On the night of April 18, 1775 about 800 British soldiers left Boston to march to Lexington to take command of weapons. Paul Revere saw the two lanterns signal in the tower of the North church that they were going by boat, and he roused houses on the way to Lexington. Later that night the British captured Revere and threatened him with death if he did not talk. He truthfully told them the Americans would be ready for them, and they let him go. Revere then warned Sam Adams and John Hancock, and they left for Philadelphia. The British were delayed, and Col. Francis Smith, hearing guns firing, sent back for reinforcements. Lexington at town meetings had begun training and arming men by December 1774. About 130 militia minutemen reported to the Lexington common at two in the morning. Before dawn on April 19 the British arrived, and Major Pitcairn ordered the Americans to drop their weapons and disperse. When they kept their weapons while leaving, British soldiers began to fire. Captain Jonas Parker had ordered the Americans not to shoot first, but now they returned the fire. Eight Lexington men were killed, and ten were wounded.
British soldiers searched for Hancock and Sam Adams and then marched from Lexington to Concord where they outnumbered about 400 Americans at least four to one. Most of the weapons and ammunition had been destroyed, but the British plundered private houses and burned the courthouse. After the British initiated the shooting, the Americans fought back, killing two British right away. Later as the British retreated, the Americans ambushed them along the road. Hugh Percy arrived with three regiments of 1,200 men. By the end of the day 49 Americans had been killed, and 34 were wounded; the British suffered 65 dead and 207 wounded or missing.
Heralds carried news of war far and wide. By morning on April 20 a circular had reached several towns in Massachusetts. Their congress on April 23 unanimously decided to raise 13,600 men for a New England army of 30,000 under General Artemas Ward. By the next day New Hampshire had planned to raise 2,000 men. Hundreds elected Israel Putnam their leader in Connecticut, and Benedict Arnold led a volunteer company from New Haven. Connecticut offered 6,000 men. The assembly in Rhode Island authorized a force of 1,500 men, and they elected Nathaniel Greene their general.
Boston was surrounded by Americans fighting for their liberty. The British let inhabitants depart from Boston without any weapons or provisions. The British collected 1,778 muskets, 634 pistols, 973 bayonets, and 38 blunderbusses from a city of about 16,000 which by summer was reduced to 6,753 civilians. The previous winter Massachusetts had received only £75,000 in revenues.
The provincial congress of South Carolina authorized Charles Pinckney to organize defense, and they seized the powder and arms in Charleston on April 21. In the city of New York military stores were secured, and small cannons were taken to King’s Bridge. Volunteers paraded in the streets. Thousands of Philadelphians gathered on April 25 and agreed to defend their lives, property, and liberty with arms. On April 28 the Connecticut assembly sent two envoys to ask Governor Gage for peace.
On May 1 Virginia’s Governor Dunmore offered slaves their freedom if they would fight against their masters. Henry Laurens as president of the South Carolina provincial congress proposed forming a military force to counter the threatened British attack on Charleston to incite a slave insurrection.
The Pennsylvania Assembly met on May 1, and Benjamin Franklin arrived home from England on the 5th. The next day he was unanimously chosen a deputy to the Congress. Patrick Henry convened the Hanover County committee on May 2. Thousands of soldiers elected him their leader, and they marched to Williamsburg. Governor Dunmore removed ammunition, claiming it was so that slaves would not seize it; but when Henry and his men arrived, a messenger paid Henry for the gunpowder. Dunmore denounced Henry and his “deluded followers,” but the counties of Louisa, Spotsylvania, and Orange supported the insurgents. The Governor of North Carolina fled. News of Lexington fighting reached Savannah on May 10, and Georgia joined the new union. On the next night some men broke into the King’s magazine and took 500 pounds of powder.
A plan to take Fort Ticonderoga began at Hartford, Connecticut on April 2. On May 10 Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold led 83 Green Mountain Boys and militia volunteers from Massachusetts and Connecticut in an attack that overcame the British garrison of 48 soldiers at Fort Ticonderoga. Two days later Seth Warner led men who captured the fort at Crown Point without resistance. On May 18 they captured 13 men with their arms, two brass field-pieces, and a British sloop in St. John’s harbor. The Massachusetts Congress sent a message for their agent Arthur Lee to deliver to the British government, stating they are loyal subjects ready to defend their lives and fortunes rather than submit to persecution and tyranny. They appealed to Heaven for the justice of their cause and were determined to die or be free.
Also on May 10 the second Continental Congress met at Philadelphia. On the 13th the Georgia delegate Lyman Hall arrived and was given the right to vote but not as a colony. On May 15 New York asked for advice, and they were told not to oppose the landing of troops but not let them erect fortifications. They were to protect inhabitants and their property and could use force when attacked. Connecticut sent one thousand men to defend Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and they arrived in June.
On May 25 the generals William Howe, Henry Clinton, and John Burgoyne arrived in Boston with reinforcements. The peninsula of Boston was under siege, but on the 27th British soldiers landed on Noodle Island to capture pigs and other livestock. After John Hancock was elected to replace Peyton Randolph as president of the Continental Congress, they voted unanimously to negotiate with the British. They declined to authorize colonies to form their own governments. On May 29 Congress sent a letter drafted by John Jay to Canada urging people to unite with them in defending their common liberties.
On May 31 the people of Mecklenburg county meeting at Charlotte, North Carolina declared their independence from Britain, and they formed nine military companies. South Carolina held a provincial congress at Charleston on June 1 and chose a Council of Safety with thirteen members on June 14.
On June 6 the British garrison evacuated New York City, and the next day some American patriots captured the British weapons in the magazine at Turtle Bay, New York. On that day Virginia’s Governor Dunmore fled to a ship. Five days later the House of Burgesses still hoped for reconciliation but rejected the latest resolution from the House of Commons. The Congress of Massachusetts urged the Continental Congress to assume direction of the army, and Joseph Warren recommended they choose George Washington as commander. On June 12 Governor Gage proscribed Samuel Adams and John Hancock as rebels and traitors, and he declared martial law in Massachusetts. Anyone taking up arms against the King could be hanged as a traitor.
The Continental Congress ordered troops to be enlisted until the end of the year with six companies of expert riflemen from Pennsylvania, two from Maryland, and two from Virginia. Washington was elected unanimously on June 15 to command all forces raised by the United Colonies. As a wealthy man who owned 58,000 acres of land and more than a hundred slaves, he said he wanted no remuneration for his service but only reimbursement for his expenses. He recommended Charles Lee and Horatio Gates as major generals, and they were appointed along with Ward, Putnam, and Philip Schuyler of New York.
Learning that the British were planning to take the Charlestown peninsula, Boston’s committee of safety proposed occupying Bunker Hill, but General Ward ordered Col. William Prescott to march his men to Breed’s Hill. On the night of June 16 he led 1,200 men who dug in with picks and spades. The next night 2,300 British soldiers commanded by Major General William Howe crossed the water. The army of New England had only 63 half-barrels of powder, and free Africans were fighting with them. Howe sent an order to Clinton and Burgoyne to burn Charlestown. They tried to use the smoke as cover for an attack, but the wind shifted. The British advanced firing, but the Americans saved their powder until they were within fifty yards. General Putnam ordered his men not to fire until they could “see the whites of their eyes.” Then the marksmen began shooting down British soldiers. The British attacked three times, and the colonials fired their last volley from twenty yards. Then the Americans fought with their muskets against bayonets. Dr. Joseph Warren was one of the last to retreat, and he was killed. The British had lost 226 killed and 828 wounded with 92 of the casualties officers. The Americans suffered 140 dead with 271 wounded and 30 missing. Hearing the news, Washington was confirmed in his belief that American liberties would be preserved, and Franklin commented, “Americans will fight; England has lost her colonies for ever.”1
On June 22 Congress resolved to put into circulation bills of credit equal to two million Spanish-milled dollars to defend America with the twelve confederated colonies pledged to redeem them. On that day Georgia held a provincial congress and conferred governmental powers on their Council of Safety. On July 6 Georgia agreed to resist British oppression. Washington took command of the continental army on July 3 and began to use court martial trials to instill discipline. The British had about 6,500 troops in Boston, and the American army reached 14,500 men. Schuyler commanded the northern army of 2,800 men at Fort Ticonderoga.
On July 5 Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition drafted by John Dickinson asking King George III to bring about reconciliation. A “Declaration of the Causes and Necessities of Their Taking Up Arms” was written by Thomas Jefferson and revised by the more conservative Dickinson before being approved on July 6, and it concluded with the hope for reconciliation to avoid civil war. They denied they raised armies to separate from Britain and become independent. They promised to lay down their arms once their liberties were restored. This was read to the army, who believed they would be fighting until their grievances were redressed. In Massachusetts people held town meetings and elected a house of representatives which elected a council of 28 for administration.
On July 10 Adjutant General Horatio Gates issued recruiting instructions with orders not to enlist any deserter, Negro, vagabond, enemy of liberty, or anyone under eighteen years of age. The Continental Congress appointed Franklin, Jefferson, John Adams, and Richard Henry Lee to a committee to report on desired accommodations with the British. On July 13 Congress appointed three commissioners to negotiate treaties with Indian tribes in the northern, middle, and southern departments. The Americans lacked gunpowder, and on July 15 the Congress authorized ships bringing gunpowder and other military supplies to trade them for produce from the colonies. The army also needed artillery, fuel, shelter, clothing, provisions, and pay.
Ben Franklin drafted “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” which was approved by Jefferson and presented to Congress on July 21. Five days later Franklin was unanimously elected postmaster general. The colonies were urged to include all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 50 in their militias. Dr. Benjamin Church of Boston was appointed chief physician and director general of hospitalization. Congress authorized another million dollars in bills of credit on July 25, and by the end of 1775 the debt would be up to six million. On July 31 Congress took the advice of the committee of Franklin, Jefferson, R. H. Lee, and John Adams to reject Prime Minister North’s offer of reconciliation because of the Restraining Acts requiring the Americans to trade only with Britain. The second Continental Congress adjourned on August 2 until September 5.
Congress had authorized enlistment on the frontier in June 1775, and by August 7 about 1,400 riflemen from the west had joined the army. During the summer ships were boarded by the Savannah River and St. Augustine, and they obtained 20,000 pounds of gunpowder. Rice was exported and traded for arms and ammunition in the West Indies. On August 21 at Hillsborough, North Carolina 180 men met and elected Samuel Johnston president, and they pledged to resist parliamentary taxation.
North Carolina’s Governor Josiah Martin tried to instigate a slave rebellion by arming them, but in the first week of July about forty slaves were caught with arms and punished. Martin fled to Fort Johnston by the mouth of Cape Fear River. The free African Jeremiah tried to lead a slave rebellion in South Carolina on the side of the British, but he was captured and hanged on August 18 despite Governor William Campbell’s attempt to save him.
On August 17 the Virginia Convention elected a Committee of Safety with eleven men on the executive junta. They established a permanent provincial army, authorized £350,000 in treasury notes, and passed various taxes.
George III and his cabinet refused to recognize the colonial association and would only treat with individual colonies, and on August 23 he ordered the rebellion suppressed. Richard Penn and Arthur Lee presented the petition to Dartmouth, but it was not received by the throne. While negotiating for mercenaries in Europe, the King confiscated colonial property on the ocean and kept all their ports closed. For several months the Pennsylvania Assembly blocked progress, but Franklin urged Thomas Paine to write an appeal for American independence.
After several men were put in the guardhouse for breeches of discipline, the Pennsylvania riflemen mutinied on September 10; but they were overcome by General Greene’s Rhode Island troops. The Continental Congress did not have a quorum until September 12. Georgia became the thirteenth colony fully represented with five delegates. The Congress voted to increase the force at Boston to 20,372 men, and they passed regulations for the army. They sent $500,000 that reached the army’s headquarters at Cambridge on September 29 so that soldiers could be paid. Dr. Benjamin Church, who ran the hospital at Cambridge, was convicted of spying for having sent secrets to General Gage in July. He was brought before a court martial on October 4, expelled from the Massachusetts House on November 2, and imprisoned.
Ethan Allen gathered eighty Canadians and thirty Americans, and on his own initiative they attacked Montreal on September 25. About 500 British regulars defeated them and captured 38 men and Allen who was taken to a prison in England. On October 16 the British Navy attacked Portland and burned three-fourths of the buildings and all the ships except two which they took.
On November 7 Governor Dunmore on board the William in Norfolk harbor proclaimed martial law in Virginia. One week later British soldiers and escaped slaves defeated Virginia militia at Kemp’s Landing, killing several and capturing two colonels. During the next few months nearly a thousand slaves joined the British. Dunmore formed an Ethiopian Regiment, and his forces soon had more Africans than British soldiers. On December 9 about 120 British regulars led by Captain Fordyce attacked the Virginians at Great Bridge, but they were defeated. More slaves escaped to join the Ethiopian Regiment, but in 1776 a smallpox epidemic killed many African soldiers. On January 1 Dunmore ordered the Royal Navy to shell Norfolk, burning 913 houses.
The former British general Richard Montgomery was assigned to assist Schuyler in the north. Montgomery organized the siege of St. John’s, and after 55 days the garrison of 600 regulars and Canadians surrendered on November 2. They were allowed to keep their winter clothing, and the Americans wanting the clothing almost mutinied. His army marched to Montreal and took it easily on the 13th. Washington sent a message urging the Canadians to fight for their liberty too. Guy Carleton, the British commander and Governor of Quebec, had more than 300 regulars and Canadians. Benedict Arnold led a force of 1,050 men, but on October 25 Lt. Col. Roger Enos had defected with a battalion of 450 men. The armies of Montgomery with 300 men and Arnold’s force attacked Quebec from opposite sides on December 31, the day before many men’s enlistment expired. Arnold was wounded, and Montgomery was killed. The Americans suffered 48 killed and 34 wounded, and 426 men were captured.
