|The Colonists Resist Tighter Control: Prelude to the Revolutionary War
During the lasts days of the French and Indian War, the leader of the Ottawa nation, Pontiac, called all of the western Native Americans together. They formed an alliance to protect their lands, west of the Appalachians Mountains. In May 1763, Pontiac’s men began attacking settlers and British forts throughout the area. Because of this half a dozen British forts were destroyed and at least 2,000 backcountry settlers killed.
The Indians were not the only ones who were aggressive. The settlers also attacked natives, even if they had shown no hostility towards them. This created yet another problem for the British. Now England had to yet again gather their men and send them out to fight. They had already lost many men and spent so much money winning the French and Indian War, so another all out war with the Indians was not coming at a very good time. The British sent out their forces in search of war parties and finally defeated Pontiac’s forces in August 1763 at a battle near Fort Pitt. Pontiac continued to fight for another year but with it was hopeless and the war ended in the fall of 1764.
Pontiacs War is almost never mentioned and very few people have even heard of it. However, it had a very significant impact upon the lives of the colonists and how they viewed their English government. Up till this point in time most of the colonists were happy loyal British subjects. The colonists had just helped to win a war, which they believed entitled them to the spoils. This was the bargain that had been struck with the British and one of the main reasons they had fought in the French and Indian War. The British gave no sign or reason not to honor the land grant agreements, which they had with the colonists. But things changed when Pontiac and his men began wreaking havoc along the frontier.
Pontiac’s war was the beginning of the end to British rule in North America. Great Britain wanted to avoid any further fighting with the natives. They felt that due to their huge war debt and the stresses that the war had placed upon their country they needed to make peace at all costs with the Native Americans, at least for the time being.
The British had made promises of territorial lands to their native allies during the war as a form of enticing them to fight against the French. Whether they had intended to keep this agreement is unknown. A similar deal had been made with the colonists. It probably was the intention of the British government to divide up the lands temporarily, trying to appease both the colonists and the Indians.
The English probably felt that the natives would be pushed out eventually or assimilated into white culture over time due to the western expansion, which was bound to happen. What England needed was an instant stop to Indian conflict, which would allow them to lick their wounds and rebuild their forces and treasury. To do this they needed a simple and direct action, which was clearly defined and could not be argued. Therefore the British government issued the Proclamation of 1763.
This proclamation banned all colonial settlement west of a line, which was drawn along the Appalachian Mountains. Settlers, which had already settled west of this line, were told that they had to vacate their property and move back east. The Proclamation of 1763 angered many colonists who believed that they had the right to reside wherever they wanted. Many of the colonists had fought in the war to preserve their settlements, which were already there, or had fought for land, which had been promised to them by the British government.
As a result, The Proclamation Act of 1763 was widely ignored and many new settlers arrived to claim their land and many refused to leave. However, these individuals were on their own. The British could not be called upon to help settlers with Indian attacks due to them being there illegally.
This psychologically affected the colonists in two ways.
First, they now knew that they could not trust the British and that the British seemed to have their best interest at heart, not the interests of the colonials. This further strengthened the colonial’s views that they were thought of as being inferior and not really British subjects. The colonials began to question what they were getting in return for their taxes and labor.
Second, the colonials began to realize that they could protect and govern themselves. Out on the frontier, settlers had to ban together and form militias in order to defend their homes. Law was set locally and the settlers governed themselves. This feeling of independence helped to fuel the notion that the colonials did not need the British in anyway, including protection, which had always been England’s main argument.
British Rule Leads to Conflict
The colonials were very proud of their contribution to winning the French and Indian War. Tens of thousands of men served and many died fighting for the freedom of the colonies. Because of this sacrifice the colonials felt that the British should have been very thankful for their assistance.
The British would have never won the war in North America without the help of the colonial army and the colonists knew this. The British never did formally thank them or even treat them as equals. This led the colonists to be angry and resentful, further separating them mentally from the English ideals. They came to realize and believe that they had more in common with themselves then their English counter parts over seas.
The British view on the French and Indian war was very different from the colonials. The war had left England with a huge debt. They could not pull English troops out of North America because they needed a show of force in case the French tried to retake the land in which they had lost and to protect the settlers from Indian attacks. This was very expensive and a burden.
