First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia from September 5-October 26 1774, to protest the Intolerable Acts. Representatives attended from all the colonies except Georgia. The leaders invaded Samuel Adams and John Adams of Massachusetts and George Washington and Patrick Henry from Virginia. The Congress voted to cut off colonial trade with Great Britain unless Parliament abolished the Intolerable Acts. It also approved resolutions advising the colonies to begin training their citizens for war.
Name of the delegates to the First Continental Congress called for independence from Great Britain. Instead, the delegates hoped that the colonies would regain the rights which Parliament had taken away. The Congress agreed to hold another Continental Congress in May 1775 if Britain didn’t change its policies before that time.
John Adams (1735-1726)
Was an American statesman who served as the second President of the United States (1797–1801) and the first Vice President (1789–97). He was a lawyer, diplomat, statesman, political theorist, and, as a Founding Father, a leader of the movement for American independence from Great Britain. He was also a dedicated diarist and correspondent, particularly with his wife and closest advisor Abigail.
John Adams collaborated with his cousin, revolutionary leader Samuel Adams, but he established his own prominence prior to the American Revolution. After the Boston Massacre, he provided a successful (though unpopular) legal defense of the accused British soldiers, in the face of severe local anti-British sentiment and driven by his devotion to the right to counsel and the “protect[ion] of innocence.” Adams was a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, where he played a leading role in persuading Congress to declare independence. He assisted Thomas Jefferson in drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and was its foremost advocate in the Congress. As a diplomat in Europe, he helped negotiate the eventual peace treaty with Great Britain, and acquired vital governmental loans from Amsterdam bankers. Adams was the primary author of the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780. This influenced the development of America’s own constitution, as did his earlier Thoughts on Government (1776).
Adams’s credentials as a revolutionary secured for him two terms as President George Washington’s vice president (1789 to 1797) and also his own election in 1796 as the second president. In his single term as president, he encountered fierce criticism from the Jeffersonian Republicans, as well as the dominant faction in his own Federalist Party, led by his rival Alexander Hamilton. Adams signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts, and built up the army and navy in the face of an undeclared naval “Quasi-War” with France. The major accomplishment of his presidency was a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the face of Hamilton’s opposition. Due to his strong posture on defense, Adams is “often called the father of the American Navy.” He was the first U.S. president to reside in the executive mansion, now known as the White House.
In 1800, Adams lost re-election to Thomas Jefferson and retired to Massachusetts. He eventually resumed his friendship with Jefferson upon the latter’s own retirement by initiating a correspondence which lasted fourteen years. He and his wife established a family of politicians, diplomats, and historians now referred to as the Adams political family. Adams was the father of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. He died on the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and the same day as Jefferson. Modern historians in the aggregate have favorably ranked his administration.
George Washington (1732-1799)
was an American statesman and soldier who served as the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797 and was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and later presided over the 1787 convention that drafted the United States Constitution. He is popularly considered the driving force behind the nation’s establishment and came to be known as the “father of the country,” both during his lifetime and to this day.
Washington was born into the provincial gentry of Colonial Virginia to a family of wealthy planters who owned tobacco plantations and slaves, which he inherited. In his youth, he became a senior officer in the colonial militia during the first stages of the French and Indian War. In 1775, the Second Continental Congress commissioned him as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution. In that command, Washington forced the British out of Boston in 1776 but was defeated and nearly captured later that year when he lost New York City. After crossing the Delaware River in the middle of winter, he defeated the British in two battles (Trenton and Princeton), retook New Jersey, and restored momentum to the Patriot cause. His strategy enabled Continental forces to capture two major British armies at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781. Historians laud Washington for the selection and supervision of his generals, preservation and command of the army, coordination with the Congress, state governors, and their militia, and attention to supplies, logistics, and training. In battle, however, Washington was sometimes outmaneuvered by British generals with larger armies yet was always able to avoid significant defeats which would have resulted in the surrender of his army and the loss of the American Revolution.
