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Benedict Arnold. Engraving from a painting by John Trumbull. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-148-GW-617).

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Arnold, Benedict (14 January 1741–14 June 1801), revolutionary war general and traitor, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of Benedict Arnold III, a merchant, and Hannah Waterman King. Of his mother’s eleven children, only he and a younger sister survived. At age eleven he was sent away to grammar school, but he left two years later when his alcoholic father lost the family’s fortune. Apprenticed to his mother’s cousin, an apothecary in Norwich, he volunteered in three campaigns (1757–1759) of the French and Indian War, deserting finally to be with his dying mother. His father died soon after, leaving little except debts, but his generous master paid the debts and set Arnold up in business when he decided to move to New Haven in 1762....

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Aaron Burr. Engraving on paper, c. 1793 - 1814, by Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.

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Burr, Aaron (06 February 1756–14 September 1836), revolutionary soldier, U.S. senator, and vice president of the United States, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Aaron Burr, a theologian and the second president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), and ...

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Cadwalader, John (10 January 1742–10 February 1786), revolutionary war soldier, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Cadwalader, a physician, and Hannah Lambert. Cadwalader received his education in the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), then organized a prosperous mercantile business with his brother ...

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Conway, Thomas (27 February 1735–1800?), soldier, was born in Ireland. Little is known of his parents. At an early age he was taken to France, where he received an education and in 1749 was enrolled in the French army. Diligent service in his profession, especially in Germany in the early 1760s, led to his promotion to a colonelcy in 1772. Upon the outbreak of the revolutionary war, he offered his services to ...

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Gates, Horatio (Apr.? 1728?–10 April 1806), soldier, was born, according to tradition, in Maldon, England, the son of Robert Gates, a customs collector, and Dorothy Reeve, a housekeeper. His parents were of low rank, and had he not received patronage from powerful mentors he probably would have been doomed to a life of drudgery. Shortly after his birth his father, who worked for the duke of Bolton, was appointed tidesman in the customs service and later customs collector at Greenwich. His mother, previously housekeeper for the duke of Leeds, assumed the same position in the Bolton household. As a lad, Gates probably attended school in Greenwich. In 1745, through Bolton’s influence, he was commissioned ensign in the Twentieth Regiment, then transferred immediately as lieutenant to a regiment Bolton was privately raising. He served for a time in Germany and was appointed regimental adjutant. In 1749 he joined Colonel Edward Cornwallis as an aide and came out with the colonel to Nova Scotia. Five years later he married Elizabeth Phillips. They had one child....

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Alexander Hamilton. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-91098).

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Hamilton, Alexander (11 January 1757?–12 July 1804), statesman and first secretary of the treasury, was born in Nevis, British West Indies, the second of two illegitimate sons of James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett Lavien. (The year of birth is often given as 1755, but the evidence more strongly supports 1757.) The father deserted the family when Hamilton was eight; the mother died three years later. Hamilton was apprenticed to a firm of international merchants and proved to be so gifted in commerce that he was soon left in full charge of the business. At fifteen he was “discovered” by a Presbyterian minister, who arranged financial support to send him to the College of New Jersey at Princeton. After a year at a preparatory school he passed the stiff entrance exams at Princeton, but when the president refused to allow him to advance at his own pace rather than with the regular classes, he went to King’s College (now Columbia) in New York instead....

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Laurens, John (28 October 1754–27 August 1782), revolutionary war soldier and diplomat, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Henry Laurens, a prominent merchant and planter, and Eleanor Ball Laurens. John Laurens studied under private tutors in Charleston before traveling to London in 1771 for further schooling. In May 1772 he moved to Geneva, Switzerland, a city renowned for its republicanism and education system, and studied there until August 1774. While in Geneva, he decided to become a lawyer, returned to London, and enrolled in the Middle Temple at the Inns of Court....

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Charles Lee. Mezzotint on paper, 1775. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Judith Aronson ©1977 Judith Aronson.

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Lee, Charles (26 January 1731–02 October 1782), revolutionary war general, was born in Chester, England, the son of John Lee, a British officer, and Isabella Bunbury. Possessing the important social advantage of gentle ancestry, his education was not neglected. His father, desiring that he familiarize himself with peoples and languages other than English, enrolled him at an early age in an academy in Switzerland. Over the years, Lee became proficient in Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and German. In 1746 he entered grammar school at Bury St. Edmunds, where he became lifelong friends with important and well-placed companions such as William Butler and Charles Davers. His father, colonel of the Fifty-fifth Regiment of Foot, also determined that young Lee would continue the family’s tradition of military service. Thus when Lee was fourteen years old, Colonel Lee purchased for him an ensigncy in the Fifty-fifth Regiment, soon renumbered the forty-fourth; when young Lee completed his education he reported for active duty. His father died in 1750, and four years later Lee fell out with his mother. Their problems likely stemmed from a strain of eccentricity in the Bunbury family, which Lee inherited, and which manifested itself in moodiness and a choleric temper. As Lee himself later admitted, he suffered from a “distemper of … mind.” Thereafter, Lee was on close terms only with his unmarried sister, Sidney Lee, who like himself had survived a childhood scarred by the deaths of five siblings....

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McIntosh, Lachlan (05 March 1727–20 February 1806), planter and Continental army officer, was born in Badenoch, Inverness-shire, Scotland, the son of clan chieftain John McIntosh Mohr and Margaret (or Marjorie) Fraser. McIntosh arrived in Georgia in January 1736 as part of a shipload of Highland Scots sent to guard the colony’s southern frontier. Led by McIntosh’s father, the expedition founded the Altamaha River town of Darien, which was a military center during the War of Jenkins’s Ear. In 1748 McIntosh went to Charleston, South Carolina, where he met ...

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Porter, Andrew (24 September 1743–16 November 1813), teacher and revolutionary war soldier, was born in Worcester, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, the son of Robert Porter, a farmer. His mother’s name is unknown. At an early age he showed a taste for reading and mathematics, and although he was apprenticed to his elder brother to learn carpentry at the age of eighteen or nineteen, he failed after a few months. Under the guidance of a teacher, Patrick Mennon, who lived about twelve miles from his home, he learned about sundials. Carving one from soapstone, he destroyed his brother’s carpentry tools. His father then tried to teach him farming, but Porter’s aversion to labor and his love for books caused him to spurn that profession as well. Thereupon, his father determined that he should become a schoolmaster and enrolled him in Mennon’s school. After quickly mastering the curriculum, Porter established a small school of his own and began to teach. He struck up an acquaintance with ...

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Wilkinson, James (1757–28 December 1825), soldier and intriguer, was born in Calvert County, Maryland, the son of Joseph Wilkinson and Betty Heighe, merchant-farmers. He spent his early years on his parents’ farm, but his father died when he was seven, and his mother apprenticed him to a local physician, John Bond, to learn medicine. When Wilkinson was seventeen he went to Philadelphia to continue his medical training. In 1775 he completed his studies and opened a practice in Monocacy, Maryland. But his heart was not in it. While in Philadelphia he had been dazzled by the fervor of the growing revolutionary movement, avidly watching militiamen drill and listening to heated oratory against the “Intolerable Acts.” He began to neglect his patients, concentrating instead on drilling with a volunteer corps of riflemen, and soon he had joined colonial forces investing Boston. An affable young man, he received attention from General ...