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The American Revolutionary War

By John T. Marck


The American Revolution came about as a result of parliaments’ authority to levy direct taxes on its American colonies, which climaxed with the War of Independence (1775-1783). Its result was the establishment of the United States of America and indirectly, Canada.

There were three main phases of the Revolution. The first was distinguished by deteriorating relations between the British and the colonies over Britain’s increased authoritarian rule, resulting in limitations on America’s freedom. This resentment became more apparent with the opposition of parliaments’ Stamp Act in 1765. Introduced by the British government under the rule of George Grenville, this act was designed to raise revenue from the colonies to boost Britain’s defense as well as offset debts incurred by the French and Indian War. The colonists opposed such an act by boycotting British imports. America’s elected representatives voiced their opposition, as well as groups formed like the Sons of Liberty under Samuel Adams, and other revolutionary parties under Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry.

In 1766, parliament repealed the Stamp Act, thanks to Benjamin Franklin who was the American envoy to Britain. They seemed to recognize the difference between acceptable external taxes, or those that were collected through normal commercial duties, and unacceptable internal taxes, those levied by a parliament in which the colonies were not represented. But, this appeal was soon followed by the Declaratory Act, which proclaimed that parliament had the authority to legislate on behalf of the colonies "in all cases whatsoever." As you can imagine, this did not set well with the colonists. Things then worsened when British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Townshend introduced his Townshend Acts in June 1767.

These acts taxed glass, lead, paint, tea, and paper. America again protested, and formed nonimportation clubs, refusing to buy any of the taxed goods set forth in the Townshend Act. In Annapolis, Maryland, an English ship named the Good Intent came into the harbor. Members of Maryland's nonimportation club boarded the ship and found taxed items. Refusing to let the taxed cargo ashore, they sent the ship back to England, profitless. America again won as Britain repealed the Townshend Act, except the tax on tea. They believed that if Americans got used to the idea of the tea tax, they could gradually include all the previous items once set forth in Townshend. Americans were not fooled, and refused to buy any tea.

On March 15, 1770, as tensions increased over America’s increasingly effective trade boycotts, an incident arose that involved the British troops. Although it began as a snowball fight, the British troops believed they were under attack, and panicked. They fired their muskets into the crowd of people who were throwing snow at them, killing five, resulting in the Boston Massacre.

Following the repeal of most of the Townshend Acts earlier, many colonists were hopeful of a peaceful resolution with the British government under Lord North. But, those radicals under the guidance of Samuel Adams, opposed any reconciliation. In May 1773, parliament granted favorable tea export duty concessions to the almost bankrupt British East India Company. This precipitated another crisis by placing the American tea traders at an unfair disadvantage. The radicals, this time under Samuel Adams and Josiah Quincy, disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded the British East India Company ship Dartmouth in Boston’s harbor on December 16, 1773, and threw its cargo of tea into the harbor, resulting in the Boston Tea Party. Concurrent with this, tea cargos were also confiscated in Charleston, South Carolina.

In revenge, the King of England along with Parliament closed Boston's harbor until the tax was paid. To help the people of Boston, many colonies, including Maryland sent food and supplies. Unable to use its port, they would ship the supplies to nearby towns, then using horses and wagons, transported the supplies to Boston. To combat this, England sent four regiments of British soldiers there.

Maryland, angry over the way all colonies were being treated by England, proposed that a representative from each colony meet in Philadelphia. Some thought that any fight between Boston and England would surely be lost. But what if all the colonies united? Thus far the American colonists had just about had enough of the various British laws. Included in these was the "Intolerable Acts of 1774." They were: (1) Boston Port Act which closed the port of Boston to all shipping; (2) Massachusetts Government Act which gave power to the royal Governor. Appointed to this position was General Thomas Gage, who now was the Governor of Massachusetts. This meant that all Council Members who were previously elected by the General Assembly were now appointed by the royal Governor. Permission was required for town meetings and the sheriff as well as all juries fell under the authority of the royal Governor; (3) Administration of Justice Act that allowed British officials and soldiers to be tried in a colony other than the one in which they were accused, or sent to England for trial; and (4) the Quartering Act which dictated the quartering of British troops inside the town of Boston.

What was viewed as a drastic action on behalf of parliament resulted in the colonists prompted the calling of the First Continental Congress which met in Philadelphia in September 1774. Among those present at this meeting was Samuel Adams, his cousin John Adams, John Dickinson, John Hancock and George Washington. Angry over the Intolerable Acts they prepared a petition for the repealing of these acts. Meanwhile, they decided not to import any goods from England. Congress petitioned King George III for a return to their status of 1763, while still enforcing the boycott of British ports.