Because of this the British leaders believed that the colonists should have to pay for a large part of the war debt. The reasoning behind this was simple. The colonials had the most to gain and the English basically felt that they had to provide the troops to defend this land for the colonials. If the English had not done this the French would have surely taken all of the disputed land leaving only what the colonies had taken up until that time.
The colonials felt that they had sacrificed and fought for that land and that not matter what was said and done that land was going to be for king and country, expanding the British Empire to an even larger state.
The Sugar Act (1764)-put a 3% tax on foreign refined sugar and increased taxes on coffee, indigo, and certain kinds of wine.
The Stamp Act (1765)- Was the first direct tax on American colonists. Required them to pay a tax on every piece of printed paper they used. Ships papers, licenses, newspapers, legal documents etc….
Declaratory Act (1776)- Stated that the British government had the right to tax colonists as they saw fit at any time.
Townshend Acts (1767)-Named for Charles Townshend, the British treasurer, the Townshend Acts placed new taxes on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea.
The Coercive Acts (Intolerable Acts)(1774)
Boston Port Act- closed Boston’s harbor until the tea that was destroyed during the Boston Tea party was fully repaid.
The Massachusetts Government Act-made town meeting illegal except by the written consent of the British governor.
The Quartering Act-required the colonists to provide housing for British soldiers.
The Impartial Administration of Justice Act-allowed trials of British officials from Massachusetts to be held in other colonies or in Great Britain.
The Quebec Act-extended the Canadian border southward to the Ohio River, eliminating the colonies claim to the land.
The First Continental Congress
In September 1774, delegates, or representatives from the 12 Colonies met in Philadelphia to plan a united response to the Coercive Acts. This group of delegates that met was called the Continental Congress. They discussed what to do about the issues that were happening in the colonies and how to respond to the aggressive actions of the British. They decided to send a letter to the King which would politely ask the king to respect the colonist’s rights as British citizens. They also decided to organize a local boycott of all British goods.
Lexington and Concord
On April 18, 1775, Joseph Warren learned from a source inside the British high command that Redcoat troops would march that night on Concord. Warren dispatched two couriers, silversmith Paul Revere and tanner William Dawes, to alert residents of the news. They first traveled by different routes to Lexington, a few miles east of Concord, where revolutionary leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock had temporarily holed up. Having persuaded those two to flee, a weary Revere and Dawes then set out again. On the road, they met a third rider, Samuel Prescott, who alone made it all the way to Concord. Revere was captured by a British patrol, while Dawes was thrown from his horse and forced to proceed back to Lexington on foot.
Fighting Breaks Out in Lexington and Concord
At dawn on April 19, some 700 British troops arrived in Lexington and came upon 77 militiamen gathered on the town green. A British major yelled, “Throw down your arms! Ye villains, ye rebels.” The heavily outnumbered militiamen had just been ordered by their commander to disperse when a shot rang out. To this day, no one knows which side fired first. Several British volleys were subsequently unleashed before order could be restored. When the smoke cleared, eight militiamen lay dead and nine were wounded, while only one Redcoat was injured.
The British then continued into Concord to search for arms, not realizing that the vast majority had already been relocated. They decided to burn what little they found, and the fire got slightly out of control. Hundreds of militiamen occupying the high ground outside of Concord incorrectly thought the whole town would be torched. The militiamen hustled to Concord’s North Bridge, which was being defended by a contingent of British soldiers. The British fired first but fell back when the colonists returned the volley. This was the “shot heard ‘round the world” later immortalized by poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.
After searching Concord for about four hours, the British prepared to return to Boston, located 18 miles away. By that time, almost 2,000 militiamen—known as minutemen for their ability to be ready on a moment’s notice—had descended to the area, and more were constantly arriving. At first, the militiamen simply followed the British column. Fighting started again soon after, however, with the militiamen firing at the British from behind trees, stone walls, houses and sheds. Before long, British troops were abandoning weapons, clothing and equipment in order to retreat faster.
