The People of the New World
Although English exploration of the North American continent began at the turn of the sixteenth century, the English did not establish permanent settlements in the vast New World territory until much later. (The New World is a European term for North and South America.)
Those who chiseled out new lives for themselves in the wilderness of North America did so for various reasons—to gain religious freedom, to obtain jobs, to take advantage of new farming opportunities, to enjoy a better standard of living than the overpopulated country of England could offer, even to try their hand at "get rich quick" schemes in the bountiful New World.
As word of the New World's ample resources got back to Great Britain, colonizing companies were established with money from British investors. (Colonialism is the extension of the power of a nation beyond its own borders.) By 1588 England had become the dominant power in Europe, and the island nation's colonial interests began to expand. In 1606 King James I of England (1566–1625; reigned 1603–1625)
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Up until the second half of the seventeenth century, the British government was far too preoccupied with its own problems to closely monitor and regulate colonial policy. So, in virtually every aspect of daily life, from providing their families with food and shelter to establishing schools and churches to organizing recreational activities, the New World settlers had to start from scratch. By the time of the American Revolution, the English colonists had turned the North American wilderness into a structured, mainly agricultural, and highly literate society—a society that was built on ingenuity and thrived on autonomy (the right to direct its own affairs).
What did people eat before the Revolution?
The diet of colonial Americans varied, depending on the food at hand and the origins of the people who lived in a given area. Some foods, however, were considered staple items (basics that everyone consumed). In 1763, 90 percent of all Americans were farmers, so the hardiest vegetables—those that
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Literature and the Arts in the Revolutionary Era
By the time of the American Revolution (1775–83), American writers had ventured beyond the Puritan literary style and its religious themes and had developed styles of writing that grew from distinctly American experiences. (The Puritans were a group of Protestants who broke with the Church of England; they believed that church rituals should be simplified and that people should follow strict religious discipline.) The colonial fascination with science, nature, freedom, and innovation came through in the writings of the Revolutionary period. The colonists developed their own way of speaking as well, no longer copying the more formal style of British writers. (Noah Webster's Blue-Backed Speller, published in 1783, helped to standardize the new American version of English.)
Author David Hawke offered an example of the American literary style in The Colonial Experience. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), he noted, "took the seventeenth-century saying 'Three may keep counsel, if two be away' and converted it into 'Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.'"
Some of the best literature of the colonial era described everyday life in New England and, in the process, depicted aspects of the fledgling American character. The colonists who would form a new nation were firm believers in the power of reason; they were ambitious,...
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The Roots of Rebellion (1763–1769)
With the French defeated at the close of the Seven Years' War (1756–63), Great Britain had new problems—far greater ones than she could handle. The war with France had resulted in the accumulation of many debts. The British were now in charge of a remote New World frontier that was populated by hostile Native American tribes. And no sooner had the French been expelled from North America than there was trouble with the Indians.
Native Americans had no great love for the British colonists. They had welcomed British settlers to the New World in the early 1600s, but gradually the land-hungry colonists pushed the Native tribes out of their homeland along the eastern seaboard. The displaced tribes, in turn, drove other tribes off their ancestral lands and into the southern Great Lakes area.
The Native Americans in the Great Lakes area enjoyed a peaceful relationship with the French who trapped furs there and traded European goods with them. Unwelcome changes came when British traders made their way to the region in the 1730s. The British had different ways of dealing with Native Americans. Unlike the French, they did not
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On the Brink of War (1770–1774)
After Parliament's passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, violence in the American colonies escalated, especially in Boston, Massachusetts. Surprisingly, some of these disturbances were orchestrated by well-educated, upstanding, respectable adults who held a grudge against England. (It is interesting to note that just before the Revolutionary War started, about half the population of the colonies was quite young—under fifteen years of age. An entire generation of colonial youth, then, was raised in a culture of rebellion.)
People like Samuel Adams (1722–1803), who favored a break with England, used mob action to keep the spirit of independence stirring. Newspaper publishers objected to the Stamp Act requirement that decreased American profits on their papers, so they kept the people riled up, too—and not just by publishing fiery letters. It was the publisher of the Boston Gazette who provided the dummies dressed as stamp agents for burning by a mob gathered to protest the Stamp Act.
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Lexington, Concord, and the Organization of Colonial Resistance
By mid-1774 animosity (bitterness and hostility) between Great Britain and the American colonies had reached the boiling point. Poised on the brink of war with America, the British were wondering if the Americans would really fight. Most did not think so. England's Earl of Sandwich (1718–1792) declared: "These are raw, undisciplined, cowardly men." The colonies, it was thought, could never come together and fight as one. The British felt that the people of Virginia and the Carolinas would not fight Massachusetts's battles; they were "too wise to be caught in such a mouse-trap." One British soldier wrote to his father: "The rebels are the most absolute cowards on the face of the earth."
On the other hand, some British statesmen argued that the Americans were more than willing to fight for freedom—for those same liberties enjoyed by King George III's subjects back in England. British statesman and orator Edmund Burke (1729–1797) urged the repeal of the Intolerable Acts and the withdrawal of British troops from America. He told members of Britain's Parliament they were dealing with a people "who will die in defence of their rights." Lord Dartmouth (1731–1801; for whom Dartmouth College is named) tried to convince his colleagues that armies were not the best way to reason with Americans. Even Britain's prime minister, Lord North (1732–1792)— trusted adviser of King...
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Assembling an Army (1775–1776)
Key political events occurring in the colonies in the summer of 1775 seemed contradictory. On the one hand, the Sec ond Continental Congress was making a last attempt to avoid a break with Great Britain by sending the Olive Branch Peti tion to King George III (1738–1820; reigned 1760–1820). At the same time, however, George Washington (1732–1799) was appointed commander in chief of a new Continental army, and he was making preparations for war.
