American Revolution: 15 Major Facts
Date: March 1765 – January 1791
Location: The Thirteen American Colonies (also known as the Thirteen British Colonies) – New England (New Hampshire; Massachusetts; Rhode Island; Connecticut); Middle (New York; New Jersey; Pennsylvania; Delaware); Southern (Maryland; Virginia; North Carolina; South Carolina; and Georgia)
Major participants: Colonists in British America, Enslaved minorities, Native Americans, France, Spain, and the Netherlands
Outcome: Independence of the United States of America, Start of the Age of Revolution, first modern constitutional liberal democracy
Major highlights: Stamp Act of 1765; Stamp Act Congress; Townshend Acts in 1767; Boston Massacre in 1770; Tea Act of 1773; Boston Tea Party in 1773; Intolerable Acts; First and Second Continental Congress; Battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775; Invasion of Quebec (1775-1776); Declaration of Independence in 1776; New York and New Jersey campaigns (1776-1777); Saratoga campaign in 1777; Yorktown campaign in 1781; Treaty of Paris in 1783
15 Major Facts about the American Revolution
Historians estimate that over 10,000 British forces (i.e. standing army) were stationed in the American colonies following the end of the Seven Years’ War. Those soldiers were there to keep the colonies safe and act as sort of a deterrent to French forces and their Native American allies in the region.
In countering the demands by the Americans about having an elected representation in the British Parliament, the British government used the term “virtual representation”. Britain stated that although that many Americans could not vote to have a delegate represent them in the British Parliament, they still enjoyed the benefits of Parliament because the legislative body in England took the interest of the colonies whenever a policy was being formulated. Upon hearing this explanation, the American colonies got even more enraged.
Following the passage of the Townshend Act in 1767, the British government set up a board of customs to clamp down on unscrupulous traders that used smuggling as a way of evading payment of taxes. More importantly, the board was tasked to rein in the widespread corruption at the various ports in the American colonies. The effectiveness of the board caused a lot of agitations from powerful and wealthy smugglers, especially in Boston. This explains why Boston, Massachusetts ended up being the cradle of the American Revolution.
Following agitations from Bostonians, as well as the tarring and feathering that were inflicted upon the customs commissioners, Britain sent four regiments to Boston to keep the peace and order. Ironically, those soldiers resorted to working part time in the city center as a means to shore up the meager salaries they received. Bostonians weren’t so pleased with those soldiers competing with the civilian population for the scarce jobs in the city. Often times, confrontations ensued between an off-duty soldier working part time and say an angry Bostonian. One such defining confrontation came in 1770, when five Bostonians lost their lives as a result, giving rise to a watershed moment in American history. The incident came to be termed as the Boston Massacre, which local leaders and angry Bostonian merchants capitalized on that particular incident to incite the colonists against what they termed as Britain’s tyranny and oppression.
Great Britain gravely underestimated the resolve and determination of the American colonies. London and the British crown reasoned that the agitations from the colonies posed no threat to their continued control of those colonies. It is not as if the colonies had some kind of trained and well-resourced standing army or a navy fleet. Besides, Britain at the time truly had one of the greatest, well-drilled fighting forces in all of Europe. And they had a number of European allies that even if push came to shove, they would be able to get help to crush whatever revolt or agitation in the American colonies.
Well it turned out that the Americans had something that majority of those well-trained fighting force of Britain did not have. They had an unbreakable fighting spirit mixed with the ideals of liberty and freedom. Britain got glimpses of the American fighting spirit when the “first shot that was heard around the world” was fired in the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. All that pent up anger and frustration felt by the colonies were channeled into something far deadlier than any fierce opponent that Britain had faced in all its centuries of existence. Britain suffered more than three times the casualties suffered by the Americans in the first few battles of the American Revolutionary War. Those wins over the British forces in a way put the wind in the sails of the Revolutionary fighters to keep on fighting for the next eight years.
Following an impressive showing at the Siege of Boston in March 1776, British forces were left with no other option than to evacuate Boston. Continental Army commander General George Washington led his troops to New York City port to shore up defenses of the area. The Port of New York was extremely important to the Americans as Washington had wanted to prevent the British Royal Navy from turning the harbor into a base. It therefore made every bit of sense for George Washington to commit the men and resources to defending it. On the back of the U.S. Declaration of Independence a month earlier, the British commanders were eager to crush the American patriots as quickly as possible.
Read More: 22 Facts about George Washington
In July 1776, British forces under the command of General William Howe arrived at Staten Island, just a few miles across the harbor where Washington and his troops were stationed. General Howe’s troops had reinforcement in the form of fleet of ships in Lower New York Bay, just in case the going got tough for the land troops. All in all, British forces in the area amounted to about 32,000. The stage was set, and on August 27, British forces launched an attack on American forces on the Guan Heights. In a very brilliant tactical move, Howe used his main army to go around the rear of American troops and began attacking them from the flank. It was an absolutely genius move by the British general. Caught completely off guard, utter panic ensued among the American troops. America’s confusion and hesitation allowed British troops to pick them off at an alarming rate. On that day, almost 20% of Washington troops were lost, either died or captured. Realizing that he was on the back foot, Washington ordered the remaining army to retreat to their stronghold on Brooklyn Heights. General Howe then prepared his men for a siege to finish off the Americans, as the Americans sandwiched in between Howe’s forces on land and the British Royal Navy at sea. Luckily for the Americans, Howe hesitation allowed Washington and his troops to evacuate the area under the cover of night on August 29/30. American troops headed to Manhattan with all their supplies intact and not losing any life in the process. The Battle of Long Island was not only the largest battle of the American Revolutionary War, it was a critical moment in America’s struggle for independence where some say that had it not been for providence the Britain would have straight up won the war.
