American Revolution
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New and old worlds colliding,
Patriots and lobsterbacks
Waiting in the wings, deciding,
Time conspires to blur their tracks

(from) Here's to Tom Paine Steve Tilson

Basic Information

The American Revolution (also known as the American War of Independance) in the late 18th Century was a social upheaval and war in which thirteen of the British colonies in North America broke away from their mother country and formed a new independent nation: the United States of America

The seeds of the revolution were planted in the 1760s, when the British Parliament passed a series of laws and taxes intended to reimburse expenses from the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the American theater of the Seven Years' War between France and Great Britain. Although the taxes were actually fairly low, (part of the purpose of the Sugar Act of 1764 was to lower the price of molasses, making smuggling less profitable), many colonists found the accompanying restrictions on trade to be onerous and some questioned the British Government's right to tax them at all. Since the colonies were not represented in Parliament, they felt that their rights were being violated. The prominent Boston lawyer and early leader of the Patriots, James Otis declared that "Taxation without representation is tyranny." He and other Boston citizens organized boycotts of British goods.

Parliament responded to the colonist's resistance with the Stamp Act of 1765, the first direct tax on the colonies. All official documents, newspapers, and printed material — even decks of playing cards — were required to have official stamps. All 13 colonies protested against this new tax. In Boston a group calling itself the Sons of Liberty, led by Sam Adams, formed to resist the act by civil disobedience and outright acts of terrorism. They threatened violence against anyone who sold the official stamps. A mob attacked and looted the mansion of Thomas Hutchinson, the chief justice of the Massachusetts colony.

Parliament eventually repealed the Stamp Act, but replaced them with a new series of taxes, the Townshend Acts of 1767. Colonial resistance to these new taxes led the British to send troops to Boston to occupy the city in 1768. Tensions quickly grew between the citizens of Boston and the occupying British soldiers. On March 5, 1770, a mob of people were harassing a group of soldiers and throwing stones and snowballs at them. The nervous soldiers opened fire, killing several men. Sam Adams called the incident "the Boston Massacre" and used it to further whip up anti-British sentiment.

On June 9, 1772 the Gaspée, a British revenue schooner, ran aground off the coast of Rhode Island while pursuing a smuggler. The Gaspée's heavy-handed tactics against smugglers both real and suspected were a long-standing source of complaint from New England merchants; and that night a group of patriots boarded the ship, looted it and burned it to the waterline. The British Government demanded that the culprits be taken to England for trial.

On May 10, 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, perhaps the most notorious of the British Taxes on the colonies. Although, like many of the other acts, the tax was fairly nominal, it had other purposes. It's chief purpose was to support the East India Company, which had been undergoing some financial difficulties, and to give the company a monopoly on all tea sold in the colonies. In addition, the act provided for royal judges and governors to be paid for out of the tea tax rather than by the local colonial assemblies. This took the power of the purse out of local control and made these officials answerable only to the crown.

Many of the colonies refused to permit the East India Company ships to unload their tea. This posed a dilemma in Boston, because the British Navy refused to let the ships leave that port unless the ships were unloaded. On December 16, 1773, Sam Adams and a group of his patriots, cleverly disguised as Indians, boarded the tea ships and chucked all the tea overboard into the harbor; rendering it undrinkable, even by Americans.

Britain responded with an even harsher set of laws, known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Port Act closed the port of Boston until the colony reimbursed the East India Company for the destruction of the tea; (something which was not going to happen). The Massachusetts Government act altered the colony's charter so that positions in the colonial government would be appointed by the crown instead of chosen locally, moved the seat of colonial government out of Boston, and curtailed the town meetings, which had been a chief center of representative democracy in the colony. Other acts involved the quartering of British soldiers, prohibiting British soldiers from being tried in the colonies, and expanding the territory of Canada into land the colonists considered their own.

The harshness of the Intolerable Acts created sympathy for the Massachusetts colony, even among moderates who had considered them rabble-rousers; and led to the formation of the First Continental Congress on September 5, 1774. During the next seven weeks, the Congress organized a massive boycott of British goods, began drawing up a plan of union which would eventually become the Articles of Confederation and pledged to support Massachusetts in case of attack.

That attack came on April 18, 1775, when General Thomas Gage, the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in North America, set 700 men to seize a store of arms being held by the patriots in the town of Concord, and to arrest the leaders of the rebels, Sam Adams and John Hancock. Messengers from Boston, including silversmith and patriot Paul Revere, were able to warn the countryside in time and the British faced an angry army of citizens who drove them back to Boston in the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

On June 17, General William Howe, who had recently arrived in Boston with reinforcements, led his troops to nearby Charleston, in order to seize colonial positions on Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill, two prominent hills overlooking both cities. The Battle of Bunker Hill actually took place mostly on Breed's Hill, where the colonial General William Prescott had set up some crude earthen fortifications. The colonial forces were low on ammunition and powder, prompting General Israel Putnam to tell his men "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes" in order to avoid wasting shot. After a long and bloody battle, the British forced the Americans to retreat, but the British victory was a costly one.


  • 1775
    • May 10: Capture of Fort Ticonderoga
    • Autumn: Two expeditions into Canada, one led by Col. Benedict Arnold, fail
  • 1776
    • January 10: Thomas Paine publishes "Common Sense"
    • March 17: Cannons brought from Fort Ti brought to Dorchester Heights; British driven from Boston. Washington moves troops to fortify New York City
    • July 2: Congress votes for Independence
    • July 4: The Declaration of Independence officially adopted
    • August 27: British defeat Americans on Long Island, driving them back to Brooklyn Heights.
    • September 15: General Howe seizes lower Manhattan; Washington driven back to Harlem Heights.
    • October 28: Battle of White Plains; Washington once again forced to retreat
    • October -December: British Army chases Washington all over New Jersey
    • December 23: Thomas Paine publishes "The Crisis", urging Americans to stay with the troubled cause
    • December 25: Washington crosses the Delaware
    • December 26: The Battle of Trenton
  • 1777
    • May 6: General Burgoyne arrives in Quebec to launch a plan to seize the Hudson River Valley
    • July 6: General Burgoyne retakes Fort Ticonderoga; American forces retreat
    • September 19 & October 7: Battles of Saratoga result in British defeats
    • September 26: British General Howe takes Philadelphia. The Continental Congress has already fled.
    • October 17: Burgoyne surrenders his army to the Americans
  • 1778
  • 1779
    • September 23: The American ship Bonhomme Richard under the command of John Paul Jones defeats the British ship HMS Serapis
  • 1780:
    • August 16: American General Horatio Gates defeated by General Cornwallis at the Battle of Camden
    • October 7: British defeated at the Battle of Kings Mountain
  • 1781:
    • September 28: Continental forces under the command of Washington and French General Rochambeau begin the Siege of Yorktown.
    • October 19: The Siege of Yorktown ends with Cornwallis' surrender, effectively ending the War.
  • 1783
    • September 3: The Revolutionary War officially ends with the signing of the Treaty of Paris

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