After victory had been finalized in 1783, Washington resigned as commander-in-chief rather than seize power, proving his commitment to American republicanism. Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787, which devised a new form of federal government for the United States. Washington was widely admired for his strong leadership qualities and was unanimously elected president by the Electoral College in the first two national elections. Following his election as president in 1789, he worked to unify rival factions in the fledgling nation. He supported Alexander Hamilton’s programs to satisfy all debts, federal and state, established a permanent seat of government, implemented an effective tax system, and created a national bank.
In avoiding war with Great Britain, he guaranteed a decade of peace and profitable trade by securing the Jay Treaty in 1795, despite intense opposition from the Jeffersonians. He oversaw the creation of a strong, well-financed national government that maintained neutrality in the French Revolutionary Wars, suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, and won wide acceptance amongst Americans. Washington’s incumbency established many precedents still in use today, such as the cabinet system, the inaugural address, and the title Mr. President. His retirement from office after two terms established a tradition that lasted until 1940 and was later made law by the 22nd Amendment. He remained non-partisan, never joining the Federalist Party, although he largely supported its policies. Washington’s Farewell Address was an influential primer on civic virtue, warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars.
He retired from the presidency in 1797, returning to his home and plantation at Mount Vernon. Upon his death, Washington was eulogized as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen” by Representative Henry Lee III of Virginia. He was revered in life and in death; scholarly and public polling consistently ranks him among the top three presidents in American history. He has been depicted and remembered in monuments, public works, currency, and other dedications to the present day.
The fighting broke out between the American patriots and British soldiers in April 1775. The Americans in each colony were defended at first by the members of their citizen army, the militia. The militiamen came out to fight when the British neared their homes. The patriots soon established a regular military force known as the Continental Army. Britain depended chiefly on professional soldiers who had enlisted for long terms. The British soldiers were known as red coats because they wore bright red jackets.
The patriots won several victories in New England and the Southern Colonies during the early months of the Revolutionary War. As the fighting spread, many Americans became convinced of the need to cut their ties with Great Britain. In July 1776, more than a year after the start of the Revolutionary War, the colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence.
Lexington and Concord
In February 1775, Parliament declared that Massachusetts was in open rebellion. This declaration made it legal for British troops to treat troublesome colonists as rebels and shoot them on sight. The king and his ministers hoped to avoid a war by crushing the disorder in Boston. In April, General Gage received secret orders from the British government to take military action against the Massachusetts troublemakers and arrest their principal leaders.
The Boston patriots learned about the secret orders before Gage did. The leaders of the rebellion fled Boston to avoid arrest. Gage decided to capture or destroy arms and gunpowder stored by the patriots in the town of Concord, near Boston. On the night on April 18, 1775, about 700 British soldiers marched toward Concord.
was a British Army officer best known for his many years of service in North America, including his role as military commander in the early days of the American Revolution.
Being born to an aristocratic family in England, he entered military service, seeing action in the French and Indian War, where he served alongside his future opponent George Washington in the 1755 Battle of the Monongahela. After the fall of Montreal in 1760, he was named its military governor. During this time he did not distinguish himself militarily, but proved himself to be a competent administrator.
From 1763 to 1775 he served as commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America, overseeing the British response to the 1763 Pontiac’s Rebellion. In 1774 he was also appointed the military governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, with instructions to implement the Intolerable Acts, punishing Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. His attempts to seize military stores of Patriot militias in April 1775 sparked the Battles of Lexington and Concord, beginning the American War of Independence. After the Pyrrhic victory in the June Battle of Bunker Hill he was replaced by General William Howe in October 1775, and returned to Great Britain.
Joseph Warren, a Boston patriot discovered that the British were on the march. He sent too speedy couriers, Paul Revere and William Daves, to ride to Concord and warn the people about the approaching redcoats.
