Unit 3: American Revolution

General Timeline
General Map

Map # 1: Phase 1 of the Revolution

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Map # 2: Phase 2 of the Revolution

Map # 3: Phase 3 of the Revolution

Course Content

American Revolution (1775-1781):


Start of American Revolution

Battles of Lexington & Concord (1775)

Massachusetts farmers (known as "minutemen") gathered arms/munitions to fight the British on a minute's notice

Gen. Thomas Gage, a British General dispatched in Lexington (near Boston) heard about a gunpowder storehouse created by the minutemen in Concord

Gen. Gage sent 1000 soldiers to Concord (18 miles from Lexington) to take over the storehouse

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While the British were returning to Lexington, the local farmers, hiding behind trees, shot the British soldiers, killing many

British troops arrived in Concord the next day, and local minutemen were waiting outside. British troops fired, killing many minutemen, and burned the storehouse

The Bostonians were secretly watching Gen. Cage, and in the night, 2 horsemen, William Dawes and Paul Revere, rode to Concord to warn the locals

2nd Continental Congress & Initial Sentiments among Colonists

  • Delegates from 12 colonies (not Georgia) met at Philadelphia State House as 2nd Continental Congress

    • Agreed that war with Britain was necessary, disagreed on the purpose of war

      • Extremists wanted complete independence from Britain

      • Moderates wanted some self-government but still British control

  • Delegates drafted the Olive Branch Petition, a document petitioning to King George III for a better relationship with the colonies

    • King George III refused, sparking the war

    • Colonists thus drafted "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms" to explain why they needed an armed battle with Britain

  • Some colonists were unenthusiastic about the war due to its high financial & human cost

    • British recruited slaves & Indians to fight for them, further angering the colonists

    • Britain later signed Prohibitory Act (1775), closing all trade between colonies & Britain

  • Thomas Paine published Common Sense, a pamphlet detailing why it was necessary to have war with Britain

    • Helped fuel the interest in war among the colonists


Declaration of Independence (1776) & Its Effects

  • A feeling of independence spread among the colonists as Thomas Paine's pamphlet became popular

    • Continental Congress sought to proclaim independence from Britain

    • Benjamin Franklin & Samuel Adams helped Thomas Jefferson draft Declaration of Independence

      • Written on July 4, 1776​

      • First part echoed John Locke's social contract theory: "All men are equal ... have rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness"

      • 2nd part listed grievances toward the King

  • Loyalists (also called Tories) were colonists who were loyal to the British & hated independence

    • Patriots were people who wanted independence​

  • Individual colonies felt stronger & more like states (their own sovereign entity) as opposed to part of a larger nation-state

    • Colonies increased their self-government, independent of Parliament

    • Most states made their own constitution

  • A strong national government was needed in the colonies to provide effective leadership for the war

    • Continental Congress was just a unifying force among the states, not a strong nat'l government

    • Continental Congress adopted Articles of Confederation in 1777 (ratified in 1781)

      • Helped unify the colonies but did little change as individual states had lots of power


Mobilization for War

  • The colonists needed to produce enough weapons

    • Gunsmiths couldn't meet the high demand, so colonists relied on capturing weapons from the British on the battlefield

    • Congress created an arsenal at Springfield, MA

  • The colonists needed to raise money, but Congress couldn't levy taxes on the people, so it asked the state governments to do so

    • Congress issued long-term bonds, but these failed

    • Congress thus issued paper money, but this led to extreme inflation

      • During the war, farmers would sell their produce to the British instead of the colonists as the British would pay in silver/gold coins

  • The colonists had problems with organizing the military

    • States had to recruit people for the military ​due to its low membership

    • There was no national military, so Congress created the Continental Army

      • George Washington led this army

    • Washington had problems with his military as soldiers protested about low pay & low food rations

      • Congress refused to provide him with aid to quell these rebellions​

      • Marquis de Lafayette of France helped Washington & increased his army's size

  • Overall, while the colonies were very decentralized, Washington helped hold them all together


Start of American Revolution

Phase 1: Battles of New England

  • Initially, the Battles of the American Revolution occurred in Boston

  • In June 1775, British attacked the colonists in Boston at Battle of Bunker Hill

    • Patriots suffered severe losses, but many British also died​

  • On March 17, 1776, British evacuated many New England Loyalists to Nova Scotia, Canada (Evacuation Day)

  • When British came back from Nova Scotia, they sought get help from the Loyalists in the southern colonies

    • However, in Feb 1776, Patriots defeated Loyalists at Moore's Creek Bridge (NC)

  • Colonists later sought to invade Canada to prevent Canadians from providing aid to British

    • Commanders Benedict Arnold & Richard Montgomery went to Canada but failed to siege Quebec​

