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John Trumbull

By David Streater, Ph.D.

Burke CountyDavid Streater Burke County foundation forward charters of freedom


This is an American history educational moment of those who made a difference during the Revolutionary War era and how they served our Country.

Most people do not recognize his name, though they are familiar with his paintings.  John Trumbull was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, on June 6, 1756.  He was the sixth and youngest child of Jonathan and Faith Robinson, a family considered American royalty.  After graduating from Harvard in 1773, John worked as a teacher and a topographer.

John sketched American and British military fortifications that gave George Washington’s Continental Army critically needed details.  In appreciation, Trumbull was commissioned as an officer in the Army and assigned to General Washington as an aide-de-camp.  Trumbull later resigned from the Army to study art and paint-making.  This decision took him to England to study at the Royal Academy of Arts with Benjamin West.

Over the next decade, John traveled to and from America and Europe.  During a trip to London in 1780, Trumbull was jailed as a political prisoner for revenge because British spy Major John André was hanged in Tappan, New York.  Trumbull was paroled after eight months and continued painting.  He was appointed commissioner to John Jay for implementing the Treaty of Amity Commerce and Navigation, commonly known as Jay’s Treaty.

Congress commissioned John to paint murals for the new federal government.  After being shown as a traveling exhibit, these now-famous pictures have remained on the walls of the Capitol’s Rotunda.  The Declaration of Independence painting is actually “the presentation of a draft of it to Congress” in June 1776.

Other pictures Trumbull created for the Capitol are of General Burgoyne, Lord Cornwallis, and General Washington Resigning his Commission.  Trumbull’s portrait of Alexander Hamilton is on the ten-dollar bill.  John’s most famous representation is the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the two-dollar bill, among other banknotes.

Because of discrepancies, John’s group paintings received petty criticism.  The variations are because his paintings are montage composites describing pivotal events in American History before the camera’s advent.  Nevertheless, Trumbull’s works in the Capitol captivate all viewers and crystallize their memory with “the most cherished [artwork] ever painted by an American artist.”

Though blind in one eye from a childhood accident, John Trumbull was a peerless and devoted patriot.  Turnbull applied his artistic gift by documenting the birth of modern democracy!   His legacy continues in the Capitol, Yale, and other notable locations.

Please visit your Charters of Freedom setting in most western North Carolina counties.  A Charters of Freedom setting consists of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  They are on permanent display analogous to the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives, Washington, DC.  Please visit to learn more about our existing settings.  Vance and Mary Jo Patterson are the benefactors and originators of Foundation Forward, a 501(c)(3) education non-profit.

Teachers are encouraged to contact Dr. Streater for information and complementary student education materials to enhance experiential field trips to a Charter of Freedom settings.  In addition, everyone is welcome and urged to obtain a personalized engraved legacy paver for placement at their local Charters of Freedom setting.  Please contact Dr. Streater ( for engraved legacy paver information and complementary educational materials.


Dr. David Streater is the director of education for Foundation Forward.  He is a retired college instructor and administrator, and a retired probation and parole officer/administrator.  David is a criminologist who has an acute history interest, served in the Navy, and is a resident of Burke County, NC.

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