When the British column reached Lexington, it ran into an entire brigade of fresh Redcoats that had answered a call for reinforcements. But that did not stop the colonists from resuming their attack all the way through Menotomy (now Arlington) and Cambridge. The British, for their part, tried to keep the colonists at bay with flanking parties and canon fire. In the evening a contingent of newly arrived minutemen from Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts, purportedly had a chance to cut off the Redcoats and perhaps finish them off. Instead, their commander ordered them not to attack, and the British were able to reach the safety of Charlestown Neck, where they had naval support.
Aftermath of Lexington and Concord
The colonists did not show great marksmanship that day. As many as 3,500 militiamen firing constantly for 18 miles only killed or wounded roughly 250 Redcoats, compared to about 90 killed and wounded on their side. Nevertheless, they proved they could stand up to one of the most powerful armies in the world. News of the battle quickly spread, reaching London on May 28. By the following summer, a full-scale war of independence had broken out
The War Begins
After Lexington and Concord the colonists were hoping that the British would give into their demands. They believed that they had shown the British that they were willing to fight and could stand up to their army. However, the British felt differently. They believed that the colonials and their battle tactics were cowardly and the battle of Lexington and Concord was a fluke. The British knew that at the time the war began the colonials did not have the organization or an army which could stand up to the British regulars. Even though moral was high among the colonials their leaders were very concerned about what was to come.
Most of the colonials did not favor independence after Lexington and Concord. In fact the most colonials still felt really close to England and just regarded the whole matter as a misunderstanding that got out of control. Most hoped that England would be drawn into negotiations and an agreement could be reached that would satisfy both parties. There were some that were prepared to use force if necessary to defend their rights.
To discuss what was to be done next, a Second Continental Congress was called to meet in Philadelphia in May 1775. Among the delegates that attended were Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin. The Delegates were divided on what to do. The Northern colonies, mainly New England, felt that the colonies should declare independence. The middle colonies wanted less drastic measures. All of the delegates agreed upon on thing and that was that the colonies needed to prepare for war. The first step in doing so was to form an army. To lead the Army they chose George Washington who had military experience from the French and Indian war and was well respected by the delegates. To pay for the army the Congress began printing paper money. These outcomes of the meeting began to show the first steps in the formation of a new government.
Patriots against Loyalists
In 1775 there was a spilt forming in the colonies between those who favored independence and those who wanted to remain loyal to the crown. Colonists whom wanted independence and were willing to fight for it took the name patriots. Those who wished to remain loyal to the crown called themselves loyalists. Most of the colonists referred to themselves as patriots but at least 40% of the population wished to remain loyal to the crown. There were loyalists in every colony and in all sections of the population. In 1774 and 1775 patriots began to take control of local governments. This control led to differences in opinions and discrimination within the local communities. Loyalists included some people who came from the colonies wealthiest communities. Many of the leading merchants and landowners were loyalists. Even though the loyalists were outnumbered in the colonies the wealthy people commanded a great deal of power. They believed that a rebellion would upset their business and they could possibly lose their land and wealth. Many of the wealthy merchants had built their empires on trading with the British. The landowners raised crops, which were sold to the British and the rest of the colonies. If war broke out they would not be able to do their usual business and they could lose their fortunes. They also felt that if the British won the repercussions from siding with the patriots could also result in their land and financial means being stripped from them leaving them with nothing. One has to remember that no colonies had ever revolted against the British and won. The British had the best trained military in the world at the time and had defeated the European super powers. So to think that a few small colonies in North America could accomplish what other highly trained militaries could not was inconceivable. This is why many government officials and people in high society with titles were loyalists, they knew that they could be stripped of their titles and positions. During the revolution thousands of colonists fought on the British side. This caused a large scale migration out of North America during and after the war. It is estimated that about 100,000 loyalists left the colonies, many moved up into Canada. African American slaves and Native Americans also fought for the British. Slaves were offered freedom if they sided with the crown. The Native Americans believed that if the colonists won they would lose their lands so they decided to help the British in hopes of keeping an agreement with them for their tribal lands.
Rights and Responsibilities
Loyalists felt their rights, as citizens, originated with the British Crown because of this they believed that they had a responsibility to follow the rules and laws of the King. Patriots believed they were endowed with the natural rights promoted during the Enlightenment. As citizens, the patriots felt is was their responsibility to protest any law or action that violated these rights. Including the King of England.