Joseph Warren (1741-1775)
was an American physician who played a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston in the early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as President of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Warren enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes on April 18, 1775, to leave Boston and spread the alarm that the British garrison in Boston was setting out to raid the town of Concord and arrest rebel leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Warren participated in the next day’s Battles of Lexington and Concord, which are commonly considered to be the opening engagements of the American Revolutionary War.
Warren had been commissioned a Major General in the colony’s militia shortly before the June 17, 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. Rather than exercising his rank, Warren served in the battle as a private soldier, and was killed in combat when British troops stormed the redoubt atop Breed’s Hill. His death, immortalized in John Trumbull’s painting, The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775, galvanized the rebel forces. He has been memorialized in the naming of many towns, counties and other locations in the United States, by statues, and in numerous other ways.
The red coats reached the town of Lexington, on the way to Concord, near dawn on April 19, 1775. Paul Revere’s ride had alerted volunteer soldier’s called minutemen, members of the militia who were highly trained and prepared to take up arms or a minute’s notice. About 70
minutemen waited for the red coats in Lexington. No one knows who fired the first shot. But 8 minutemen fell dead, and 10 more were wounded. One British soldier had been hunt.
The British continued on to Concord, where they searched for hidden arms. One group of red coats met minutemen at North Bridge, just outside Concord. In a brief clash, 3 red coats and 2 minutemen were killed. The British then turned back to Boston. Along the way, patriots fired at them from behind trees and stone fences.
The British were wounded for the day numbered about 250, and American losses came to about 90. The word spread rapidly that fighting had broken out between British troops and the Americans. Militiamen throughout New England took up arms and gathered outside Boston. They marched out of Boston. Three British officers Major-Generals John Burgoyne, Henry Clinton, and William Howe arrived in Boston with more troops in late May 1775.
The British and the Americans each hoped to gain an advantage by occupying hills overlooking Boston. The Americans moved first, and they had intended to fortify Bunker Hill. Instead, they dug in on Breed’s Hill, closer to the city. On June 17 1775, the British troops led by William Howe attacked the American positions on Breed’s Hill.
To save ammunition, the patriots were ordered: “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” The Americans drove back two British charges before they ran out of ammunition. During a third change, British bayonets forced the Americans to flee.
The fighting, usually called the Battle of Bunker Hill, was the bloodiest battle of the entire war. More than, 1,000 British soldiers and about 400 Americans were killed or wounded.
The Continental Army
The Second Continental Congress began meeting in Philadelphia in May 1775, soon after the battles at Lexington and Concord. Patriots leaders in Massachusetts urged the Congress to take charge of militia units outside Boston and raise an army strong enough to challenge the red coats.
On June 14, the Congress established the Continental Army. The next day, George Washington was made the army’s Commander-in-Chief. The Congress named 13 more generals soon afterward. It then had to figure out how to recruit troops, supply an army, and pay for a war.
Washington took command of the military camps near Boston on July 3, 1775. Immediately he wanted to establish order and discipline in the army.
The militia units were poorly trained and undisciplined. They lacked weapons and overall organization. Their camps were filthy. Most soldiers had volunteered for service to defend their families and farms. They expected to return home after a few months. Washington issued a flood of orders and dismissed junior officers who failed to enforce them. Soldiers who disobeyed were punished.
The Evacuation of Boston
Soon after Washington took charge of the Continental Army, he sought to drive the British from Boston. To accomplish that task, the Americans needed artillery. In May 1775, two colonels Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold had seized Fort Ticonderoga, a British in the colony of New York. Shortly afterward, their troops captured another British post at nearby Crown Point. The two victories provided the Americans with much-needed artillery.
Benedict Arnold (1741-1801)
Was a general during the American Revolutionary War, who fought for the American Continental Army, and later defected to the British Army. While a general on the American side, he obtained command of the fortifications at West Point, New York (which after 1802 would become the site of the U.S. Military Academy), overlooking the cliffs at the Hudson River (upriver from British-occupied New York City), and planned to surrender them to British forces. This plan was exposed in September 1780. He was commissioned into the British Army as a brigadier general.
