- Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is published.
- An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith, proved to be one of the most influential books in history. This great work set forth the principles of a system of economy that Smith called the "system of natural liberty," an economy of free trade and open markets. Today, this system is usually called "capitalism." The American revolutionaries already well understood economic freedoms without having read Adam Smith.
- January 10
- Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is published.
- Common Sense, written by an Englishman who had been in America only two years before he became one of the most recognizable advocates of its cause, paved the way for the Declaration of Independence by persuading a majority of Americans to insist upon their natural rights and to favor independence.
With great rhetorical force, Paine argued the case for limited government, and against not only hereditary monarchy, but the British constitution as well. Many colonists, still considering themselves Englishmen, held these two bastions of England's government in high esteem. Paine convinced Americans to consider the struggle for independence in the name of a higher cause, where they once regarded it as nothing more than civil war. The appearance of Common Sense, combined with other events of the winter of 1775 (such as Lord's Dunsmore's attempt to incite a slave rebellion in Virginia and the king's amassing of mercenary soldiers) helped to shatter the emotional ties to Great Britain that were yet standing in the way of independence.
Some writers, Paine pointed out, had confused society with government, thinking them one and the same. But actually they are entirely different in nature and origin: "Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil." Paine and many other Americans were not primarily against big government, but were strongly suspicious of any government. Government is necessary to restrain our vices so that we may live together in peace and safety, and it was for this reason that the Founders favored limited government.
- April 1
- John Adam’s Thoughts on Government is published.
- John Adams' book Thoughts on Government greatly influenced the forms of some early state constitutions. It set forth the principles and structure of a "mixed republic"-a republic that would reflect the public will, but would also contain ample protections against the concentration of political power in the hands of an ambitious few. Advocated in Adams' Thoughts were, among other things, the separation of government into three independent branches, and dividing the legislative branch into several houses. Some of Adams' other ideas, such as his preferences for a weak executive elected by the legislature and his proposal for annual elections, were later discarded.
- May 10
- The Continental Congress recommends that the states form new governments.
- By early 1776, many of the most prominent political leaders in the colonies were openly calling for independence. They realized that the coming war could not be efficiently directed without new and concerted colonial governments. Moreover, the colonies could not win much-needed foreign support in the ambiguous existing political climate. It was the opinion of a majority of Americans that to ensure the very existence of the colonies, the vestiges of authority remaining in the old colonial governments had to be swept away, and new governments established.
New Hampshire and South Carolina had already established temporary constitutions when Congress passed a resolution sponsored by John Adams. The "Resolves and Recommendations of Congress" charged that "his Britannic Majesty, in conjunction with the lords and commons of Great Britain, has, by a late act of Parliament, excluded the inhabitants of these United Colonies from the protection of his crown," and went on to urge inhabitants of all of the colonies to withdraw support from the old governments and formally establish new governments.
- May 15
- Virginia instructs her delegates to the Continental Congress to propose that the colonies declare independence from Britain.
- Virginia led the way to colonial independence when that colony issued the "Resolves of the Virginia Convention." The Virginia House of Burgesses unanimously resolved that "the delegates appointed to represent this colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the united Colonies free and independent states."
- June 7
- The Lee Resolution is introduced in the Continental Congress.
- Richard Henry Lee was the leader of the Virginia delegation to the Continental Congress. Acting upon instructions from his state assembly, Lee introduced a formal resolution for declaring independence which came to be known as "The Lee Resolution."
Before it was finally passed on July 2, 1776, the Lee Resolution was the subject of hot debate in Congress. According to Thomas Jefferson's Notes of Proceedings in the Continental Congress, the decision on the Resolution was delayed in order to give the delegates from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina more time to deliberate upon the matter. In the meantime, the Declaration of Independence was drafted.
- June 28
- The Committee of Five presents Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress.
