John Trumbull was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, on June 6, 1756, the son of Jonathan Trumbull and Faith Robinson. His father served as governor of Connecticut from 1769-1784. Trumbull studied privately in Lebanon and attended Harvard College. After his graduation in 1773, he returned to Lebanon, where he taught school and furthered his artistic studies, which he had begun prior to his matriculation at Harvard. From 1775-1777, he was a member of the 1st Regiment of Connecticut Militia, and he briefly served as an aide to George Washington. Trumbull resigned his army commission in 1777 and moved to Boston, where he continued to educate himself in the fine arts. Around 1780, he traveled to London to study under Benjamin West (1738-1820), who became a close acquaintance. Though Trumbull was imprisoned for several months on suspicion of espionage and forced to return to the United States, he returned to London after the war. He lived in England, France, and the United States throughout the rest of his life. Professionally, Trumbull gained fame for his portraiture and a series of historical paintings about the Revolutionary era. He served as the president of the American Academy of the Fine Arts, 1817-1836.
On October 1, 1800, Trumbull married Sarah Hope Harvey (1774-1824). They had no children, but he fathered one illegitimate son, John Ray, with a servant woman named Temperance Ray. John Trumbull died in New York City on November 10, 1843.