  • 1st phase of the war is mostly in Boston, but when British returned from Nova Scotia, they realized the war would be much bigger, not just in Boston


Phase 2: Battles of the Mid-Atlantic

British General William Howe led a huge invasion of New York City (NYC) w/ 32k troops & hundreds of vessels

Howe abandoned this plan, decided to attack Philadelphia instead. Defeated Washington at Battle of Brandywine Creek & Germantown (1777)

Washington & his army retreated to Valley Forge in winter of 1777-1778. He was short of supplies & food

George Washington organized a 19k men poorly-equipped army & was forced to retreat to New Jersey then to Pennsylvania

British were used to seasonal warfare (no warfare during winter). During winter, they settled around New Jersey & put Hessians (German troops hired by British) in outposts to look out for colonists

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Britain had a new plan to attack the colonists from both sides in NY. Howe would move to NYC & lead his army up Hudson river to Albany. John Burgoyne would lead his army south from Canada into upper Hudson valley

On Dec 25, 1776, Washington attacked British bases at Princeton & Trenton, but was unable to maintain control of them

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Burgoyne had to command Northern forces on his own. Sent Col. Barry St. Leger to conquer Eastern NY. Burgoyne went to upper Hudson Valley, took over Fort Ticonderoga which had lots of American supplies

Colonists got mad that British took over Fort Ticonderoga. Congress replaced Gen. Philip Schuyler with Horatio Gates

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Burgoyne was short of supplies & withdrew to Fort Saratoga, where Horatio Gates surrounded him and his 5k men. Burgoyne surrendered in Oct 1777

Burgoyne later suffered 2 defeats: At Battle of Oriskany, NY (1777), he failed to attack colonists, which were led by Nicholas Hermiker. Later, at Bennington (VT), while his army was getting supplies, New England milita led by John Stark attacked him

  • Howe made many mistakes, otherwise he could have easily won

    • Shouldn't have left Burgoyne on his own

    • Should have attacked Washington in Pennsylvania without allowing him to regroup many times

    • Should have attack Washington at Valley Forge

Iroquois & their Involvement in the War

  • Initially, most Iroquois supported the British

    • Believed the British would prevent white encroachment on their land

  • Mohawk siblings Joseph & Mary Bryant helped the British

    • Got other tribes to support the British, helped Burgoyne's campaigns

  • Later, Iroquois Confederacy started to unravel

    • Iroquois Confederacy was an alliance of 6 tribes

    • 2 of those tribes supported the English, one was neutral

  • Some Indians helped the British raid white settlements in upstate NY

  • American Gen. John Sullivan attacked many Iroquois villages while retaliating after a defeat

    • Many Iroquois fled to Canada, some never returned

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Securing French Aid in the War

  • Before Declaration of Independence, Congress dispatched diplomats to different European capitals

    • Needed nations to recognize the US as an independent nation

    • Needed trading partners after independence (because Britain would not trade w/ the colonies)

    • Known as "militia diplomats"

    • Had inadequate communication with the colonies

  • The French agreed to help the US as they hated the British after losing the French & Indian War

    • Louis XVI & his foreign minister, Count de Vergennes, agreed to help

    • Supplied arms & soldiers to the colonies but refused to recognize the US as a nation

    • Benjamin Franklin later traveled to France to negotiate treaties

      • Franklin believed Britain would launch an offensive raid after Battle of Saratoga

      • French thus agreed to recognize independence of US & laid groundwork to aid in the war effort

    • French provided navy & soldiers to the colonists


End of American Revolution

Phase 3 (Final Phase): Battles of the South

British sought to go to the south as there were more Loyalists there. This failed as Loyalist turnout was lower than expected. 

Few British troops were left in north (as most went south). These were now led by Sir Henry Clinton (replaced Howe), attacked NYC and had a stalemate with Washington

Virginia employed George Rogers Clark to lead expedition over Appalachian Mtns to capture some settlements from British & their Indian allies

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Lord Cornwallis (British commander in South) defeated Patriot force under Horatio Gates in Aug 1780.  Congress recalled Gates & put Nathanael Greene in charge

As the British moved through the countryside, they had a disadvantage as they were walking in enemy land. Group of guerilla fighters known as "Swamp Fox" (Francis Marion) attacked British in the countryside

Britain had some successes in the South. Got Savannah in Dec 1778, got Charles Town in May 1780. Some Loyalists joined them

War turned against the British now. At Battle of King's Mountain, SC (Oct 1780), Patriots defeated entire force of 1100 Tories employed by Cornwallis

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At Battle of Guilford Court House, NC (Mar 1781), Greene lost, but Cornwallis lost so many men (probably weakened his army)