On November 28 the Continental Congress adopted “Rules for the Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies,” and in December they authorized the building of 13 warships and assigned officers to the Alfred, the Columbus, the Andrew Doria, and the Cabot. Washington called for 3,000 militia from Massachusetts and 2,000 from New Hampshire, and he still needed money, powder, and arms. On December 22 the British passed the American Prohibitory Act which authorized the Royal Navy to take American ships and their cargoes.
On January 1, 1776 the American flag displayed thirteen red and white stripes with the red-and-white crosses of Saint George and Saint Andrew on a blue corner. In the transition between enlistments the number of soldiers at Boston dropped to 9,650. On January 11 a convention in Maryland voted to defend the province with 1,444 soldiers, but they ordered their delegates to Congress not to vote for independence, confederation, or a foreign alliance. On the 16th Franklin’s plan for confederation was brought up again and was defeated again. That day Congress approved the reenlistment of free Africans who had fought in the army at Cambridge but no other Africans. Henry Knox returned from Ticonderoga to Washington’s army with 59 cannons. On January 23 the General Court of Massachusetts removed their royal governor.
South Carolina held a convention, and on February 10 Christopher Gadsden proposed a new constitution for the province and independence for America. On March 2 Col. William Moultrie took command of a thousand men to garrison Sullivan’s Island. On the 27th John Rutledge was elected president, Henry Laurens vice president, and William Henry Drayton chief justice, and the new constitution was promulgated.
In addition to Washington’s army the Congress authorized 27 battalions, appointed Arnold a brigadier general, established powder mills, and created $10,000,000 for the war in 1776. They authorized the colonies to contract alliances with foreign powers, and they spent seven weeks debating the opening of ports. Washington did not like short enlistments which were wasteful, hurt discipline, and lacked continuity, and so he proposed a large bounty to enlist soldiers for the war. On February 27 Congress organized the five middle colonies from New York to Maryland into a military department and the four southern colonies into another.
The Virginia convention ordered the remaining houses in Norfolk destroyed so that the enemies could not use them, and they increased their two regiments and added seven more. Schuyler called out 700 men of the New York militia. General Charles Lee led 1,500 men of Connecticut to New York City where they arrived in February.
North Carolina’s Governor Josiah Martin won over the discontented Regulators to the British side, and on February 27 Tories led by Donald MacDonald of the Regulators marched toward Wilmington and at Moore’s Creek Bridge attacked the revolutionaries who defeated the British, killing more than thirty with only four casualties and gaining supplies that included a chest with 15,000 pounds sterling in gold. The Tories fled, and Brigadier General James Moore was captured. On March 1 Charles Lee was put in command of the continental forces south of the Potomac River. North Carolina had 1,100 men in arms that grew to more than 1,500 in March.
With only one hundred barrels of powder in reserve and nearly 8,000 men Washington got the council in Massachusetts to call up five regiments of volunteering minute-men. On March 2 he ordered Knox to begin bombarding the British in Boston. Washington sent 800 men as an advance guard, and on the night of March 4 General John Thomas led 1,200 workmen who with 300 loads of pressed hay, wood, barrels, and rocks built forts on Dorchester Heights. The next day the surprised Commander Howe ordered Hugh Percy to lead a British attack with 2,400 men. A rainstorm drove ships on shore, and the assault was delayed. Howe decided to evacuate Boston, and by March 17 about 8,000 British soldiers and 1,100 refugees left Boston on about 170 ships. They retreated to Halifax and left behind large amounts of cannons, sea coal, wheat, barley, oats, horses, bedding, and clothing. The Americans also captured some store-ships with guns and powder. The inhabitants happily returned to Boston and praised Washington for his peaceful victory. During the first nine months of his command Washington had lost less than twenty men.
On March 31 Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John urging him to “remember the ladies” because men are often tyrants. She argued that women should not be bound by laws if they have no representation.
By April the Americans were being supplied with gunpowder. Richard Harrison of Maryland shipped more than 40,000 pounds from the Caribbean.
George III and the British hired mercenaries in Europe. Brunswick provided 5,723 men, and 12,700 Hessians were offered for high rates. The Brunswick detachment would not sail until April. England agreed to pay for all the Hessians’ expenses plus $35 to the prince for each man killed and $12 for the wounded. The Hessian Landgrave made more than $500,000 annually. On April 6 the Congress opened commerce from the thirteen colonies to all countries not British without any tax. Washington moved his army to New York City, where they arrived on April 13.
The Committee of Secret Correspondence had been organized with Ben Franklin, Robert Morris, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Johnson, John Dickinson, and John Jay on November 29, 1775. They were to contact foreign governments secretly and to secure supplies abroad. On March 3, 1776 they sent Silas Deane, who was also a private commercial agent for Morris, but he did not arrive in Paris until April. He was assisted by Dr. Edward Bancroft who spied for the British. Foreign Minister Comte de Vergennes eventually persuaded King Louis XVI of France to approve a loan of one million livres ($200,000) to the Americans in early May. Spain was also secretly involved. This deal was urged and managed by the playwright Caron de Beaumarchais and the firm of Hortalez et Cie. Through the year 1777 they provided for the Continental Army 80% of the gunpowder perfected by the famous chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier.
On March 21 South Carolina freed their delegates to join with others in the Continental Congress to defend America. North Carolina met in a provincial congress at Halifax on April 4, and on the 12th they authorized their delegates to vote for independence in Philadelphia. On May 4 Rhode Island’s general assembly declared its independence and freed the people of their allegiance to King George III. General Charles Cornwallis landed in Brunswick County, South Carolina with 900 British soldiers while Clinton on May 5 removed his British force from North Carolina.
On May 9 the Congress authorized the printing of $5,000,000. John Adams’ resolution allowing the colonies to form representative governments was finally approved unanimously on May 10. The report by Adams, Edward Rutledge, and Richard Henry Lee recommended suppressing any authority under the crown, and despite opposition by James Duane of New York and James Wilson of Pennsylvania it was adopted on May 15, the same day the captured ship Hope was brought to Boston with 1,500 barrels of powder. Washington went to Philadelphia and conferred with Congress on May 24 and 25.
Brigadier General David Wooster succeeded Montgomery as commander in Canada under Schuyler, and 1,500 more Americans were sent to Montreal in March. The Iroquois decided to be neutral. Wooster let each parish choose their own officers, and he took command of Quebec on April 1 as Arnold withdrew to Montreal. Canadians resented the military occupation by the Americans, and Washington complied with the Congressional request that he send six battalions to Canada with provisions and powder, cutting Washington’s army in half. Thomas of Massachusetts was sent to command. Twelve ships brought eight British regiments with 5,100 men to Quebec on May 6. That day Carleton led the British attack against the rebels that captured 600 men who were infected with smallpox. Congress sent Franklin, Samuel Chase, and Charles Carroll as commissioners to Canada, and they found half the 1,900 men suffering from smallpox. They recommended withdrawal, but on June 1 Congress voted to send 6,000 militia to Canada. Thomas died of smallpox and was replaced by Sullivan, who attacked with 2,000 men on June 8. While retreating the next day the Americans lost more than 200 men. Arnold took his 300 men to join the others at St. John’s. Half the 5,000 men were ill, and many died each day. The American invasion of Canada had lasted nine months involving 12,000 men. More than 500 died, and as many were taken prisoners.
Thomas Paine was born in Thetford, England on February 9, 1737. He spent twelve years as a craftsman making stays for corsets. In 1762 he began collecting excise taxes. After teaching English for a couple years he returned to collecting taxes in 1768. In 1772 he led a movement for higher wages that failed. Paine studied science on his own and joined Ben Franklin’s Club of Honest Whigs in London where he met Joseph Priestley. After separating from his wife, Paine had enough money to pay for passage to America with letters of introduction from Franklin. He arrived in Philadelphia on November 30, 1774. Franklin’s recommendation helped him get a job as editor of the new Pennsylvania Magazine that began on January 24, 1775. Paine also wrote poetry and essays. He published “African Slavery in America” in the Pennsylvania Journal on March 8. The essay begins,
That some desperate wretches should be willing to steal
and enslave men by violence and murder for gain,
is rather lamentable and strange.
But that many civilized, nay, Christianized people
should approve, and be concerned in the savage practice,
is surprising; and still persist,
though it has been proved contrary to the light of nature,
to every principle of justice and humanity,
and even good policy, by a succession of eminent men,
and several late publications.2
Paine goes on to note that the English have been enslaving nearly 100,000 annually of which 30,000 die in the first year. He also wrote articles in opposition to dueling and titles in May.
Dr. Benjamin Rush suggested that he write an article on independence. Paine published Common Sense anonymously on January 10, 1776, and by the end of the year it had gone through 25 editions and had been read by hundreds of thousands of people.
In the Introduction to Common Sense Paine wrote that a long time of thinking something is not wrong can give it the appearance of being right. He avoided criticizing or praising persons. He believed the cause of America is “the cause of all mankind.” In the first section on government and the English constitution he observed that society is a blessing; but government at its best is a necessary evil, and at its worst it is intolerable. Emigrants to America naturally formed societies of reciprocal aid and governments to correct lack of moral virtue. Prudence requires frequent elections to keep government responsive. The main purpose of government is to protect freedom and security. He noted that the English constitution is based on a king, an aristocracy of peers, and the republican House of Commons that depends on freedom. Paine believed the king is not to be trusted and is not necessary. Although the English have a tradition of rights, the will of the king is still the law of the land. Paine referred to the Mosaic law and the judges who governed Israel before it was ruled by kings. When they tried to make Gideon king, he said, “The Lord shall rule over you.” When people accepted a king, they gave over God’s rule to a man. Paine compared the king to popery. He believed that one honest man is worth more “than all the crowned ruffians who ever lived.”
After discussing monarchy and the folly of hereditary succession, Paine turned to the current state of America. He compared an America dependent on the British to one that is separate. Some argued that Britain protected America, but Paine asked whether this was motivated by attachment or interest and found that they were not protected from America’s enemies but only from Britain’s enemies. If Britain is their parent, then its conduct is shameful for having made war on its own family. Paine argued that Europe is the parent because people came from many countries to America. They should seek friendship and peace with all of Europe which has an interest in America being a free port. Paine challenged his readers to find one advantage their continent would have by being connected to Britain. America should stay away from European conflicts. The discovery of America preceded the Reformation as if God meant for it to be a sanctuary for the persecuted. He asked if Americans can really be reconciled with a country that brought war and killing to their land. Neither Britain nor even Europe can conquer America unless they delay and are timid. Their continent could not long remain subject to any external power. Britain trying to govern America from three or four thousand miles away causes long delays. England belongs to Europe while America is its own continent.
Paine asked what would happen if they reconciled with England. First, the government would be in the hands of the king, and they would be under tyranny again. The king could pretend to be friendly and then return to force and violence. Second, the best terms the Americans could get would only provide temporary relief. Only American independence can keep the peace and prevent civil wars. “A government which cannot preserve the peace is no government at all,” and they would be paying for nothing. Paine recommended equality without distinctions so that there would be no temptation, and he pointed to the republican examples of Holland and Switzerland. He proposed annual assemblies with equal representation subject to the continental congress under a continental charter that would secure freedom and property including the free exercise of religion according to conscience. In America and free countries the law is king. They should form a constitution while they have it in their power. Americans cannot forgive the murders of Britain any more than a lover can forgive the ravisher of his mistress. America can be an asylum for refugees.
In the last section of Common Sense Paine discussed the present ability of America. Their greatest strength is not in their numbers but in their unity. They have no debts and whatever they contract may be virtuous if they can leave posterity a settled government with an independent constitution. He believed that a national debt is a national bond when there is no interest. America can raise a fleet because they have all the materials needed including hemp for cords, iron for weapons, and saltpeter for gunpowder. They can protect themselves because Europe is so far away. The present is the best time for establishing their own government. Paine believed it is the will of God that diverse religious views exist in America. He warned that virtue is not hereditary.
In conclusion he recommended that they make a Declaration of Independence for several reasons. First, it is difficult for other countries to mediate because of their subjection to Britain. Second, other countries would suffer if the connection between Britain and America were strengthened. Third, other countries would see them as rebels. Fourth, a declaration could be sent to foreign courts to explain the miseries they endured before becoming independent. Finally, other courts would not really listen to them unless they become an independent nation. Until they declare independence they will feel as though they are putting off unpleasant business that is necessary.
On the day of the first edition of Common Sense the King’s speech reached Philadelphia, and Paine wrote an appendix published in late February in which he referred to his “bloody-mindedness.” He accused George III of breaking through “every moral and human obligation” and trampling on nature and conscience. Paine reiterated his points that reconciliation would be complex and impractical and that independence should be delayed no longer. Both sides have gone too far to return, and he offered hope for a grand new future, writing, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
On January 20 some Quakers came out in support of the British crown while condemning the bearing of arms by Americans as “sinful.” Paine answered this in his “Epistle to Quakers,” arguing that they do not fight for revenge nor for conquest but in self-defense. In establishing an independent constitution they are planning for perennial peace. He concluded that they should disavow and condemn the mingling of religion with politics.
