The American Revolutionary War (Chapter 7)

After the Seven Years War, England sought to replenish the treasury with new taxes in both England and America. Americans were suspicious that England’s new regulations were intended to destroy their rights as colonial citizens. Mobs and elites resisted British policies with pamphlets, boycotts, riots, and the destruction of property. At the request of colonial governors, Britain sent troops to protect against mob action. This measure actually increased tensions. The protests and boycotts that accompanied new acts (Sugar, Stamp, Declaratory, Townshend, Tea) prompted a cycle of protest, repeal, and replacement. The failure to repeal the Tea Act of 1773 led to the Sons of Liberty’s “Boston Tea Party” which led to martial law in Boston. Massachusetts rebels called for a new colonial congress and established a de facto government at Concord. The rebel committees in each colony organized militia groups and staged boycotts and protests. Colonial representatives could not agree whether they should demand change within the existing system (and remain a British colony) or whether they should create an entirely new system all together (and become independent from Britain).

John Adams, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and others began to speak out for the strongest possible resistance and to speculate about the principles of revolution. Some colonists remained neutral, others supported revolution, still others remained loyal to the British.

England ordered General Gage to arrest the leaders of the Massachusetts Provisional Government and to use military force to maintain order. On April 18, 1775 Gage sent seven hundred troops to Lexington to seize John Hancock and Samuel Adams and capture the rebels’ stockpiled weapons in Concord. Seventy militiamen (New England's "Mintuemen" resisted the British troops in Lexington and eight were killed. The British soldiers ultimately retreated from the 400 militiamen they encountered in Concord and were soon overwhelmed by additional one thousand militiamen. Instead of putting and end to rebel activity, the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord were the open shots of what would be an eight year long war.

The second Continental Congress sent aid to Boston and appointed George Washington as the commander of the Continental forces. The first major battle, Bunker Hill (the fighting took place on neighboring Breed’s Hill) in June 1775 in Massachusetts was a British victory. Rebel forces captured a British fort (Ticonderoga), laid siege to British controlled city (Boston), invaded Canada, and trained in Cambridge. Still, the Continental Congress had not declared war on Britain.

Within weeks of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore (a British appointee) offered freedom to slaves of rebels who would fight for Britain. Several thousand African-Americans pursued their freedom during this conflict. At the battle of Great Bridge, near Norfolk, Virginia in December 1775, Dunmore’s “Ethiopian Regiment” clashed with patriot forces. “Liberty to Slaves” was emblazoned across the red coats of the British soldiers. Dunmore and his regiment were defeated; blacks that joined his retreat gained freedom but were also subject to the smallpox epidemic that soon swept through the troops. The “Ethiopian Regiment” disbanded with many dead and others forced to make their way behind British lines—the most fortunate escaped with their families to Nova Scotia and from there to Sierra Leone in Africa. (See PDF article on course website: “Black Immigrants into Nova Scotia,”see the weblink "Black Loyalists," and see the description of Thomas Peter's life in Created Equal p. 219) Many Native Americans fought for the British as well. However, some Native Americans and African Americans sided with the patriots (many blacks fought for the patriots in the North).

Fifteen months after the Battles at Lexington and Concord, Thomas Paine’s Pamphlet “Common Sense,” published in January 1776, generated so much support that the Declaration of Independence was finally approved on July 4th of that year. One month later, British victories appeared to be crushing the rebellion.

Desertions in Washington’s army mounted as a lack of supplies, food, and severe winter weather set in. A successful surprise attack on Hessian (German) mercenaries in Trenton, New Jersey provided the rebels with supplies. Still, British troops continued to defeat Washington’s poorly trained, poorly paid, poorly supplied army, which finally went into winter camp at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. Troops went in hungry and cold in December 1777 and came out 6 months later disciplined and confident.

After a rebel victory at Saratoga, the French decided to recognize the rebel government and support its cause. Spain joined France against their common enemy: Britain.

One month after the battle of Saratoga, the Continental Congress approved the Articles of Confederation and submitted the document to individual states for ratification – a process that took four yours of debate and negotiation. In 1781 the Articles were ratified, inaugurating a weak confederation where most of the power resided in the states. States then had to develop their own constitutions designating the responsibilities of citizens, what forms of power the state could exercise, and the qualifications required to vote or hold office. These heated debates occurred while the Continental army and local and state militias struggled to defeat the British army who controlled American ports.

Black volunteers served with the northern Continental forces and militia, but were not accepted in the South.

Most women remained at home caring for children, farms, and businesses. Twenty thousand women accompanied the rebel forces as cooks, laundresses, nurses, and water bearers. Women were frequently used as couriers (message-carriers) by both sides.

The Battle of Yorktown in 1781 was the decisive battle in the revolutionary defeat of Great Britain at the hands of American colonists. After the failure of his Carolinas campaign, British general Cornwallis withdrew his army into Virginia and positioned his forces behind fortifications at the town of Yorktown. Cornwallis hoped to receive reinforcements from General Henry Clinton's army stationed in New York. Before that could occur, the Franco-American Army, commanded by General George Washington and General Rochambeau, arrived outside Yorktown and laid siege to the city.

Cornwallis surrendered his troops on October 19, 1781.

Two years after the Battle of Yorktown, a peace treaty recognized the United State as a legitimate country.

In 1783 numerous African Americans, Native Americans, and European Americans who had sided with the British left the United States in a massive evacuation engineered by English ships from St. Augustine, Savannah, Charleston, and New York.

For those who remained, "the fragile unity built on fighting was soon to be strained to the limit, as new debates erupted over the meaning and direction of the unifinished revolution" (Jones p. 252). The transtion from "these" United States to "the" United States was far from complete.