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How we Became America

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Newtown: A Crushing Defeat for the Iroquois
The Revolutionary War was never a simple story of Patriot vs Redcoat. Older nations with far deeper American roots were also caught up in the war. To secure their future, the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy had to choose a side – and in many ways, their long term fate was decided on the day of the Battle of Newtown.
When Washington Walked Away from Power
Having led his Continental Army to victory over the British, many expected General George Washington to follow the model of European monarchs and dictators by declaring himself the ruler of a new nation: the United States. What he did instead, cemented his place as a different kind of leader, a genuine public servant, and true revolutionary.
Was the Revolution a World War?
The Revolutionary War was not just a battle of the Georges - Washington vs King George III, it was also a war between nations. When France, Spain and the Dutch Republic joined the war, as allies of the new United States, the conflict became global.
Was the American Revolution a Civil War?
As anti-taxation protests turned to war in the Thirteen Colonies, even moderates ended up being forced to take sides. So was the American Revolution a civil war as well as an independence movement?
The Board of War: Running the Revolution
Keeping an army running smoothly during the Revolutionary War a colossal task. So Congress founded the Board of War to do just that and it played a vital role in defeating the British.
Princeton: Washington's Key Victory
After winning the Battle of Trenton, George Washington was determined to keep the initiative. He marched his troops through the night towards Princeton, where he faced the British army once again, and won one of the key victories of the Revolutionary War.
American Privateers: Pirates or Protectors?
At the time of the Revolutionary War, naval warfare wasn’t just the preserve of governments. Private businesses could also send armed vessels out to sea. It was a risky business, but American privateers inflicted millions of dollars of loss on British supply lines – making some very rich in the process.
Western Department: Frontier of the Revolution
In the American Revolutionary War, the Western Department was tasked with trying to defend the huge Western frontier of the Colonies. Short of men and supplies, they faced a formidable enemy – the Native American nations of the Ohio territory and beyond.
The Attacks on Forts Clinton & Montgomery
In 1777, the British Army attacked Forts Montgomery and Clinton on the Hudson and ensured access up river. But what did they gain from the victory?
Revolutionary Diplomats: Franklin and Adams
During the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were both sent by Congress to Paris – with the vital diplomatic mission of securing French aid in the war. The two Founding Fathers lived together but they were far from ideal housemates.
Army Camps: Home Away From Home
Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War spent most of their time in camps - settlements which popped up wherever the fortunes of war took the troops. But what was life really like in these surprisingly large, mobile villages?
The Battle of the Chesapeake
The Battle of the Chesapeake was a fiercely fought sea battle between the British and French Navies. At stake wasn’t just control of the Chesapeake Bay, but the fate of the British Southern Campaign and the entire Revolutionary War.
Iron Ore: Revolutionary Metal
In the Revolutionary War, equipping an army required huge amounts of iron, for everything from bayonets and cannonballs to cooking pots. That made the Colonial iron industry a high priority for the Patriots – and a target for the British.
Fife and Drum: Instruments of the Revolution
For armies in the 1700s, the fife and drum were far more than just ceremonial - they were key to battlefield communication, regimental pride, and identity.
Transportation: Revolutionary Muscle Power
Fighting battles is only one part of waging war. Another, just as important, is moving armies and all their supplies around. In the Revolutionary War, when there were few good roads, and never enough horses, transportation was a constant challenge.
Flatboats: Small Boats, Revolutionary Impact
The Royal Navy outgunned the Continentals during the Revolutionary War. But on the waterways of the Thirteen Colonies, the most important craft was not the warship - it was the humble flat-bottomed boat.
Battle of Bennington: Victory in the North
In 1777, a huge British expedition was making its way South from Canada. John Burgoyne, sent a thousand men to Bennington, Vermont, on a foraging mission. They met John Stark's Patriot militia - and suffered a damaging defeat, setting up the calamity at Saratoga.
The Ethiopian Regiment
In 1775, Virginian slave owners didn’t just have the war to worry about. The Royal Governor of the colony was encouraging their slaves to escape, offering them freedom if they would fight for the British. Many Black men took up the offer, joining a fighting force that became known as the Ethiopian Regiment.
Governing The New Republic
The idea of Civic Virtue was central to the Founders' vision for the new republic. It meant that leaders would truly be servants of the people, putting their own interests aside for the good of the nation. But was it an ideal that could be lived up to? A question that’s just as relevant today as it was in 1776.
Foraging: Feeding Soldiers in the Revolution
Foraging was a common practice in the Revolutionary War – with supplies low, it was the only way that many soldiers could stay alive. But a free lunch for the army camp was often a disaster for local farmers. In certain cases, civilians found their possessions being plundered by armies on both sides.
