Researching the American Revolution

Your source for information on the American War of Independence

Major Generals

Overview Biographies

Billias, George Athan, ed. George Washington’s Generals and Opponents: Their Exploits and Leadership. 1st Da Capo Press ed. New York: Da Capo Press, 1994.

Blanchard, Amos. The American Biography : Containing Biographical Sketches of the Officers of the Revolution, and of the Principal Statesmen of That Period, to Which Are Added the Life and Character of Benedict Arnold, and the Narrative of Major Andre. Wheeling, WV: Kenyon, 1833.

Broadwater, Robert P. American Generals of the Revolutionary War: A Biographical Dictionary. Jefferson: McFarland, 2012.

Griswold, Rufus, William Gilmore Simms, and Edward D Ingraham. Washington and the Generals of the American Revolution. Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1847.

Headley, J.T. Washington and His Generals. Home Library. New York: A. L. Burt Company, n.d.

Journal Articles

For a comparison of the prior military experience of the British generals as compared with the Patriot generals, see an article entitled Revolutionary Rookies in the Journal of the American Revolution.

Major Generals Comparative Data

Full-length biographies of the twenty-nine major generals are relatively few. For each of the major generals, I have compiled a list of the published biographies as well as repository sources for memoirs and papers. In addition to the sources cited, researchers should consult with the David library of the American Revolution, theGeorge Washington papers, and Founders on line for additional documents.

The major generals are listed in order of senority.  The major generals highly coveted seniority and jealously guarded its priviledges.

Rank and Promotion Information

The average number of years served as a major general is 3.7 years with 5.3 total years of service.  The dates of service by rank for the twenty-nine Continental Army major generals are found in the link below.

Continental Army Major Generals Dates of Service

Slave Ownership

Not counting George Washington, there were twenty-nine major generals, of which twenty-three lived before or after the war in the United States.  Over half of these major generals owned slaves, which is a bit lower in proportion to the slave owning signers of the Declaration of Independence. While certainly a much lower percentage, it is less certain the proportions of the major generals who advocated ending slavery.

Major General State Slave Owner No of Slaves Anti Slavery Views Last Will and Testament
Artemus Ward MA No
Charles Lee VA Yes ? Yes, sold
Philip Schuyler NY Yes 13 Silent
Israel Putnam CT No Bought freedom for a slave encountered in 1763
Richard Montgomery NY Yes ? Left slaves to heirs
John Thomas MA No
Horatio Gates VA Yes ? May have had a change of heart after the war Sold with some manumission
William Heath MA No yes
Joseph Spencer CT No
John Sullivan NH Yes 1 Slaves not mentioned in his final inventory
Nathaniel Greene RI Yes ? No mention of slaves, just property
Benedict Arnold CT No
William Alexander NJ Indentured No mention of slavery
Arthus St. Clair PA No Yes
Adam Stephen VA Yes 30 Left to heirs
Benjamin Lincoln MA Yes 1 May have had a change of heart after the war
Robert Howe NC Yes 30 Destitude at death
Alexander McDougall NY Yes 1
Frederick W. A. Steuben NY No No mention of Slavery
William Smallwood MD Yes 56 Destitude at death
Samual Parsons CT No Partially
Henry Knox MA No
William Moultrie SC Yes 200 Destutude at death
Foreign Volunteers who returned home or died in service
Thomas Mifflin
Paul J. G. de M. Lafayette
Philip De Coudray
John De Kalb
Thomas Conway
Louis L. Duportail
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