The French and Indian War (1754-1763) was fought in the modern-day USA between British America, France, and their Native American allies. It was truly a war for control of what was to become America, but its effects were longer lasting. Here, Ian Craig explains the importance of the war for the birth of the American nation.

A depiction of George Washington during the French and Indian War. By Charles Willson Peale.

A depiction of George Washington during the French and Indian War. By Charles Willson Peale.

It is hard to overlook how one war essentially led to the birth of a new nation.  However, the French and Indian War did just that.  Since the founding of the first permanent settlement of Jamestown in 1607, the British colonies in America were left to govern themselves with little interference from the British crown.  This continued even as the Pilgrims landed in New England in 1620.  The Mayflower Compact then symbolized America’s earliest form of democracy.  As more came to America to pursue a new life, the original thirteen colonies began to form stretching along the entire east coast of North America except for Florida and Canada.  For their part, the British government demanded very little from the American Colonies.  They wished only for the resources that America had to offer and spent little time in directly governing the colonies.  This concept has come to be known as salutary neglect.  Because of this, the American Colonies were left to create governments of their own which seemingly allowed for more participation and rights for their citizens.      

Then in 1651, Britain passed the Navigation Acts that forbade the American Colonies from trading with other nations besides Britain.  Goods exported from America were to be on British ships only.  However, the earliest versions of the Acts were not heavily enforced allowing trade to continue as it had for decades. Representing early attempts of Britain to exert its rule over the American Colonies, the Navigation Acts would not be fully enforced until 1750 when it became clear that large-scale smuggling had occurred.  In 1764, the year after the French and Indian War ended, the Navigation Acts were enforced even further.  Revisions of these acts represented early examples of how the British would impose their will on their colonies but demonstrates how this was not enforced until after the French and Indian War came to an end.  What would follow would be a series of tax acts designed to pay off the debt from the war at the expense of the American Colonies.[1]


The French in America

In 1754, when the war began, colonists in America demanded that the British government send troops to protect them. For years, their growth west had interfered with not just the Native Americans, but also the French who had laid claim to most of the interior.  The constant clash between these groups along the frontier led to war, one that would determine control of most of North America.  That same year, the colonial governor of Virginia sent a young George Washington to secure an area on land at the junction of the Ohio River.  His orders were to build a fort that could serve as a deterrent to the French.  However, when Washington arrived, he realized that the French had beat him to it and that he was vastly outnumbered.  Washington then took a calculated risk - although small in number, he attacked the French fort and retreated to build a makeshift fort called Fort Necessity. When the French counterattacked, Washington was forced to surrender but was later released as a warning to the British. This small skirmish made the British government realize the full threat of the French in America.

In 1755, the British sent Major General Edward Braddock to America in an effort to put a stop to French expansion. Braddock was appointed as commander-in-chief of all British forces in America with the sole mission of securing British dominance.  Although supported by the colonists, this action brought a considerable number of British soldiers to America.  This was only the beginning of British military expansion in the American Colonies. Braddock and the British government led by Prime Minister Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle, believed that a quick and swift attack on the French holdings along the Ohio Valley would prevent French reinforcements and end any future skirmishes.[2]  But, this would not be the case.  Braddock arrived in Virginia determined to take direct control of operations with the cooperation of the colonial governors.  He called for a meeting of the governors of New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.  This was a point in which British dominance began to reign over the American Colonies. Instead of asking for the governors’ cooperation he demanded their assistance and did not take their consul.  Instead, Braddock was infuriated with their continuing to trade with French Canada and their lack of true in interest in the military campaign.  He also opposed a plan by Massachusetts’ governor William Shirley that would have helped his cause greatly.[3]



When Braddock left Virginia in the summer that same year, he had some 2,000 British regulars along with provincials from the colonies.[4]  His direct mission was to capture Fort Duquesne which was built on the same spot that George Washington had been the previous year, at the junction of the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers.  In addition, Braddock was to use the same path that Washington used along with Washington himself as his aide-de-camp.  Washington was there to provide guidance, as he knew the land and what to expect from the French and their Native allies.  However, Braddock ignored most of the advice that Washington gave and proceeded through the route cautiously, but also made too much noise.  The falling of trees for bridges and the clearing of forest gave notice to the French.  On the afternoon of July 9, 1755, Braddock’s army fell into an ambush of a combined French, Canadian, and Indian force.[5]  The battle that ensued was almost complete chaos.  Braddock’s troops were not prepared for the guerilla tactics of the French and her native allies.  Troops fired in all directions in an effort to gain control, Braddock himself tried in vain to control the situation, but was fatally shot.  Despite trying to hold their ground, the British troops, although greater in number, were forced to retreat.  General Braddock was buried in an unmarked grave in the mists of the retreat as to not allow the Natives to rob his grave.  The survivors of the battle hurried back towards Fort Cumberland. Some 500 British soldiers were killed while only a small number of the French force was.  Braddock’s defeat left a large stain on Britain’s attempt to eliminate French control in the American frontier.  It also led to a new British policy which would bring further government control to America.[6]   