- During the postponement of the Lee Resolution, Congress deemed it prudent to appoint a committee to prepare a declaration of independence. Comprised of John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, R.R. Livingston of New York, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, the "Committee of Five" was responsible for the first draft of what became the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, however, was the principal author. His Notes of Proceedings in the Continental Congress state: "The committee for drawing the declaration of Independence desired me to do it. It was accordingly done, and being approved by them, I reported it to the house on Friday the 28th of June when it was read and ordered to lie on the table."
It is instructive to compare Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration with the final draft approved by Congress. The original draft was reviewed and revised by the Continental Congress before being approved. One of the most important changes made by the Congress was to delete language that denounced King George III for having promoted the slave trade among the colonies. This was done partly in deference to South Carolina, although, as Jefferson noted later, "our northern brethren" were not comfortable with the language either. Though these northern delegates had no slaves themselves, some of them had grown rich in the slave trade.
- July 4
- The Declaration of Independence is approved by the Continental Congress.
- Congress resumed its debate over the original resolution submitted by Lee on July 1st. A vote was taken that day. South Carolina and Pennsylvania voted against it. The delegation from Delaware was evenly divided on the issue; and New York abstained. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina "then requested the determination might be put off to the next day," when it was again moved with South Carolina changing its vote to an affirmative. The Delaware and Pennsylvania delegations also reversed their votes, and the Lee Resolution passed on July 2nd. (The New York delegation changed its abstention to approval several days later, making the vote unanimous.)
Consideration of the Declaration of Independence began immediately. After three days of debate, during which several changes-the most notable being the deletion of Jefferson's condemnation of the slave trade-were made, the document was adopted by the Congress on July 4th. (Again New York delayed making the decision unanimous, until July 9th.) Draft copies were signed by John Hancock and Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Congress, and sent to the various state assemblies.
The Declaration proclaims the great principles upon which the American republic was established: equality, liberty and man's unalienable rights derived from "nature and nature's God." It is important to note, however, that the Declaration was initially commissioned in accordance with the Congress's favorable vote on the Lee Resolution, which only discussed political independence from Great Britain. It is therefore important to ask, Why did Jefferson, the Committee, and the Congress not limit the Declaration to repeating the words of the Lee Resolution? Why, instead, does that document refer to "the laws of nature and nature's God," and the self-evident truths that "all men are created equal" and "endowed by their creator" with inalienable rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"?
The answer is that the Congress desired something more than a legal document recording their decision to separate from Great Britain. They wanted a formal declaration of the causes that impelled them to the separation. They wanted to explain to the world the universal principles of right that justified their actions.
· Full Text From The Founders' Library
- September 15
- The British occupy New York City.
- In early July of 1776, 280 ships carrying 32,000 British and hired Hessian troops assembled just off of Staten Island, New York. It was the largest force ever seen on the North American continent. To meet this challenge, General George Washington had only 20,000 largely untrained men in his command, and meager supplies. Geography also worked against the Americans. Because New York City is made up of several large islands, defending it was singularly difficult. But in spite of the advantages that they held, the British commanders, brothers Major General William Howe and Vice Admiral Richard Howe, were reluctant to attack. They hoped that nothing more than a show of force would be necessary to subdue the colonies. This accounts for the long intervals that passed between the battles that took place in New York, and the frequent failure of the British to capitalize on a victory with pursuit.
Beginning August 22nd, the British began landing 22,000 troops on Long Island. Within a week, they had driven a defending force of 9,000 Americans to the southeast end of the island, and General Howe felt complete victory within his grasp. Knowing his adversary could not escape, he spent two days deliberating on whether to attack, or to hold a siege. But on the night of August 29th, under the cover of mist, the entire American army was silently ferried to Manhattan Island and safety.
It was a tremendous feat. Massachusetts fishermen, using any kind of floating vessel available, skillfully navigated the conflicting tides and strong currents of the wide East River. At every moment they were in danger of discovery by the British fleet. Washington rode in the last boat to depart. When the British awoke the next morning, they were astonished to discover only empty entrenchments.