Revolutionary Weather
During the American Revolutionary War, the weather wasn’t just a background to events. It was a force that often overturned well laid plans and ultimately shaped the course of the war.
Battle of Stony Point: Midnight Attack
In 1779, the Hudson River was Continental territory, except for the crossing at Stony Point, which had been taken by the British. George Washington devised a daring plan to recapture it.
Washington's Swords: Revolutionary Blades
George Washington's swords might have witnessed more key moments of American history than any other, through his time as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
Regimental Flags: Symbols of Pride
For soldiers on the battlefields of the Revolutionary War, the regimental flag was essential, both as a way of keeping their bearings in the chaos of the fight and a way of projecting their identity.
City Tavern: Bar-room Base for the Revolution
If there’s one building in the United States that could claim to be the birthplace of American democracy, it would have to be the City Tavern, Philadelphia. Built to be a grand meeting place for the movers and shakers of the time, it was the informal center of politics right through the years of the Revolutionary War.
Oriskany: End of the Iroquois Confederacy
The Battle of Oriskany was one of the most bloody of the entire Revolutionary War. It was fought between Patriot militia and members of the Iroquois Confederacy who had been forced to take sides. It was a bitter encounter, from which there were no winners.
Ninety-Six: A Town Divided by War
The small town of Ninety-Six, in South Carolina, was the site of the first battle of the Revolutionary War in the south. Later in the war the town's military fort came under siege from Nathanael Greene's Patriots. The site can still be visited today.
Benjamin Lincoln: Revolutionary Revenge
Continental General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered his troops at Charleston – one of the worst American defeats in the Revolutionary War. So how, just a year later, was he the one to receive the British sword of surrender at Yorktown?
The Battle of Cowpens: Morgan Vs Tarleton
The Battle of Cowpens was a showdown between two talented field commanders - Continental General Daniel Morgan and British Colonel Banastre Tarleton. With armies of equal size, they both thought they could win. Only one of them was right.
Guilford Courthouse: Defeat for Both Sides?
At the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, the British Army in the south finally met the Continentals in open battle. Despite being outnumbered, the professional Redcoats showed their mettle, and won the day. But Britain’s ability to impose its will on the South was coming to an end.
The Battle of Red Bank: Von Donop's Downfall
In October 1777, two small undermanned forts on the Delaware River were all that were stopping the British from gaining complete control of the area around Philadelphia. But while the British attack had strength in numbers and a Royal Navy backup, it was led by the impulsive Colonel von Donop, a man determined to regain his honor at all costs…
Somerset v. Stewart: Dawn of Abolitionism
James Somerset was an enslaved man who was taken taken to London in the eighteenth century. His friends decided to challenge whether slavery was legal through the English courts - the result changed perceptions of slavery forever.
Henry Clinton: The General who Lost America
For most of the Revolutionary War, General Henry Clinton was second-in-command of the British army and he had his own ideas about what strategies should be pursued. But when he finally got the top job, nothing turned out as he had hoped.
Charles Willson Peale: Revolutionary Artist
A look at the life and talents of Charles Willson Peale, portrait artist of the American Revolution and Philadelphian Renaissance man.
Army Wives: Unsung Heroines of the Revolution
Did you know that women were present in most Army units during the Revolutionary War? They faced the dangers of battle and the hardships of camp life alongside men. After the war, women’s contributions were largely forgotten. But from the lowest ranks to the top brass, they played a huge role in the Revolution.
Morristown: Ice-cold Winter Encampment
Valley Forge may be the winter encampment that is most remembered as testing Patriot troops to the limits of their endurance – but the winters spent at Morristown in New Jersey were in many ways worse. Find out how the Continental Army still managed to come out fighting in the springtime.
Staten Island: Loyalist Enclave
Staten Island served as a British base for nearly all of the Revolutionary War. It was the perfect staging post for troops, and a good base from which to attack New Jersey. The island’s population was also staunchly Loyalist, which didn’t make them popular with their neighbors.
Lord George Germain: Long Distance Government
Have you ever tried to video call a friend on bad wi-fi? What if you had to direct a war from 3500 miles away - and the communication lag was two months?! That's what Lord George Germain, the British Secretary of State for America had to deal with during the Revolutionary War.
Battle of Iron Works Hill: Von Donop's Perilous Party
When the British army defeated the Patriots at Iron Works Hill, Colonel Von Donop and his men celebrated with a wild party. The Continental Army took advantage of their absence and marched on Trenton to win a vital victory.
John Paul Jones: America's First Sailor
Denounced as a pirate by the British and a hero by the Patriots, how did John Paul Jones, a Scottish sailor, become a Continental naval legend - and founder of the United States Navy?