Common Sense stimulated a series of pamphlets, and the most prominent ones against it were signed by “Cato” and written by Rev. Dr. William Smith, provost of the College of Philadelphia. Paine wrote four replies to these in April and May 1776, signing them “The Forester.” He accused the ambassadors of peace of not fulfilling that purpose. He asserted the Americans’ right to protect their commerce with their own fleets, and they can only do that if they are independent. He warned the Americans not to be deceived by false offers. Paine also criticized the Pennsylvania Assembly for resisting republican reforms. The Congregationalist minister Samuel Hopkins published “A Dialogue Concerning Slavery of the Africans” and sent it to the Continental Congress, urging them to abolish slavery.
John Adams objected to Paine’s “unrestrained democracy” and published “Thoughts on Government” in the spring. He proposed having the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government separate so that they could counterbalance each other. Adams also recommended a bicameral legislature. His ideas were often applied in the new state constitutions, but others such as Franklin and Pennsylvania favored a unicameral legislature because two houses caused delays and rivalries. Most wanted frequent elections, but the conservative Carter Braxton favored an upper house elected for life and governors serving with no limit during good behavior.
On January 5, 1776 New Hampshire had formed a new government with minor changes, but a convention did not adopt a new constitution until June 1783. South Carolina accepted a provisional constitution on March 26, 1776 and a permanent one two years later. Rhode Island removed references to monarchy in May 1776 as did Connecticut on June 14.
On May 6 Virginia’s House of Burgesses met and dissolved themselves, and the same day 130 delegates met in convention. They formed a committee that on the 15th recommended they declare that the united colonies are free and independent states. Virginia adopted a constitution by the end of June. New Jersey accepted a new charter on July 2.
A committee in Philadelphia called a conference from every county which argued that the assembly members because of their oath of allegiance were incapable of reforming the government. The assembly adjourned on May 20, and two days later the new assembly members were not required to take an oath of allegiance to the King. On June 6 Pennsylvania did not decide for or against a confederation.
On June 12 the Virginia Constitutional Convention adopted the “Declaration of Rights” written by George Mason which confirmed that all men are equally free with the rights of life, liberty, property, happiness, and safety. All power is vested in and derived from the people, and government is instituted for their common benefit, protection, and security in order to produce the greatest happiness and safety. No one is entitled to exclusive privileges except for public service, and those offices are not inheritable. The legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate from the judiciary. Elections of representatives should be free with all men allowed to vote. There should be no power of executing or suspending laws without the consent of the people’s representatives. In all criminal prosecutions a person has a right to an impartial jury of twelve men whose guilty verdict must be unanimous. There should be no excessive bail or fines nor cruel and unusual punishment. General warrants of search and seizure should not be granted. Jury trial is preferable for civil suits. Government should not restrain freedom of the press. Standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty and should be avoided, and the military should be subordinate to the civil power. Free government is preserved by the principles of justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue. John Adams helped Mason improve the last section on religion which should be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and “all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience.”
On June 7, 1776 Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee proposed the following:
Resolved, That these United Colonies are,
and of right ought to be, free and independent States,
that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown,
and that all political connection between them
and the State of Great Britain is,
and ought to be, totally dissolved.
That it is expedient forthwith to take
the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.
That a plan of confederation be prepared
and transmitted to the respective Colonies
for their consideration and approbation.3
On June 11 the Continental Congress postponed the question of independence until July 1 because the middle colonies needed more time. They elected Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston to prepare a declaration of independence. On the next day President Hancock selected one member from each colony to create a form of confederation, and John Dickinson, Franklin, John Adams, Benjamin Harrison, and Robert Morris were elected to prepare a plan for creating treaties.
On June 14 the Connecticut legislature voted for independence for the colonies. Also on that day the delegates of Pennsylvania were instructed they could vote for independence, and the Delaware House adopted similar instructions. The next day the New Hampshire legislature approved independence, and New Jersey’s provincial congress ordered Governor William Franklin arrested; they chose new delegates on the 21st. Pennsylvania’s provincial conference had begun working on a constitution on June 18, and they agreed on a unicameral legislature and the franchise for men regardless of property. The Virginia provincial convention drafted a constitution in May and adopted it on June 29.
Nearly fifty British ships had arrived off Charleston, South Carolina on June 1, and on the 9th General Henry Clinton disembarked with about 500 men. General Charles Lee recalled 500 men from Col. William Moultrie, who led the valiant defense against the massive British bombardment of Sullivan Island on June 28. The Americans had only thirty cannons compared to 260 on the British ships. After shooting thousands of cannon balls, the British gave up and departed. The Americans suffered only 11 killed and 26 wounded, but the British had 205 casualties. Fort Sullivan was renamed Fort Moultrie.
George Mason was the primary author of Virginia’s new constitution, but Jefferson’s preamble was added. On June 29 the state convention adopted the constitution and elected Patrick Henry governor. On the same day Maryland’s convention at Annapolis finally decided to support independence.
The Continental Congress voted on independence on July 1, but Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against, and Delaware’s two delegates were divided. The next day Cesar Rodney arrived, and gave Delaware a majority for independence. Although New York continued to abstain, Edward Rutledge urged South Carolina to make it unanimous, which occurred on July 4 when two of Pennsylvania’s delegates who opposed, Dickinson and Morris, declined to vote. They also approved “The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America” after rejecting Jefferson’s passage that the King was responsible for slavery not being abolished in America. This famous and influential document begins as follows:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands
which have connected them with another,
and to assume among the powers of the earth,
the separate and equal station to which
the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them,
a decent respect to the opinions of mankind
requires that they should declare the causes
which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights,
that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That to secure these rights,
governments are instituted among men,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
That whenever any form of government
becomes destructive to these ends,
it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it,
and to institute new government,
laying its foundation on such principles
and organizing its powers in such form,
as to them shall seem most likely
to effect their safety and happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments
long established should not be changed
for light and transient causes;
and accordingly all experience hath shown that
mankind are more disposed to suffer,
while evils are sufferable,
than to right themselves by abolishing
the forms to which they are accustomed.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations,
pursuing invariably the same object
evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism,
it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government,
and to provide new guards for their future security.—
Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies;
and such is now the necessity which constrains them
to alter their former systems of government.
The history of the present King of Great Britain
is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations,
all having in direct object the establishment
of an absolute tyranny over these states.
To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
There follows eighteen statements beginning with the word “He” referring to King George III, describing their objections. These include refusing to assent to good laws; forbidding his governors to pass laws until his assent is obtained; harassing legislative bodies; dissolving representative houses; refusing to let others be elected; obstructing the naturalization of foreigners; refusing to assent to judicial laws; making judges dependent on his will alone; sending officers to harass the people; maintaining standing armies in time of peace; making the military superior to the civil power; and assenting to laws for the following: quartering armed troops among us, protecting them from punishment, blocking foreign trade, imposing taxes without our consent, depriving us of jury trials, transporting us abroad for trials, abolishing English liberties, taking away charters, and suspending legislatures. He also abdicated governing and waged war against us, plundered our ships and towns and destroyed our people, sent foreign mercenaries to kill us, forced captives to bear arms against us, and incited insurrections among us by Indians.
The Declaration then concludes as follows:
In every stage of these oppressions
we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms:
our repeated petitions have been answered
only by repeated injury.
A prince, whose character is thus marked
by every act which may define a tyrant,
is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have we been wanting
in attention to our British brethren.
We have warned them from time to time
of attempts by their legislature
to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.
We have reminded them of the circumstances
of our emigration and settlement here.
We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity,
and we have conjured them by the ties
of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations,
which, would inevitably interrupt
our connections and correspondence.
They too have been deaf
to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.
We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity,
which denounces our separation, and hold them,
as we hold the rest of mankind,
enemies in war, in peace friends.
We, therefore, the representatives
of the United States of America,
in General Congress, assembled,
appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world
for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name,
and by the authority of the good people of these colonies,
solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are,
and of right ought to be free and independent states;
that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown,
and that all political connection between them
and the state of Great Britain,
is and ought to be totally dissolved;
and that as free and independent states,
they have full power to levy war, conclude peace,
contract alliances, establish commerce,
and to do all other acts and things
which independent states may of right do.
And for the support of this declaration,
with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,
we mutually pledge to each other
our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
On July 8 the Declaration was read to the public outside the Philadelphia State House. The next day a new convention met in New York and voted for independence. Also on that day the Declaration was read to every brigade in New York City. A mob that included some soldiers knocked down the equestrian statue of George III in the Bowling Green, but Washington was upset and rebuked the action in his general orders. The gilded statue was shipped to Ridgefield, Connecticut where the lead was melted down and turned into 42,088 bullets.
A draft for confederation written by Dickinson was presented to Congress on July 12. They did not want any taxes but made an exception for postage. On July 19 the “Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen UNITED STATES” was signed by all its members; but because they were threatened with being hanged as traitors, they kept their names secret until January 18, 1777.
On July 12 the committee presented a draft for a confederation. The Dickinson plan was compared to the earlier version by Franklin, and the debate went on for months. Both plans called for each state to appropriate taxes, but the share of the national debt they had to pay was controversial as to whether it should be based on the population (with or without slaves) or the wealth of each state. They also had to decide how delegations were to vote in Congress. Franklin’s plan limited the duties of Congress to war and peace, diplomacy, alliances, disputes between states, and issues of general welfare, currency, and commerce that were beyond the competence of the states. Many of Franklin’s proposals were incorporated into the committee’s Dickinson plan. In early August Samuel Chase of Maryland objected so much to the taxation article that most of the Maryland delegation left Congress. On August 20 Congress voted to print the revised draft of the Articles, and nothing else was done on it for the next six months. On August 2 all the members of Congress signed the embossed Declaration of Independence.
Delaware completed its constitution on September 20. Pennsylvania formed a constitution with the franchise for every resident tax-payer and Franklin’s idea of a unicameral legislature. However, the executive branch was only a committee dependent on the legislature. It went into effect on September 28 without ratification by citizens and was difficult to amend. An oath or affirmation made it unpopular with Quakers, though no man could be forced to bear arms if he paid for a substitute. Judges were to be elected locally. People had the right to emigrate and “form a new state in vacant countries.” The assemblies elected under this constitution passed laws limiting wealth and regulating monopolies.
Virginia’s new General Assembly met for the first time on October 7, and many petitions protested religious discrimination. On the 24th the Presbytery of Hanover presented a memorial on the free exercise or religion. They asked that there be no ecclesiastical establishment so that all Virginians could be free to practice religion as they chose. Maryland began working on a constitution in August and established it on November 9. North Carolina’s congress ratified its constitution on December 18.
Generally voting was limited to men 21 years of age with residence, but Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia only enfranchised white men. Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and North Carolina let only taxpayers vote. Only Georgia followed Pennsylvania in adopting a unicameral legislature. Each state had a governor or president, and most were selected by the legislature. No governor could dissolve the legislature. Only Massachusetts required public education for all children. The majority of Americans were Protestant dissenters, and they wanted no connection between the state and a church. Freedom of speech and of the press were important. Georgia prohibited entailing estates. Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire declared that all men are born free.
A convention of people west of New Hampshire met on January 15 and voted not to be part of New York. They took the name Vermont and declared their state independent, but Congress refused to recognize them. Georgia was the 12th state to promulgate a new constitution on February 5, 1777. The New York Assembly did not debate a new constitution until March 1777. John Jay submitted a draft, and a constitution was adopted on April 20.
Meanwhile on July 2 the British landed forces on Staten Island. Admiral Richard Howe arrived off Long Island on the 12th with an armada of more than 130 ships, which cost £850,000. Washington declined to accept messages from him that did not recognize his position. Howe circulated copies of his declaration to the remaining royal governors south of New York, but most of them were fugitives. Congress also published Howe’s declaration so that Americans could be informed of what the “insidious court of Britain” was trying to do. Franklin consulted with Congress and wrote a reply to Howe in which he noted British “fondness for conquest, her lust of dominion, and her thirst for a gainful monopoly.” He expected that her true interests would be hidden while destroying lives and treasure. He condemned the spilling of blood in order to retain trade.
In his general order on August 1 Washington affirmed the unity of the provinces against a common enemy with all distinctions “sunk in the name of an American.” He prepared to defend New York Island; but he had only 10,514 men fit for duty, and less than 6,000 had any experience. Nine regiments from Connecticut, one each from Maryland and Delaware, and two battalions of Pennsylvania riflemen increased the army to about 17,000. However, on August 12 a British fleet brought 2,600 British guards and 8,000 Hessians, giving Admiral Howe command over nearly 32,000 well trained and well equipped soldiers, the largest single military force of the 18th century so far.
On August 22 the British landed more than 15,000 men on Long Island with forty cannons, and three days later they were joined by 5,000 Hessians. During the battle on August 27 Washington said, “My God! What brave men must I this day lose!” The British and Hessians had only 64 men killed and 293 wounded while the Americans lost more than 1,079 prisoners with about 300 killed and 670 wounded or missing. The next morning Quartermaster General Thomas Mifflin brought nearly a thousand Pennsylvanians as reinforcements. During a rainstorm Washington was awake for most of 48 hours working with his men, inspiring them with his example. Then he skillfully directed a retreat at night of the 9,000 men from Long Island to New York.