Nevertheless, the loss of Long Island was a serious blow to American morale, and the British were still poised for victory. Washington tried to rally his troops into offering some resistance to the British landing on Manhattan, but the Patriots were so demoralized that they broke and ran, and even the awe-inspiring Washington could not stem the tide of fleeing soldiers.
The Continental Army was in danger of losing the only escape route left to them. Congress approved the evacuation of New York City, but would not suffer it to be burned in order to prevent the British from wintering there, as some suggested. A thin column of Americans marched north, leaving behind all the artillery in the city, or about half of all the artillery possessed by the Continental Army. At one point the British, on a separate road, were unknowingly marching parallel to their retreating enemy, with only a short distance between the two armies.
The loss of New York was a terrible blow to the Revolutionary cause, and to Washington in particular. He lost close to 1,700 men, as well as the city of New York and vast amounts of munitions which the army could ill-afford-all while inflicting little damage to the enemy. He had made several strategic errors during the battles, and some wondered if Washington was the right man to carry the colonies' hopes for independence. In the months ahead, with little exception, the American cause seemed bleak indeed.
- September 22
- The British execute Nathan Hale for espionage.
- Nathan Hale was a Yale graduate and a Connecticut schoolteacher when he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Continental Army following the battles of Lexington and Concord. Five of his brothers would also serve the Revolutionary cause. In the fall of 1776, General George Washington was playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with British General William Howe among the islands of New York. Following a disastrous defeat and miraculous evacuation from Long Island, Washington asked for volunteers for an intelligence mission behind enemy lines. At his first request, no one stirred. On his second plea, only Nathan Hale stepped forward. A friend of Hale's, hearing of his mission, predicted that "should he undertake the enterprise, his short, bright career would close with ignominious death."
Nevertheless, Hale soon found himself set upon the British-occupied portion of New York, wearing the plain brown garb and round, broad-brimmed hat of a Dutch schoolmaster and carrying his college diploma in case anyone should question his professional credentials. He slipped by several British guards, but was apprehended when a search found drawings with Latin inscriptions hidden inside the heels of his shoes. He was identified by his cousin Samuel Hale, a Loyalist. A surviving letter from Samuel seems to deny any misdeed or feelings of guilt over the affair. This evidence notwithstanding, he later fled to England and never returned to America for his wife and son, even after the conclusion of the war.
General Howe ordered the execution of Nathan Hale without the formality of a trial. On the night before the execution, a jailer denied Hale's requests for a clergyman and a Bible, but in the morning, a kindhearted officer allowed him to write two letters as the hangman was making final preparations. This same officer was one of the few nearby who heard Hale's final words, and later, under a flag of truce, delivered an account to Hale's American comrades. With calm courage, Hale declared from the gallows, "I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country."
- December 26
- George Washington leads his troops across the Delaware River and successfully attacks the Hessian soldiers at Trenton.
- Following his victories in New York, methodical British General William Howe slowly battered the Continental Army sixty miles across New Jersey before deciding to cease the pursuit and take up winter quarters. Washington retreated across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania to take stock of his forces, and found that soon he would have virtually no army to command. Even with reinforcements, his troops numbered only 6,000. The militia were deserting at an alarming rate, and on December 31st, the enlistment of the regulars was up. When they went home, he would be left with only 1,400 disheartened and untrained soldiers to face the mighty British army. A miracle was needed, and soon.
For their part, the British assumed Washington was occupied with saving the tattered remnants of his army, as any other commander would have been. Instead, Washington took the offensive. His idea was a desperate one: return across the Delaware, and attack the 1,400 Hessian troops at Trenton. Surprise was the essential element. If the enemy had time to prepare resistence and send for reinforcements, the Americans would be trapped with their backs to the river, and destruction would be certain. The plan called for three columns. Washington, with the main force, would attack Trenton from the north. A second smaller force was to have prevented the enemy's escape in the south, while the third unit should have diverted possible reinforcements. Neither the second nor the third column even made it across the river.
