       John Lansing Jr.* (1754-1829)
       Robert Yates * (1738-1801)
       North Carolina
       William Blount (1749-1800)
       William Richardson Davie* (1756-1820)
       Alexander Martin * (1740-1807)
       Richard Dobbs Spaight Sr. (1758-1802)
       Hugh Williamson (1735-1819)
       George Clymer (1739-1813)
       Thomas Fitzsimons (1741-1811)
       Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
       Jared Ingersoll (1749-1822)
       Thomas Mifflin (1744-1800)
       Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816)
       Robert Morris (1734-1806)
       James Wilson (1742-1798
       Rhode Island
       No delegates
       South Carolina
       Pierce Butler (1744-1822)
       Charles Pinckney (1757-1824)
       Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746-1825)
       John Rutledge (1739-1800)
       John Blair (1732-1800)
       James Madison (1751-1836)
       George Mason ** (1725-1792)
       James McClurg * (1746-1823)
       Edmund Jennings Randolph** (1753-1813)
       George Washington (1732-1799)
       George Wythe*(1726-1806)

       Other notables

       listed by birth dates, between 1706 and 1760

       Israel Putnam (1718-1790), major general, Continental Army; one of two principal commanders who defended American fortifications when the British attacked during the battle of Bunker Hill in Massachusetts; may have given the famous order, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”(although the words also have been attributed to Maj. Gen. William Prescott, the other principal commander); put in charge of forces in New York until newly appointed Commander in Chief George Washington arrived. He was a cousin of Maj. Gen. Rufus Putnam.
       Crispus Attucks (1723?-1770), former slave; seaman on a whaling vessel; believed to be the first person killed in the Boston Massacre.
       James Otis (1725-1783), Boston lawyer who gained fame for his use of natural rights in arguments against British measures such as warrants that allowed officials to search any house for smuggled goods; initiated the call for a Stamp Act Congress that met in New York, the first meeting of representatives from multiple Colonies to protest British actions, in particular a tax imposed without the consent of their legislatures; often quoted as saying “taxation without representation is tyranny,” but there are no known documents that show him using that exact phrase. He was a brother of writer Mercy Otis Warren.
       Count Rochambeau, formally Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur (1725-1809), commanded the French forces fighting alongside the American army; joined George Washington in the siege at Yorktown, Va., that essentially ended the war.
       William Prescott (1726-1795), colonel, Continental Army; led troops who defended the American position during the British attack in the battle of Bunker Hill. The order “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”  is often attributed to Prescott, although it may have been said by Maj. Gen. Rufus Putnam, the other principle commander.

       Horatio Gates (1727-1806), major general, Continental Army; led the forces that defeated the British at Saratoga in New York, which encouraged France to enter the war; was considered as a replacement for George Washington when Washington was having little success.
       John Stark (1728-1822), major general, Continental Army, noted for his tactical skills; his successful attack on British forces at Bennington, Vt., caused damage that contributed to the victory later at Saratoga; after the war, sent a letter to a reunion of Bennington veterans with this toast: “Live free or die, “ which became New Hampshire’s motto.
       Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814), Plymouth, Mass., writer of poems, plays, political commentary  and history (anonymously in the early years); regarded as the first American woman whose writings were intended for the general public; penned satirical plays that mocked British rule and advocated independence; wrote a pamphlet opposing ratification of the Constitution because of the power it gave the federal government; compiled a three-volume history of the Revolution. She was the sister of Boston lawyer James Otis.
       John Parker (1729-1775), captain and commander of the Lexington militia in Massachusetts at the first battle of the Revolution; reputed to have said, “Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.” (There is uncertainty over the exact wording of his order.) He died of tuberculosis later that year.
       Friedrich von Steuben (1730-1794), former Prussian officer who joined the American Revolution; major general and inspector general of the Continental Army; established training programs and drilled troops during the winter at Valley Forge, Pa.; one of three division commanders at the battle of Yorktown.
       Martha Washington (1731-1802), wife of George Washington; provided wealth from her first marriage that helped Washington expand his estate; during Washington’s presidency, hosted Friday evening receptions that established the tradition of social events at the first family’s residence.
       Robert Rogers (1731-1795), created Rogers’ Rangers as a British major in the French and Indian War to conduct reconnaissance and raids; asked George Washington for a command in the Revolution but was arrested on suspicion of spying; escaped and served the British as a lieutenant colonel of the Queen’s Rangers and then the King’s Rangers. His “28 rules of ranging” are still used in a revised form by the modern U.S. Army rangers, formed in World War II.
