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Early Battles

In April, 1775, General Gage received orders from England to take the offensive against the Americans. He developed a plan to march out in the early hours of April 19, and attack Lexington, where rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock were rumored to be hiding. From there, he would proceed to Concord, where the patriots had been building up a store of arms and gunpowder. Gage kept his plans as secret as possible, but patriots in Boston led by Dr. Joseph Warren, were ready to spread the alarm of the approaching troops. Dr. Warren sent Paul Revere and William Dawes to warn the rebel leaders in Lexington and to inform the militia leaders in the area. Revere and Dawes, travelling separately to avoid capture, reached Lexington around midnight and helped Adams and Hancock to escape. As they moved on toward Concord, a third rider, Samuel Prescott, joined them; this proved fortunate because Revere was captured and Dawes lost his horse on the road to Concord, and neither could not complete the ride.

Enough militia members had been alerted that, by the time the British soldiers reached Lexington, a small fighting force of American patriots had gathered on the village green. Outnumbered ten to one, the members of the militia began to disperse when the British commander confronted them, when someone, unknown to this day, fired a shot. The British then opened fire on the retreating militiamen, killing eight Americans, wounding ten, and thoroughly outraging others along the route to Concord.

When the British advanced into Concord, a fighting force of 250 Massachusetts militiamen was waiting for them. One of the militia members fired what would come to be known as the “shot heard ‘round the world,” as it signaled that Americans would fight to defend their rights, even if it meant engaging in revolutionary activities. In the short battle, the British were turned back by a surprisingly strong fighting force of militiamen, who would earn the nickname “minutemen” for the speed with which it had assembled. Unable to achieve his objectives, the British began the long retreat back to Boston. Jubilant Americans continued to fire at the troops from windows and from behind fences all the way back, leading British officers to burn down any house suspected of harboring minutemen. By the end of the bloody day, there were forty-nine dead and thirty-nine wounded on the American side and seventy-three dead and 174 wounded on the British side. General Gage admitted, “the Rebels are not the despicable rabble too many have supposed them to be.”

The situation did not improve for Gage and his men back in Boston, where 16,000 militiamen soon surrounded the city. Realizing that, if the Americans were allowed to control the heights around Boston Harbor, they could fire down into the city at will and prevent British ships from re-supplying the troops. For Gage to keep hold of Boston, he would need to force the Americans off of the high ground at Charlestown Point across the harbor. He could have easily ordered the heavy guns of the Royal Navy to force them off, but he wanted to teach the Americans a lesson by destroying the militia in a dramatic frontal assault up Breed’s Hill. On June 17, 1775, Gage ordered the attack, but again the Americans surprised the Redcoats with their tenacity. They turned back two British charges up the hill before running out of ammunition and being forced off Breed’s Hill and nearby Bunker Hill. Gage achieved his objective in what would inexplicably come to be called the Battle of Bunker Hill but at a very high cost; he lost over 1,000 killed and wounded, a quarter of his force, while the Americans lost only 400. His confidence shaken and his leadership in doubt, General Gage was soon replaced in Boston by General William Howe.

The Second Continental Congress and George Washington

Most of the early military engagements took place in Massachusetts, but other colonies took part in revolutionary activities as well. In colonies without occupying British troops, Americans quickly took control, forcing out royal governors who would then “rule” from British ships off the coast. New governments were formed, usually out of the lower houses of colonial assemblies, and leaders were chosen from among the Committees of Public Safety, the Sons of Liberty, and the Committees of Correspondence. Provincial militias were renamed “state” militias. The postal service was already under the control of a rebel, Benjamin Franklin. All that was needed was a national government, and that soon came when the Second Continental Congress convened in May 1775.

Initially, the Congress had no intention of declaring independence. Instead, it hoped to coordinate resistance to British oppression so that the colonies could be both free and still British. Accordingly, the Congress issued two important documents in the first year of its existence. It issued the Olive Branch Petition, which swore the colonies’ loyalty to King George III and pleaded with him to protect his subjects from the oppression of Parliament. Furthermore, it passed the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, which argued that the colonists were well within their rights to defend themselves against a Parliament that had violated their rights of Englishmen. The King was unconvinced by these two documents, having already declared after Bunker Hill that the American colonies were “in open rebellion.”