On Christmas Day, at nightfall, the brutal crossing began. The boats were manned by the same skilled Massachusetts seamen who had saved the army at Long Island. Chunks of ice bumped against the sides of the boats, and a bitter wind drove hail and sleet through the clothes of the ill-clad soldiers. The campaign covered more than 30 miles of such miserable conditions, and some men marched barefoot.
The Hessian commander, Colonel Johann Rall, had, in fact, already received word of Washington's movements. On Christmas Eve, as he and his men were in the midst of revelries, a messenger arrived and was denied entrance by servants. The man then wrote his warning in a note, which was accordingly delivered, but apparently never read. It was found in Rall's pocket two days later, after he had been mortally wounded in what has been called the most one-sided battle ever fought.
The attack was therefore a complete surprise. Almost before the Hessians could focus their eyes, the Americans had claimed 50 casualties and taken 920 prisoners, while suffering only 4 wounded men. Following the victory at Trenton, George Washington was hailed as a genius and the cause of independence was resuscitated.
- June 14
- The design of the American flag is decided upon by Congress.
- From 1775 to 1777, the design known as the Continental Colors served to represent the American colonies. A British Union Jack appeared in the upper lefthand corner, testifying to the fact that the colonies did not initially seek independence. Following the Declaration of Independence, however, this design became inappropriate. The early battles of the Revolutionary War were fought under many different flags.
On June 14, 1777, Congress resolved that "the Flag of the united states be 13 stripes alternate red and white," and that "the Union be 13 stars white in a blue field representing a new constellation." The Congress of 1782 later assigned meanings to the colors chosen: red signified hardiness and courage, white stood for purity, and blue meant vigilance, perseverance, and justice. The 13 stripes represented the original 13 colonies, and probably derived from the design of the flag belonging to the patriotic group, the Sons of Liberty. Congress did not stipulate a pattern for the stars, and consequently flags were made with several different arrangements. Not until 1912, with 48 states in the Union, was an official arrangement of the stars adopted.
There is some confusion over the origin of the American flag design. Francis Hopkinson, delegate to the Continental Congress, claimed that he was the designer, and most scholars accept this as fact. Contrary to popular belief, the maker of the first flag was probably not the Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross. Although Ross did sew flags during the Revolutionary War, the story of her piecing together the very first flag seems to be the stuff of folklore.
The American flag received its first foreign salute on February 14, 1778, when French vessels in Quiberon Bay, France saluted Ranger, the ship commanded by American naval officer John Paul Jones.
- October 4
- Washington is defeated in the Battle of Germantown in Pennsylvania and is forced to retreat; his army takes up winter quarters at Valley Forge.
- When British General William Howe, having recently taken Philadelphia in the Battle of the Brandywine, divided his army and made camp with 9,000 troops at Germantown to figure out the problem of shipping in supplies via the Delaware River, Washington could not resist the opportunity to make a surprise attack with his numerically superior force. His elaborate plan would have been difficult even for well-trained troops with good means of communication. Unfortunately, nearly half of the Americans were mostly untrained militia, and there was poor communication between the columns. In addition, the terrain was rough and a heavy fog blanketed the field.
During the course of this battle, two divisions of the center columns became so confused that they actually began firing on each other. One of the flanking columns arrived too late, and the other never actually engaged the enemy. Nevertheless, the British were on the verge of withdrawal at one point, and were only saved by their fortified position inside a stone residence called Chew House, which still stands. American casualties numbered over 1,000, while the British suffered some 500 killed or wounded.
Although the British won the technical victory, the Battle of Germantown stirred admiration for the Americans in Europe, particularly in France. Military observers were impressed with Washington's boldness, and the firm resolution of an army that could recover so quickly from a defeat (at Brandywine), take the offensive, and nearly triumph.