Arnold was born in Connecticut and was a merchant operating ships on the Atlantic Ocean when the war broke out in 1775. He joined the growing army outside Boston and distinguished himself through acts of intelligence and bravery. His actions included the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, defensive and delaying tactics at the Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain in 1776 (allowing American forces time to prepare New York’s defenses), the Battle of Ridgefield, Connecticut (after which he was promoted to major general), operations in relief of the Siege of Fort Stanwix, and key actions during the pivotal Battles of Saratoga in 1777, in which he suffered leg injuries that halted his combat career for several years.
Despite Arnold’s successes, he was passed over for promotion by the Continental Congress, while other officers claimed credit for some of his accomplishments. Adversaries in military and political circles brought charges of corruption or other malfeasance, but most often he was acquitted in formal inquiries. Congress investigated his accounts and concluded that he was indebted to Congress (he also had spent much of his own money on the war effort). Arnold was frustrated and bitter at this, as well as with the alliance with France and the failure of Congress to accept Britain’s 1778 proposal to grant full self-governance in the colonies. He decided to change sides, and opened secret negotiations with the British. In July 1780, he was awarded command of West Point. His scheme was to surrender the fort to the British, but it was exposed when American forces captured British Major John André carrying papers which revealed the plot. Upon learning of André’s capture, Arnold fled down the Hudson River to the British sloop-of-war Vulture, narrowly avoiding capture by the forces of George Washington, who had been alerted to the plot.
Arnold received a commission as a brigadier general in the British Army, an annual pension of £360, and a lump sum of over £6,000. He led British forces on raids in Virginia and against New London and Groton, Connecticut before the war effectively ended with the American victory at Yorktown. In the winter of 1782, he moved to London with his second wife Margaret “Peggy” Shippen Arnold. He was well received by King George III and the Tories, but frowned upon by the Whigs. In 1787, he returned to the merchant business with his sons Richard and Henry in Saint John, New Brunswick. He returned to London to settle permanently in 1791, where he died ten years later.
The name “Benedict Arnold” quickly became a byword in the United States for treason or betrayal because he betrayed his countrymen by leading the British army in battle against the men whom he once commanded. His earlier legacy is recalled in the ambiguous nature of some of the memorials that have been placed in his honor.
In November 1775, Colonel Henry Knox, Washington’s chief of artillery, proposed a plan to move the heavy guns by sled from Ticonderoga across the snow-covered Berkshire Mountains to Boston. The guns reached Framingham near Boston, by late January 1776.
Henry Knox (1756-1806)
was a military officer of the Continental Army and later the United States Army, who also served as the first United States Secretary of War from 1789 to 1794.
Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, he owned and operated a bookstore there, cultivating an interest in military history and joining a local artillery company. When the American Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, he befriended General George Washington, and quickly rose to become the chief artillery officer of the Continental Army. In this role he accompanied Washington on most of his campaigns and had some involvement in many major actions of the war. He established training centers for artillerymen and manufacturing facilities for weaponry that were valuable assets to the fledgling nation.
Following the adoption of the United States Constitution, he became President Washington’s Secretary of War. In this role he oversaw the development of coastal fortifications, worked to improve the preparedness of local militia, and oversaw the nation’s military activity in the Northwest Indian War. He was formally responsible for the nation’s relationship with the Indian population in the territories it claimed, articulating a policy that established federal government supremacy over the states in relating to Indian nations, and called for treating Indian nations as sovereign. Knox’s idealistic views on the subject were frustrated by ongoing illegal settlements and fraudulent land transfers involving Indian lands.
He retired to what is now Thomaston, Maine, in 1795, where he oversaw the rise of a business empire built on borrowed money. He died in 1806 from an infection he contracted after swallowing a chicken bone, leaving an estate that was bankrupt.