        Francis Marion (1732?-1795), lieutenant colonel, Continental Army; brigadier general of the South Carolina militia; called the Swamp Fox because he evaded the British by traveling through swampland.
       Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810), major general, Continental Army; one of three division commanders at Yorktown and George Washington’s second in command, who accepted the British surrender; first secretary of war, Confederation Congress (the governing body between the Second Continental Congress and Congress established by the Constitution).  No known relationship to Abraham Lincoln.
       Daniel Boone (1734-1820), led American pioneers across the Appalachian Mountains through the Cumberland Gap from Virginia into Kentucky; colonel, Fayette County militia (a Virginia county in present-day Kentucky); member, Virginia House of Delegates.
       Paul Revere (1735-1818), silversmith and “Indian” in the Boston Tea Party who gained fame for his nighttime ride to warn militias and patriot leaders in Lexington and Concord that the British were on the march from Boston. He was one of three riders that night. The other two were William Dawes (1745-1799), who also set out from Boston, and Samuel Prescott (1751-1777?), who joined the other two at Lexington.
       Patrick Henry (1736-1799), member, Virginia House of Burgesses; delegate, First Continental Congress; governor of Virginia; inspired others to the cause for independence with his passionate oratory, especially in a speech that reportedly ended with “give me liberty or give me death”(no original copy or written record of speech exists; the text is based on recollections years later of people who heard it).
       Daniel Morgan (1736-1802), brigadier general in the Continental Army; commanded a unit of superior marksmen who came to be known as “Morgan’s riflemen;” led militia forces that helped end the Whiskey Rebellion during George Washington’s presidency; Virginia member , U.S. House of Representatives. He was a cousin of Daniel Boone.
       Thomas Paine (1737-1809), author of the widely read pamphlet “Common Sense,” which made a persuasive case for American independence, and the pamphlet “The American Crisis,” which includes the phrase: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
       Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818), major general, Continental Army; aide de camp (personal assistant) on George Washington’s staff; president, Confederation Congress; first governor of the Northwest Territory.
       Rufus Putnam (1738-1824), brigadier general, Continental Army; established the Ohio Company of Associates to settle the Northwest Territory; led New England war veterans who established the territory’s first American settlement, Marietta, Ohio. He was a cousin of Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam.
       Ethan Allen (1738-1789), leader of the Green Mountain Boys, a militia formed before the Revolution to resist Colonial New York’s effort to take legal control over property in present-day Vermont; during the war commanded Green Mountain Boys in the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in New York; appointed colonel in the Continental Army.
       Thomas Knowlton (1740-1776), lieutenant colonel, Continental Army; under orders of George Washington, formed an elite group known as Knowlton’s Rangers, the first Ranger unit of the independent United States, although it carried out spy operations more like the military intelligence and reconnaissance missions of today’s Green Berets rather than the rapid-deployment, light-infantry operations of modern Rangers; killed during the battle of Harlem Heights in New York, which occurred after a Knowlton scouting expedition ran into British troops.
       Benedict Arnold (1741-1801), major general, Continental Army; his leadership of troops at Saratoga was a major factor in the American victory; appointed commander of Philadelphia; then commander of the fort at West Point, N.Y.; negotiated with the British to give them the fort (making his name synonymous with “traitor”), but his plan was discovered; avoided capture and became a brigadier general in British army.
       Joseph Warren (1741-1775), Boston doctor; vocal critic of British rule who sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on rides to warn patriot leaders that the British were marching toward them; president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress (created in opposition to the British Colonial government after Parliament dissolved the Provincial Assembly); major general, Massachusetts militia; killed at the battle of Bunker Hill with a shot in the head, then bayoneted.
       Nathanael Greene (1742-1786), major general, Continental Army; commander of the army’s campaign in the South, where his actions weakened  the forces of British Gen. Charles Cornwallis and contributed to a series of events that put Cornwallis in Yorktown for the defeat that ensured American victory in the war.
       Abigail Adams (1744-1818), wife of John Adams, his most important adviser, who said to him: “In the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.”