Black Soldiers of the Revolutionary War
It’s a little known fact that many black soldiers fought and died on both sides of the conflict in the Revolutionary War. They joined up for many different reasons - some from belief in the cause, some to earn a wage, some to win their freedom.
Joseph Plumb Martin: Private Yankee Doodle
What were the day to day struggles faced by the common soldiers of the Continental Army? How did they stay alive? The memoir of Joseph Plumb Martin - or ‘Private Yankee Doodle’, veteran of battles and harsh winters - paints a vivid picture.
Molly Pitcher: The Heroine of Monmouth
The story of Molly Pitcher - cannon firing heroine of the Battle of Monmouth - is famous. But is it a myth? Or was there a real Molly Pitcher?
The Culper Ring: Spying for the Revolution
The Culper Spy Ring was a network of brave, self-taught spies, who stole information out of New York City, right under the noses of the British - to keep George Washington and the Continental Army informed.
Lord North: Britain's Worst Prime Minister?
When Lord North became Prime Minister of Britain in 1770, the protests in the Thirteen Colonies were just a minor inconvenience. But his response to the Boston Tea Party started a war that would ultimately end his career.
Robert Morris: Financier of the Revolution
Robert Morris was a shipping tycoon, financier and Founding Father who was crucial to the Continental war effort. But was he genuinely committed to the cause – or just trying to make a quick buck?
Nathanael Greene: The Savior of the South
Nathanael Greene, a Quaker from Rhode Island, was George Washington’s right hand man during the Revolutionary War and twice saved the Continental Army from potential disaster.
Valley Forge: The Critical Winter
Many of us know the myth of Valley Forge - a freezing encampment which shaped the Patriot spirit during the Revolutionary War. But what was the reality of this settlement - and how many survived the winter?
Bunker Hill: Proving Ground of the Patriots
During the Battle of Bunker Hill a ragtag group of farmers and tradesman faced the best trained army in the world. But the rebel militia came close to winning this key battle in the Revolutionary War - and the result was a boost to Patriot morale.
Phillis Wheatley: Pioneering Black Poet
Phillis Wheatley, a young enslaved woman, became one of the most celebrated poets in the Amercian colonies. Her writings on faith, slavery and freedom were published around the world and inspire audiences to this day.
Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox
In 1780, when the British took Charleston, it looked as if the rest of South Carolina might end up in Loyalist hands. But a band of Patriot partisans, operating out of the Pee Dee River swamp areas, kept humiliating the British with repeated surprise attacks. Their leader? Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox.
Thomas Hutchinson: Governor of a Rebellious Colony
Did you know that during the Revolutionary War, not all colonists wanted to become independent? Those who chose to remain loyal to the British crown included Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. But was he a traitor - or simply a public servant doing his job?
Tadeusz Kosciuszko: Engineer of the Revolution
Tadeusz Kosciusko was a Polish nobleman; an architect, engineer and idealist who’s genius for fortification was a major asset to the Continentals during the Revolutionary War.
The Conway Cabal: Washington's Enemies Within
We know George Washington as the nation’s greatest political, and military leader. But during the changing fortunes of war, he faced challenges from within his own ranks, as some sought to replace him.
Thomas Gage: The Two-Faced Governor?
Thomas Gage was the British Commander charged with keeping the peace in the colonies. Did he face an impossible task - or did he fail spectacularly in his mission?
Patrick Ferguson: The British Bulldog
Major Patrick ‘Bulldog’ Ferguson was one of the most fierce, and fiercely hated, British commanders of the Revolutionary War. But when he tried to subdue Patriot activity in the Appalachian mountains, he took a step too far…
Revolutionary Firepower: Muskets & Rifles
On the battlefields of the Revolutionary War, a new weapon conveyed deadly advantages - the rifle. So why did the musket remain the weapon of choice for infantry?
John Burgoyne: Gentleman General
When General John Burgoyne took command of the British Army in Canada in 1777, he was confident of success. He had the command experience and the plan to end the war. So how did his campaign unravel so spectacularly?
John Laurens: Defender of Freedom
A look at the brief but bright life of John Laurens – close friend of Alexander Hamilton, true believer in the Continental cause, and passionate advocate for the ending of slavery.
Colonel Tye: Scourge of Patriots
Escaping slavery at a young age, ‘Colonel Tye’ became an extremely effective guerilla commander, fighting for the British. Nobody could stop his Black Brigade - and they didn’t just raid Patriot targets, they also freed many slaves.
The Battle of Valcour Island
In 1776, Benedict Arnold and a small force of Continentals under his command were engaged in a desperate shipbuilding race with the British at Lake Champlain – with the outcome of the war hanging in the balance.
Banastre Tarleton: The Bloody Butcher of Waxhaws
Perhaps no fighter on Revolutionary War battlefields created such a name for themselves as Redcoat cavalry officer Banastre Tarleton. His aggressive tactics earned him the devotion of his men, and the burning hatred of the Patriots.