The arrival of the artillery enabled the patriots to fortify a high ground south of Boston known as Dorchester Heights. The work was completed during the night of March 4, 1776. General Howe had taken command of the British army several months earlier. Howe realized that his soldiers couldn’t hold Boston with American cannons pointed at them. By March 17, 1776, the British troops had been loaded onto the ships. They soon sailed to Canada. But the evacuation of British troops from Boston was only a temporary victory for the Americans. Howe and his troops landed at New York City in July.
William Howe, 5th Viscount Howe (1729-1814)
was a British Army officer who rose to become Commander-in-Chief of British forces during the American War of Independence. Howe was one of three brothers who had distinguished military careers.
Having joined the army in 1746, Howe saw extensive service in the War of the Austrian Succession and Seven Years’ War. He became known for his role in the capture of Quebec in 1759 when he led a British force to capture the cliffs at Anse-au-Foulon, allowing James Wolfe to land his army and engage the French in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Howe also participated in the campaigns to take Louisbourg, Belle Île and Havana. He was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Wight, a post he would hold until 1795.
Howe was sent to North America in March 1775, arriving in May after the American War of Independence broke out. After leading British troops to a costly victory in the Battle of Bunker Hill, Howe took command of all British forces in America from Thomas Gage in September of that year. Howe’s record in North America was marked by the successful capture of both New York City and Philadelphia. However, poor British campaign planning for 1777 contributed to the failure of John Burgoyne’s Saratoga campaign, which played a major role in the entry of France into the war. Howe’s role in developing those plans and the degree to which he was responsible for British failures that year (despite his personal success at Philadelphia) have both been subjects of contemporary and historic debate.
He was knighted after his successes in 1776. He resigned his post as Commander in Chief, North America, in 1777, and the next year returned to England, where he was at times active in the defence of the British Isles. He sat in the House of Commons from 1758 to 1780. He inherited the Viscountcy of Howe upon the death of his brother Richard in 1799. He married, but had no children, and the viscountcy was extinguished with his death in 1814.
The Invasion of Canada
To prevent British forces from sweeping down from Canada into New York, the Continental Congress ordered an invasion of Canada. Some delegates also hoped that Canada might join the colonies in their rebellion against Great Britain. In the Fall of 1775, two American expeditions marched Northward into Canada. Benedict Arnold led one force along rivers and over rugged terrain toward the city of Quebec. Disease and hunger caused many of his men to turn back. The other expedition, under Brigadier General Richard Montgomery, headed toward Montreal. Montgomery captured Montreal on November 13. He then joined Arnold outside Quebec.
On December 31, 1775, under cover of a blizzard, the Americans stormed Quebec. But they failed to take the city. Montgomery died in the attack and Arnold was seriously wounded. Major General Guy Carleton, governor of the colony of Quebec, commanded the British forces in Canada. The Americans retreated to New York in the spring, after the British rein for cements reached Canada. The invasion of Canada had ended in a failure for the patriots.
Fighting in the Southern Colonies
Some Southern planters feared that a rebellion against Great Britain in the name of liberty might inspire black slaves to revolt against them. Those colonists he stated to support the war at first. For that reason, Britain expected to restore its authority more easily in the Southern Colonies than in the South at the start of the Revolutionary War.
In urging his fellow Virginians to army Patrick Henry reportedly, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death”.
In November 1775, the British governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore offered to free black slaves, who took up arms on Britain’s side.
From 1,000 to 2,000 blacks joined Dunmore. In December, the patriots defeated a force led by Dunmore at Great Bridge, South of Norfolk. Dunmore fled Virginia the following summer.
North Carolina’s governor, Josiah Martin, also hoped to crush the rebellious colonists by force. He urged North Carolinas loyal to Great Britain to join him. More than 1,500 colonists took a beating from patriot forces at Moore’s Creek Bridge, near Wilmington. British troops under General Clinton had sailed Southward from Boston.
However, they failed to arrive in time to prevent the defeat at Moore’s Creek Bridge on February 27, 1776. The attack, was called off later that day, after gunfire from the fort damaged several ships. Clinton soon rejoined the British forces in the North.