Washington informed Congress that he did not have enough men to defend New York, and they ordered three more battalions from Virginia, two from North Carolina, and one from Rhode Island. The captured Sullivan was exchanged and brought offers he received verbally from the Howe brothers. On September 6 Congress elected Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge to be on a committee to hear their propositions. The committee learned from Admiral Howe that he did not have the power to put acts of Parliament aside, and the Americans wanted to be sure they would not be taxed or have their governments altered by Parliament.
Congress wanted Washington to hold New York; but he knew it was impossible and took steps to prepare for a retreat. He expected the British to winter in New York. On September 6 Congress authorized bounties up to $20 and 100 acres to those enlisting for the duration of the war. On the 8th Washington wrote to Congress that they should fight a defensive war, avoid general actions, and protract the war. On the 15th the British landed at Kip’s Bay, and his army withdrew from New York to Harlem Heights. The next day Congress authorized the enlistment of 88 battalions (75,000 men) of infantry for the duration. Clinton led a British attack, but they had 70 men killed and 210 wounded. The Americans decided not to burn the city, but on September 21 a fire destroyed more than 400 tenements out of 4,000. Young Nathan Hale volunteered to gather information in New York in civilian clothes. He was captured and charged with spying. Before he was hanged on September 22, he said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” The British and Hessian soldiers looted New York’s libraries which had more than 50,000 books.
The committee on alliances had presented the “Plan of Treaties” on July 18, and after much debate it was accepted on September 17. Franklin led a commission with Silas Deane and Robert Morris that went to Paris. Jefferson, who was busy with Virginia’s government, declined and was replaced by Arthur Lee. In late September the Congress was shocked to learn how inadequate the soldiers’ rations of food were because getting only bread and meat, they lacked “greens.” On October 7 Congress granted General Charles Lee $30,000 because of his expected losses in England. He advised reconciling with Britain.
During the summer Benedict Arnold supervised the construction of five galleys and eight gondolas he designed. Deploying these in Lake Champlain he managed to delay General Carleton’s forces on October 11 at Valcour Bay. The Americans lost, and Arnold abandoned and destroyed facilities at Crown Point before retreating to Fort Ticonderoga. The British had no quarters near there and withdrew to Montreal for the winter. Thus this effort prevented the American army from being trapped in New York.
On October 12 Admiral Richard Howe commanded 150 ships that sailed up the East River in the fog, and 4,000 troops led by Clinton landed on Throg’s Neck at noon. Six days later 4,000 more British and Hessian troops landed at Pell’s Point. Washington’s army was marching toward White Plains where he located his headquarters on October 27. The next day General Howe attacked, and each side had about 13,000 men. The Americans suffered less than a hundred casualties, but the English and Hessians had 229.
General Howe advanced again on November 5. The Americans decided to try to hold Fort Washington, but Washington had to order its evacuation. He commanded 5,000 men going to New Jersey and had Lee remain behind with 7,500 to watch Howe’s movements. General Greene wanted to hold Fort Washington and got a special order from Congress. An adjutant named William Demont deserted and gave the plans of Fort Washington to the British. On November 16 the British made three attacks with 8,000 men led by generals Cornwallis, Hugh Percy, and Wilhelm von Knyphausen who led the Hessians. During the battle the British side suffered 350 German casualties and more than 500 English while the Americans lost only 149 men; but the Americans had to surrender the fort, giving up 2,837 men and valuable artillery and arms. Greene fled with more than two thousand men. Three days later 4,000 British and Hessians marched toward Fort Lee, which Washington ordered abandoned quickly.
Washington sent Mifflin to Philadelphia to ask Congress for reinforcements as they retreated to New Jersey. Cornwallis led the British vanguard to Newark on November 28. Two days later the New Jersey and Maryland brigades departed because their enlistments expired, leaving Washington with an army of only 3,500 troops. The Howe brothers proclaimed a pardon and amnesty for those promising within sixty days not to fight the King. Col. Charles Read, Samuel Tucker who held the top leadership positions in New Jersey, Joseph Galloway of Philadelphia, and others pledged fidelity to the British. The Maryland convention renounced independence.
General Schuyler in the north sent seven New England regiments to Delaware, though their service expired at the end of the year. The Howes sent Clinton with 6,000 men to Rhode Island, which they occupied for the next three years. Washington’s army escaped by crossing the Delaware at Trenton into Pennsylvania on December 7 while he had every boat within seventy miles secured or destroyed. On the 10th Congress sent Mifflin to recruit soldiers in Pennsylvania. That day Lee and his 4,000 troops arrived at Morristown. Washington ordered him to join his forces, but he replied evasively. The deluded Lee wrote letters to friends suggesting “virtuous treason,” but he was careless and was captured in his lodgings by the British on December 13. On that day Washington received from Congress unlimited command of the army for six months, allowing him to offer bounties for longer enlistments and to displace and appoint officers. With Philadelphia threatened by the British army, Congress adjourned on the 12th and for safety assembled in Baltimore on December 20.
Washington wrote to Congress that he could not rely on militia and pleaded with them for longer enlistments in a standing army. After the end of December he expected to have less than 1,500 effective men. On the 20th General Sullivan brought the remaining 500 men from four New England regiments. Washington still had about 5,000 men in December and planned a daring attack. He sent the former British soldier John Honeyman to pretend to be a Tory spy to get information on the garrison at Trenton. On December 25 Washington and Greene marched 2,400 men to the Delaware River and crossed it at night. Then they marched nine miles to Trenton. When he learned their arms were wet, Washington told them to use their bayonets. Taken by surprise, 22 Hessians were killed; 918 surrendered while 507 escaped. The only two Americans who died had frozen to death on the march, and only four were wounded. During 1776 American privateers seized 229 British ships, but 50 were retaken; Americans lost only six privateers. By the end of the year Maryland and Virginia were impressing “rogues and vagabonds” into their militia.
Thomas Paine had traveled with Washington’s army across New Jersey until they reached Trenton, and then he returned to Philadelphia. On December 19 he published The American Crisis in the Pennsylvania Journal and as a pamphlet within a week. On the 23rd Washington had it read to his troops before they crossed the Delaware. It begins with the famous words,
These are the times that try men’s souls.
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will,
in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country;
but he that stands it now,
deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered;
yet we have this consolation with us,
that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly;
it is dearness only that gives everything its value.
Heaven knows how to put a proper price on its goods;
and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article
as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny,
has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX),
but “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER”;
and if being bound in that manner is not slavery,
then there is not such a thing as slavery on earth.4
Paine wrote that he would never support an “offensive war” because it is murder; but if a thief breaks into his house, destroys his property, kills those inside, and threatens to “bind me in all cases whatsoever,” he must respond even if called a rebel.
On December 29 Washington and his army crossed the Delaware again and camped at Trenton. The next day he pleaded with his troops to remain with the army, and he persuaded the eastern regiments to remain for six weeks. The paymaster had no money, and Washington and some of his officers pledged their fortunes. Also on the 30th Congress resolved to send instructions to commissioners in the courts of Vienna, Prussia, and the Grand Duke of Tuscany to negotiate commercial treaties, and they offered British territories in America to France and Spain if they joined the fight against England. They sent Franklin to France, which had made a gift of one million livres on June 10.
On January 1, 1777 Congress appointed Ben Franklin commissioner to the court of Spain in addition to his diplomatic work in France. They proposed to borrow two millions sterling at 6% interest for ten years from France. In the meantime they ordered $5,000,000 emitted, and they authorized the army to punish anyone refusing to accept Continental currency. Also on that day Washington assembled 6,500 men at Trenton, and he put out an order forbidding everyone in the Continental Army from plundering anyone, whether British, Hessians, Tories, or others. Robert Morris went from house to house in Philadelphia and borrowed $50,000 that he sent to Washington, who had about 5,000 men by January 2. Washington ordered that his soldiers who had not had smallpox should be inoculated a few at a time and kept in quarantine for a while. He also ordered the chief physician of the army, William Shippen, to inoculate recruits before sending them to Morristown. Washington would order more inoculations at Valley Forge a year later. Most of those inoculated survived, and this policy saved many lives.
The army of Cornwallis reached Princeton on January 1, and the next day 5,500 men began marching toward Trenton. On January 3 they met Greene’s vanguard two miles from Princeton. Other forces joined the fight at Princeton, and 23 Americans were killed. The British had a hundred casualties and had 230 taken prisoner. Especially needed by the Americans was a large supply of blankets. The Howe proclamation persuaded 2,703 Jerseymen, 851 from Rhode Island, and 1,282 from New York to pledge fidelity to the King by January 14. On the 25th Washington proclaimed that those accepting British protection should keep inside the enemy’s lines or take the oath to the United States. James Delancey enlisted about 600 Tories in New York, and Cortland Skinner enrolled more than 500 in New Jersey. By the end of May about 3,500 Loyalists (Tories) had joined the British army. With the help of the Mohawk Joseph Brant they also tried to enlist Ottawas, Chippewas, Wyandots, Shawnees, Senecas, Delawares, and Pottawatomies. On January 13 some Africans presented a petition to the Massachusetts House of Representatives that slaves be freed at the age of 21. Parliament in February authorized private ships to seize American vessels as prizes.
The British treated the American prisoners so badly that Washington refused to exchange the healthy British prisoners, but he would accept them on parole. During the war 8,500 American prisoners died while in British custody. Food riots had broken out in Massachusetts, and on January 28 a committee of the four New England states recommended that Congress regulate prices. After debate Congress permitted them to impose price controls to help the poor. Congress adjourned from Baltimore on February 27 and returned to Philadelphia, but not every state was represented until April 8.
While General Howe was still in winter quarters, Cornwallis began attacking Americans on April 13 at Brunswick, causing the American General Benjamin Lincoln to lose twenty men before returning to Brunswick. On April 23 a British corps of 1,800 men marched to Danbury, Connecticut and destroyed supplies, including nearly 1,700 tents the Americans badly needed. General Burgoyne reached Quebec on May 6, and on the 20th he met with about 400 Iroquois, Algonquin, and Ottawa natives. He approved their scalping of those killed but warned them not to kill or scalp the wounded.
On March 14 Washington in Morristown wrote to Congress that he had less than 3,000 sick and starving men. On April 6 he announced a pardon for all deserters who would return to the army by May 15. In the north General Horatio Gates spoke to a council of the Six Nations and urged them to remain neutral. He had only 7,500 men. About 17,000 British, Hessians, and Anspachers assembled at Brunswick on June 12. Two days later the armies met. However, Washington tried to avoid a general engagement and ambushed the English as they marched back to Brunswick. Cornwallis lost about seventy men and the Americans twice as many.
On June 30 Burgoyne’s force of 3,724 British, 3,016 Germans, 250 provincials, and fine artillery with 473 men took Crown Point. They moved from Ticonderoga, capturing Mount Defiance on July 5 and Fort Independence the next day as the Americans led by General Arthur St. Clair retreated. In this battle the British had 205 casualties while 40 Americans were killed with 350 wounded or taken prisoner.
In a convention at Windsor people in Vermont decided not to be part of New York nor of New Hampshire, and they adopted organic law on July 8, 1777, creating a general assembly with a governor and an advisory council. Their constitution was based on Pennsylvania’s but allowed all men to vote even if they paid no taxes, had elections for judges, emancipated all adult slaves, and prohibited imprisonment for debt. However, the New York delegation persuaded Congress to deny Vermont admission. General Schuyler had lost Fort Ticonderoga and appealed to those in Vermont as private citizens. Congress replaced Schuyler in the Northern Department with General Horatio Gates who assumed command at Albany on August 19.
General Burgoyne sent Lt. Col. Barry St. Leger with about a thousand Indians, 700 Tories, and 340 regulars, and they besieged an American garrison of 550 men and 200 reinforcements at Fort Stanwix on August 2. General Nicholas Herkimer led 800 New York militia to relieve the fort, and Herkimer was killed in the fighting on August 6. The Indians had been promised they could loot, and after the battle many deserted. Schuyler was informed and asked for volunteers. On the 16th about 2,000 Americans led by General John Stark defeated the British at Bennington, New York. General Arnold led a thousand men who drove away St. Leger’s forces on August 23.
General Howe in late August landed 15,000 troops from northern Chesapeake Bay and marched toward Philadelphia. Washington had about 11,500 men and retreated in early September. He was outflanked at Brandywine Creek on the 11th, suffering more than a thousand casualties compared to the British loss of 579 men. Congress sent Putnam with 1,500 troops, and then they abandoned Philadelphia again and moved to York, Pennsylvania on the 18th. Howe’s army entered Philadelphia on September 26. The day after the Brandywine battle Tom Paine wrote the 4th essay in his series The American Crisis to encourage the American soldiers. He often addressed his comments to Admiral Howe and concluded,
We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free,
and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in.
In such a case we are sure that we are right;
and we leave to you the despairing reflection
of being the tool of a miserable tyrant.5
John Jay became the first chief justice of the commonwealth of New York on September 9 and gave an inspiring speech to the grand jury on “free, mild, and equal government.” The army of Gates had 9,000 men. Burgoyne crossed the Hudson River on September 13 with less than 6,000 men but having fine artillery. In the battle at Freeman’s Farm on the 19th the British lost more than 600 men, the Americans less than 320. Putnam let the New York militia go home and was left with 2,000 men. On September 22 General Lincoln arrived with 2,000 militia. The Indians abandoned Burgoyne, and Schuyler persuaded some Oneidas to join the Americans. Gates had more than 10,000 men in camp in October. The Americans attacked at Bemis Heights on the 7th and suffered 500 casualties, but Burgoyne lost twice as many men. Burgoyne was surrounded at Saratoga by October 13 and four days later surrendered his army of 5,791 men. They also abandoned 1,856 prisoners of war, 42 field pieces, and 4,600 muskets.