One law that Britain imposed actually helped the people from Maryland. The law stated that only British-owned ships may be used for trade between the colonies and Britain. As many of these ships were made along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and considered English owned, the regulation helped the Maryland shipbuilders. When the First Continental Congress concluded, the Maryland delegates returned, and the Maryland Convention approved their work. Three matters which were important were: (1) The people of Maryland would be encouraged to produce more wool in order to clothe themselves, and not be dependant on England; (2) that a militia was to be organized in case of any fights or battles; (3) that Maryland was to, at all times, lend support to any other colony against England.

In Maryland, an Annapolis resident, Anthony Stewart owned a ship known as the Peggy Stewart, named for his daughter. Loaded with 2,000 pounds of tea the ship arrived at Annapolis Harbor. Anthony Stewart decided that he would pay the tax on the tea, and have it quietly moved ashore; but soon the word of his intentions got out. Citizens became angry, and gathered at the harbor. As tempers grew hotter, the group of angry citizens went to Stewart's house and confronted him. They reminded him that he should be loyal to the nonimportation agreement, although he had refused to sign it. The angry crowd gave him a choice; burn the ship "or be hanged right here at your front door."

Stewart agreed to burn the tea and offer a public apology, but pleaded to let him unload the rest of his valuable cargo. Although some people agreed, the mob continued to shout louder. Fearing for the safety of his family, he agreed to burn his ship. On October 19, 1774, Stewart ran his ship aground and applied the torch himself. The crowd cheered as the ship burned to the water. Not only did Stewart lose his valuable cargo, but also his ship worth thousands of dollars. Some people believe that the punishment was too harsh, and that he should have been permitted to burn only the tea. But many experts do agree that this action clearly demonstrated the determination Marylanders felt against England and the taxes imposed. During the early hours of April 19, 1775, the four regiments of British troops sent to enforce the laws of England had arrived in Boston's harbor. Observing their arrival, Paul Revere and William Dawes galloped on their horses through the streets shouting "The British are coming!" All this day, the Americans and British fought in a bloody battle at Lexington and Concord. "The shot heard round the world" was fired, and the American Revolutionary War had begun.

At this time, the Governor of Maryland, Sir Robert Eden, who represented Henry Harford, the son of the last Lord Baltimore, found himself with little power. Although well-liked in Maryland, he was considerately placed on a ship in Annapolis Harbor and returned to England. Meanwhile, Maryland had held several sessions of the Provincial Convention, in which each county sent a representative to Annapolis. A Council of Safety was formed which basically was the Executive branch of the government of Maryland. By July 1775, most of the powers of the state had been taken over by the Convention and the Council of Safety. During this month the Convention declared that if England attempted to enforce the laws of Parliament, the citizens of Maryland would fight.

Americans believed that the military training and experience they received by virtue of the French and Indian War would assist them in this fight. For England to fight a war, they would first have to cross three thousand miles of ocean to get here. But not all colonists felt the war was necessary. Many were still loyal to England, and England was quite a powerful country. Many wondered if the risk was worth the price. England, being the power that it was, was now quite aware that the colonists had no intention of obeying the English laws, and was amazed by this refusal. The English could not believe that America wanted to make its own laws and elect its own leaders. To stop this rebellion, England had sent additional troops, now on their way across the ocean. One attempt to halt the colonists' rebellion was by Lord Dunmore in Virginia. His orders were to gain control of the Potomac River, split the colonies, and stop the flow of supplies to the colonists. His plan was also to send his ships to meet the land troops loyal to England. As he sailed up the river, he had also planned to raid several plantations owned by two of America's leaders, known to be loyal to the American cause, George Washington and George Mason.

But Lord Dunmore's plan was not to be, thanks to an alert Marylander named John Hanson. He and his men captured the land troops sent to meet Lord Dunmore, and met Dunmore's ships with such resistance that he fled the Potomac. One of the first early English plans to split the colonies had failed. But much fighting was to come. This attempt by Dunmore was the only serious fighting to have taken place on the Potomac in the war. But Maryland played a major role. It sent thousands of troops to fight with George Washington and helped with large amounts of supplies. Maryland gave food, clothing and other supplies to the army without which the troops could not have endured the war.

