Washington. Jefferson. Adams. Hamilton. Franklin.
These are just a few of the names that come to mind when we think of America’s Founding Fathers. These patriots and heroes made human freedom and liberty their life’s work, founding a country that nearly a quarter of a millennia later is still the shining city on a hill that is – despite its flaws – a beacon of hope for freedom fighters the world over.
But there’s another group of Founding Fathers who aren’t quite household names. These Founders perished during the Revolution, giving their lives so that Americans generations later could live in peace and prosperity, free of oppression. Meet three Founding Fathers you may not know who perished in the Revolutionary War:
1. Joseph Warren
A physician from Massachusetts, it was Joseph Warren who, as an early leader of the American Patriot groups in Boston, recruited Paul Revere to warn of the iminent British attack on Concord. The next day brought the Battles of Lexington and Concord – the opening salvos of the American Revolution.
Months later, despite being commissioned as a Major General in the Massachusetts militia, Warren fought alongside his men as a private soldier in the Battle of Bunker Hill. On June 17, 1775 Warren died in this battle, making the ultimate sacrifice but inspiring his brothers in arms to continue the fight. John Trumball, known as the Painter of the Revolution, immortalized Warren in his painting The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775. After his death, Warren remained in the public consciousness, as many towns, counties, and statues were named in his honor.
2. John Laurens
An aide-de-camp to George Washington and a close friend of Alexander Hamilton, South Carolina soldier-statesman John Laurens knew the most prominent Founding Fathers well despite his relative lack of 21st century notoriety.
Laurens was one of the strongest advocates for racial equality among the Founding Fathers, promoting a plan to free some 3,000 slaves in exchange for their service as soldiers in the Revolution. Congress approved Laurens’ plan, but when he attempted to put it into action, he met forceful opposition in South Carolina. As a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Laurens introduced his plan as legislation on three separate occasions. He was defeated each time – blocked by opposition from Governor John Rutledge, among many others.
Mere weeks before the Revolutionary War ended, on August 27, 1782, Laurens was shot while riding on horseback in the Battle of Combahee River. The 27-year old did not survive the war, but his legacy set the stage for those who fight for freedom and equality in America today.
3. John Hart
A New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Hart paid a heavy price for his dedication to the Revolution. As Speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly, he was a prime target for British forces, who stormed his home in 1776. Hart said goodbye to his dying wife and fled into the Sourland Mountains. Hart’s 13 children were forced to flee as well – and never saw their father again.
Two years later, during the summer of 1778, Hart hosted George Washington and some 12,000 Continental Army troops on his farm prior to the Battle of Monmouth. Hart even dined with General Washington on at least one occasion. After falling ill late that year, he died in May 1779. Hart’s legacy is one of steadfast devotion to the fight for American freedom.
It’s tempting to wonder what else these brave patriots may have accomplished had they lived to see post-Revolution early America. While they were not able to enjoy the fruits of their sacrifice, there’s no doubt they would be proud of the Americans that followed in their footsteps. We give thanks for the selfless devotion each of these men displayed to the American ideal of liberty, and the countless others who gave their lives without broad recognition in the history books.