Cannons: The Patriots' Not So Secret Weapon
In the Revolutionary War, no side could dominate the battlefield without expert use of cannons. While the Continentals began the conflict with only a few outdated relics, by the time of the Siege of Yorktown, they had built a formidable and professional artillery corps.
Germantown: Victory from a Chaotic Defeat
George Washington’s attack on Germantown, in October 1777, resulted in failure. But how did it change the course of the war?
Cornwallis: A Great British General
Who was Charles Cornwallis, Britain’s commander of the Southern Armies in the Revolutionary War? A respected and long serving general, his doomed attempts to win hearts and minds in the Southern colonies led directly to the British defeat at Yorktown.
The Burning of the Gaspee: The Spark That Lit the Revolution
The burning of the Gaspee was a violent incident between Rhode Island smugglers and the Royal Navy in 1772, which sparked the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution.
Thayendanega: Native American Warrior, AKA Joseph Brant
Warrior, scholar and diplomat, Joseph Brant was a powerful leader of the Mohawk Nation. Forced to choose sides at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he fought for the future of his people until his death.
Shays' Rebellion: Revolt Against the Revolution
After the Revolutionary War was won, Daniel Shays led a thousand-strong rebellion of disgruntled farmers who almost plunged the new nation of the United States into civil war in Massachusetts. Their actions, although defeated, led to a reassessment of values that informed the creation of the US Constitution. They called themselves ‘Regulators’ - and, by that moniker, they succeeded.
The Hessians: George III's German Mercenaries
The Hessians were one of the most feared armies in 18th Century Europe. This elite group of soldiers from modern-day Germany traveled to America to fight for the British in the Revolutionary War. But more than 3,000 of their number never returned home, ending a century-long Hessian history as troops for hire.
Stirling's 400: The Men Who Saved Washington's Army
In 1776, the British intended to end the Revolutionary War in North America swiftly and decisively. But their plans to crush the rebellion in New York were thwarted by a small group of soldiers: Stirling’s 400.
New Jersey: The Birthplace of Women's Suffrage?
When women finally won the right to vote in 1920, it wasn’t the first time in the nation’s history that they’d been able to cast ballots - for a period after the revolution, women in New Jersey could, and did, vote.
John Montresor: Mapping the American Revolution
Eighteenth century military commanders did not have the benefits of technology to learn the position of their enemies in the field. They relied on the skill and hard work of cartographers: map makers like John Montresor.
Independence Hall: The Birthplace of America
Pennsylvania’s State House in Philadelphia, has hosted some of the most important moments in US history. But for a time it threatened to fall into disrepair - until America’s favorite fighting Frenchman gave it a new nickname…
The Revolutionary Rise of James Forten, Abolitionist
As a teenager, James Forten narrowly avoided being sold into slavery. As an adult, he grew into one of the most prominent African-American businessmen in the whole of 19th century America, and a leading voice in the call for the abolition of the abhorrent trade that had so nearly claimed him.
The Bayonet: The Weapon that Was Turned on the Red Coats
When it came to the psychology of war, 18th century Britain had a secret weapon: the bayonet. This brutal weapon was synonymous with British troops. Its reputation alone was terrifying enough to send colonial soldiers running for cover. The Continental army’s generals soon realized the only way to beat the bayonet, was to embrace its use.
Charles Lee: Washington's Most Arrogant General
Before George Washington led America to Independence, and victory over the British, he needed to defeat insubordination within his own ranks. Major General Charles Lee offered him the chance to do just that at the Battle of Monmouth.
George III: The King Who Lost the Colonies
Before the Revolutionary War took hold, there was hope amongst several American colonists that the British King, George III, would ultimately intervene to stop his government imposing their will on the North American continent. But those American revolutionaries had overestimated both the monarch’s power over parliament and his desire to avoid conflict.
Fort Ticonderoga: Key to the Continent
At first glance, Fort Ticonderoga is little more than a large fort in upstate New York. But its strategic importance has seen this star-shaped structure become a highly sort-after, and much fought for garrison – earning it the nickname “the key to the continent”.
Newburgh 1783: The Conspiracy That Threatened American Democracy
Having defeated the British, gaining its independence after eight bloody years of war, the great American experiment was almost taken over by a military coup before it had properly begun. Yet again, it was George Washington who stepped in – not to win a war this time, but to quell a mutiny.
The Missed Opportunities of William Howe
Away from specific battles, Sir William Howe vs George Washington proved to be one of the defining clashes of the Revolutionary War. Howe was a British commander determined to capture the urban strongholds of North America. But he ended up being drawn into a deadly game of cat & mouse by his American counterpart, the future first President.