It was clear that the colonies needed to organize their armed resistance, so one of the first duties of the Second Continental Congress was to appoint a national commander for the Massachusetts militia, which was offered to Congress as the basis of the Continental Army. Members of the Congress believed that the commander should be from a southern colony, to ensure that this would not be perceived as merely a New England revolt. The ideal candidate would possess considerable military experience, a will to train the undisciplined American fighters, and a fierce loyalty to the ideals of the revolution. In George Washington, Congress found its ideal commander.

Washington arrived in Massachusetts to take command after the Battle of Breed’s Hill and immediately set about the task of training the men. That winter, he received assistance from Vermont patriot Ethan Allen, who along with his “Green Mountain Boys” militia, had attacked Fort Ticonderoga in New York, driving out the small British force that had occupied the outpost. Having learned that the fort’s cannon and other artillery pieces were lying unused, Washington's assistant Henry Knox volunteered to lead a force to capture the cannon. Under difficult conditions, Knox's troops made their way to Fort Ticonderoga and took control of the weapons. The hard ground and frozen rivers of winter, allowed the cannon to be dragged all the way to Boston and placed upon Dorchester Heights, a bluff south of Boston overlooking the harbor. General Howe realized that his army’s safety in Boston was threatened by the large trained army surrounding the city and by the heavy guns on Dorchester Heights. In March 1776, he abandoned Boston and withdrew his army by sea to Nova Scotia.

Declaring Independence

The united colonies were now free of British troops, but their status in the British dominion was still unclear. They had denied the right of Parliament to tax or otherwise regulate the colonies, but they had not yet broken all political connections with the mother country. However, many were beginning to think that such a split was not just inevitable but essential to the maintenance of American liberty. Adding fuel to the fire was Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet, Common Sense, was published in early 1776, and immediately caused a sensation. Paine claimed that King George III had sat by idly while Parliament eliminated the colonists’ rights of Englishmen one by one. He went further, claiming that the entire idea of a divine right monarch ran contrary to the Enlightenment idea that all souls had been created equal. Common Sense became a runaway best seller in the colonies, and it effectively poisoned the well so that no peaceful reconciliation could be achieved with Great Britain. The colonies would have to declare independence and take their chances fighting a war against the world’s most formidable fighting force.

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced a resolution dissolving the relationship between Great Britain and the colonies. The Congress determined that, prior to voting on independence, it should appoint a committee that would explain why the colonists were justified in declaring independence. Five delegates, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams, served on the committee, but it was Jefferson who wrote the first draft. After being edited and revised by Adams and Franklin, the document was introduced into Congress on in late June. On July 2, the Congress voted to approve Richard Henry Lee’s independence resolution, and two days later it passed a revised version of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence was divided into three sections. The first explained the philosophy behind the decision for independence. It owed much to the theories of John Locke, who first put forth the idea that governments were created with consent of the governed to protect the people and their rights, and that any government violating this “social contract” with the people could be altered or abolished. The second section justified American independence, listing the violations of colonists’ rights, including levying illegal taxes, passing intolerable acts, attacking citizen militias, and hiring mercenary soldiers to put down the American rebellion. Although Parliament was responsible for most of these violations, the Declaration singled out King George III for blame, ostensibly because he, as sovereign, did nothing to stop Parliament. The third section declared that, because the King had failed to live up to his responsibility of protecting the natural rights of the people, he was “unfit to rule a free people.” The people in the colonies, then, were thereby free to declare themselves independent from the authority of the King, Parliament, and Great Britain altogether. The argument having been made, the members of the Continental Congress signed their names, knowing that this action had sealed their fate. What that fate would be, however, was still quite unknown in 1776.