Washington took the responsibilities of his new post very seriously. He bought every military book the Philadelphia bookshops had on hand (about five) and read them from cover to cover. He also held meetings to discuss how to go about feeding and supplying a large group of men and their depen dents. (This was not a simple matter in a time when everything had to be carried by horses, mules, or boats.) In addition, Washington assembled a network of spies (people who would watch the enemy secretly to obtain important information about their war plans) and gave them money from his own funds to start their work.
The generals who would serve under Washington were chosen by the Second Continental Congress. Washington took no part in the discussions in Congress, and he knew few of the men who were finally chosen as his generals. Delegates from each of the thirteen colonies fought to make sure their colony had its...
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Native Americans and Blacks in the American Revolution
Native Americans and blacks fought on both sides during the American Revolution. Native American participation began in the earliest days of the conflict when, in March of 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress accepted an offer from the Stockbridge Indians to form a company of "minutemen" (armed soldiers who promised to be ready in a minute to defend the colonies against the British).
In the face of war, the Continental Congress wrestled hard with the trying issue of Anglo-Indian relations. Congress was well aware that a close relationship existed between Great Britain and some Native groups, especially the powerful Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy (an association of six tribes: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The first five of the tribes originated in present-day New York. The Tuscarora came from North Carolina.) Congress also knew that Native Americans had many grievances against the colonists: white settlers had threatened their people and stolen their land. If large numbers of Indians chose to side with the British, such an alliance could easily contribute to America's defeat.
Realizing they were not likely to secure cooperation from most Native Americans in a war, Congress hoped to at least gain a promise of neutrality (noninvolvement) from them (see Chapter 4: The Roots of Rebellion [1763–1769]). On August 25,...
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A Ragtag Force Enters the Revolution (1776–1777)
New York was one of the Middle Colonies. It was different in many ways from the New England Colonies. In New England, a half-million families, mostly of English descent, scratched out a living on small plots of rocky land. In contrast, fewer than 200,000 people lived in all of New York in 1776. Because of unusual land-grant policies, huge tracts of New York's fertile land were owned by a handful of men, most of them descended from the New World's early Dutch or English settlers. At the beginning of the American Revolution, then, about twenty wealthy families (including that of American General Philip Schuyler; 1733–1804) owned most of New York's land and wielded most of the region's political and economic power. These families were connected by intermarriage, and most of them—including many of the ordinary citizens of New York—were loyal to King George III (called Loyalists).
In 1776 New York City (the largest in the colony of New York) was nothing like the bustling city it is today. Its population then numbered about 25,000. (According to present– day estimates, about 7.5 million people now call the city home.) Most of the colonists in the prewar era lived on the southern tip
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The Agonizing Path to Victory (1777–1778)
After capturing New York City, British General William Howe (1729–1814) set out to seize the Hudson River Val ley and isolate New England from the rest of the colonies. His efforts kept George Washington (1732–1799), commander in chief of the Continental army, occupied in 1777 and 1778. Howe's mission was part of a three-pronged plan for British victory in America. The other two targets were Canada (a cam paign handled by British generals Guy Carleton and John Bur goyne) and the Southern Colonies (a land and sea expedition planned for 1778–79 and headed by General Henry Clinton, who succeeded Howe as commander in chief of British forces in America in May 1778).
In January 1777, after his completely unexpected vic tories at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, George Washing ton had settled in for a miserably uncomfortable winter at Morristown, New Jersey. Meanwhile, Howe and his British troops enjoyed a comfortable winter in New York.
Washington was gratified to see his Continental army achieve its greatest strength in 1777–78, when it reached a total of about 35,000 men (not all of them were with Washington; some were in Canada and in the South). Late in 1776, the Continental Congress had authorized the raising of 76,000 troops, who would serve for three years or until the war ended. Formerly, soldiers were required to serve for just one year. As...
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The War Shifts to the South (1778–1780)
In the spring of 1778, William Howe (1729–1814) received word that his resignation as commander in chief of British forces in America had been accepted. He would be able to return to England as soon as his replacement, Henry Clinton (1738–1795), arrived in Philadelphia. The much-criticized Howe resigned because he felt that the British government had not sent him enough troops; without them, he said, he could not be expected to win the Revolutionary War.
In June 1778, Clinton learned that the French had joined forces with the Americans. Fearful that the French navy would cut him off from British headquarters in New York, Clinton quickly abandoned Philadelphia and headed for New York. George Washington (1732–1799) set up camp at West Point, New York.
For the next two years, there were no important battles in the North, although sporadic fighting did continue. New York and Pennsylvania were shocked by Indian raids. In the fall of 1778, Washington arranged his army in a semicircle around New York City, but Clinton did not respond to this maneuver. Clinton had decided to shift his fighting forces to
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The Revolution Draws to a Close (1781–1783)
Former American General Benedict Arnold (1741–1801)—now fighting for the British—easily took Richmond, Virginia, on January 5, 1781. George Washington (1732–1799), commander in chief of American forces, responded by sending soldiers to Virginia under the command of the Marquis de Lafayette of France (1757–1834). (The French officially joined the war on the side of the Americans in 1778.) By the spring of 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis (1738–1805) had reached Richmond. Washington and his ally, French commander Jean Baptiste Rochambeau (1725–1807), decided to join Lafayette and trap Cornwallis in Virginia.
While he was still in New York, Washington devised a scheme to conceal his plan of heading to Virginia—he wanted to keep the British from sending more troops there. Washington arranged to leak false information to confuse General Henry Clinton (1738–1795), the commander in chief of British forces in America; it was a complete success. Thinking that the next battle would take place in New York, Clinton ordered Cornwallis to send every soldier he could spare to the Northeast. Over the next two months, Clinton changed his orders several times, confusing
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