Before They Were Famous: The Early Lives of the U.S. Founding Fathers


All the most prominent Founding Fathers who conducted the American War of Independence and created the U.S constitution - George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin - had deep British roots. Washington, for example, expected to be schooled in England (like his brothers) and hoped to win a commission in the British army; while Franklin hailed Britain’s victory against France in the Seven Years’ War thirteen years before he signed the Declaration of Independence “not merely as I am a Colonist, but as I am a Briton”. We will trace their British ancestry, track their early lives, and examine the reasons why they all, in the end, worked for independence, cut their ties with their past (and, in some cases, their own family), chose to be defined as “Americans” - and, in doing so, changed the course of history.

Programme details

Session 1

Introduction: British America, 1607-1783

Session 2

The Founding Fathers: Who They Were & What They Did

Session 3

George Washington (1): A Royalist Past

Session 4

George Washington (2): The Surveyor-Soldier Turned Revolutionary

Session 5

John Adams: The Harvard Scholar with Essex Roots

Session 6

Thomas Jefferson: The Virginian Wordsmith with Welsh connections

Session 7

James Madison: From Jamestown to Yorktown

Session 8

Alexander Hamilton: The Economist with Scottish Aristocratic Links

Session 9

Benjamin Franklin: The London Resident Who Switched Sides

Session 10

Becoming American: The Emergence of a New National Identity

Session 11

The British Americans: Where They Went After 1783

Session 12

After The American Revolution: What The Founding Fathers Did Next


Description Costs
Programme Fee (No Accommodation - inc. Tuition, Lunch & Dinner) £850.00
Programme Fee (Standard Single Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1485.00
Programme Fee (Standard Twin Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1245.00
Programme Fee (Superior Single Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1600.00
Programme Fee (Superior Twin Room - inc. Tuition and Meals) £1345.00


Dr Simon Targett


Simon Targett is a writer, historian and award-winning journalist. A former Associate Editor of the Financial Times, he has written for the Economist, Washington Post and Boston Globe, and lectured on British and American history.

Course aims

This course aims to provide an introduction to the U.S. Founding Fathers—their British ancestry, their formative experiences, and what drove them to take up arms against Britain. By knowing their back story, it will be possible to have a better understanding of the moment when Americans became Americans and changed the course of history.

Teaching methods

All summer school courses are taught through group seminars and individual tutorials. Students also conduct private study when not in class and there is a well stocked library at OUDCE to support individual research needs.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be expected to understand:

  • The British ancestry of the most prominent U.S. Founding Fathers
  • The personal journeys of the revolutionary leaders from British “subject” to American “citizen”
  • How British America became the United States of America
  • How Americans became Americans and forged a distinct and distinctive national identity

Assessment methods

Students are assessed during the summer school by either a 1500 word written assignment or a presentation supported by individual documentation. To successfully gain credit (10 CATS points) students should attend all classes and complete the on-course assignment. There is also a pre-course assignment of 1000 words set. Although this does not count towards credit, it is seen as an important way of developing a student's ideas and therefore its completion is mandatory.