By the time of the Second Continental Congress, which met on May 10, 1775, the rebelling colonists were already at war with England. America's struggle for independence had begun. John Hancock of Massachusetts, was elected president of the Congress, of which Maryland had seven delegates. They were: Thomas Johnson, Jr., Matthew Tilghman, Samuel Chase, William Paca, John Hall, Thomas Stone, and Robert Goldsborough. Thomas Johnson, the most active of the group, was the one who nominated George Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.

Also in May 1775, Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys of Vermont along with Benedict Arnold’s forces captured Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point, seizing the British artillery at the same time. Meanwhile, George Washington sent Henry Knox 300 miles to Boston to recover the British heavy cannons. The first major engagement of the war came in June 1775, with the Battle of Bunker Hill. The actual battle sight was Breed’s Hill, across the Charles River from Boston. The British troops under the command of General William Howe, supported by fire from their warships in the harbor, attacked the front of the hill. The British attained substantial losses until the colonists ran out of ammunition. Unable to continue the fight, the colonists under the command of Israel Putnam, Colonel William Prescott and John Stark retreated, but claimed a moral victory. In early 1776, Washington then took over the command of the Continental Army and soon forced the British out of Boston, without a fight. Washington had taken the captured British cannons from Ticonderoga and placed them in strategic locations overlooking the town. This convinced British commander Howe to evacuate Boston.

He then sailed to Halifax, Nova Scotia, together with some colonists who remained loyal to the crown.

The Second Continental Congress agreed that the colonies should be independent states. To accomplish this, America needed a document which expressed these feelings. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia was given the task of putting these feelings into words. He drafted a copy, and took it to Congress. Minor changes were made by John Adams of Massachusetts and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania. Following this, Congress amended some articles, and adopted the document on July 4, 1776. This document was The Declaration of Independence, which was approved and passed in Philadelphia on July 4, but not signed. Later on August 2, 1776, fifty-three members signed a parchment copy, while others waited to sign. But the agreement was approved, and the American colonial times were over. All colonies were now states, no longer subjects under the King of England, and its people were now citizens of a new nation.

Congress then decided that New York needed to be defended, so Washington placed his troops on the south end of Manhattan Island. Howe soon followed, landing his British troops on Staten Island. Soon thereafter, his brother Admiral Richard Howe, arrived with his force of 34,000 troops. Admiral Howe was empowered to discuss surrender terms but the colonists showed no interest. The British troops then landed at Brooklyn Heights, and defeated an outpost of colonists commanded by Israel Putnam in August 1776. Washington, realizing his position to be indefensible, withdrew at night. Following more peace negotiations, and after further withdrawals, Washington continued to be pursued by Howe, then General Charles Cornwallis. Fearful, Congress fled Philadelphia for Baltimore.

But, Washington did not give up, in spite of the fact that his forces were depleted and demoralized. On Christmas night, 1776, Washington and his troops, in a courageous move, crossed the ice-packed Delaware River, taking Trenton, New Jersey, and in the process, captured more than one thousand British mercenaries. The colonist’s morale now intact, they then moved on Cornwallis, and threatened his lines of communication near Princeton, forcing him into a hasty retreat. But, meanwhile, Howe was concentrating his forces around New York.

In 1777, the British devised a plan that they used until the end of the war, which was to concentrate and isolate New England from the other states. To try to achieve this goal, Sir John Burgoyne was to move South from Canada and meet up with Lt. Colonel Barry St. Leger at Albany. Leger was advancing East from Ontario, and Howe was moving North from New York.

Burgoyne and Leger began their move in June and July, while Howe became preoccupied, against the initial plan, with capturing Philadelphia. Consequently, Howe left General Sir Henry Clinton in command in New York, and set out with his army for the Chesapeake Bay. In September 1777, Washington and his forces were badly defeated at Brandywine Creek while attempting to stop Howe’s move on Philadelphia. In October 1777, after an unsuccessful attempt at the British lines at Germantown, Washington went into winter quarters at Valley Forge. While there, he and his men suffered deprivations from the extreme cold, disease, and lack of food. In spite of the conditions, his troops received valuable training from Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a Prussian officer in the army of France.

With the British invasion of Canada planned, and Burgoyne’s easy victory at Fort Ticonderoga, whereas the American forces had evacuated the fort without a fight, America’s past defeats were now offset. When Burgoyne’s forces moved toward Albany, he was repulsed through the continued badgering by American forces under the newly appointed General Horatio Gates. The British position was weakened even more as a result of food shortages, and through Colonel St. Leger’s retreat to Lake Ontario, after a losing engagement with American forces.

