Lead-in To War: 1763 to 1774
End of the Seven Years WarFebruary 10, 1763
The Treaty of Paris ends the Seven Years War (French and Indian War). France surrenders all of its North American possessions east of the Mississippi to Britain. This ends a source of insecurity for the British colonists along the Atlantic Coast. The costs of the war and maintaining an army will lead the British government to impose new taxes on its colonists, with world-shaking results.
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Passage of the Stamp ActMarch 22, 1765
Britain passes the Stamp Act, imposing a tax on legal documents, newspapers, even playing cards. This is the first direct tax on the American colonists and is hotly resisted. A successful American campaign to have the act repealed will give Americans confidence that they can avoid future taxes as well.
British Troops Occupy BostonOctober 1768
British troops land in Boston to enforce the Townshend duties (taxes on paint, paper, tea, etc., passed in June 1767) and clamp down on local radicals. The troops' presence doesn't sit well with locals and leads to street fights. One clash between soldiers and a mob in March 1770 will leave five dead. Radicals will call it the Boston Massacre, while the British will call it the incident on King Street.
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Committees of Correspondence EstablishedSpring 1772
Committees of Correspondence are established throughout the colonies to coordinate American response to British colonial policy. This represents an important move toward cooperation, mutual action, and the development of a national identity among Americans.
Britain Tries to Intimidate MassachusettsMarch to June, 1774
The British Parliament passes the Coercive Acts, often called the Intolerable Acts in America. Among other actions, Britain closes the port of Boston and requires British troops to be housed in taverns and vacant buildings. The acts generate considerable sympathy for Massachusetts among other colonies.
Independence Declared: 1775 to 1777
War Breaks OutApril 19, 1775
The first shots of the Revolutionary War are fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. The news of the bloodshed rockets along the eastern seaboard, and thousands of volunteers converge—called "Minute Men"—on Cambridge, Mass. These are the beginnings of the Continental Army.
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Britain Forms an Alliance with Patriot SlavesNovember 1775
The British governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, issues a proclamation offering freedom to any slaves of rebellious Americans who are able to enter British lines. Throughout the course of the war, tens of thousands of African Americans will seek their freedom by supporting the British. A smaller number will fight on the patriot (pro-independence) side, despite policies that discourage their enlistment
Battle of Bunker Hill: Americans Hold Their OwnJune 17, 1775
In the first major action of the war, inexperienced colonial soldiers hold off hardened British veterans for more than two hours at Breed's Hill. Although eventually forced to abandon their position, including the high ground of Bunker Hill overlooking Boston, the patriots show that they are not intimidated by the long lines of red-coated infantrymen. Of the 2,200 British seeing action, more than 1,000 end up dead or wounded.
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Moores Creek: Loyalists DefeatedFebruary 27, 1776
A force of loyalists (Americans who want to remain British subjects), most of them of Scots descent, is defeated by a patriot army at the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge. This setback will largely quiet loyalist activity in the Carolinas for three years.
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South Carolinians Repel British Attempt to Take CharlestonJune 28, 1776
A British invasion force mounts an all-day attack on a patriot force on Sullivan’s Island. The invaders are unable to land their troops on the island, and the tricky waters of Charleston Harbor frustrate the British navy. The fleet retires in defeat, and South Carolina will remain untouched by the enemy for three more years.
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America Declares Its IndependenceJuly 1776
The Declaration of Independence is adopted by the Second Continental Congress. Following a decade of agitation over taxes and a year of war, representatives make the break with Britain. King George III isn't willing to let his subjects go without a fight, and loyalist sentiment remains strong in many areas. Americans' primary allegiance is to their states; nationalism will grow slowly.
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George Washington Crosses the Delaware RiverDecember 1776 to January 1777
In a bold move, Washington moves his troops into New Jersey on Christmas night. The patriots then surprise a force of German troops fighting for Britain at Trenton on December 26. They achieve a similar victory over British troops at Princeton on January 3, reviving hopes that the war just might be winnable. The army then encamps for the winter at Morristown, New Jersey.
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War in the North: 1777 to 1778
Battle of Saratoga: Britsh SetbackOctober 17, 1777
General John Burgoyne's attempt to separate the rebellious New England colonies from those farther south ends in a spectacular failure. The surrender of 6,000 British regulars at Saratoga will shock London and help induce France to enter the war on the American side.
