The Boston Tea Party proved to be the spark that lit the flame of American independence from Great Britain. The cities of New York and Philadelphia had in fact successfully turned back British ships carrying taxable tea. Somehow, a ship carrying tea landed in Boston. The citizens were outraged. A complicated series of events ensued. On December 16, 1773, a group of Bostonians dressed as Indians boarded the ship and threw 340 chests of tea into the harbor. In reprisal, the British closed Boston harbor to all commerce. Boston resisted, and a crisis escalated throughout the colonies. Britain sent in soldiers, and local Americans armed themselves.
On the morning of April 19, 1775, in the village of Lexington outside Boston, a large contingent of British soldiers on a mission to seize or destroy weapons held by the patriots faced a much smaller group of American militia. A shot rang out, “the shot heard round the world.” Eight Americans died in the skirmish. The British then moved on to the village of Concord but could not find arms. By this time, the news had spread. Large groups of militia collected, firing on the retreating British from behind trees and stone walls, killing several hundred. Eventually the British returned to Boston, while a roughly assembled American army of about 15,000 militiamen surrounded the city. The Continental Congress appointed Virginian George Washington to lead the American forces and turn it into a real army.
Although the Americans were soon successful in forcing the British to abandon Boston, in 1776, the British soundly defeated Washington’s army in and around New York City. In the meantime, after much debate, the Continental Congress declared American independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. Defeated in New York, Washington fled with the tattered remains of an army to Pennsylvania, where, on Christmas Day, 1776, he made a daring crossing of the Delaware River to attack Trenton, New Jersey. The battle was not of true strategic importance, but it kept the glimmering American hopes alive. Washington’s main contribution did not involve great military victories, but rather his steadfast belief in the cause and his ability to keep the army together through hardship, with minimal resources, and in the face of political scheming and outright treason. Washington is perhaps most famous for his leadership in keeping the army together at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, during the bitter winter of 1777-1778.
Although the ins and outs of the American Revolution are exceedingly complicated, a key engagement was the battle of Saratoga in upstate New York in 1777. The American victory in that battle convinced the French to come into the war on the side of the Americans against their long time enemies, the British. By 1780 and 1781, the British had shifted their focus to the southern colonies of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. Through a number of battles with varying results, the Americans eventually wore down the British, surrounded them (with the help of the French fleet) in Yorktown, Virginia, and took the surrender of the British on October 19, 1781. Conflict continued on a decreased level after Yorktown, but in September 3, 1783, Great Britain recognized American independence by signing the Treaty of Paris.
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