In August 1777, the British lost the Battle of Bennington, Vermont, and again at Blemis Heights. Things were looking up for America when in October 1777, after having retreated to Saratoga, Burgoyne surrendered to General Gates. This surrender had a profound effect on America and its morale, and was the deciding event that led to France entering the war on the side of America. In December 1777, King Louis XVI recognized that the United States was independent from Britain.

After Burgoyne’s surrender, General Howe resigned, and was replaced by General Clinton, who was ordered to return to New York. General Washington and his force followed after the British under Clinton, and in June 1778, the American forces who were led by General Charles Lee attacked Clinton at Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey, against Washington’s orders. When doing so, General Clinton counterattacked, nearly causing the Americans to retreat. However, Washington stepped in, and prevented the retreat. For his actions this day, General Lee was later court-martialed.

In July 1778, a French fleet under the command of Admiral Comte Hector d’Estaing arrived off the coast of New York. As he was unable to enter New York’s Harbor, and after an unsuccessful attempt to assist General John Sullivan against the British at Rhode Island, he and his fleet withdrew and sailed to the West Indies. By doing so, the British Royal Navy was left unchallenged in American waters.

At this time, America’s action in the North had entered a virtual stalemate. Separate and apart from a few British raids in Massachusetts and Connecticut, all of America’s attacks under Sullivan against the British and their Indian allies in New York resulted in no significant advancement. The British, in part as a result, decided their tragedy should be aimed toward the South. So, in November 1778, General Clinton sent an army to join the existing British troops from Florida, under the command of General Augustine Prevost. The next month, Clinton’s troops landed at Savannah, Georgia and met and defeated the American troops there, and in doing so, took over the town. Consequently, by the end of December 1778, almost all of Georgia was now under the control of a British governor, Sir James Wright. In an attempt to retake Georgia, American troops under the command of General Benjamin Lincoln with help from French troops, under the command of Admiral d’Estaing, tried to take Savannah, but failed. Following further unsuccessful attempts, d’Estaing and his forces returned to France in October 1779. Immediately following this, General Clinton sent more British troops from New York to Charleston, South Carolina. Seven months later in May 1780, General Lincoln in an attempt to defend Charleston, was forced to surrender his American forces of more than 5000 men to Clinton. General Clinton then had to return his troops to New York because the French had recently landed a force there under the command of General Comte de Rochambeau, which in turn left British General Cornwallis in command of the returning troops in the South.

In another plan to retake the South, Congress sent additional forces there under General Gates. But, Gates was defeated at Camden in August 1780, when Cornwallis invaded South Carolina. Now with little to no American troops in the South, Cornwallis was free to take North Carolina, unopposed. America had entered into other misfortunes during this time as well. Benedict Arnold had defected, and American soldiers began to mutiny as a result of their pay being in arrears, combined with little food and poor conditions.

In October 1780, America’s hopes increased when Cornwallis’s advance was stopped by a party of loyalists under Major Patrick Ferguson at Kings Mountain. But, Cornwallis received more troops sent by Clinton, so he decided to go after one of America’s newest commanders, General Nathaniel Greene. During their first clash, Greene defeated and destroyed Cornwallis’s cavalry at Cowpens in January 1781. Then Cornwallis came back to win a narrow victory at Guilford Court House, North Carolina, but in achieving this victory suffered heavy losses. Now with a much weakened army, Cornwallis was forced to withdraw to Virginia, where he joined Clinton’s army.

At this time there were about 8000 British troops in the South, under Francis Rawdon and Lord Hastings. Although they were able to defeat the Americans under Greene at Hobkirk’s Hill in April 1781, and at Ninety-Six also later in 1781, and again at Eutaw Springs in September 1781, they were continually harassed by American troop irregulars forcing them to withdraw to Savannah and Charleston, where they stayed for the remainder of the war.

Meanwhile, against Clinton’s orders to hold North Carolina, Cornwallis decided to enter Virginia again, where he began fortifications at Yorktown. However, his attempt to do so was opposed by Americans under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette, von Steuben, and Anthony Wayne. Meanwhile, General Washington was in Newport, Rhode Island where he had joined forces with Rochambeau in July 1780.

After Washington was unsuccessful in retaking New York, America appealed to France for more assistance. In their helpful response, the French fleet under the command of Admiral Francois Comte de Grasse and other French troops from the Chesapeake Bay joined the Americans and General Washington at Yorktown. Although the British under Clinton attempted to rescue Cornwallis, they were too late. In October 1781, General Cornwallis surrendered his army of about 7000 to General Washington. With this surrender, all the fighting on land had in effect ceased, and the British troops evacuated Savannah, and Charleston in December 1781.