Military Engagements of 1776

The Americans would have to fight and make the Declaration stick, for Britain had no intention of giving up so much land and power over a scrap of paper. In his temporary headquarters of Nova Scotia, General Howe devised a strategy that he believed would bring the colonies back into line. Believing that most of the malcontents and trouble-makers were in New England, Howe suggested that, if he could capture New York City, and the Hudson River valley, he could effectively isolate the rebels and easily coerce the more moderate southern colonies into submission. Accordingly, he spent the early months of 1776 amassing a huge fighting force of 32,000 troops, and an accompanying fleet of fleet of 370 transports, seventy-three warships, and 13,000 sailors.

As he prepared to attack New York City, another British naval squadron, under the leadership of Admiral Sir Peter Parker, set sail for Cape Fear River in North Carolina. He hoped that local Loyalists would join him and help pacify the southern colonies, but this plan was doomed from the start. The squadron was delayed by bad weather, and when it finally arrived in North Carolina, the Admiral Parker discovered that the Cape Fear River was too shallow for warships to navigate. Furthermore, the Loyalists who were supposed to help the British force sweep through the South had themselves been defeated by a patriot militia group in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. Discouraged, the British abandoned his original plans and headed directly to Charleston. However, luck failed them there as well. The British fleet attacked the Fort Moultrie, a palmetto log and sand fort that controlled the entrance to Charleston harbor. However, the spongy palmetto wood logs absorbed the force of the British cannon balls, and caused them to fall away harmlessly. On the other hand caused heavy damage to the British oak ships, sinking several and incapacitating others. Admiral Parker suffered the ultimate indignity when an explosion onboard caused a large splinter to tear off the backside of his own pants. Defeated and dismayed, the Admiral called off his attack and the British were forced to abandon their southern strategy.

Back in the North, George Washington, commanding a fighting force of 10,000 Continental “regulars” and 7,000 short time militiamen, moved his troops to Long Island to head off any attack of New York City. General Howe landed his army on the eastern side of Long Island and marched west toward New York City and Washington’s waiting army. Knowing better than to launch a direct assault, Howe attempted to outflank Washington’s army, hoping to surround Washington and force his surrender without a bloody confrontation. In what would be called the Battle of Long Island, Howe managed to outflank Washington but was unable to completely surround him. Washington retreated to Brooklyn and, in the middle of a foggy night, led his army across the East River and into Manhattan.

Howe continued to pursue Washington, engaging him in battles at Harlem and White Plains, but even though he now occupied New York City, he was still not able to cut off Washington’s retreat. Thus, Washington began to show his strategic genius, even if not his tactical expertise: even though his army lost battle after battle, Washington never allowed himself to be trapped and always retreated deeper into the American countryside. As he did so, the British army was forced to leave occupation troops behind and defend long supply lines to support their troops.

Washington retreated to New Jersey, but Howe’s relentless pursuit soon pushed him further west into Pennsylvania. After six straight months of defeats and retreats, American morale was at its nadir. In addition, with enlistments of the Continental Army due to expire on December 31, 1776, it seemed possible that the American army and any hopes for independence could simply evaporate in the new year. Therefore, Washington could not simply retreat to a winter encampment and hope for the best in 1777; he had to act immediately and decisively. Learning that a detachment of Hessian mercenaries was occupying Trenton, New Jersey, Washington ordered his troops to move east across the Delaware River early on Christmas morning. The Americans attacked the surprised Hessians, many of whom were still sleeping off the effects of the previous evening’s Christmas revelry. The victory was complete, and almost the entire Hessian contingent was captured. Washington followed this up with another victory at Princeton, New Jersey, a few days later. These successes, combined with a personal appeal by General Washington, convinced many Continentals to re-enlist. Once again, Washington had kept the army in existence.