Petitioning the King
Months after Lexington and Concord, many of the delegates and the Second Continental Congress hoped that peace could still be restored. There were two resolutions that passed during this time which show us the contrasting views within the Congress. The first was called the Olive Branch Petition. This was sent to King George and stated that the colonies were loyal to him. It asked the king to stop the fighting so that a peaceful resolution could be reached. The very next day, the Congress passed another resolution. This statement was much tougher and was called The Declaration of the Causes and Necessities of Taking Up Arms. This document stated that the colonists were ready to die as freemen rather then live as slaves. This document of course was a bit hypocritical since slavery was legal in the colonies. King George of course rejected the Olive Branch Petition and instead declared that the colonies were in open rebellion to Parliament. This led to Parliament voting to send 20,000 soldiers to the colonies to put down the revolt and secure the British holdings.
The Fall of Fort Ticonderoga
On May 10, 1775 a battle took place in northern New York. This fort protected the water route to Canada. This had great tactical significance. The attack was carried out by Ethan Allen and his band of rowdy soldiers, called The Green Mountain Boys. Allen’s force consisted of 83 men and reached the fort by crossing lake Champlain under the cover of darkness. The Green Mountain Boys took the fort completely by surprise and surrendered the fort almost immediately without a fight. This victory was important for two reasons. First it controlled the main route between Canada and the Hudson River Valley. Second it held valuable weapon stores, especially cannons. The colonials needed cannons to combat those of the British. The cannons from this fort were used later by George Washington to drive the British from Boston.
Battle of Bunker Hill
In June 1775 the British had 6,500 troops in Boston. The Americans had around 10,000 surrounding the city. About 1,600 of these men had taken up a strategic vantage point overlooking the city at an elevated position known as Breed’s Hill. From this position the Americans could fire down upon the city and at British ships in Boston Harbor.
The Americans that were surrounding the city were not professional trained soldiers. Instead they were volunteer minute men who had joined up for the cause. Most of these men were farmers and workers and had very little military experience, if any. Because of this, the colonial military leaders did not know if they actually would stand and fight against the British regulars if challenged in an all out fight. Many of the colonial leaders were very worried that the men would grab their stuff and run when it came time for actual combat. The British commanding offers felt the same way. They were very confident in the British troop’s training and weapons.
The British General William Howe decided to attack straight up Breed’s Hill. He made this decision based upon the British’s superior numbers and training. The American commander, Israel Putnam, knew his soldiers did not have enough ammunition to hold the position for very long. Putnam also made sure that the Americans had built fortifications, which they used for cover. This cover and an elevated position gave the Americans an advantage if they could only over come their lack of ammunition. To compensate for the lack of ammo and the even greater issue of unreliable accuracy of their weapons he gave the famous order not to fire “until you see the whites of their eyes.” The Americans waited until the advancing lines of British were only about 150ft away before they opened fire. When they did, hundreds of British fell dead immediately.
The first and second attack by the British failed. The third attack was a success only because the Americans ran out of ammunition and were forced to retreat. The British had won the battle but paid a very high price. More then 1,000 men had been killed or wounded. The American had only lost around 400. This battle had a huge significance because it proved that the Americans could hold their own against the highly equipped and skilled British army. This small victory for the British did not solve any of their problems. They still were cut off and forced to remain inside the city. Although they had ample rations and provisions.
In July 1775, George Washington arrived and took control of the army. Washington was newly appointed and knew that he had to build an army. Washington also knew that he need artillery to drive the British from the city. He had the British cannons from Fort Ticonderoga dragged on sleds into the forests surrounding Boston. It took 3 months for the cannons to be dragged 300 miles. Washington strategically placed these cannons on high ground overlooking Boston. He opened fire and the British realized that they cold no longer defend the city. On March 17, 1776, they withdrew from the city by sea and never returned.
The Americans were in high spirits after winning back the city and driving the British forces away. But Washington knew that the war was far from over. He knew that the British had the most powerful navy in the world. Because of this they used it transport troops and supplies and they set up a blockade of American ports including Boston. A blockade is the shutting of a port by ships to keep people or supplies from coming in or out. The British also decided to bolster their number by hiring mercenaries to come and fight the colonials.