Unbeknownst to many people, Britain actually won more battles during the American Revolutionary War than America. Washington and the Continental Army had very long spells of defeat after defeat ever since the Americans were pushed out of New York and New Jersey. Take the example of the Battle of Fort Washington, a fierce battle fought on November 16, 1776, that ended in a humiliating defeat for the United States. Arguably the worst Patriot defeat in the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Fort Washington saw the U.S. lose its last stronghold on Manhattan as British forces completely overwhelmed American defenses at Fort Washington. Britain took in close to 3,000 American soldiers as prisoners of war. The remaining American forces then retreated to Pennsylvania.
The loss at Fort Washington was followed by setbacks at the Battle of Fort Lee on November 20, 1776, Ambush of Geary on December 14, 1776, and then the Battle of Iron Works Hill on December 22-23, 1776. The morale of American troops had been shattered, as was evident in the number of desertions. At that point Washington either had to soldier on or throw in the towel. He chose the former. The general and his advisors did something the enemy never thought they would do: the Continental Army took the fight straight to the British. Beginning with a win at the Battle of Trenton on December 26, 1776, the Continental Army was able to go on a winning streak that helped lift the spirit of the Americans. Trenton was a big turnaround for American troops, spurring them on to wins at the Second Battle of Trenton on January 2, 1777, Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777, Battle of Millstone on January 20, 1777, Forage War, January-March 1777, and then Battle of Punk Hill on March 8, 1777. Those victories helped keep the desertion rates low, and the morale in the camp was so high that more and more new recruits joined the Continental Army.
The Battles of Saratoga in 1777 inspired France, one of Britain’s arch enemies in Europe, to join the fray. After news of how bravely the American troops fought in both Battles of Saratoga, King of France Louis XVI was confident that patriots would be able pull off an incredible win over Britain. And so the Franco-American alliance was born. France provided invaluable support to U.S. forces, thereby tipping the scale in favor of the Americans for the remainder of the War.
Taking place in Virginia between September 28 and October 19, 1781, the Siege of Yorktown was an important victory for the United States as it resulted in a surrender of British forces of about 7000 under the command of Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis. Supported by about 5,500 French troops (under the leadership of Comte de Rochambeau), General Washington and his military commanders were able to deceive the British commander-in-chief Henry Clinton into thinking that they planned laying siege on New York. With the British preparing to defend New York, British officer Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown was completely caught off guard when American troops began laying siege to Yorktown, Virginia instead. Lord Cornwallis position came under a barrage of attack from September 28 onward until the British commander finally threw in the towel on October 17. Americans captured more than 7,000 British soldiers. The victory at Yorktown resulted in Britain preparing for peace negotiations with United States, which ultimately culminated in the Treaty of Paris of 1783.
The likes of George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette and all the other brave French commanders and officers that fought gallantly rightly deserve the honors we heap on them today. However, we often times forget to mention the brave African American soldiers, Native Americans, and women that fought alongside those powerful men. Take away the services that those minorities rendered to the cause of the Continental Army, and we might have had a different outcome to the American Revolutionary War. In the case of Armistead, the African American slave served as a spy for French commander Marquis de Lafayette. Armistead’s mission was to purposely leak misleading military intelligence to British forces. After gaining the trust of British forces, Armistead would return to his American masters and furnish them with very accurate information about British forces’ position, movements and plans. He is credited with being one of the American spies that fed Lord Cornwallis false information about Washington’s intention to attack New York just prior to the Siege of Yorktown.
After the war, Armistead’s efforts were all swept under the carpet and he was sent back to his life of slavery and drudgery. Had it not been the interception of Lafayette in 1784, Armistead would probably have lived the rest of his life a slave in country that he helped liberate from British tyranny and oppression. Armistead was the lucky one among the bunch, as historians like to recall the countless African American slaves that put their lives in harm’s way in service of our nation, only for those same African American slaves to spend the rest of their lives as slaves. It’s estimated that at the start of the War, there were close to half a million African American slaves living in the 13 American colonies. As the Revolutionary War heated up, and as the casualties and strain of the war began to pile up, many military and political leaders of the U.S. contemplated using enslaved African Americans in the war. It is not as if the slaves had a say in refusing enlistment; after all they were slaves. However, Congress was a bit uneasy about the possibility of those slaves turning their weapons against the United States once the war came to an end. As things got tough for the U.S., Congress would allow close to 10,000 African American serve in the Continental Army.
Similarly, the British used African American slaves, especially runaway slaves, in some shape or form during the American Revolutionary War. And when the war ended, many of those slaves sailed (as free men) with British forces across the Atlantic to Europe. Some of them also settled in Canada, West Africa and the West Indies, just any place that would save them from going back to being slaves.