       Anthony Wayne (1745-1796), brigadier general, Continental Army, promoted to major general after the war; nicknamed “Mad  Anthony” because of his hot temper; gained fame for a surprise night bayonet attack that captured the British fort at Stony Point, N.Y.; negotiated peace treaties with Indian tribes in Georgia; member, Pennsylvania General Assembly; Georgia member, U.S. House of Representatives; led troops fighting Indians in the Northwest Territory; after a victory at Fallen Timbers (near present-day Toledo), negotiated a treaty that gave most tribal lands in Ohio to the government.
       Issac Davis (1745-1775), captain of the town of Acton’s minutemen, elite highly trained militia units ready for action at a minute’s notice; led the men who were at the front of the successful attack on the British at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Mass.; first American officer to die in the war; statue erected to honor him is replicated in the seal of the U.S. National Guard.
       Casimir Pulaski (1745-1799), former Polish officer considered “the father of the American cavalry;” brigadier general and “commander of horse,” Continental Army; trained, reorganized and wrote regulations for cavalry units (called light dragoons); formed his own cavalry corps, the Pulaski Legion; mortally wounded in cavalry charge during a failed attack on the British in Savannah, Ga.; named an honorary citizen by Congress in 2009.
       John Barry (1745-1803), native of Ireland; captain, Continental Navy;  on the ship Lexington  in the Chesapeake Bay, makes the first American capture of a British ship; on the Alliance, won the war’s final naval battle, near Cape Canaveral, Fla.; first Navy officer commissioned by President George Washington and top commander of the U.S. Navy, with the title “commodore;” considered by some to be the “father of the Navy.”
       John Jay (1745-1829), New York delegate, First Continental Congress; delegate, Second Continental Congress; member, New York Provincial Congress (set up to take legislative control away from the British colonial government);  first chief justice of the New York Supreme Court; president, Second Continental Congress; minister to Spain for Second Continental Congress; member of the American Peace Commission in Paris that negotiated a treaty ending the war; secretary of foreign affairs, Confederation Congress; one of the authors of the “The Federalist Papers;” first chief Justice of the United States; envoy to Britain to negotiate an agreement, now called the “Jay Treaty,” that dealt with disputes lingering  after the Revolution; governor of New York.
       Thaddeus Kosciuszko (1746-1817), former Polish officer and trained military engineer who joined the American Revolution; colonel of engineers in the Continental Army, promoted to brigadier general after the war; helped fortify positions in  Philadelphia, Saratoga and West Point; performed a variety of military engineering work in North Carolina and South Carolina.
       Salem Poor (1747-1802), a slave born in Andover, Mass., who purchased his freedom and later joined the Andover militia as a private; fought at Bunker Hill as a “brave and gallant soldier” who “behaved like an experienced officer,” according to 14 officers in a petition to the Massachusetts legislature seeking a reward for Poor (believed to be the only soldier at Bunker Hill singled out for his heroics). The legislature did not grant the request. In 1975 the U.S. Postal Service created a Salem Poor stamp as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration.
       John Paul Jones (1747-1792), Scottish-born captain of merchant ships who moved to Virginia on the eve of the Revolution; captain, Continental Navy; on the Ranger, defeats the Drake, the first ship captured in British waters; on the Bonhomme Richard, captures the Serapis in a fierce North Sea battle with the two ships locked together and Jones’ vessel sinking; at one point, reportedly says, “I have not yet begun to fight.” (The exact words vary among the accounts of participants in the battle. Jones’ own account does not include the words he spoke.)
       Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831), publisher and editor of the Massachusetts Spy newspaper, which called itself the “American Oracle of Liberty,” one of the largest papers in America with circulation throughout the Colonies; used the Spy to foment opposition to the British; participated in the battle of Lexington as a militia member; his report, reprinted in other papers, is regarded as the first published eyewitness account of the battle, making Thomas perhaps the first American war correspondent.
       Henry Knox (1750-1806), major general and chief of artillery, Continental Army; hailed for hauling cannons in winter weather from New York forts to the hills above Boston for a siege of the British-held city; named senior officer of the Army after George Washington resigns as commander-in-chief; second secretary of war under the Confederation Congress;  encourages Washington to participate in the Constitutional Convention, saying it would entitle him to “the glorious epithet — Father of Your Country,” one of the first uses of that description; President Washington’s first secretary of war.
       Margaret Corbin (1751-1800), one of the “Molly Pitcher” women who went to war with their husbands on artillery crews, carrying ammunition and water that cooled the cannons and the men during battles; took husband John’s position after he was killed beside his cannon at Fort Washington (in New York City)  in November 1776, continued firing while being hit in the jaw, chest and left arm, which disabled her for life; first woman given a military pension by Congress and conceivably the first American woman in combat; also called “Captain Molly.”