The Hinge of Fate: 1777

General Howe had made progress in 1776, but by the end of the year, Washington’s army was still intact, the Second Continental Congress was still meeting freely, and New England was still not isolated from the rest of the colonies. To solve all of these problems, British generals spent the better part of the winter devising a new three-part strategy that would end the American uprising once and for all. The first part would require General Henry Clinton to keep an occupying force in New York City so that Washington would not try to retake it. For the second part, General John Burgoyne would move his army south from Quebec, and meet up with Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger, who would move east from Fort Oswego. Together, the joint force would move toward New York City, capturing everything along the way and thereby cutting off New England from the other colonies once and for all. The original third part of the strategy called for Howe to move north from New York and join General Burgoyne in the Hudson River valley, but at the last moment, Howe changed his part of the strategy. He decided instead to take the bulk of his fighting force and sail it up the Chesapeake Bay. From there, his army could attack Philadelphia from behind and capture the Continental Congress before moving on to attack Washington’s army once again.

The plan, even as altered by General Howe, was outstanding in theory, but the rebellion would only be crushed if all three parts worked. While General Clinton did his part and remained in New York City, Howe sailed his troops up the Chesapeake. When Washington learned of Howe’s plans, he moved back in to Pennsylvania to protect Philadelphia. In the Battle of Brandywine, Howe attacked Washington and dealt him a crushing defeat. Washington retreated, but then, hoping to catch Howe off guard, turned and launched an attack of his own at Germantown. The outnumbered and outgunned Americans were beaten yet again, forcing Washington to abandon Philadelphia and encamp for the winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Again, morale was low, and food and supplies scarce in a land of plenty because many Americans would not sell their crops for near-worthless paper continental currency. Washington, however, shared the privations of the men, spending the winter in a nearby house rather than heading for his plantation until spring as other generals might have done.

The British had captured the capital city and forced the national government to abandon its headquarters. Meanwhile, the main rebel army was suffering through a long winter, short on food, clothes, and weapons. On the surface, it appeared that the war should be drawing to a close. Instead, things were going very poorly for the British and getting worse, as a result of General Burgoyne’s inability to execute his part of the British strategy. At first things went well. Burgoyne moved south from Quebec with an army of 6,000 regulars, 650 Loyalists, and 500 Native Americans, as well as over thirty carts of his own personal effects, including his wardrobe, cases of champagne, and his mistress. The forts on Lake Champlain fell easily to his heavy artillery, but problems soon arose as Burgoyne began to travel overland for the last few miles to Albany. First, a scalping by one of his Native American allies outraged local farmers, leading them to join the rebels. Then, General Benedict Arnold thwarted St. Leger’s attempts to join Burgoyne by defeating him at Fort Stanwix. Finally, a column of Hessians sent out to find food was defeated at Bennington, Vermont. Burgoyne’s main army, short on food and supplies, and men was engaged at Saratoga by the Continental Army led by General Horatio Gates. General Arnold, having just returned from the battle at Fort Stanwix, managed to outflank in a Burgoyne’s force and cut off any means of retreat. Surrounded, General Burgoyne had no choice but to surrender his entire remaining army of 5,700 men.

The French Join the War

The Battle of Saratoga is considered the turning point of the war. For one thing, it constituted one of the only and certainly the most important victories against the British army. The importance of the battle, however, stretches far beyond the Hudson River valley. The French had been watching the American Revolution with great interest. They had been sending some aid to the Americans through a dummy trading company, but feared to get openly involved in another war with Britain unless they were certain of winning the war. Benjamin Franklin had been trying to convince the French to join an alliance, but only after the Battle of Saratoga were the French convinced to sign the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United States. With the treaty, the new nation now had a powerful ally, which would not only draw British troops away from America as Britain had to defend more important parts of its empire, but would also serve as a source of loans and supplies. France also possessed a large army and the world’s second largest naval fleet and highly trained military advisors, some of whom would join the fight in North America.

