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What founding fathers were redheads?

The Founding Fathers of the United States included many great thinkers, writers, and leaders. While we often focus on their ideas and accomplishments, their physical appearances are an interesting part of history as well. One unique trait found among some of the Founding Fathers was having red hair.

Red hair is caused by a genetic mutation that results in higher levels of the reddish pigment pheomelanin. Only 1-2% of the global population has natural red hair. The condition is more common among those of Northern or Western European descent.

During the 18th century when the United States was founded, red hair would have been seen more frequently among American colonists than it is today. Examining which Founding Fathers had red hair can provide insight into the ethnic backgrounds and genetic makeup of these important figures.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States from 1801 to 1809, is perhaps the most well-known redhead of the Founding Fathers. Jefferson had thick, bright red hair throughout his life which matched his fiery personality.

In her novel about Thomas Jefferson called “The Paris Wife”, author Paula McLain described Jefferson’s hair color:

“His hair is reddish, and stands straight off his forehead, as if it can’t bear to touch his skin a moment longer than it must.”

Jefferson was of Welsh, Scottish and English ancestry. His mother Jane Randolph Jefferson also reportedly had red hair. The red hair trait seems to have been passed down through the Jefferson family.

John Adams

John Adams, the 2nd President of the United States from 1797 to 1801, also had reddish hair but of a different tone than Thomas Jefferson.

Adams had auburn hair, which has hues of reddish-brown. His son John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States from 1825 to 1829, shared this auburn hair color.

In his diary from 1760 at the age of 25, John Adams wrote about his own hair color:

“I have a Cough and a Cold, a bad Head Ach, and an inflamation in my eyes…Besides this inconvenient Gaping, Yawning, Stretching, feeling faint, looking pale, talking slow and walking slow. This latter I impute to an Abyss of Thought into which I have plunged over my Head and Ears, but the Cause of all the former Disorders I charge to my last nights Bill of Fare, vizt. Pasty, Beans, and Cabbage.”

The reference to his pale complexion and red-toned hair gives insight into John Adams’ genetic profile. His heritage was largely English.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers known for his work establishing the nation’s financial system, also had red hair but his tone was more ginger than auburn.

In the hit musical “Hamilton”, actor Lin-Manuel Miranda portrayed Alexander Hamilton with long, red hair tied back in a ponytail. While the popular image shows ginger locks, portraits of the real Hamilton reveal his hair color was more subtle.

Still, historians confirm that Alexander Hamilton did have light reddish-brown hair and even freckles. These traits point to Scottish ancestry in his background. His mother Rachel Fawcett Lavien was said to be of French Huguenot and British descent.

Robert Morris

In addition to presidents and Treasury secretaries, a few other Founding Fathers also had red hair. One example is Robert Morris, a merchant and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and United States Constitution.

Robert Morris had auburn hair and his descendants describe him as a “redhead.” His role as Superintendent of Finance of the United States from 1781 to 1784 was crucial for funding the American Revolutionary War.

Interestingly, Morris was born in England and immigrated to the American colonies as a teenager. This migration path from Europe to America was common for many Founding Fathers.

Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris, one of the foremost leaders of the American Revolution and drafter of the U.S. Constitution, provides another example of a Founding Father with red hair.

Morris had reddish-brown hair and a light complexion. Along with Robert Morris, he was known for his fiery personality. One historian described Gouverneur Morris by saying: “His temperament was ardent and impetuous, and he had freely indulged those passions.”

Gouverneur Morris was born in New York but had English ancestry. Both sides of his family had been early colonists in America for multiple generations.

Benjamin Franklin

The famous polymath Benjamin Franklin did not have red hair himself, but rather light brown hair that grayed and whitened early in life. However, his mother Abiah Folger was described as having red hair.

Ben Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1706. His mother’s family were among the early Puritan settlers of New England who came from England. The red hair trait in Franklin’s maternal line again reflects the common ancestral background among many Founding Fathers.

Summary of Redheaded Founding Fathers

To summarize the most notable redheads among the Founding Fathers:

Name Hair Color Ancestry
Thomas Jefferson Red Welsh, Scottish, English
John Adams Auburn English
Alexander Hamilton Ginger Scottish, French, British
Robert Morris Auburn English
Gouverneur Morris Reddish-brown English

While not all of the Founding Fathers had red hair, the prevalence of the trait among leading figures like Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and others reflects the large number of colonists from Britain and Northern Europe. Understanding their genetic origins provides insight into the diversity of early America.

Reasons for Red Hair Prevalence

Why did so many key Founding Fathers exhibit this red hair trait, even though worldwide it only appears in 1-2% of the population? There are a few historical factors that led to higher rates of red hair among American patriots in the 18th century.

British and Northern European Ancestry

As seen from the table above, the Founding Fathers with red hair were largely of English, Welsh, Scottish, and French ancestry. The modern United States inherited much of its early genetic makeup from colonists originating in the British Isles and Northern Europe.

These regions had higher rates of red hair expression. Scotland and Ireland, in particular, have the highest global prevalence equating to 13% of the population. Genetic studies confirm that the trait originated among ancient populations in these areas.

Founder Effect in Colonial America

The establishment of colonies in the Americas led to new population bottlenecks that amplified the Founder Effect. This genetic phenomenon occurs when a small subset of a population seeds a new community. Red hair became more concentrated among American settlers.

For example, the Massachusetts Bay Colony founded by the English in the early 1600s saw large waves of emigrants from East Anglia where red hair frequencies were high. As this community grew, red hair became a common signature of New Englanders.

Positive Selection of Redheads

Some historians argue that positive selection occurred during the founding of the United States, meaning redheads had increased survival and reproduction rates.

Benefits may have included:
– Better production of Vitamin D at northern latitudes
– Standout appearances that helped with leadership distinction
– Associations with strength, courage, and fiery temperaments

This combination of founder effects and selective advantages allowed the red hair trait to bloom among revolutionary leaders and officials despite its global rarity.

Later American Redheads

While red hair was quite common among Founding Fathers, the frequency steadily declined over time as the ethnic background of the United States diversified. Still, some notable American figures continued exhibiting the striking trait.


At least two additional U.S. Presidents besides Jefferson, Adams, and J.Q. Adams were redheads:

– Andrew Jackson, 7th President from 1829-1837, had reddish hair and a famous hot temper
– Calvin Coolidge, 30th President 1923-1929, had very red hair early in life that later darkened

Artists & Writers

Famous American artists and authors with red hair have included:

– Painter Norman Rockwell, known for Redhead Daydreams and portraits of red-haired children
– Author Louisa May Alcott, who rose to fame through the novel Little Women
– Poet Robert Frost, whose mother was a New England redhead


Red-haired activists and reformers like these left their mark on history:

– Suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton, fought for women’s right to vote
– Abolitionist John Brown, known for his reddish beard and efforts to end slavery
– Labor organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, namesake of the magazine Mother Jones

While red hair became less common over time, it remained an American trait into the 20th century through the influence of these iconic leaders and cultural figures.


In summary, red hair was surprisingly prevalent among Founding Fathers and early American leaders due to the ethnic backgrounds of colonists and evolutionary factors. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and other key patriots exhibited this vibrant trait.

Understanding the genetic origins of the Founders gives insight into the colonies they represented. Their red hair marked the passing down of traits from European settlers, especially those from the British Isles and Northern regions. This is just one example of how American history is deeply embedded in our biology.