Cornwallis retreated to Wilmington, NC, to wait for supplies being sent to him by ship. However, upon Clinton's request, he retreated to Yorktown & built forts there to wait for British ships to take his troops to NYC or Charles town

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They trapped Cornwallis & his army at Yorktown by land and sea, so Cornwallis was forced to surrender in Oct 1781

Washington along with French commanders Jean Baptiste de Rochambeau and Admiral Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse sought to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown. De Grasse sailed into Chesapeake bay while Washington & Rochambeau went to Yorktown by land

End of War & Peace Settlement

  • After Capture of Yorktown, war wasn't over

    • Britain still had control of many ports like Charles Town, Wilmington, Savannah, NYC

    • Still, many British didn't want to continue the war

  • New British Prime Minister Lord Shelburne sent emissaries to talk with American diplomats in Paris

    • Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay were present

    • French foreign minister Count de Vergennes would only agree to peace if British would cede Gibraltar back to Spain

      • Franklin, Adams, and Jay ​drafted their own peace agreement, trying not to directly oppose France so they don't break their alliance

  • Final Treaty, Treaty of Paris (Sept 1783), gave US its independence

    • US got all lands north of Florida, south of Canada, west of Atlantic, east of Mississippi River

    • France & Spain would end hostilities with Britain

    • Last British forces left New York

Society During the American Revolution

Attitudes Towards Loyalists & Religious Groups

  • Many Loyalists left the country during or after the war​

    • Made up about 1/4 of the colonists

    • Often had special ties to England: international merchants, governmental employees, etc.

    • Often had their homes attacked by the Patriotic colonists

    • Most left to Canada and England

    • Many had important high-end jobs or roles, so leaving the colonies opened these up for the colonists

  • Anglicans suffered the most during the war

    • Virginia & Maryland implemented a special tax for Anglicans

    • New revolutionary regime disbanded the Anglican church & many Anglican priests left

    • Many hated Anglican church due to its strong ties to England

  • Colonists gained close ties with Catholics during war

    • French Catholics came to help the colonists, which boosted their ties to Catholicism​

    • Father John Carroll (from Maryland) was named head of Catholic missions in US in 1784


Slaves During the War

  • Many slaves in the south took advantage of British presence to defect & escape

    • In South Carolina, ~1/3 slaves defected

    • British recruited some slaves to join their army

    • British also emancipated some slaves to disrupt American war effort

  • Ideas about abolitionism spread throughout the north

    • Slavery was much less common the north (before the war)

    • Whites in the north sought to abolish slavery

  • Ideas about white superiority spread in the south

    • Whites believed that slavery for blacks ensures liberty for whites

    • Whites believed integrating blacks into society (as free people) would be hard & hurt their liberty

    • Feared that it would be hard to recruit a stable workforce if slaves were freed

  • As idea  of liberty spread among slaves, some slaves wrote literature about it


Natives During the War

  • Natives sought to remain neutral, but most chose one side over the other

    • Most hated westward expansion of Patriots, so they joined the British

    • Patriots recruited Indians as they hated the British recruitment of Indians

  • Natives led many raids on white settlements to support the British

    • In western Carolinas, a Cherokee man called Dragging Canoe led many raids on white settlements

      • Patriot militias pushed his followers west

    • Indians were not centralized and couldn't lead strong resistance to the whites

      • In 1774, Shawnee Indians lost Lord Dunmore's War against whites as they couldn't get other Indian allies to help

  • In 1782, whites slaughtered Gnadenhutten Indians, claiming the Indians had attacked them

  • Position of Indians worsened after Patriot victory

    • Patriots expanded westward onto their land

    • Patriots viewed them as uncivilized and adaptable to American society

Women During the War

  • Many men went to fight in the war, so women were left at home

    • Some grew in power as they could own the family estate or farm

    • Most became impoverished, protested high price of food, often looted businesses to get food

    • Some raided British troops to protest the Quartering Act

      • Believed quartering British troops was expensive

  • Some women even joined the army

    • Often performed auxiliary roles (cooking, laundry, etc.)

    • Some even joined the battlefield (notably Molly Pitcher)

  • Many people questioned the revolution's ideals of "rights of man"

    • Abigail Adams (wife of John Adams) notably questioned it

    • Judith Sargent Murray wrote an essay in 1779 saying that women are as smart as men

  • The Revolution strengthened the traditional role of women

    • Women were regarded as subordinate to men

    • Known for their motherly behavior


War Economy

  • America couldn't rely on Britain for economic support, so it had to develop on its own

    • Actually strengthened the American economy as it could trade with South America & Caribbean​

    • Many private merchant groups (notably the Yankees) went to other countries to trade

    • Some Yankees sailed to West Coast to acquire furs and traded it in China

  • During colonial boycotts (of the unjust taxes), Americans developed domestic industries

