Gary B. Nash
The American Revolution played an important role in African Americans' quest for freedom. It marked the first mass rebellion by slaves in American history, gave rise to the first civil rights movement, and resulted in the first large-scale constructions of free black life. African slaves in North America knew that their natural rights were violated by their enslavement, although a confluence of events heightened their restiveness and provided them with the ideology-laden phrases that they could deploy in their struggle to secure their liberty whenever and wherever possible. The Revolution offered slaves a chance to realize this dream. African American revolutionaries saw the war as a way to quench their thirst for freedom, to end corrupt power, and to die for their natural rights.
Stephen R. Conway
During the American Revolution, Britain relied primarily on its army to subdue the rebellious colonies. At its peak, the British army in North America had approximately 50,000 officers and men, constituting the largest expeditionary force sent overseas by any British governments. After nearly seven years of fighting, however, the British Parliament realized that military operations in the colonies would not crush the rebellion. The American Revolution has been linked to various myths, three of which relate to the British army and its role in the War of Independence. One myth is that the weaknesses of character and approach of the British army account for its loss in the war that it should have won. This chapter challenges the myths of the War of Independence and offers a different explanation for the failure of the British army to quash the American revolt.
During the American Revolution, tens of thousands of men served in the Continental army to fight Britain and became skilled professionals in the process. These soldiers formed deep bonds with each other, not only by fighting the enemy but also by living together, caring for each other when sick, burying their friends and enemies, tolerating their weak officers, celebrating their talented ones, foraging for food, and otherwise coping with all the hardships of army life. Created by the Continental Congress in June 1775, the Continental army fought the British until the war's end in 1783. Poor men made up the core of Continental servicemen. Officers and soldiers received very different pay. By the end of 1776, the Continental army was also dissolved. Both formal and informal punishment was consistent throughout the army. Militiamen did not receive corporal punishment, as sentenced by courts-martial or done informally by angry officers.
The success of the Federalists in the late 1780s had a profound influence on how Americans viewed the relationship between military spending, taxation, and the monetary system. For almost 100 years, the colonists funded military campaigns by means of paper money rather than direct taxes, an approach that helped finance several imperial wars and the American Revolution. By the late 1780s, however, many Federalists realized that paper money alone could not solve America's financial woes, much less pay for its defense. Although the entire era of the American Revolution was characterized by struggles over taxes and money, little attention has been paid to the financial history of the period. This chapter examines domestic fiscal and monetary policy during the American Revolution, starting with the colonists' use of paper money in the late seventeenth century in lieu of taxes. To understand the evolution of monetary and fiscal policy in this period, it considers the genuine radicalism—and ultimately, conservatism—of the American Revolution.
Loyalism was a dominant theme of the American Revolution. Most loyalists were ordinary Americans who wished to remain connected to the British Empire. Over the past 200 years, the numbers of loyalists have been estimated from roughly 20 percent of the population of the colonies up to 33 percent. The exact number of loyalists could not be determined either because many loyalists hid their political allegiances, or their allegiances were too shifting and mutable to count. What is clear is that many loyalists chose to remain in the newly independent United States and weather the conflict. A nationalist narrative of the American Revolution has successfully alienated and excluded loyalists, but it was later displaced by a global narrative of empire and circumatlantic cultural and economic flows. This new circumatlantic perspective led to the dissociation of the geographic space of British North America with a particular identity. In terms of political ideals, loyalists seem to be no different to patriots, with both camps claiming the inheritance of the rights of Englishmen and British political thought.
Jane T. Merritt
The relationship between native peoples and the emerging United States during the era of the American Revolution was a complicated one. From the onset of Lord Dunmore's War in 1774 to the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Indians in North America faced a dilemma on whether they would fight, for whom they would fight, and why they would fight. Most Native Americans initially thought that the Revolution was an isolated disagreement between white colonists and their mother country. However, the Revolutionary War evolved into a continent-wide struggle that the Indians could not avoid. Individual Indians joined both the Continental and British armies as regular soldiers or as scouts, guides, mariners, and diplomats. Indian involvement in the American Revolution has often been interpreted as the story of a people who picked the wrong side, lost, and were destined to move west and disappear. However, history shows that Native Americans not only participated in the American Revolution, but also survived the long-term changes it produced.
Paul W. Mapp
Two decades after the Seven Years' War, two European monarchical empires, France and Spain, reluctantly but substantially assisted the republican independence of thirteen European colonies. By aiding the United States, France and Spain encountered just the kinds of perils they hoped to avoid. Britain was led by George III, Spain by Charles III, and France by Louis XV; all three kings reigned over American possessions. From a diplomatic point of view, the United States, France, and Spain at least had each other. In contrast, Britain fought for America and empire from 1775 to 1783 without a major European ally. In the early stages of the American Revolution, while France and Spain were providing at least limited and secret aid to the American states, Britain was obtaining only the help it could pay for.
Mark A. Peterson
One aspect of the American Revolution is “the war in the cities.” Scholars on urban life and the American Revolution have traditionally focused on the five largest urban centers in the British colonies that became part of the new United States: New York, Boston, Charleston, Philadelphia, and Newport. Others have challenged this notion, arguing that less-prominent cities and towns also played a key role in bringing about the war. Some studies include even-smaller towns within the “thirteen colonies,” such as Salem (Massachusetts), Annapolis (Maryland), or Savannah (Georgia). Two other cities that were a part of the war were Quebec and Halifax in Canada. However, the United States did not develop a city like Quebec, Halifax, or Portsmouth as a result of the Revolution.
The experience of Tiverton, a town in Rhode Island, during the American Revolution reflects the story of much of Revolutionary America, particularly the countryside. However, the history of the war in the countryside is not well understood. During peaceful times, Britain promoted trade and a colonial political hierarchy, with courts and town meetings justifying gender, class, and racial relations. Men and women, the poor and the middling sort, slave and free, lived in households and communities that sustained free families, validated the division of labor, and resulted in economic growth. This social order was disrupted by the war, and the violence it brought in its wake. This chapter first examines the patterns of Revolutionary-era violence and plunder in the countryside, and then discusses the macroeconomic consequences of war and violence, and the eruption of the first great economic depression in American national history. It concludes by analyzing the impact of war on social groups (for example, free women and slaves) and on the households they organized.
Sarah M. S. Pearsall
This chapter examines the experiences of women during the American Revolution, focusing on how they affected the war and how the war affected them. Wartime violence made many women (and men) into victims and survivors; fear of violence is sometimes as potent as violence itself. At the same time, wartime destruction and economic inflation had an impact on women's lives and labors. Nevertheless, women were transformed from mere victims into agents in the war, battling demons of chaos, brutality, tyranny, and hunger. The chapter focuses on five periods and places: the first centers on New England in 1775–1776, the second is set in southern England in 1778, the third takes place in the country of the Six Nations in 1779, the fourth deals with Pennsylvania in 1780, and the fifth concentrates on the South in 1781–1782. These snapshots offer insights into the diversity of women's experiences, as well as the ways in which the war altered patterns of women's mobility and public participation.