The entry of the French on the American side had ripple effects across Europe, and soon the revolution evolved into another worldwide war. France was allied with Spain which, although despising the very suggestion of republicanism, democracy, or colonial rebellion, hated the British even more and joined the war against the British. The Spanish fought the British at Gibralter, in the Caribbean, and in Florida. The Dutch, Britain’s main commercial rival, still smarting from the loss of colonial possessions in earlier wars with Britain, joined the alliance and provided crucial loans to the Americans. Even Poland took part, sending two of its great Generals, Kosciusko and Pulaski, to America for the fight. Great Britain, on the other had, had no allies in this war: the Prussians, still believing that the British had betrayed them at the end of the Seven Years War, remained neutral. Short on friends and long on enemies, Britain had no choice but to withdraw some of its troops from North America and appoint a new commander, as General Howe resigned on hearing of Burgoyne’s defeat.

An agonizing coda to the story of the Battle of Saratoga involves Benedict Arnold. Undeniably the hero of the most significant battle of the war, Arnold was a flawed man, more concerned with personal glory than with patriotism. In 1779, he received command of the army at West Point, but he felt that he was worthy of a larger and more important commission. Feeling betrayed, he soon took part in an act of betrayal himself. He contacted British Major John André, and began divulging American battle plans to the British officer. The two planned a scheme that would call for Arnold to turn over his army at West Point to Andre in exchange for £10,000 and the promise of a commission in the British Army. However, when Americans caught Major André behind American lines in civilian clothes, they immediately tried and executed him as a spy. They also found evidence implicating Arnold, who immediately fled to the British. Eventually Arnold did receive a commission in the British army, but his career was short and undistinguished. The man who might have been America’s greatest war hero died in obscurity in 1801 as America’s most notorious traitor.


The task of leading the British effort in the colonies fell to General Henry Clinton, who developed yet another strategy for victory. Believing that the true Loyalists were in the South, he decided to pull out of the middle colonies, except for the area around New York City, and move the British army into Georgia and South Carolina. After building a base there, Clinton’s troops would slowly advance north. This plan, like others before it, was fatally flawed because, although about a third of the southern population were Loyalists, Clinton had to abandon and betray Loyalists in the middle colonies, where an estimated half of the population favored the British.

The British did well in the South at first. By May 1780, they had captured Savannah, Georgia, and captured Charleston, South Carolina, as well as several thousand Continental Army troops under the leadership of Lieutenant General Benjamin Lincoln. A second Continental Army, under the leadership of General Horatio Gates, was completely dispersed at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina. As a result, the governments of Georgia and South Carolina had virtually ceased to exist. However, when General Clinton proclaimed that citizens of the two recaptured states were required to fight the rebels, many American soldiers who had surrendered and been paroled refused to fight against their fellow patriots and then formed guerrilla bands. Led by such figures as Francis Marion (later given the delightfully descriptive nickname the “Swamp Fox”), the guerillas hid out in the vast forests and swamps of the South, coming out to attack the British and Loyalists, then slipping back into the wilderness areas behind British lines. Clinton, himself, returned to New York City, leaving General Lord Cornwallis to keep South Carolina and Georgia secure.

Cornwallis, fighting guerilla war in South Carolina, decided to cut off the rebel supply lines by invading North Carolina. It proved to be a costly mistake. Dividing his command into three columns, he moved north, but American militia and “over mountain men” from Tennessee and Kentucky surrounded and wiped out most of Cornwallis’ Loyalist militia at the Battle of King’s Mountain, and then his cavalry was destroyed in the Battle of Cowpens. Despite these losses, Cornwallis proceeded into North Carolina, now effectively traveling blind through hostile territory with British Regulars. At Guilford Court House, Cornwallis defeated General Nathaniel Green, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. The Americans retreated after the battle, but the Redcoats had lost so many men and were so short of supplies that they had to retreat to Wilmington, where the British fleet could protect and supply them.

Having failed to destroy the Americans in South and North Carolina, Cornwallis ignored General Clinton’s advice to turn back. He moved still further north, believing that if he could conquer Virginia—the home of rebel leaders such as Washington, Jefferson, and Patrick Henry—he could demoralize the Americans and capture all the southern states easily. This idea, fanciful at best, isolated Cornwallis from his other armies in New York and South Carolina and gave the Americans the opening they needed to win the war outright. While General Green remained south, capturing isolated British outposts in South Carolina and Georgia, General Washington moved south from the middle colonies, where he had been mired for the better part of three years.