Washington brought his army to Valley Forge, named for a nearby iron foundry already destroyed by the British. It was a good strategic location. From here he could keep watch on Howe's forces in Philadelphia, while protecting himself from surprise raids. There were no existing buildings, so with snow already on the ground, soldiers began pitching tents and constructing drafty, dirt-floored huts from logs and mud. The misery at Valley Forge is scarcely imaginable. Food was scant and barely edible. Disease swept the camp. There was blood on the snow from the feet of barefoot soldiers. Those who remained indoors would pool their clothing for the man who had to venture out in the bitter cold for an hour of sentry duty. The death toll reached 2,000. Washington first took up residence in a tent, lifting the spirits of his men with his stoic example.
But Washington's inspiration was not the only light in the darkness of those days. In February, Baron Friedrich von Steuben joined the troops at Valley Forge. A former Prussian officer and a superb drillmaster, he was just what the Continental Army needed. He taught them to march and maneuver, to load and fire, to charge with bayonets, and to follow complicated orders. He didn't leave the training to a sergeant, but strode among the men himself, shouting in a mixture of German, English, and French. Sometimes he grew so excited that his powers of language failed him, and he pleaded with others nearby to swear at the troops for him. His understanding of the unique American temperament was keen, and his idiosyncrasies and tireless work ethic delighted the soldiers.
Another godsend at Valley Forge was Nathaniel Greene, the man Washington appointed quartermaster general. He was given the Herculean task of supplying the army. Like Von Steuben, Greene was a man of great determination and energy, and scoured great distances of the countryside to haul back food and clothing for the troops. By the time spring arrived, the Continental forces had been transformed from a band of starving, ragged scarecrows into smart and well-equipped professionals.
- October 17
- British General John Burgoyne surrenders to American forces after the Saratoga Campaign.
- A colorful character known as "Gentleman Johnny," General Burgoyne formulated a plan to cut off New England from the other colonies. He would march his army of British, Germans, Canadians, Indians, and Tories down the Hudson Valley from Canada and meet General Howe's army, marching north from New York City, in Albany. Howe approved this strategy.
Burgoyne managed to take Fort Ticonderoga, but things soon went awry. General Howe unaccountably marched not toward Albany, but toward Philadelphia, leaving a force of 7,000 under General Henry Clinton at New York. Howe overestimated the value of Philadelphia, then the capital of the united colonies, as a strategic objective, and underestimated the opposition that Burgoyne would encounter on his march south. It was, after all, unthinkable that a British army might surrender to the scraggly colonial rebels.
The residents of the region through which Burgoyne had to pass-known as the New Hampshire Grants, or what is now Vermont-were ardently independent. It was the same territory that had bred Ethan Allan and his fierce Green Mountain Boys. They assembled a force to resist the invading British, and under the leadership of General John Stark, managed to inflict 900 casualties in the Battle of Bennington and cut Burgoyne's local supply lines. He was forced to wait at Saratoga for supplies from Canada, while American forces commanded by Major General Horatio Gates gained strength before him.
On the September 19th, the first day of battle, Americans under General Benedict Arnold and General Daniel Morgan inflicted twice the number of casualties that they received, but the British held on to their ground. Burgoyne might have pressed the attack, but he received word that Clinton was planning to march to his aid from New York. His decision to wait was fatal, however, for supplies were not reaching his army. Soldiers were on reduced rations, and horses were beginning to die of starvation. He could count only 5,000 effective troops, while American numbers climbed to 11,000.
On October 7th, he made a final attempt to get around the American army. Two key British leaders were killed in the battle, while on the American side, General Benedict Arnold was wounded in the leg during a heroic display of personal courage. British losses were four times those of the Americans, and Burgoyne was forced to retreat.
Ten days later, surrounded by a force of 20,000, Burgoyne and his army of 5,700 officers and enlisted men surrendered.
The news aroused jubilation all over the colonies, but perhaps no one was happier to hear of the victory at Saratoga than Benjamin Franklin, who was in France wheedling King Louis XVI and his ministers to publicly support American Independence. Although France had been secretly sending America money and munitions since May of 1776, foreign minister Compte de Vergennes was reluctant to give open support to what might prove nothing more than an uprising within the British Empire. Saratoga provided the evidence Franklin needed to convince Vergennes that Americans could defeat British forces.