Meanwhile on September 19 Washington had left General Anthony Wayne with 1,500 men south of the Schuylkill River near the Paoli Tavern to harass the rear of Howe’s army. A Tory spy informed the British, and they attacked them on the next night, killing 53 and taking 71 prisoners, 40 of whom were abandoned because of their wounds. The disaster was called the Paoli massacre. On October 4 General Washington’s army attacked Germantown where the British had garrisoned 9,000 troops. Washington made a strategic retreat and asked for troops from Gates, but they were delayed. In this battle the British had 70 killed and 420 wounded; but the Americans lost 152 dead and 521 wounded, and about 400 were captured. In October the Continental Army had 39,443 men.
Hancock resigned on October 31, and Henry Laurens of South Carolina was elected president of Congress. After the pivotal victory at Saratoga the Congress worked on the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” and adopted them on November 15, 1777, calling the confederacy “The United States of America.” Each state remained independent, free, and sovereign with one vote in Congress. They entered into a “firm league of friendship with each other for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other.” The people of each state could travel freely to other states and enjoy the privileges of trade and commerce. “Great and interesting questions” on peace, war, treaties, and finance required a two-thirds vote, other matters a majority. Revenue had to come from the states in proportion to the value of their real estate, and each state had its own military force. The states set import and export duties and thus could nullify commercial treaties. No man could sit in Congress for more than three years out of six. Article XI allowed for Canada to join the Confederation. The Articles of Confederation required unanimous consent from every state’s legislature for ratification and amendments. The Articles assured all free inhabitants that they had “all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several states,” but South Carolina and Georgia rejected that free black inhabitants of other states had equal rights.
On December 4 about 14,000 British soldiers attacked the American army of about 11,000 camped in the woods near Philadelphia. Only about 7,000 Americans were fit enough to fight. Washington urged them to use their bayonets. On the 8th the British army returned to Philadelphia, having lost about one hundred men; the Americans had only 27 casualties.
Conflict occurred over a French officer of Irish descent named Thomas Conway whom Washington and others considered incompetent. Conway resigned but on Mifflin’s report was appointed inspector-general on December 13. Most of those who stayed in the Continental army that winter did so out of respect for Washington, who had them build their own huts at Valley Forge. Washington reported that 2,898 men were unfit for duty because they were hungry, barefoot, and lacked clothes, leaving 8,200 ready for duty in the camp. They needed food, clothing, and blankets, and some corn and blankets were provided by the Oneidas and Tuscaroras. During the winter about 2,500 American soldiers died at Valley Forge. On January 8, 1778 Congress appointed a new board of war with Gates, Mifflin, and Timothy Pickering. After Washington exposed Conway’s notorious letter revealing the cabal to replace Washington, Gates avoided Washington’s headquarters.
Merchants and farmers were demanding that price controls be repealed, and late in 1777 New Hampshire and Massachusetts cancelled them. By the end of 1777 most states had turned to conscription to meet their quotas for the army, usually for one year’s service. However, Virginia drafted young men for three years, and as early as 1776 they impressed “rogues and vagabonds.” In some states those conscripted could pay a fine, and in any state one could pay for two substitutes. When a sheriff tried to impose fines in Baltimore County in October 1777, hundreds of men rebelled. The Maryland Council ordered the militia to suppress the insurrection. Some men threatened to shoot their field officers.
Ben Franklin drafted a proposal for a French-American alliance, and on December 17, 1777 the Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes agreed. In January 1778 France’s Louis XVI promised the Americans three million livres. France and the United States agreed to a defensive alliance and commercial treaty on February 6. The British Parliament repealed the Coercive Acts it had imposed on the colonies four years before. Gilbert de Motier, Marquis de Lafayette arrived from France at the age of 20, and Congress appointed him to lead an expedition to Canada with Baron Johann de Kalb as his second. Lafayette insisted that the appointments be through Washington. On March 12 Congress suspended the invasion of Canada and ordered Lafayette and Kalb to join the main army. On the 23rd they ordered Conway to report to General Alexander McDougall. Conway did not like it and threatened to resign, and Congress accepted his resignation. Conway was seriously wounded in a duel with General John Cadwalader on July 4, 1778, and on the 23rd he wrote an apologizing letter to Washington.
On March 21 Paine addressed the 5th part of The Crisis to General William Howe and accused him of abetting the crime of circulating counterfeit Continental money. Later Franklin wrote that the British used artists to counterfeit the Continental currency while they were in New York and circulated them widely before the fraud was detected.
Dr. Benjamin Rush had been appointed Surgeon General of the Middle Department in April 1777, and in a letter on December 26 he castigated Dr. William Shippen for the terrible medical conditions and the large number of sick. Rush also criticized Washington, and on January 12, 1778 he wrote to Virginia’s Governor Patrick Henry that Gates or Conway should be made commander-in-chief. Washington learned of the anonymous letter, and Rush resigned on April 30. Rush wrote a pamphlet, and to preserve the health of soldiers he recommended improving dress, diet, cleanliness, and encampments. Rush also wrote on education and pioneered the field of mental health with his Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon the Diseases of the Mind which was published in 1812.
The British had broken their surrender agreement at Saratoga by concealing their public chest and property, and Burgoyne complained that the Americans violated the terms by providing unsatisfactory accommodations for his officers in Boston. Congress was concerned that the troops pledged not to fight any more in this war would replace other soldiers in the British empire, and so on December 27 they voted to detain his troops in America.
In the first four months of 1778 Congress issued $12.5 million in paper money. Rhode Island had 3,700 slaves, and in January 1778 General James Mitchell asked Washington to let them recruit Negroes. He approved, and in February they offered freedom to any “able-bodied Negro, Mulatto, or Indian Man slave” who would fight in the Continental Army until the end of the war. About 200 enlisted, and their former owners were promised £120 each. The Prussian Friedrich von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge on February 23. Nathanael Greene became Quartermaster General in March. When Conway’s resignation was accepted on April 28, Steuben was appointed Inspector General and introduced more effective training and discipline. To counter English recruiting of Indians on the western borders of Virginia and the Carolinas, Congress authorized Col. Nathaniel Gist to organize two hundred Indians and fifty whites in the region.
On March 16 Parliament appointed a commission led by the Earl of Carlisle which sent a package of proposals for peace to Congress on June 13. The commissioner George Johnstone was accused of trying to bribe General Joseph Reed with 10,000 guineas and returned to England before the others. Lafayette challenged Carlisle to a duel for what he said about France. The Congress insisted on independence as a starting point for negotiations, and the commissioners, unable to accept this, eventually went back to England in November.
Franklin in Paris revealed a secret of his statesmanship when he said, “He who shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.”4 Congress unanimously ratified the treaties with France on May 4, and France and England were at war by June. On May 8 Congress sent an address to the inhabitants of the United States written by Gouverneur Morris asking ministers to read it to the their congregations. Using religious concepts, the address warns against dependence on a haughty prince and concludes,
Thus shall the power and the happiness
of these sovereign, free and independent states,
founded on the virtue of their citizens,
increase, extend and endure,
until the Almighty shall blot out all the empires of the earth.6
After much debate Congress on May 17 approved half-pay for officers for seven years after the war.
General Howe had spent the winter in Philadelphia without attacking Valley Forge. His gambling and other vices set a bad example for his men. On May 18 the British held a festival in Philadelphia. Howe learned that Lafayette was nearby with 2,500 men, and on the night of the 19th he sent General James Grant with 5,300 men. The next morning Howe led 5,700 more soldiers with Clinton and Knyphausen. Lafayette managed to fool them by using small parties in the woods to represent attacking columns, and the British army returned to Philadelphia. Henry Clinton was appointed commander-in-chief, and on May 25 William Howe sailed for England with 3,000 grieving Tories.
On June 17 France declared war on Great Britain. That night General Clinton and 17,000 British soldiers crossed the Delaware. General Charles Lee had been exchanged and returned, but he advised the Americans not to try to fight the British. On June 19 Washington ordered General Arnold to put Philadelphia under martial law, and Arnold began exercising dictatorial powers in the city. Then with less than 12,000 men Washington also crossed the Delaware and deployed forces to destroy roads and harass the enemy. When Lee refused to fight on June 28, Washington ordered him to the rear and with his horsemanship inspired his men to stop running away. In the battle at Monmouth courthouse the Americans lost 69 killed, 161 wounded, and 130 missing. The British lost more than 400 men while 136 British and 440 Hessians deserted in New Jersey. More than 700 Africans fought on the American side. A court martial convicted Lee of disobedience, and he was suspended for one year. The next year Lee was caught receiving money from British officers in New York and was dismissed by Congress.
On July 2, 1778 Congress met in Philadelphia, and one week later delegates of eight states signed the Articles of Confederation. North Carolina approved them on July 21 followed by Georgia three days later. New Jersey held out for western territory but accepted the confederacy on November 25. Delaware’s delegates approved in February 1779. Maryland had several prominent citizens with landholdings northwest of the Ohio River and refused to sign.
A French fleet with twelve ships and three frigates commanded by Admiral Count Charles D’Estaing arrived in Delaware Bay on July 8, 1778 after being delayed doing exercises at sea. They began intercepting British ships going to New York. On July 18 Congress rejected the latest British peace proposal from the Carlisle commission because they did not recognize the independence of the United State nor had they withdrawn their armies and their fleets. Another French fleet with 3,500 soldiers was seen off Newport on the 29th.
Washington’s army was losing militia and had less than 6,000 men in camp. On August 29 the British tried to flank their right wing, but General Greene led a counter-attack in which the British lost 260 men and the Americans 211. Sullivan’s army withdrew before Clinton arrived with 4,000 British. Richard Howe was replaced in September by Admiral John Byron and never returned to America. That month people in New England raised Sullivan’s army to 10,000 men.
John Adams had replaced Silas Deane in France in November 1777, but on September 14, 1778 Congress unanimously appointed Franklin minister plenipotentiary to France. Congress asked Adams to work on finances. Deane believed that the money from France was not a gift but a loan, and Arthur Lee, who disagreed, persuaded Congress to begin investigating Deane’s questionable conduct. After it was learned that Samuel Chase of Maryland had profited by cornering the grain market prior to purchases for the army, Alexander Hamilton wrote a letter against war profiteering on October 19 that was published in the New York Journal.
Clinton sent 3,500 soldiers under Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell to the southern port of Savannah in November. The American general Robert Howe led about a thousand militia from Georgia and South Carolina and inflicted about 500 casualties on the British with few losses. On December 29 the British lost 29 killed as they took over the capital at Savannah and captured 453 prisoners and 48 cannons. The captives who refused to enlist with the British were put on crowded prison-ships plagued by infection that killed many. Royal Governor James Wright returned to Georgia.
In November and December the Congress issued more than $20,000,000 in paper money, increasing the Continental bills to more than $106,000,000. Inflation of the Continental currency went from $1.00 in coins being equal to $1.25 in paper money in January 1777 to $3.25 one year later to $7.42 two years later to $29.34 in January 1780 and to $167.50 in April 1781. On December 9, 1778 Congress elected John Jay of New York president to replace Laurens. Washington in December opposed another plan by Lafayette to invade Canada. The Americans were more loyal to their state governments than to the Congress, and Washington in December 1778 expressed his concern to the speaker of the Virginia house that if the whole is mismanaged, the individual states will be wrecked. He warned that America could be destroyed if they did not apply remedies for their common interests. Jefferson estimated that in 1778 more than 30,000 Virginia slaves ran away. That year Rhode Island and Massachusetts allowed Africans to serve as soldiers, and only Georgia and South Carolina opposed black enlistments.
The British had been circulating counterfeit money, and so the Congress recalled two emissions of $5,000,000 each. On January 14, 1779 Congress ordered a new emission of $50,000,400. On the same day they resolved that neither France nor the United States would make peace with Britain without first obtaining formal consent from their ally. Congress voted for eighty battalions of infantry in March, but none of the states met its quota. This plan included 3,000 Negroes in Georgia and South Carolina, but the latter rejected the proposal. After hearing reports, Congress voted that their territory would extend from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River and from the Floridas to Canada and Nova Scotia. They debated whether they should retain the fishing rights off New Foundland they had under the British but could not agree. They promised a bounty of $750, annual clothing, and 100 acres of land after the war to anyone who would serve in the Continental Army for the war. On September 27 they elected John Jay as their envoy to Spain.
In January 1779 the British led by General John Campbell took over Augusta. South Carolina replaced Robert Howe with General Benjamin Lincoln who took command of 1,100 men on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River. North Carolina had regiments in Washington’s army, but they sent 2,000 men without weapons to Lincoln under Col. John Ashe and General Griffith Rutherford for five months. Ashe crossed the river at Augusta with 1,500 militia; but on March 3 the British took them by surprise, and the unprepared Americans lost nearly a thousand men, seven cannons, and more than a thousand arms.
On April 28 General Augustine Prevost with 3,000 men including Indians crossed the river and attacked a thousand South Carolina militia under Moultrie at Perrysburg. They besieged Charleston on May 11. John Laurens went there to enlist Negroes. Alexander Hamilton agreed with this project because he believed they could fight as well. However, Washington was concerned that this would lead to an arms race. General Isaac Huger warned Congress that South Carolina was weak because citizens had to stay home and guard against revolts by Negro slaves. South Carolinians rejected the advice of Laurens because the British had confiscated all the Negroes they could. The British intercepted a letter from General Lincoln that he was coming to relieve Charleston, and the British embarked and established a post at Beaufort. The British raided the country and took 3,000 slaves to Georgia while another thousand died in the woods or of fever in the British camp.
