The surprising ages of the Founding Fathers on July 4, 1776

On the day that the United States Declaration of Independence was issued how old were Americas Founding Fathers? A simple question to be sure, so simply we usually just overlook it. We tend to see them as the old men we see in the pictures. Much much older than they actually were. What’s truly astounding though is how young many of the ‘founding fathers’ were. Some could even be categorized as ‘founding teenagers’.

David McCullough in a 2005 speech said, “Because we [see] them in portraits…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.”

So how old were they?

Todd Andrlik for the Journal of the American Revolution compiled a list of many of the nations key figures during the war.

Andrew Jackson, 9 *
(Major) Thomas Young, 12 *
Sybil Ludington, 15
Deborah Sampson, 15
James Armistead Lafayette, 15
Marquis de Lafayette, 18
James Monroe, 18
Charles Pinckney, 18
John Trumbull, 20
Gilbert Stuart, 20
Aaron Burr, 20
Alexander Hamilton, 21
Betsy Ross, 24
James Madison, 25

Really this is quite mind blowing…we assume all these people were around the same age. They were not. Like any good startup, the United States kick started its existence with wildly capable passionate youngsters.

Here are some more ages, just for reference:

Thomas Jefferson, 33
Benedict Arnold, 35
John Adams, 40
Paul Revere, 41
George Washington, 44
Samuel Adams, 53

“The oldest prominent participant in the Revolution, by a wide margin, was Benjamin Franklin, who was 70 years old on July 4, 1776. Franklin was really like two full generations removed from the likes of Madison and Hamilton. But the oldest famous participant in the war was Samuel Whittemore, who fought in an early skirmish at the age of 80. His story is fascinating and worth pointing out here (from Wikipedia):”

Whittemore was in his fields when he spotted an approaching British relief brigade under Earl Percy, sent to assist the retreat. Whittemore loaded his musket and ambushed the British from behind a nearby stone wall, killing one soldier. He then drew his dueling pistols and killed a grenadier and mortally wounded a second. By the time Whittemore had fired his third shot, a British detachment reached his position; Whittemore drew his sword and attacked. He was shot in the face, bayoneted thirteen times, and left for dead in a pool of blood. He was found alive, trying to load his musket to fight again. He was taken to Dr. Cotton Tufts of Medford, who perceived no hope for his survival. However, Whittemore lived another 18 years until dying of natural causes at the age of 98.

*The full list resides at Journal of the American Revolution.

Another fascinating article worth looking at, Young People at War, recounts the stories of the many extremely young children who joined the revolutionary cause. Its almost unfathomable to think that children of just 12 were volunteering to fight.

Posted with changes from Kottke.org