- November 15
- The Articles of Confederation are approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.
- Back in June of 1776, when independence seemed imminent, colonial leaders saw immediately the need for concerted action against their common foe. The differences from region to region in tastes, opinions, religious views and political traditions faded before the immediate threat of defeat by the British. With the Lee Resolution still under consideration, Congress appointed a committee under the leadership of John Dickinson to construct a plan of confederation which would further strengthen colonial ties. Dickinson's committee submitted its proposals to Congress on July 12, 1776, and over a course of 16 months, the Articles of Confederation were forged. They were adopted by Congress on November 15, 1777, but ratification by every state was not obtained until 1781.
Although the Articles, as the new nation's first constitution, were a great achievement, they had many glaring flaws. For instance, the Congress under the Articles had no power to levy taxes, nor did they have the authority the compel states to obey its measures. George Washington, in particular, felt keenly the lack of a strong executive power during the War for Independence. He was continually frustrated by Congress' inability to provide his troops with either salary or supplies, and the dampening effect that the lack of these things had upon recruiting efforts.
- December 17
- France recognizes the independence of the United States.
- Following the Battle of Saratoga, the British rightly feared that the French could be prompted to enter the war on the side of the Americans. If this happened, Britain would probably lose her colonies. To prevent such a possibility, an English commission headed by the Earl of Carlisle was empowered to accede to all American demands, except independence.
But France no more wished to see a reconciliation between Britain and the colonies than Britain wished to see an alliance between France and the colonies. Anxious to avenge their defeat in the French-Indian War, France was looking for an opportunity to fight with Britain, but only if Americans would carry their share of a war. Saratoga demonstrated America's staying power. When it looked as though the Revolutionary War might end before France had jumped into the fray, French foreign minister Vergennes was alarmed.
Actually, America had no intention of accepting Britain's terms. Independence had grown too dear a cause to stop short of it now. But Benjamin Franklin led Vergennes to believe that America was on the verge of being reconciled to Britain, hoping that the intimation would bring France off the fence. His hopes were fulfilled when France formally recognized the independence of the United States in December, and began negotiating treaties with the new country.
- February 6
- Negotiations with France produced two treaties. The treaty of alliance stated that "the essential and direct end of the present defensive alliance is to maintain effectually the liberty, sovereignty, and independence absolute and unlimited, of the said United States..." It also stated that in case France and Britain should go to war, which they did on June 17, 1778, neither France nor America would conclude a separate peace treaty, but would remain in arms until independence was won. France furthermore renounced future possessions in North America east of the Mississippi. They also acknowledged Canada and the Bermudas, if conquered during the course of the war, as part of the United States, and asked only that America acknowledge any of France's conquests in the West Indies. French Foreign Minister Vergennes even tried to persuade Spain to join the alliance, but Spain refrained from entering the war until June of 1779.
France was quick to provide material evidence of her support for America. Six thousand soldiers under Compte de Rochambeau and seventeen vessels under the Compte d' Estaing were quickly dispatched; another twenty-eight ships under Admiral de Grasse later followed. The ships were especially welcome, for America's navy consisted almost entirely of privateers.
America received nearly all she had hoped for from France, with very little demanded of her in return. It was one of the most brilliant diplomatic victories the United States has ever achieved.
- April 23
- Whitehaven was an English seaport on the Irish Sea. The decision to raid it was not made because of its strategic value, for the ships in its harbor were mostly coastal fishing vessels, containing little of value to the English war cause. John Paul Jones' original idea was to capture an important person in the course of the raid and hold the unfortunate prisoner hostage until the British ministry released American sailors from prison.