On June 11 the British attacked Norwalk, Connecticut and burned buildings while plundering and losing nearly 150 men. Washington sent a force led by General Wayne to Stony Point. On the 16th the Americans killed 63 British soldiers and captured 543 while only 15 Americans died. That summer Washington sent forces to attack the Iroquois four times, and they destroyed most of their villages and burned 160,000 bushels of corn.
John Paul Jones was given command of the Providence in May 1776 and took many prizes. He became captain of the Alfred on November 1. He was given the newly built Ranger in June 1777 and sailed for France in November and discussed strategy with Ben Franklin. In 1778 Jones began attacking British ships near England, and on April 24 he captured the Drake. In 1779 he was given command of the old and slow Bonhomme Richard, but it had 42 guns. In his most famous naval battle against the new HMS Serapis on September 23, Jones refused to strike his colors, saying he was just beginning to fight. During hand-to-hand combat a grenade thrown onto the Serapis caused gunpowder to explode, and its Captain Pearson surrendered. The Bonhomme Richard was also damaged and was abandoned as Jones and his men took over the Serapis. The Americans suffered 150 casualties while killing 100 British and wounding 68.
Silas Deane engaged in questionable commercial transactions with Robert Morris, John Holker and others such as selling them a boat-load of flour that they sold to the French without ever offering it to Congress, which discharged Deane on August 6, 1779.
Admiral d’Estaing with a French fleet joined with the Americans led by Lincoln in a siege of Savannah on September 23, and during an assault on October 8 the Americans and French allies had 244 killed and 584 wounded. D’Estaing was wounded twice, and his fleet sailed for France in December. The Georgians fled across the river or into the woods.
The British occupation of Rhode Island ended on October 7, 1779 when General Clinton withdrew his army. That month Congress learned that nearly 160 million dollars of paper money were outstanding, and they voted to limit the paper emissions to $200 million which was reached before the end of the year.
Samuel Huntington had replaced Jay as president of the Congress on September 28, and on January 12, 1780 he sent a circular letter to states asking them to provide supplies immediately to the army. On February 8 Congress set the men needed for the army at 35,211 and asked the states to meet their requirements by April 1. Pennsylvania worked on a constitution that would abolish slavery, and George Bryan persuaded the assembly to pass it on February 29. Massachusetts also had adopted a constitution abolishing slavery on January 31. John Adams drafted a bill of rights with a preamble and thirty articles that was ratified on June 15; many of these rights would become part of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Massachusetts became a free commonwealth on October 25. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was founded in Boston, and James Bowdoin was elected president. Also in 1780 the Methodists of the United States at their general meeting voted that slave-keeping is “contrary to the laws of God, man, and nature.”
On December 26, 1779 the commander-in-chief Clinton sailed with 8,500 British soldiers for Georgia, where he gathered 10,000 men and sent for 3,000 more from New York. They landed near Charleston on February 11, 1780 and began the siege on March 29. General Lincoln tried to hold Charleston with less than 2,000 men. Washington thought they should abandon the city, but 700 veterans from Virginia joined them on April 7. The next day Admiral Arbuthnot blockaded the port from the sea, and the British began bombarding the city on the 13th. While Lincoln considered evacuation, General Cornwallis brought 3,000 men from New York. Fort Moultrie surrendered on May 6. After three months of siege the British began bombarding Charleston on May 9. On that day Richard Henry Lee persuaded the Virginia legislature to raise and send 3,000 men to South Carolina. When the British began an assault on May 12, Lincoln capitulated. All the men in Charleston were considered prisoners, and Clinton reported more than 5,000 taken. The value of the spoils taken was estimated to be £300,000, and 2,000 slaves were shipped to the West Indies. The British also captured 391 cannons, about 6,000 muskets, more than 40,000 bullets, and 376 barrels of gunpowder.
Another contingent led by Col. Buford arrived from Virginia, and on May 29 they were defeated by Tarleton’s forces; 113 Virginians were killed; 150 were too wounded to be moved; and 53 were taken to Camden as prisoners. Clinton proclaimed that all inhabitants of South Carolina must return to allegiance or be treated as rebels. Clinton left 5,000 men with Cornwallis and more than 1,000 in Georgia. General Andrew Williamson, who had built a fort at Ninety-Six in South Carolina earlier in the war, now surrendered it to the British and even went over to their side. Washington sent nearly 2,000 Maryland men under General Kalb, leaving his Continental Army between the Chesapeake and Canada with only 3,760 men fit for duty.
Washington wanted Greene to succeed Lincoln, but Congress appointed Gates to command the southern army on June 13. On July 10 France’s Admiral de Ternay arrived at Newport with ten warships and about 6,000 men led by Comte de Rochambeau. Col. Thomas Sumter organized a continental regiment in South Carolina that won a victory at Williamson’s Plantation on July 12 and attacked Rocky Mount on August 1.
On August 4 General Gates proclaimed a pardon to any who would remain loyal to America from then on. On the 14th 700 militia under General Edward Stevens joined Gates, who now had 1,100 Continentals and about 2,350 militia from North Carolina and Virginia. They met the advance guard of Cornwallis near Camden on the 16th. When the British attacked them from the rear, the Americans fled to the woods. Kalb’s division fought, and the victorious British lost about 500 troops. Gates fled to Hillsboro, North Carolina and was eventually joined by 700 Continentals. About 1,900 American soldiers had surrendered at Charleston, and they were put on prison-ships with the prisoners captured near Camden; after thirteen months one third of them had died of fevers, and others were impressed into serving on British ships or in a British regiment in Jamaica. On August 26 General Greene wrote to Washington asking his permission to hang two soldiers, one for desertion and the other for committing horrid acts of plunder. Washington approved the punishment.
Virginia’s Governor Jefferson in September approved organizing a regiment of 400 men in the backwoods under Col. William Campbell. On October 7 these men and other soldiers fought the British at King’s Mountain, killing a third of the British soldiers led by Major Patrick Ferguson. The British had 456 killed or so severely wounded that they were abandoned among the 648 who were captured. The Americans suffered only 28 killed and 60 wounded. The attempt by Cornwallis to penetrate western Virginia was thus stopped by spontaneous uprisings.
General Benedict Arnold had begun secretly collaborating with the British General Clinton and accepting pay in the winter of 1778-79. In 1780 the British gave Arnold command of the fortress built at West Point. The spy John André was caught with West Point plans on September 23, and after his trial and confession he was hanged.
On October 10 Congress passed a resolution authorizing the settlement and formation of republican states in the western territories with “the same rights of sovereignty, freedom, and independence as the other states.” On the 30th Congress went along with Washington’s advice and appointed Greene to command the southern department. Washington was short of men, but he sent 350 infantry with Greene, who reached Charlotte on December 2. When Cornwallis complained about how British prisoners were treated, Greene sent him a list of about fifty men who had been hanged by Cornwallis. Before departing, Gates turned over 2,307 men to Greene, though only 800 were properly clothed and equipped. Greene gave a third of his men to General Daniel Morgan and sent them southwest.
On January 1, 1781 mostly new recruits from Pennsylvania at Morristown marched to Princeton and mutinied, demanding winter clothes, their pay, and adequate food. British General Henry Clinton sent two emissaries with an offer for the mutineers; the mutineers turned them in, and the two were hanged as spies. Pennsylvania’s President Reed discharged those whose enlistments had expired and promised to clothe and pay the others. On January 20 about 200 soldiers from New Jersey demanded pay and rum and headed toward Congress. They were persuaded to return to camp, but Washington to instill discipline had two of the leaders shot by a firing squad. When Pennsylvania troops complained that promises had not been kept, troops under General Wayne fired on twelve leaders, killing six. Wayne ordered a soldier to kill a badly maimed man and then had the other five hanged.
Benedict Arnold was now fighting for the British and on January 2 arrived with 1,600 men by the James River. To capture him Washington sent Lafayette with 1,200 men and a fleet of ten French warships to the Chesapeake. Cornwallis had 3,500 men and sent Tarleton with 1,100 soldiers against General Morgan’s forces. In the battle of Cowpens on January 17 Virginia’s riflemen and cavalry routed the Redcoats who had 110 men killed, 200 wounded, and 712 regulars captured; only twelve Americans died with sixty wounded.
On January 10 Congress created a Department of Foreign Affairs with a secretary elected by Congress. On February 3 Congress voted to ask the states to give them the power to regulate commerce and levy a duty of 5% on imported goods. Virginia approved and offered to yield its title to the lands northwest of the Ohio on the understanding that they would be formed into republican states and be admitted into the union. Twelve states ratified the duty, but Rhode Island refused. Robert Morris was elected Superintendent of the Department of Finance in February, but he did not officially take office until September. Yet Morris presented his plan for the Bank of North America right away and received authorization for it in May, and in June Congress gave him all its money borrowed from France and in unsold bills. The Bank began operating at the beginning of 1782. Congress also established a Secretary of War in February, but Benjamin Lincoln was not elected until October.
On January 2, 1781 the Virginia assembly had ceded its claims to territory north of the Ohio River. Maryland’s Governor Thomas Johnson and other members of the Illinois-Wabash Company also sacrificed their claims in February. Thus on March 1 Maryland finally ratified the Articles of Confederation which made all thirteen states a part of the “perpetual union.” By May not one of the states had sent even one-eighth of its quota of soldiers. Huntington resigned because of ill health on July 6, and four days later Pennsylvania’s Chief Justice, Thomas McKean of Delaware, was elected president of the Congress; but on November 5 he was replaced by John Hanson of Maryland who was the first to serve for one year as required in the Articles.
On March 15 Cornwallis with an army of 1,900 met Greene’s 1,651 near Guilford Courthouse. The British suffered 570 casualties and the Americans 419. Greene’s forces drove Cornwallis back to South Carolina. After stopping in Wilmington in April, Cornwallis headed toward Virginia with 1,435 men. In a battle against Greene’s army near Camden on May 10 each side lost about three hundred men. Cornwallis with 7,000 men reached Petersburg on May 20 and ordered Arnold back to New York. Governor Jefferson wrote to Washington on May 28 asking him to help defend Virginia. Forces led by Wayne, Steuben, and Morgan joined Lafayette’s army which now had 5,200 men. The American navy had been reduced to two frigates, but their French allies had a good navy. Their ships brought 1,500 more men to the French contingent that left Newport. A fleet from Ireland brought reinforcements for the British, and Lord Rawdon led 2,000 men to relieve the town of Ninety-Six on June 7. The army of Cornwallis devastated Virginia, destroying property worth £3,000,000 sterling, but the people wanting independence resisted.
In England the 22-year-old William Pitt made a speech on June 12 condemning the British war as “wicked, barbarous, cruel, and unnatural.” Fox admitted that America was lost and that they should vote to declare it independent.
Lafayette wrote to Washington in July urging him to march a force to Virginia because with the French fleet they could force the British army to surrender. Cornwallis embarked his troops in early August from Portsmouth and moved them to Yorktown and Gloucester. On August 14 Washington learned that the Comte de Grasse was taking his fleet to Virginia, and five days later Rochambeau’s troops and the American army left New York to go to Chesapeake Bay.
In August envoys from Vermont asked Congress for admission as a state. New York withdrew its objection, but the southern states refused to accept another northern state without it being balanced by a southern slave state.
On September 8 Greene’s army attacked the British at Eutaw Springs, South Carolina. In two battles the Americans suffered 554 casualties; but they captured 500 prisoners as the British lost nearly a thousand men. In his first nine months of command Greene had recovered three southern states.
Admiral de Grasse arrived from the West Indies with 28 ships and 4,000 men on August 30, blocking the York River. De Barras with eight warships and ten transports from Newport brought ordnance for a siege. A British fleet led by Admiral Thomas Graves left Sandy Hook and encountered de Grasse by the James River on September 5, but after losses over five days the British returned to New York. Washington visited his home at Mount Vernon on September 9 for the first time in more than six years. He sent a message with Lafayette to persuade de Grasse to stay for the common cause. When he agreed, Washington wrote, “A great mind knows how to make personal sacrifices to secure an important general good.”7
Taking advantage of Washington’s departure, the turncoat Benedict Arnold led British forces who drove out the defenders of Fort Trumbull in Connecticut on September 6. On the other side of the Thames River the British soldiers massacred the garrison of Fort Griswold after they surrendered. Then Arnold’s army burned 143 buildings in New London and about a dozen American ships before they embarked for New York.
Washington’s army was in place to begin the siege of Cornwallis on September 28. Cornwallis had promised more than 4,000 slaves their freedom in exchange for their support. When food shortages began, he cut back on the rations for the Africans, causing some to starve to death. Trapped at Yorktown by 8,845 Continental soldiers, 7,800 French troops, 3,100 Virginia militia, and 37 French ships, on October 17 General Cornwallis sent a capitulation proposal to Washington, and two days later he surrendered 7,247 soldiers, 840 sailors, 214 cannons, 6,658 muskets, 457 horses, and more than £2,000.
When the news of the surrender by Cornwallis reached England on November 25, 1781, George III still refused to give up his claim to America; but in February 1782 Colonial Secretary George Germain resigned.