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Winter of Change for the Continental ArmyDecember 1777
With the British occupying Philadelphia just 20 miles away, the Continental Army enters winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. During the winter, supply arrangements will be improved and the Continental troops will be drilled and emerge as a more disciplined, unified fighting force.
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France Enters the War Against BritainFebruary 1778
As a result of the patriot victory at Saratoga and American diplomatic efforts, France allies itself with the new American government. French financial and military aid will prove critical in winning the war. The Continental Army will learn of the French Alliance in May.
George Rogers Clark Attacks the British in Ohio CountryMay to December, 1778
With barely 150 men, Virginian George Rogers Clark captures several British posts in the Ohio Territory (present-day Illinois and Indiana) and convinces French-speaking inhabitants of Kaskaskia and Cahokia to support the patriot side. Although Indians will continue to oppose white settlement for three decades, Clark's exploits pave the way for the expansion of the U.S. north of the Ohio River.
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Southern Campaigns: 1779 to 1781
Charleston Falls to the BritishMay 12, 1780
The British take Charleston, S.C., capture a large patriot army, and deal the rebels one of their worst defeats of the war. The Charleston move is part of a broader British strategy to hang on to the southern colonies, at least, now that the war is stalemated in Pennsylvania and New York.
Kings Mountain Victory Revives Patriot HopesOctober 7, 1780
Patriot militia from the Carolinas, Virginia, and present-day Tennessee surround and defeat a force of loyalists under Major Patrick Ferguson at Kings Mountain, S.C. Indicating the deep divisions within America, Ferguson is the only British soldier on the field-Kings Mountain is truly a battle among Americans about their future.
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Battle of Cowpens: American Tide ContinuesJanuary 17, 1781
Continental soldiers and patriot militia under General Daniel Morgan defeat a British force under Banastre Tarleton at Cowpens. Coming on the heels of the victory at Kings Mountain, Cowpens helps convince worried patriots that the British southern strategy can be countered.
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Guilford Courthouse: Costly British VictoryMarch 15, 1781
British troops win a costly victory over Continentals and militia at Guilford Courthouse, N.C. The battle is part of General Nathanael Greene's strategy of engaging the British on ground of his choosing. Without winning a single clear-cut victory, he will succeed in wearing down the British army through hit-and-run tactics and set-piece battles.
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Ninety-Six: Longest Siege of the WarMay to June, 1781
The isolated British garrison at Ninety Six is laid siege to by patriot forces under Gen. Nathanael Greene. The approach of a British relief column leads Greene to make a final, unsuccessful assault on the fort on June 18. The events at Ninety Six underline the fact that Britain has too few troops to hold the southern hinterlands.
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Yorktown: Large British Army SurrendersSeptember to October, 1781
A joint French and American force traps a large British army on Virginia's Yorktown peninsula. Unable to evacuate or receive reinforcements because a French fleet has driven off a British fleet, General Cornwallis is forced to surrender. Although New York City and Charleston, S.C., will remain in British hands until a peace treaty is signed two years later, the war for American independence is essentially over.
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Aftermath: 1782 to 1787
Loyalists Leave AmericaJanuary 1782
The evacuation of loyalists begins. Largely unwelcome in the new United States, about 100,000 Americans who remained loyal to the crown find new lives in Britain, Canada, and British colonies in the West Indies. Among them are about 15,000 African Americans, some of whom end up helping to found the country of Sierra Leone in Africa. The loyalist experience will have a profound effect on the development of Canada's national identity.
Treaty of Paris Officially Ends the WarSeptember 3, 1783
The Treaty of Paris ratifies the independence of the 13 North American states. Canada remains a British province, beginning its separate development as a U.S. neighbor. Another war with England (1812 - 1815) will be necessary to truly secure the American nation.
American Victory Pushes Indians Farther WestOctober 1784
The Treaty of Fort Stanwix imposes a peace on those members of the Iroquois Confederacy that sided with the British in the Revolution. The war's aftermath will prove devastating to Native Americans. With no European allies to rely upon, Indian tribes will be under increasing pressure from settlers moving west out of the original 13 states.
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U.S. Constitution Replaces Articles of Confederation1787
A convention of states in Philadelphia proposes the Constitution to replace the much looser central government operating under the Articles of Confederation (adopted in 1777). With amendments, the Constitution remains the framework of government in the U.S.
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Last updated: January 4, 2021