The news that the British had surrendered at Yorktown reached Britain and led to the resignation of the prime minister, Lord North along with his cabinet in March 1782. He was replaced by the Marquis of Rockingham, but he died four months later. Consequently, he was replaced by Lord Shelburne, who agreed to a preliminary peace treaty in November 1782. This treaty was drawn by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Ray and Henry Laurens, which acknowledged the independence of the United States. Meanwhile, the British remained in New York, finally totally evacuating the city in December 1783. This resulted in General Washington and his army entering the city in victory. The formal ending of all hostilities between Britain and America ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. On January 14, 1784, the Congress of the Confederation met at the State House in Annapolis, Maryland and ratified the Treaty.

There were three major consequences as a result of the American Revolution. First of course was America’s independence from British rule. The second was that American Indians had become allies with both sides during the war, and fought, although sporadically. Because the various tribes in the League of the Iroquois could not agree as to which side to fight for, and because many sided with the British, American forces engaged them in battle and in doing so, destroyed their settlements, effectively destroying the League of the Iroquois, both as a military power and as a collective union. The third dealt with African-Americans. As they supported the Declaration of Independence and its argument that liberty is one of the unalienable rights due to all people, helped in turn eliminate slave-holding states in the North, and created abolition movements in the South.

General George Washington Resigns at the Old Senate Chamber

Eight years earlier, George Washington, dressed in his blue uniform of a colonel in the Virginia militia, stood before Congress and accepted their commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. At the time, Washington said, "I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with."

Now, on a cold December morning, two days before Christmas, he was before Congress again. Any doubts of that earlier day had all been laid to rest. As he stood to address Congress, his eyes were dimmed, his hands shaking, and his voice choked with emotion. At the age of forty-four, George Washington wanted now only to return to his beloved Mount Vernon to spend the remainder of his years. Several weeks earlier, On December 4, General Washington had bid farewell to his officers at Frances' Tavern in New York. It was a very emotional time for Washington, embracing some of the men, and shaking hands with others. Von Steuben was there, along with his trusted friends Henry Knox and Benjamin Tallmadge. As the day ended, Washington turned to take one last salute from the assemblage. He then set out for his journey to Annapolis, where Congress was in session.

His journey to Annapolis had been a pleasurable one, taking a barge across New Jersey, stopping briefly in Trenton, then on to Philadelphia and finally Annapolis. Along his route, he had received an outpouring of gratitude and affection from his fellow countrymen. On December 22, an elaborate dinner and reception were held in his honor. Among the two hundred guests was the aristocracy of Annapolis as well as members of Congress. Thirteen toasts were given, followed by the firing of thirteen cannons and a ball at the State House.

On December 23, 1783, General Washington entered the Senate Chamber of the State House in Annapolis. Crowded in the chamber were Congressmen, Maryland dignitaries, and a few army officers, all wishing to hear Washington speak. In a voice that was barely audible, despite the hushed silence, General Washington began by praising his officers and congratulating Congress. Then after a short pause, he hurried to the business at hand: "Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater of action; and bidding an affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take leave of all the employments of public life."

The speech lasted three minutes. When it was over, Washington took his commission from his pocket and handed it to Thomas Mufflin, the President of Congress, and quickly left the chamber. After bidding farewell to close friends, Washington rode to Mount Vernon in time to celebrate Christmas at home for the first time in many, many years. On April 30, 1789, George Washington was elected President of the United States. He served two terms, ending on March 4, 1797. Following the Presidency, he retired to Mount Vernon, where on December 14, 1799, he died of pneumonia at the age of 67. George Washington is buried at his beloved Mount Vernon, in Virginia.

Today, visitors may visit the Old Senate Chamber at the State House in Annapolis. On the floor in the chamber is a plaque marking the spot where George Washington resigned his commission, as well as a statue figure likeness of the general. Admission to the State House and the Old Senate Chamber is free.

George Washington’s aide-de camp, Tench Tilghman and the sword that he wore at Valley Forge, Yorktown and when delivering the news to Congress, as well as the sword presented in his honor by Congress, are today on display in the State House in Annapolis. They were generously donated by Mrs. Judith Oates, a direct descendant to Tench Tilghman, upon her death on December 26, 1997. It should also be noted that one of the swords worn by Tilghman is also depicted in the life-sized painting by Charles Willson Peale showing Washington, Lafayette and Tilghman at Yorktown, also on display in the State House.

Copyright © 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.