After the French brought over $200,000 in specie, the Confederation’s Finance Minister Robert Morris started a bank of the United States with $400,000 on January 7, 1782. Congress also approved establishing a mint. New York elected Alexander Hamilton a delegate to Congress. On March 4 the British Parliament voted to consider as enemies anyone who would advise offensive war in North America. On July 4 Alexander Hamilton published “Arguments for Increasing the Power of the Federal Government” in The Continentalist, examining the consequences of not authorizing the federal government to regulate trade. On July 31 Morris presented a budget to Congress, proposing they borrow $4,000,000 and raise $5,000,000 by quotas. That summer Congress adopted a seal depicting an eagle with its right talon holding an olive branch and the left talon thirteen arrows on a blue field with thirteen stars. A scroll in the eagle’s beak had the Latin words “E pluribus unum,” which means “from many one.”
A few minor skirmishes occurred as the British still had 14,000 soldiers in New York and about 10,000 troops in Charleston, Wilmington, and Savannah. In the first half of 1782 General Wayne forced the British troops in Georgia to retreat to Savannah. On July 11 the regulars went from there to Charleston while the Loyalists took refuge in Florida. On December 14 the British fleet sailed from Charleston with 4,000 Loyalists and 5,327 Africans. Only about 160 free Africans went to New York, Nova Scotia, and England; but about 1,960 were taken to Jamaica and Saint Lucia while 2,960 were shipped to East Florida to be sold.
During the War of Independence at least 8,000 American soldiers were killed in battle; about 8,500 died from disease, and at least 8,500 of the 18,154 prisoners did not survive. During the war Congress issued $241,552,780 in Continental currency. Between 1775 and 1782 a smallpox epidemic took the lives of 130,000 people in North America even though inoculations were used. About 85,000 British soldiers fought in America, and about 21,000 died, probably a large majority of those by disease. About 1,200 German mercenaries were killed while 6,354 died of illness or other causes. The British Royal Navy reported 1,243 killed in battle while 18,541 died of disease, mostly from scurvy. About 42,000 British sailors deserted out of 175,990 in the Royal Navy, which had 468 warships by the end of the war. All together about 50,000 Loyalists emigrated to Canada, Europe, and the West Indies. General Carleton in New York refused to turn over 3,000 Africans he considered free, and they were allowed to emigrate to Canada.
Support for the war in the British Parliament gradually decreased until finally on February 27, 1782 a motion to stop the war achieved a majority. On March 20 Lord North admitted that his administration was finished. One week later Rockingham became prime minister, and he agreed to American independence. Shelburne was elected to head the home department which included America. On April 4 he sent Guy Carleton to New York, and he appointed Richard Oswald of Scotland as the diplomat to meet with the American commissioners. On April 19 the seven provinces of the Netherlands recognized the United States and received their ambassador John Adams. Carleton replaced Clinton in New York on May 5, ended hostilities, and began sending soldiers home.
Oswald went to Paris to meet with Franklin, who explained that Britain must treat with France as well as the United States. John Jay had little success in Spain and came to Paris, and Franklin decided to exclude Spain from the negotiations. Fox sent young Thomas Grenville to Paris as the British plenipotentiary to Louis XVI. After Rockingham’s death Shelburne became prime minister.
Samuel Ely was an unpopular preacher from Somers, Connecticut who fought against Burgoyne’s army. Concerned about the corruption of merchants, in 1782 he urged men to challenge the supreme court in Hampshire County, and he was arrested and taken to Springfield. The radical Joseph Hawley warned that veterans would defend debtors, and in June some men led by Reuben Dickinson freed Ely from jail and went north, pursued by the sheriff and fifty soldiers. Ely escaped, but three hostages were taken. The next day 600 men went to free the hostages, and they all agreed to turn in Ely, who was arrested in September and released for reconciliation in March 1783.
On July 27, 1782 Franklin wrote in a letter to his friend Joseph Banks,
I join with you most cordially
in rejoicing at the return of Peace.
I hope it will be lasting, and that Mankind will at length,
as they call themselves reasonable Creatures,
have Reason and Sense enough
to settle their Differences without cutting Throats;
for, in my opinion,
there never was a good War, or a bad Peace.
What vast additions to the Conveniences
and Comforts of Living might Mankind have acquired,
if the Money spent in Wars
had been employed in Works of public utility!
What an extension of Agriculture,
even to the Tops of our Mountains;
what Rivers rendered navigable, or joined by Canals:
what Bridges, Aqueducts, new Roads,
and other public Works, Edifices, and Improvements,
rendering England a compleat Paradise,
might have been obtained
by spending those Millions in doing good,
which in the last War have been spent in doing Mischief;
in bringing Misery into thousands of Families,
and destroying the Lives
of so many thousands of working people,
who might have performed the useful labour!8
Franklin argued that the British had forfeited their rights to compensation for the Loyalists by their bad behavior. Jay suggested they allow the British free navigation of the Mississippi, and this was accepted. John Adams had secured the Netherlands’ recognition of American independence in April and then arranged a substantial loan. On October 8 he concluded a treaty of friendship and commerce before returning to Paris, where he helped define the northeast border. The northwest border extended through the Great Lakes. The British had to surrender all their posts on the Penobscot, in New York and Carolina, and at Niagara and Detroit. United States territory would include land east of the Mississippi River and north of Florida. Finally they agreed to give Americans equal rights with the British to fish on the coast of Newfoundland. They accepted the demand by Henry Laurens that the British be prohibited from “carrying away any Negroes or other property of the inhabitants.” Terms between Britain and France still needed agreement, but on November 30 the treaty between the United States and Britain was signed by the commissioners of both nations. The British and French agreed on peace on January 20, 1783, and the British declared an end to hostilities on February 4.
On January 24, 1783 Finance Minister Morris resigned to protest the excessive debts and bleak financial situation. After a few months Congress persuaded him to resume his office until the army was paid and disbanded. In February the legislature of Rhode Island extended the vote to Catholics.
In January a delegation of officers led by General Alexander McDougall had brought a memorial to Congress complaining that officers had arrears in pay and food and clothing accounts and that Congress had not provided for the half-pay pension they were supposed to have begun receiving in October 1780. Continental officers camped at Newburgh, New York on March 10, 1783 and began circulating anonymous letters blaming Congress and threatening rebellion. On the 15th Washington urged his officers to be loyal to Congress, and they adopted a resolution to obey the civil authority.
Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris on April 15 and announced the cessation of hostilities on April 19, the eighth anniversary of the war. Continental troops enlisted for the duration were furloughed on May 26. Eighty men from a Pennsylvania regiment mutinied in June, marched to Philadelphia, and surrounded the State House with about 400 more disgruntled soldiers. They allowed the members of Congress to leave the building, and General Washington sent a selected force to quell the mutiny. On June 8 he sent a circular letter to state governors arguing that the honor of their country requires them to pay their public debts and those who defended the nation. He considered the following four things essential to their well being and existence as an independent power:
1st. An indissoluble Union of the States
under one Federal Head.
2dly. A sacred regard for Public Justice.
3dly. The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment; and
4thly. The prevalence of that pacific and friendly Disposition
among the People of the United States, which will induce them
to forget their local prejudices and policies;
to make those mutual concessions
which are requisite to the general prosperity;
and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual
advantages to the interest of the Community.9
Nine days later Washington sent a letter to Congress asking them to set aside public lands for the war veterans.
The final peace treaty was signed in Paris on September 3. On October 4 about 500 Friends at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting sent a petition asking Congress to prohibit the re-opening of the slave trade. The British troops left New York City on November 25 with thousands of Tories. Later that day Washington led his soldiers into New York. On December 4 he met with his officers to say farewell. Washington went to Annapolis, Maryland where he addressed the Congress and announced his retirement. On December 20 Virginia offered to cede all its land claims in the Ohio territory to Congress without conditions. By the end of the year all British troops had left the United States except on some posts in the northwest.
When the war began in April 1775, the British had only one regiment of 500 soldiers garrisoning the posts at Niagara, Detroit, and Michilimackinac in the Great Lakes region. The Mohawks and about 500 Senecas in western New York threatened Americans on the northern frontier. Missionaries such as John Heckewelder managed to prevent the British from winning over Delawares on the Ohio.
Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Company called a convention of Kentucky settlers, and four delegates from each of the four settlements met at Boonesborough to establish laws on May 23. On November 4, 1778 the Virginia General Assembly would void Henderson’s purchase of land, but later they granted 200,000 acres between the Green and Ohio rivers to his Transylvania Company.
Dragging Canoe, the son of Attakullakulla, was the chief of Great Island Town, but he rejected the deal his father made with Judge Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Land Company in 1775. On July 12 Congress established three regional Indian departments, and as commissioners of the Middle Department they appointed Patrick Henry, Ben Franklin, and James Wilson, but Henry and Franklin declined and were replaced in September by Dr. Thomas Walker of Virginia and Lewis Morris of New York. That month the American commissioners made peace with the Six Nations of the Iroquois (Hodenosaunee), Delawares, and Shawnee, and they promised not to settle north of the Ohio. In 1776 George Morgan replaced Richard Butler as the Congressional Indian agent at Pittsburgh, and he maintained the Congress’s policy of Indian neutrality, though it was opposed by Washington.
In May 1776 the British governor at Detroit, Henry Hamilton, persuaded Shawnee chief Cornstalk to lead a delegation of northern tribes that met with Cherokee leaders at Chota, and Dragging Canoe accepted his war belt. Also that month Iroquois delegates went to the Congress at Philadelphia, and in June the Congress authorized Washington to use Indians in the fighting and to pay them bounties for prisoners. Morgan at Pittsburgh was upset and warned that hostilities would endanger their frontier settlements. In July about 1,120 Americans led by Col. Andrew Williamson of South Carolina attacked and burned Cherokee villages, destroying crops. Col. William Christian led Virginians from the north, and General Griffith Rutherford’s army came from North Carolina to reinforce Williamson. The Cherokees were overwhelmed, and only Dragging Canoe remained hostile. That summer he led a Cherokee uprising against settlers in Tennessee that spread to Kentucky, and he was wounded on July 20 near Eaton’s Station in a fight against 170 backwoodsmen.
On June 6, 1776 emigrants west of the Louisa River had elected 23-year-old George Rogers Clark and John Gabriel Jones as their representatives in the Virginia Assembly, asking that they be made a county. On June 24 the Virginia Convention condemned the private purchasing of land from Indians unless the legislature gave settlers the right of preemption. Governor Patrick Henry and the council at Williamsburg created Kentucky County and gave them money. Clark was made a lieutenant colonel and was authorized to levy troops anywhere in Virginia and to attack the British along the Illinois and Wabash rivers.
In the summer and fall Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia sent more than 5,000 militiamen to the Cherokee country, and the chiefs ceded some of the hunting lands.
On September 16 Congress proposed to give land to those who enlisted as Continental troops for the duration of the war; but Thomas Johnson and Samuel Chase were part of the Wabash Land Company, and Maryland objected. Silas Deane had secured a gift of one million livres from Spain in June 1776, and 2,000 barrels of powder and other supplies were sent to New Orleans for the Americans in July 1777.
Black Fish led 200 Shawnees across the Ohio River and camped near the crossing of the Licking. On March 7, 1777 Shawnees attacked Boonesborough and then settlers near Harrodsburg. While Dragging Canoe was still raiding, some Cherokees agreed to treaties at Dewitt’s Corner on May 20 and at Fort Henry, giving up some of their land. Dragging Canoe and the British agent Alexander Cameron with a thousand Cherokees gathered at Chickamauga, and the governments of North Carolina and Virginia sent Evan Shelby with a regiment to reinforce Clark in Illinois.
In June the British ordered Lt. Governor Henry Hamilton at Detroit to employ as many Indians as possible against American settlers on the frontier, and within six months he received 129 scalps and 72 prisoners. In the early summer the Senecas, Mohawks, Onondagas, and Cayugas met at Oswego. Joseph Brant urged them to fight with the British and called the Seneca chief Cornplanter a coward for suggesting neutrality. The British gave them rum, and the majority persuaded Cornplanter. On August 6 the Redcoats, Tories, and about 400 Iroquois led by Brant attacked 800 American militiamen and about sixty Oneida allies in the Mohawk Valley, and they claimed they killed 500 Americans and Oneidas while losing only a hundred men in the beginning of an Iroquois civil war.
Virginia in October authorized settlers to claim 400 acres, but they had to pay tax on it without a legal title. Squatters liked this because they resented anyone owning more land than they could settle and cultivate.
In November under a flag of truce the Shawnee chief Cornstalk informed Captain Matthews Arbuckle at Fort Randolph that he could no longer keep the peace. Cornstalk, his son Elinipsico, and Chief Red Hawk were detained. When news came that two hunters had been killed by Indians, the troops killed the three Indians in revenge. This made Cornstalk’s successor, Black Fish, even less trusting of Americans, and he decided to drive them away.
In early 1778 Charles Willing and Col. David Rogers led expeditions from Pittsburgh to New Orleans while Clark went to Illinois.
On February 7 a war party of 120 men led by Black Fish captured Daniel Boone while he was hunting alone. A majority of the Shawnee council agreed to his proposal but made him run the gauntlet. Black Fish and his wife adopted Boone as their son, but Boone escaped on June 16 to warn settlers of an imminent attack. He traveled 160 miles in four days to Boonesborough. On September 7 Black Fish with four hundred warriors besieged the Boonesborough fort. Boone negotiated with Black Fish, and they signed a treaty making the Ohio River the boundary. The last Indian attack was on September 17, and Boone believed they killed 37 Indians while only two men were killed in the fort. Richard Callaway and Benjamin Logan accused Boone of treason for appearing to have sided with the British, but he was acquitted. Black Fish divided his warriors into small groups that continued to harass settlers.