By this time, the Revolutionary War had been going on for three years. Soldiers taken prisoner during land engagements were frequently exchanged as prisoners of war. But the English still treated anyone found on an American armed vessel as a pirate. This was a sore point with sailors in the Continental Navy, and especially with Jones. He hoped his raid might free some of the American seamen languishing in English prisons. In addition, he may also have known that the British ministry intended to make the burning of American seaports part of its military policy. He chose Whitehaven because it was the English seaport he knew best, having departed from there at age thirteen when he first went to sea. His first voyage had carried him to Virginia, and he later wrote that he fell in love with America at first sight.
Going ashore near daybreak, Jones and his men spiked the guns in the two batteries in Whitehaven Harbor, then proceeded to light a collier (coal ship) on fire. One of Jones' crew, however-an Irishman who had enlisted only to get home-began shouting warnings and banging on the doors of citizens. Soon a crowd of townsfolk swarmed down to the water's edge. Jones coolly posted sentinels until the collier was beyond rescue, but decided to abandon the 150 remaining vessels and return to, the Ranger, waiting offshore.
The destruction caused by the Whitehaven raid was paltry, but its effectiveness as propaganda was electrifying. No raid had been made on an English seaport since 1667, thanks to Britain's dominance of the seas. Englishmen wondered uneasily where the mighty Royal Navy had been in Whitehaven's time of need, and Jones appeared, not for the last time, in English newspapers as a swashbuckling pirate. The effects of the Continental Navy's daring exploits upon English commerce helped arouse distaste among the British people for continuing the Revolutionary War.
- Undated—British troops force their way into the interior of Georgia and South Carolina
- Publicly castigated after Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga, General William Howe stepped down as commander of British forces in North America. His replacement was Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton. The energetic new commander was under orders to turn his attention from the north to the south. On December 29th, 1778, British troops landed at the mouth of the Savannah River in Georgia, and captured the city in short order. A month later, Augusta also fell. American forces retreated to South Carolina, and Georgia remained under British control until near the end of the year. Three American attempts to retake control of the state failed. Meanwhile, British raids on coastal American towns increased.
Eventually Clinton returned north, leaving the southern campaign in the hands of General Lord Charles Cornwallis.
- June 21
- Spain declares war on Great Britain, but refuses to recognize American independence
- May 12
- From the moment British General Clinton and his second in command, General Cornwallis, landed with 14,000 troops just thirty miles south of Charleston, it was a foregone conclusion that the city would be captured. The American force, led by General Benjamin Lincoln, was vastly outnumbered, even with reinforcements sent by Washington.
Nevertheless, for political reasons, the decision was made to make some show of defending Charleston. Lincoln strengthened the harbor defenses, dug a canal across the peninsula and, behind this, constructed a redoubt known as the Citadel. There was, however, no way of escape once the British took possession of the Cooper River, and some 5,200 Continental and militia troops simply waited for capture.
The British found conquest no easy matter, however. The siege went on for nearly a month, and credit is due to Charleston's valiant defenders, who held out for so long with absolutely no hope of rescue. Negotiation attempts failed, due to dissension between the military and civilian authorities in the city. But after a vicious bombardment, beginning on May 9th and lasting throughout the night, the decision to surrender was finally made.
Clinton captured over 390 guns and 6,000 muskets, as well as a staggering 5,400 Continental and militia troops. Two hundred and forty died in the defense of Charleston. British casualties amounted to only 265 killed and wounded.
This was one of the greatest British victories and American disasters of the entire war, and it occurred because the wishes of Congress and of the local citizenry were given preeminence over military wisdom. Time and again, as in every war, the lesson had to be learned that the retention of a city or fort is a lesser consideration next to the preservation of the army in the field, so that it may resurface and fight again on another day.
With the fall of Charleston, virtually the last Continental troops in South Carolina were subdued, and Clinton returned to New York, leaving Cornwallis the task of occupying South Carolina and moving into North Carolina.
- September 25
- It is often forgotten that the man whose name has become synonymous with treason in the annals of American history was once a trusted and admired leader of the Revolutionary cause.