Washington’s army had not figured in many of the decisive battles, but the general devised a brilliant three-part strategy to capture Lord Cornwallis and win the war outright. The first part called for General Lafayette’s small American force to outflank Cornwallis’ army, pushing it onto the peninsula formed by the James and York rivers. Then, in the second part of the plan, Generals Washington and Rochambeau would land the bulk of the Continental Army on the other side of the peninsula. The two American armies would then move toward each other, surrounding the British. The third part of the plan called for the French fleet to patrol the waters around the peninsula, sealing off any possible escape route for Cornwallis. As the three parts of the strategy fell perfectly into place, Cornwallis was soon surrounded and cut off in Yorktown, Virginia. He sent word to General Clinton, asking for a force to sail down from New York to help him evacuate, but the French Fleet defeated the British in the Battle of the Capes off Virginia. The French and American armies attacked and broke through Cornwallis’ outer defense lines, compelling him to surrender on October 19, 1781.

Although the British still held New York City and the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, leaders in Parliament finally realized that they had to let the colonies go, or else risk losing their other possessions in India and the Caribbean. After months of negotiations between the Americans, British, French and Spanish, the Treaty of Paris was at last signed on September 3, 1783. According to its terms, Britain recognized American independence and promised to move its troops off of American soil as soon as possible. The new nation’s borders were established, as the United States took possession of everything east of the Mississippi River, south of Canada, and north of Florida. Britain was able to retain Canada, while Spain regained Florida. For its part, France received no land in North America but a measure of revenge against the British.

Loyalists During the American Revolution

Americans had not been united in their desire to sever ties with Britain. A large percentage remained faithful to the King, earning the name “Loyalists” from the British and the derisive title “Tories” from the patriots. Exact numbers of Loyalists cannot be known for certain, but some historians suggest that there were almost none in New England, about half the population in the middle colonies, and about a third of the population in the South. After the war, John Adams famously noted that “we were about one third Tories, and one third timid, and one third true blue.” The “timid” third represented those who did not or would not have an opinion on the revolution, but there were clearly sizeable numbers of Americans who both favored and opposed independence.

The Loyalists included former British officials, leaders of the Church of England, and wealthy landowners and merchants, but they also included many middle-class and poor people, even slaves. In many states, being a Loyalist was not illegal, but “Tories” would be treated as second class citizens and watched very carefully. In North Carolina, those who refused to swear allegiance to the United States had to pay a tax rate four times that of those who had renounced their loyalty to the king. In other states, Loyalists were still required to serve in their state militia, regardless of their political beliefs. Furthermore, any overt act favoring the British while on militia duty was a criminal act punishable by death. In Georgia and South Carolina after the British occupation, the Loyalists were technically in charge, but American guerrillas often attacked and burned their property and did not always protect Loyalist prisoners captured during battles. For example, Colonel Bannistre Tarleton’s Loyalist New York cavalry had a reputation for taking no prisoners.

Although poor and middle class Loyalists were often left alone, the same cannot be said of wealthy Loyalists. Many were run out of their homes and states and their property confiscated. In some states, such as Georgia, the confiscated property became public property and was used to endow schools. In others, however, it tended to wind up in the hands of wealthy revolutionaries. Even though the Treaty of Paris of 1783 guaranteed that the United States would return confiscated land or provide compensation for it, many Loyalists never received either. As a result, many Loyalists were forced to either accept the authority of the United States or emigrate to Canada or other parts of the Empire.