In June 1778 Col. John Butler led 400 Tories and about 500 Iroquois into the Wyoming Valley, where 300 American pioneers led by Col. Zebulon Butler opposed them but were defeated; only sixty Americans escaped. The Mohawk chief Theyendanegea, who was called Joseph Brant, had married Molly, the sister of the late Indian commissioner William Johnson, and he was allied with the British. In August he with 150 Iroquois and 300 Tories burned the houses at German Flats and stole the livestock. Some Continental soldiers marched against the Iroquois town of Unadilla. The natives fled, and they destroyed it on October 8. A Philadelphia regiment led by Col. William Butler raided the upper Susquehanna and burned the Indian village of Ocquaga, destroying 4,000 bushels of corn. In retaliation for these Brant with 500 Indians and 200 Tory Rangers led by Captain Walter Butler invaded Cherry Valley in November, killing and capturing about fifty inhabitants. In July 1779 Brant destroyed the village of Minisink near the Delaware River. About 150 Americans pursued his band which attacked them, and only thirty of the Americans escaped.
On June 18, 1778 General Lachlan McIntosh succeeded General Edward Hand on the western frontier, and he was assigned 1,500 regulars and militia at Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) to destroy Indian towns. Governor Patrick Henry sent 600 more men to help him punish the Indians. On September 17 at Fort Pitt the United States in their first written treaty with Indians recognized the Delaware as a sovereign nation. Delaware Chief Quequedegatha, who was called George White Eyes, agreed to an alliance and gave American troops free passage through their territory.
Clark raised 175 men by June 24, crossed the Ohio River, and took Kaskakia by surprise on July 4. Without any shooting they were able to take over Cahokia, Vincennes, and other villages.
In October the American army built Fort McIntosh at Beaver Creek, and in November by the Tuscarawas River they erected Fort Laurens in Delaware country. By 1779 the Delawares were so upset by the treaty that they sent a delegation to the Congress in Philadelphia, but they got no changes. Frontiersmen murdered White Eyes, and many Delawares became allies of the British.
On October 7, 1778 Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton with soldiers and 350 warriors from thirteen nations left Detroit and peacefully took over Fort Vincennes on December 17. Hamilton rewarded Indians for taking scalps but not for prisoners, and many men, women, and children were killed. On December 24 Clark ordered that no one should sell, trade, or give intoxicating liquors to “red and black slaves,” and they were forbidden to lend or rent houses or buildings to them. In February 1779 Clark led a small force of 200 men 150 miles, and on the 24th they attacked Hamilton and his garrison at Vincennes. At a church Hamilton believed he was outnumbered and offered to surrender, but Clark insisted on fighting. His men attacked a returning raiding party of Indians, and five captured warriors were tomahawked to show the Indians that the English could not protect them. Hamilton with his 79 men finally surrendered the fort.
On January 8, 1779 Virginia’s Governor Patrick Henry ordered Col. Shelby to raise 300 men and destroy the Chickamauga settlement, and in April he led 600 North Carolina and Virginia volunteers who burned eleven towns and stole 20,000 bushels of corn and British ammunition. On June 1 Thomas Jefferson became governor of Virginia for two years, and he continued Henry’s western policy. George Mason got his land office bill passed on June 22; but even though Jefferson had advocated granting 50-acre tracts, this bill allowed Robert Morris to acquire 1.5 million acres and Alexander Walcott one million. In the fall Clark began building Fort Jefferson at the mouth of the Ohio to control the Mississippi trade.
General Washington ordered General Sullivan to destroy Iroquois settlements and to take prisoners as hostages. Sullivan left for the Wyoming Valley on June 18 with 2,500 men, 120 boats, 1,200 packhorses, and 700 cattle. Washington instructed Col. Daniel Brodhead with 600 men to attack Seneca towns and cooperate with Sullivan. General James Clinton led 1,500 soldiers through the Mohawk Valley, and Col. Goose Van Schaick split off with 500 of the men and destroyed an Onondaga settlement, capturing 37 and killing more than 20 warriors. Clinton’s and Sullivan’s forces met at Tioga and built Fort Sullivan to defend the Wyoming Valley. Major John Butler and his son Walter were near the Indian town of Chemung, which Sullivan had burned. On August 26 Clinton and Sullivan departed with 2,500 men and attacked the Indian settlement at Newtown, devastating extensive fields of corn and beans. Sullivan moved on but found the villages abandoned. He captured only a few women, but his men devastated more than forty villages and destroyed fields and orchards. On August 29 Brant and Butler’s men tried to fight Sullivan’s army, but they were overwhelmed and fled. This atrocious Indian policy occupied half of Washington’s army for six months and turned the Iroquois into fiercer warriors. After hundreds of people died of starvation and disease during the winter, they took revenge against the settlers the next spring.
Sullivan had used Oneidas as allies, and the Mohawks, Senecas, and Cayugas with help from British soldiers and Tories destroyed Oneida settlements. In March 1780 the garrison at Skenesboro near Lake George was captured, and the Mohawk Joseph Brant captured Harpersfield a few weeks later. John Johnson in May led 200 warriors and 400 Tories into the Mohawk Valley, killing Americans, destroying their homes, and stealing horses and cattle.
At Big Creek in April 1779 most of the Indians had fled, and forty warriors were killed. That year the Chickasaw joined the war on the side of the British and their Indian allies, and the pioneers James Robertson and John Donelson established Fort Nashborough. The Cherokees continued to fight against the incoming settlers in 1780, but on December 8 Col. John Sevier and 250 riflemen defeated them at French Broad River. Sevier was reinforced by Col. Arthur Campbell with 400 Virginians, and they attacked the western Cherokee villages. They avoided the Chickamauga warriors while burning seventeen towns of neutral Cherokees and destroying 50,000 bushels of corn.
In the early months of 1780 many settlers came to Kentucky. Tom Paine wrote The Public Good, arguing that Kentucky had been separated from Virginia by the Proclamation of 1763 and should be independent of Virginia. Clark went north and got to Cahokia on May 25 before the British whom he defeated the next day. British Captain Henry Bird led nearly one thousand men with cannons, Shawnees, Delawares, Wyandots, and others from Detroit and captured Ruddle’s Station on June 24. They took 350 prisoners; the Indians kept about 200 while the others arrived at Detroit on August 4. Governor Jefferson had called up 250 militia for another expedition. Col. Clark gathered nearly a thousand riflemen and led a retaliatory attack in August, crossing the Ohio and destroying the Shawnees’ “mother town” of Chillicothe. They invaded Shawnee territory again in November and burned six villages.
At the beginning of August 1780 Brant with 500 Indians and Tories plundered Canajoharie. Then he went down the Ohio and meeting a hundred Pennsylvania volunteers led by Col. Archibald Lochry, Brant and his men killed 41 and captured 60. Brant at Unadilla met with John Johnson, who commanded a thousand Tories and Indians including those under Brant and Cornplanter. They raided the Schoharie Valley in September. General Robert Van Rensselaer pursued them with a smaller force, and General Schuyler sent him reinforcements. On October 19 Col. John Brown from Fort Paris attacked Johnson’s army with only 130 men at abandoned Fort Keyser; 40 were killed, and the rest fled. Later that day Van Rensselaer’s force with 1,500 militia and 60 Oneidas led by Col. Lewis DuBois arrived and attacked Johnson’s forces. After a battle Johnson’s men fled in the dark.
On December 8 Col. Sevier and 250 riflemen defeated Cherokees in the valley of the French Broad. Col. Arthur Campbell of Virginia with 400 men was joined by backwoodsmen and invaded Overhill towns, taking Choté without a fight. Dragging Canoe and some Cherokees continued the fight in 1781, but they were driven back by General Andrew Pickens. Fort Stanwix had been damaged by fire and flood, and it was abandoned in May. Col. Marinus Willett was in charge of defending the frontier with its 24 forts. In late October they were attacked by about 800 Tories and British soldiers along with 120 Indians led by Walter Butler. Willett gathered a force of more than 400 at Fort Hunter and marched to Johnstown. They attacked the Tories who had been slaughtering cattle and drove them away, taking about fifty prisoners while suffering some forty casualties. This was the last major attack, and Willett managed to keep the peace with one-tenth the troops Sullivan had used.
On January 22, 1781 George Rogers Clark was made a brigadier general and left for Pittsburgh, which was in territory claimed by both Pennsylvania and Virginia. On March 15 Governor Jefferson ordered Clark to lead a Virginia army of 2,000 north from the Ohio falls. In April the Treaty of Pittsburgh was broken when Fort Pitt’s commander Daniel Brodhead, concerned that some Lenape-Delaware had sided with the British, invaded Delaware territory and destroyed the town of Coshochton and other villages. Clark left Wheeling on June 21 and was attacked by Indians, and most of his men were killed. He learned that Fort Jefferson had been abandoned on June 8 for lack of supplies. On June 23 by the falls of the Ohio the town of Louisville was incorporated. Clark could raise only 730 men and abandoned his expedition. He began building Fort Nelson at the falls, and neighboring tribes submitted. Clark left Fort Pitt in early August with only 400 men. On November 22 Benjamin Harrison was elected governor of Virginia, and he limited Clark to 304 men to garrison forts and protect the frontier. The act for the northwest territory expired on December 14, leaving it without legal administration.
In early 1782 the peaceful Moravian missionaries David Zeisberger and John Heckwelder converted some Delaware Indians of the Tuscarawas River near Pittsburgh. When the area around Pittsburgh was recognized as part of Pennsylvania, some settlers lost their land claimed under Croghan. Settlers in the Chartiers Creek area crossed the Ohio and attacked Indians. Atrocities led to a retaliatory raid led by Washington County’s commandant James Marshal with 300 men, and on March 7 they went to the Delaware village of Gnadenhutten where they enjoyed hospitality for three days. Then while 96 villagers were in church on Sunday, the 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children were all taken out in small groups and slaughtered. The soldiers returned to Pittsburgh and killed another small group of Indians. General William Irvine took command and tried to moderate the violence. Many of those with land claims from Croghan and the Indiana Company wanted to secede. On December 2 Pennsylvania passed a law making it treason to advocate secession from the state, and the Reverend James Finley found that the agitation had ceased.
In 1782 Sevier led an expedition that destroyed villages in Chickamauga country. In June an Indian intertribal council decided to wipe out Kentucky settlements while the British were still aiding them. On August 15 about 30 Tories and 300 Shawnees led by Captain William Caldwell and Alexander McKee besieged Bryan’s Station, which three days later was relieved by 182 Kentucky militia. They pursued the British and Indian force for four days, and at Blue Licks despite Daniel Boone’s warning they walked into an ambush. Seventy Kentuckians, including Boone’s son Israel, were killed. George Rogers Clark was blamed, and in November he led 1,050 mounted riflemen and destroyed Chillicothe and five Shawnee villages on the Great Miami River in the last offensive of the Revolutionary War during which the Americans gained firm control of western Virginia and Kentucky. The Paris treaty gave the Old Northwest to the United States, and on July 2, 1783 Virginia’s Governor Harrison released Clark with thanks.
On November 1, 1783 Georgia made a treaty with the Creeks at Augusta. Also that month Joseph Martin and Col. John Donelson on behalf of Virginia made a treaty with the Chickasaws at the French Lick. American allies and neutral Creek chiefs tried to buy peace by ceding 800 square miles between the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers, but Creek chief Alexander McGillivray refused to agree, hoping for British support. Finally on December 22 Virginia ceded its western land claims to Congress. Mohawk chief Brant and his followers moved to Canada.
On June 21, 1779 Spain had declared war on Britain. That summer the Spanish governor at New Orleans, Bernardo de Galvez, led an expedition that captured British outposts at Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez. In 1780 Spain’s Minister of the Indies, Jose de Galvez, Bernardo’s uncle, sent a royal dispatch to the Commandant General of the Internal Provinces of New Spain, Teodoro de Croix, asking for donations from the people to help the American Revolution, and millions of pesos were contributed. In early March 1780 with 1,400 men Bernardo de Galvez attacked Fort Charlotte at Mobile before General John Campbell arrived with 1,100 men from Pensacola. Galvez attacked Pensacola in March 1781 with about 7,000 men. General Campbell had about 1,600 men in Fort George, but after suffering bombardment by Spanish artillery he surrendered on May 9. In the Treaty of Paris signed on January 20, 1783 the British ceded East and West Florida to Spain. About 11,000 people were shipped from Savannah and Charleston to Florida, and most of them were slaves.
1. Quoted in History of the United States of America by George Bancroft, Volume 4, p. 624.
2. The Life and Works of Thomas Paine ed. William M. Van der Wyde, Volume 2, p. 3.
3. Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. 5, p. 425.
4. Quoted in History of the United States of America by George Bancroft, Volume 6, p. 66.
5. The American Crisis IV by Thomas Paine in The Life and Works of Thomas Paine, Volume 2, p. 368
6. Quoted in The Continental Congress by Edmund Cody Burnett, p. 335.
7. Quoted in History of the United States of America by George Bancroft, Volume 6, p. 425.
8. Writings by Benjamin Franklin, p. 1073-1074.
9. Basic Writings of George Washington ed. Saxe Commins, p. 491.