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From Lexington to the Negotiated Settlement, 1775-83

Lexington re-enactment

  A Lexington re-enactment

Moving against the possibility of armed violence by the colonists, the mother country sent around 2,000 soldiers from Boston on the night of April 18-19, 1775, to confiscate munitions that the colonists were storing at Concord – 26 miles northeast of Boston, as the crow flies. During the night, Paul Revere and fellow riders went from house to house, quietly giving warning to people who belonged to a group called Minutemen.

Ten miles short of Concord, at the village green in Lexington, armed townspeople and around 130 armed Minutemen came face to face with British soldiers called "redcoats" or "regulars." The commander of the redcoats called on the colonists to disperse. Among the colonists was a hothead who fired a shot at the redcoats from behind a stone wall. Firing broke out on both sides. Eight redcoats were killed and ten wounded.

The redcoats went on to Concord, where they faced more lawlessness, and another skirmish occurred. At noon the British forces began their return march to Boston. Along the way they were attacked by colonists firing from behind walls and trees. By the time the king's men made it back to Boston they had suffered 72 dead, and 49 colonists had been killed.

The skirmish was news around the world. In response to the incident many colonists were eager to retaliate. In May, eighty-three colonists crossed Lake Champlain from Vermont and took from the redcoats the forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point. In June the redcoats drove the armed insurrectionists off Breed's Hill (next to Bunker Hill) near Boston in what was to become known as the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Since May and during the most recent violence the Second Continental Congress was in session, and it created its own army and navy, with George Washington on July 3 assigned command of what was called the Continental Army. The congress assumed independent powers over relations with the Indians and sent diplomatic agents to Europe. In July, the Continental Congress attempted conciliation with George III. Instead of conciliation, King George on August 23, 1775, declared that a rebellion existed and that it would be crushed and the "traitors" brought to justice.

The colonists created a new flag, with thirteen stripes but, as yet, no stars. Where there would be stars was the Union Jack, symbolizing a continuing union with Britain. Some colonists began reading Tom Paine's book Common Sense, which called for independence. In January 1776, George Washington stopped his routine toasting of George III at army officer dinners.

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress declared independence. Language in the Declaration of Independence was in the British liberal tradition and reflected a belief in the freedoms of Britain's constitution. A part of it was a concern that had been acquired by progressive Christians: happiness. This had been the concern of Thomas Jefferson's favorite ancient philosopher, Epicurus, as opposed to enduring suffering favored by Stoics. The declaration stated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Divided Loyalties and Violence

"How is it," asked London's famous author, Samuel Johnson, "that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were slave owners. There were also slave owners in the colonies who remained loyal to King George III. And remaining loyal to George III were his governors in the colonies and those who were officials under those governors. Ranking ministers in the king's Anglican Church also remained loyal. The more wealthy businessmen tended to be loyal, but so did many humble farmers and shopkeepers. Support for the insurrectionists was stronger in the coastal regions, where trade had been more of an issue than they were in the hills inland near the frontier. Loyalists were strongest where the king's military could protect them. This was so in the area of New York city, which the redcoats held through much of the war. Where the redcoats were least in control, in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia, loyalists were few.

One historian lists about 10 percent of the white population in the colonies as actively loyal, about 40 percent as supporting the insurrection and about 50 percent as neutral. note15

Among the neutrals were the Quakers, the Moravians (originally from Prague) and the Mennonites (originally from Holland.  The Quakers were opposed to participating in any bloodshed, and they believed that they were dependent on the king's clemency and that challenging

Some who were loyal to the king fought on the side of his redcoats, but they were few. The mother country had a manpower problem in the colonies. The redcoats offered freedom to slaves to lure them to their side, and an estimated 30,000 slaves fled to the redcoats when that latter invaded Virginia in 1781. And during the war a quarter of the slaves in South Carolina and Georgia ran away. It has been said that around 10,000 blacks fought on the side of the redcoats.

The insurrectionist side also had a manpower problem, which benefited blacks. It is said that around 5,000 blacks fought on the side of the revolution. There was a shortage of seamen, and, in the mid-Atlantic region, some blacks escaped slavery by working on merchant ships. And some blacks won freedom working at other jobs.

Loyalists spied and reported on those supporting insurrection. And, and when the redcoats left, loyalist civilians suffered vengeance from those supporting the revolution. The homes and crops of loyalists were burned. Properties of the loyalists were confiscated to help pay for the rebellion. Those supporting revolution vilified loyalists as immoral ignoramuses. With the arrival of the redcoats, loyalists sometimes hanged the supporters of revolution, and with the departure of the redcoats, those supporting revolution sometimes hanged loyalists, including blacks who had joined the redcoats.

Victory for the Revolution

Early in the revolutionary war, England's old enemy, France, was officially neutral but secretly supplying the insurrectionists with guns and gunpowder. In 1777, French volunteers began joining the ranks of the revolutionaries. That was the year that the 20 year-old Marquis de Lafayette arrived in the colonies and joined Washington and his army. Lafayette was seeking revenge for the death of his father and for France's loss of territory in the Americas following the Seven Years' War.

Britain's other former enemy, Spain, asked for Gibraltar as a reward for joining the war on its side. When Britain refused, Spain declared war. The following year, 1780, France decided it was an opportune time to retaliate for losses incurred in the Seven Years' War, and it chose war against Britain. A third former enemy of Great Britain, the Dutch, joined the French and Spanish against England. The Dutch had favored the insurrection in Britain's colonies from the beginning. When the naval revolutionist fighter John Paul Jones found refuge in the Dutch Republic, people cheered him wherever he went.

George Washington would have been hanged had the redcoats prevailed. But perseverance by the Continental Army and George Washington paid off. The mother country was hampered by distance. It took weeks and sometimes months for messages and sailing ships to cross the Atlantic. On October 19, 1781, at Yorktown, Virginia, George Washington and his army, with military help from 6,000 French troops and the French navy, cornered and forced the surrender of a redcoat army commanded by Lord Cornwallis.

Negotiations to end the war took place in Paris in 1782. In February 1783, George III issued a "Proclamation of Cessation of Hostilities." And on September 3, 1783, in Paris, a treaty was signed. The treaty recognized the Unites States of America as an independent government. It established the western boundary of the United States at the Mississippi River, and the treaty returned Florida to Spain. In December, Washington resigned his command and returned to his home in Virginia. On January 14, 1784, the Continental Congress ratified the treaty.

Between 1775 and 1784, approximately 100,000 loyalists, 4 percent of the population, fled the United States. Between 60,000 and 80,000 of them fled in 1783, and most of them were members of the Church of England. The destination was mostly Canada while some fled to the Bahamas and took their slaves with them. Around a thousand black loyalists ended up in Britain's African colony of Sierra Leone.

During the war, approximately 7,200 colonists died from violence, around 10,000 from disease or exposure and 8,500 died in British prisons. This is a total of 25,700 colonists. In percentage of the population that is equivalent in the year 2000 to 2.86 million deaths – the United States in the year 2000 having more than 110 times the population that the thirteen colonies had in 1775.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.