African Americans in the War

Slavery existed throughout the colonies at the time of the American Revolution, although the South had nearly ten times as many slaves as the North had. In the North, a large number of “free men of color” took part in the fighting, including Crispus Attucks, who was killed in the Boston Massacre, and African American militiamen and soldiers, who fought at Lexington, Concord, Fort Ticonderoga, and Breed’s Hill. However, in the early stages of the war, African Americans were not allowed to join the Continental Army. The Continental Congress feared that the use of these soldiers might encourage a slave rebellion. The British had no such qualms, and generals recruited free African Americans to serve as soldiers and as laborers. In addition, the British offered freedom to any slave who would join them. Many did so, including Quamino Dolly, whose knowledge of the local countryside allowed the British to maneuver around American battle lines and capture the city of Savannah in 1779. After the war, Britain, although still a slaveholding empire, kept its promise and evacuated many of their African American soldiers from the United States to such places as Bermuda as Sierra Leone.

The British recruitment of African Americans convinced the revolutionaries to enlist the “free men of color” in the Continental Army, beginning in 1777. Some New England states enlisted not only free African Americans also slaves. By the end of the war, about 5,000 African Americans had fought in American armies, mostly in integrated units; significant numbers also served with white sailors on privateers, which were privately owned warships commissioned by Congress that captured over 700 British merchant ships during the war.

Although Thomas Jefferson’s claim that “all men are created equal” had originally compared only Americans and British, the sweeping nature of the phrase led many to question whether a nation conceived in liberty could allow the continued existence of slavery. Many Americans already considered slavery to be, at best, a necessary evil and, by the end of the eighteenth century, all of the northern states had either abolished slavery, or established plans for its gradual abolition. The Continental Congress took no action on slavery but did outlaw the international slave trade during the war, and all but two states continued the ban after the war.

Women in the Revolution

Women had few opportunities for direct involvement in the fighting, but there were exceptions. During the guerilla war in Georgia, Nancy Hanks single-handedly captured a party of Loyalist militia searching for her husband. Women often accompanied their husbands to camp, carrying on housekeeping duties, but also getting involved in the fighting from time to time. Many brought water to artillerymen during battles, earning the nickname “Molly Pitcher,” and on at least two occasions, Molly Pitchers took over the guns from their wounded husbands. A handful of women disguised themselves as men and fought as soldiers, while others served as spies for the Continental Army. Women also performed nursing duties, made clothing and uniforms for the soldiers, gathered supplies, and collected and prepared medicines. The greatest contribution of women, however mundane, was in running households, farms, and shops while their husbands were fighting in the armies.

Some women, including John Adams’ wife Abigail, were inclined to believe that the revolutionary concepts of equality and natural rights should apply to women as well as men. However, this resulted in very little action being taken, with the exception of a modest increase in the acceptance of education for women and the easing of divorce restrictions in some states. New Jersey granted women the right to vote, but repealed it in 1807. Overall, changes in the status would not come until many decades after the revolution.


Chapter VI Vocabulary Terms

Lexington and Concord

Battle of Breed’s Hill

Fort Ticonderoga

Dorchester Heights

Battle of Long Island

Crossing the Delaware

Second Continental Congress

Olive Branch Petition

Declaration of Independence

General William Howe

General John Burgoyne

Battle of Saratoga

Treaty of Amity and Commerce

Benedict Arnold


Lord Cornwallis

Battle of Yorktown

Treaty of Paris of 1783

Chapter VI Review Questions

1. Assess the performance of the British troops and American militia in the early battles of the Revolution. Why were the Americans not crushed utterly?

2. Compare and contrast the situation of General Gage in the following incidents: (1) the Battle of Breed’s Hill and (2) the withdrawal of troops in light of Dorchester Heights. Why did Gage choose not to attack Washington at Dorchester Heights?

3. Assess the military fortunes of George Washington. To what extent can or should he be considered a great general?

4. Review the text of the Declaration of Independence. In what ways did the Declaration use events of the previous thirteen years to justify independence?

5. Discuss the British war strategy in 1777. Why was it unsuccessful?

6. Discuss the contributions of other countries to the American war for independence.

7. Discuss the three-part strategy of the Americans in the Battle of Yorktown.

8. What were the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1783? Why do the French not get more from the settlement after being so crucial to the American victory?

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