Benedict Arnold had established himself as a prosperous merchant in New Haven, Connecticut when armed conflict with Britain became imminent. In 1774, he became a captain in the militia, and after the outbreak of war, was commissioned as a colonel. Together with Ethan Allen, Arnold oversaw the conquest of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, and as the war progressed, Arnold continued to distinguish himself.
Nevertheless, Arnold began to experience disappointment in his military career. When in February of 1777 Congress appointed five new major generals, Arnold was passed over for promotion in favor of five men with less seniority than he. George Washington barely succeeded in dissuading him from leaving the Continental Army. Three months later, he received his promotion. The Saratoga campaign also aroused bitterness. Though General Horatio Gates received credit for the important American victory, the credit is rightfully due his subordinates, one of whom was Benedict Arnold. During a display of extraordinary courage, Arnold received his second wound of the war.
After Saratoga, Congress voted to restore Arnold's seniority over the other generals.
But this show of gratitude was soon forgotten. Arnold briefly took command of Philadelphia, but proved a poor administrator, and drew criticism for his leniency toward Tory sympathizers. A court-martial cleared Arnold, but ordered General Washington to reprimand him. Arnold began to brood over the injustices he believed his country had dealt him, and in 1780, while in command of West Point, Arnold began to correspond with the enemy. He planned to surrender his important military base to the British general Henry Clinton.
Arnold's treachery was exposed when Major John Andre, the personal aide of General Clinton, was captured carrying papers sent by Arnold to Clinton. Against orders, Andre had discarded his uniform for civilian clothes, and was consequently hanged as a spy on October 2, 1780. Arnold, however, escaped to British-occupied New York City, and was made a brigadier general in their army. Though no agreement was ever reached, Washington's subsequent negotiations with Clinton always included a demand for Arnold's return. As a British officer, Arnold led expeditions against Richmond, Va., and New London, in his home state. He asked for ﾣ20,000 as reparation for the losses he incurred by changing sides, but received only ﾣ6,315.
Andre was mourned as a martyr in England, but Arnold received a cool welcome when he travelled there in 1782. The British government awarded him a large land settlement in Canada in 1797, but the land was of little use to him. In his last days, Arnold was burdened with debt and discouragement.
- October 7
- Charged with occupying South Carolina and invading North Carolina, British General Cornwallis soon realized that neither task was as simple as it appeared. Although there were virtually no Continental forces left in South Carolina, the state was a hotbed of conflict between Patriots and Tories, and the British found partisan resistance much harder to discover and snuff out. Able leaders such as Francis Marion (known as "The Swamp Fox,") Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter, all of whom became brigadier generals, kept resistance alive in the south. Virtual civil war broke out, often excluding British involvement altogether, but confusing the enemy nevertheless.
In North Carolina, Cornwallis met with initial success, after Congress appointed the vastly overrated General Horatio Gates to lead the Continental forces there. The Battle of Camden on August 16th was the worst defeat ever inflicted on an American army in battle, with more than three-to-one casualties. Cornwallis, flushed with victory, continued to drive ever deeper into North Carolina.
One detachment of the Cornwallis' army, under Major Patrick Ferguson, was operating independently in the mountains to the west when it unexpectedly encountered opposition from a force comprised of hardy mountaineers from Virginia, Tennessee, and Carolinas. Ferguson retreated to what he believed to be an impregnable position on King's Mountain. But the Americans were deadly sharpshooters and utterly without fear. On October 7, 1780, they simply stormed up the mountainside and shot or captured the defenders on the heights. The Battle of King's Mountain was waged entirely between Americans-the British force was made up of Tories, and the attackers were all Patriots. Ferguson, the lone British participant, was killed.
Cornwallis, hearing of this defeat, decided to fall back into South Carolina to protect the ground that had already been won. Morale on the American side skyrocketed, and partisan numbers and activity in the southern theater increased, to the consternation of the British. Major General Nathanael Greene, who superseded General Gates on Washington's recommendation, made use of partisan forces in the strategy which eventually retook the south.
- November 20
- Holland sides with the United States