       Philip Freneau (1752-1832), a New York-born writer of romantic and nature poems who also wrote satirical verse aimed at the British; called “the poet of the American Revolution;” joined the New Jersey militia; sailed on an American privateer that went after British merchant ships, was captured and put on a British prison ship for several weeks; after the war, edited Philadelphia’s National Gazette, which supported Thomas Jefferson and James Madison of the Democratic-Republican Party in vitriolic verbal sparring with Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists.
       Betsy Ross (1752-1836), Philadelphia upholsterer who made tents, repaired uniforms and packed musket balls into paper cartridge tubes; traditionally regarded as the designer and maker of the first American flag, a claim now doubted by many historians because it is based more on oral tradition than on solid evidence, although Ross clearly was one of many flag makers.
       George Rogers Clark (1752-1818), brigadier general, Virginia militia; led a militia force that captured British forts on the frontier, including Kaskaski  and Cahokia in present-day Illinois and Vincennes in present-day Indiana, giving Americans a claim to land that would be ceded to the United States after the war. He was the older brother of William Clark, co-leader with Meriwether Lewis of the expedition that explored territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.
       Mary Ludwig Hays McCauly (1754-1832), claimed by some to be the Molly Pitcher who became a legend for her exploits at the battle of Monmouth in New Jersey; carried water to men firing the cannons, including husband William Hays and took over his job loading one of the cannons after he collapsed from heat or a wound. Murky parts in the story have caused a debate over whether McCauly was the Molly Pitcher of Monmouth and whether the incident itself is true.
       John Marshall (1755-1835), lieutenant, Culpeper minutemen in Virginia; captain, Continental Army; member, Virginia House of Delegates; after the war, part of a three-member commission that negotiated with France in Paris over problems dividing the two countries, returned when the talks broke down in what became known as the XYZ Affair  (the initials were used in U.S. documents to represent the names of three French diplomats); Virginia member, U.S. House of Representatives; secretary of state for President John Adams; fourth chief justice of the United States; wrote opinions for some of the most important cases in the Supreme Court’s history, including Marbury v. Madison, which established the court’s authority to declare a law unconstitutional.
       Nathan Hale (1755-1776), Connecticut grammar-school teacher; captain, Continental Army; a commander in Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton’s ranger unit; sneaked into a British-held part of New York City to learn more about plans for an attack, but was discovered and captured, possibly by Lt. Col. Robert Rogers of the Queen’s Rangers; hanged as a spy; reportedly said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” (There is speculation that those may not be his precise words.)
       Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee III (1756-1818), lieutenant colonel, Continental Army’s cavalry; delegate, Confederation Congress;  governor of Virginia; member, U.S. House of Representatives; described George Washington as “first in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen;” father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
       Aaron Burr (1756-1836), lieutenant colonel, Continental Army; member, New York State Assembly (the lower house in the legislature); New York state attorney general; U.S. senator from New York; tied Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 race for president, shifting the decision to the House of Representatives, which selected Jefferson;  vice president during Jefferson’s first term; defeated for governor of New York in a campaign that included disparaging words about his character from former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton; challenged  Hamilton to a dual and killed him; involved in a conspiracy to push Spain out of Mexico, perhaps take U.S. lands in the West and then install himself as emperor; tried for treason and acquitted.
        Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), formally Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, a French officer who came to America to fight in the Revolution; major general, Continental Army; aide de camp on George Washington’s staff; on a trip to France, helped obtain a commitment for more French troops; commander of the Continental Army in Virginia and one of three division commanders during the siege at Yorktown; named an honorary citizen by Congress in 2002. Washington said of Lafayette, “I love him as my own son” (according to the recollections of a French diplomat who dined with Washington).
       James Monroe (1758-1831), major, Continental Army; crossed the Delaware River with George Washington and suffered a severe shoulder wound in the battle of Trenton; lieutenant colonel in Virginia’s state forces; military commissioner of Virginia for Gov. Thomas Jefferson; member, Virginia House of Delegates; delegate, Confederation Congress; U.S. senator from Virginia; minister to France for President Washington; governor of Virginia; helped negotiate Louisiana Purchase for President Jefferson as a special envoy in Paris; minister to Great Britain for Jefferson; secretary of state for President James Madison; last U.S. president from the founding generation.  


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