    • Most notably homespun cloth industries

    • Factories were built to make munitions

    • Allowed the colonies to develop independently from Britain


Post-Revolution State Building:


Creation of State Governments

Creation & Revision of State Governments

  • People were exposed to the revolutionary ideals of equality & sought to create state governments to reflect these ideals

  • Initially, people made state governments with more power in legislature

    • Believed executive branch could abuse its power

    • Some states abolished the executive branch, others removed executive branch's seats in legislature

  • Later, state constitutions were revised as too much power in the people was bad & troublesome

    • Sought to limit popular power​

    • States appointed a constitutional convention that will meet to write the constitution

      • Previously, legislature would write the constitution, but they could amend & violate it at any time

      • Now, constitutional convention would only meet once unless absolutely necessary to amend

    • Executive branch became stronger

      • Had a fixed salary, could appoint people to office, could veto legislation, etc.


Views Toward Slavery & Religious Toleration

  • All states believed in religious toleration

    • Didn't believe that certain Christian denominations had special rights

    • In 1786, Virginia adopted Statute of Religious Liberty (written by Thomas Jefferson)

      • Complete church-state separation

      • Other states enacted similar legislation

  • Slavery was weak in the north & became largely abolished

    • With the revolution, abolitionist sentiment spread, and slavery became abolished

  • Slavery was strong in the south & was not abolished there

    • There was some pressure for abolition, but southerners still believed in white superiority

    • All states but SC & GA banned further importation of slaves

    • Some had huge economic investments in slaves, so freeing them would be bad

    • Some believed that blacks would never be fully integrated into society (if they were free)

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Articles of Confederation (National Government)

Creation of Articles of Confederation

  • The first national government of America

    • Very similar to the Continental Congress

    • Each state had lots of power

    • Congress was the main source of authority, there was no single "president"

    • Managed foreign relations & wars but couldn't levy taxes

      • Had to request state legislatures to levy taxes​

  • Articles of Confederation required approval of all 13 states for its creation & amendment

    • Led to lots of disapproval

    • Smaller states wanted equal representation, larger states wanted more representation

  • Lasted from 1781-1789

  • Struggled to survive as it struggled to impose its will on the individual state legislatures

  • Britain struggled to fully recognize independence of America even though it signed the Treaty of Paris (1783)

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Problems with the Land in the Northwest

  • Since many people settled to the west of the Appalachian Mountains (not part of the 13 states), the Confederation had to figure out what to do with the land

    • Adopted Ordinance of 1784, dividing the land in 10 districts

      • Proposed by Thomas Jefferson

      • Each district could petition statehood once its population reaches that of the least populous state

    • Later adopted Ordinance of 1785, dividing all land north of Ohio river into townships

      • Each township was 36 square miles, divided into 36 1-square mile land plots

      • 4 land plots were reserved for the government, one was used for public schools

      • Helped develop the idea of "grids" among American rural areas

  • Many real estate companies would buy all the land in the west and sell it for profits

    • This angered many Americans

  • Confederation later adopted Northwest Ordinance in 1787, combining the 10 districts into a single district

    • Created a better criteria for statehood, had a proper government structure

    • Had trial by jury, freedom of religion, no slavery

  • This land was all Indian territory, angering the Indians

    • In 1786, the Iroquois Confederacy threatened to attack white settlements

    • In 1790-1791, Little Turtle, a member of a tribe called Miami, led a group of Indians to attack whites settlements to protest the white settlement

      • Killed 630 whites, but failed to negotiate treaties to gain land

    • At Battle of Fallen Timbers (1794), Gen. Anthony Wayne led an army & defeated the Indians

      • Indians signed Treaty of Greenville (1795), ceding more land to the Americans


National Debts

  • The Confederation had lots of post-war debts

    • Had a postwar economic depression

    • Petitioned to state governments to levy taxes, but only received 1/6 of the money it needed

  • Robert Morris (head of Confederation's treasury) proposed a "continental impost," a 5% tax on all imported goods

    • Many Congressmen were angry as it would put too much power in Morris, so the Confederation didn't approve it

    • Thus, Morris and his allies withdrew from any involvement with the Confederation

  • State legislatures also levied many taxes

    • Farmers wanted paper money to increase money supply

    • New England farmers believed such taxes would give more wealth to the Boston merchants


Shays's Rebellion (1786-1787)

Former Continental Army Captain Daniel Shays led a group of dissidents in New England who hated high taxes. Created a list of demands, including debt relief. 

Went to Springfield, MA, to get weapons from the governmental arsenal there, but a militia came and dispersed his rebellion (Jan 1787)

As a military, Shays failed, but he gained concessions pertaining to tax relief 

Important Terms & People