Realizing that Britain had fallen into an all-out war with France over control of North America, the Duke of Newcastle’s government along with King George II needed time to build up their forces.  Britain underestimated the French resolve and the type of warfare demanded in North America. It wasn’t until 1757 under the direction of a new Prime Minister, William Pitt, did Britain’s strategy in America change.  All the while, under the direction of Lord Loudoun, the new commander in America, troops and supplies were steadily increasing in America.[7]This led to further tensions between the colonies and the British.  For his part, Loudoun established an embargo in trade between the individual colonies. His reasons were to prevent trade with Canada, however it backfired, and he was forced to lift the embargo.  But the damage had already been done as it hurt American commerce.[8]


Lasting Effects

As the war continued despite several setbacks in the British strategy, America felt the power of the British government.  In 1761, the Writs of Assistance case was presented to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. During the 17thcentury, Britain had allowed its courts to issue writs in order to search merchant vessels.  During the height of the war, British officials began to suspect smuggling from many colonial merchants.  With that, under the law, Writs of Assistance could be issued to search a ship’s cargo. This only angered the colonists further as many believed that once the war was over, the British would leave and everything would return to normal.[9]When the war came to an end in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris, Britain was proclaimed the victor gaining much of the land once controlled by the French.  Britain was also the dominant power in all of North America.  Despite the colonists’ wish that the British would leave, troops remained in the major cities and along the frontier.  

After winning such a costly war, Britain wanted to capitalize on its newfound conquest.  It had no intention of letting the colonies be alone again.  Later in 1763, after Pontiac’s War (a skirmish with the Ottawa chief Pontiac which left the British surprised again) King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763.  It barred colonists from moving west across the Appalachian Mountains to end confrontations with the Native Americans.[10]This single act was one of the causes of the American Revolution.  This was because many colonists were upset that they had fought for the right to colonize that land only be told that they could not by their own government.  At the same time, the British government had assumed a considerable debt in protecting the American colonies.  It was decided that the American colonies should help pay for the debt and in 1764, the first tax was passed.  The Sugar Act essentially took away the right of trial by jury if a merchant failed to pay the tax.[11]In addition, the government prevented the colonies from printing or coining their own money.  This was done to standardize the system, but in reality it led to colonial trade becoming stagnant as money was taken out of circulation. These efforts were opposed by the colonies because they believed that the British government did not have the right to tax them without their consent.  Due to the fact that they did not vote for Members of Parliament, it did not have the right to tax them.  This became the standard defense as many saw themselves slaves to the taxes of Parliament.



In 1765, when the Stamp Act was passed, the colonists began to see the true intentions of the British government. After protesting the Act which led to riots in August of that year, the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766.[12]  However, in the years that would follow, several other Acts were passed and impressed upon the American Colonies including the Townshend Acts.  By 1776, the American Colonies had had enough of British control and declared independence.  Despite this, without the French and Indian War and its outcome, American independence might not have come.  The increased number of troops and supplies sent to America, along with British generals who refused to collaborate with the colonial assemblies, helped to spark an American hatred for its own government.  When the war ended, Britain severely underestimated America in thinking that it could tax them as it did the other colonies without conflict.  Its policy was no different than what it had done throughout the empire; however, its long absence in American affairs weakened its ability to truly govern the colonies.  So when the war came and ended, America was given a dose of reality to the true nature of the British Crown allowing it to seek independence and to be born as a new nation.


What do you think the most important reason was for the American Revolution? Let us know below.

[1]The American Revolution, “The Navigation Acts.” Our American Revolution, Sept. 29, 2019). 

[2]Walter R. Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), 40-41. 

[3]Ibid, 47. 

[4]Ibid, 48. 

[5]Ibid, 51. 

[6]Ibid, 55. 

[7]Ibid, 84. 

[8]Ibid, 85.

[9]Robert J. Allison, The American Revolution: A Concise History(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). 

[10]Ibid, 5. 

[11]Ibid, 6. 

[12]Ibid 8. 

In October of 1760, a young King George III of England’s reign began, marking a new birth for England and her colonies. One month later, a more humble figure, Joseph Plumb Martin, was born. Here Elizabeth Jones tells the story of Joseph Plumb Martin, the author of a very famous book about the American Revolution.

Jospeh Martin Plumb and his wife in the 19th century.

Jospeh Martin Plumb and his wife in the 19th century.

“Alexander never could have conquered the world without private soldiers. “ - Joseph Plumb Martin

Joseph Plumb Martin was born on November 21, 1760. He was raised by his grandparents in Connecticut. He lived the complicated life of a boy growing up in the storm brewing in colonial America. And like many other American boys in 1776, he enlisted in the militia following the battles of Lexington and Concord.

What makes Private Joseph Plumb Martin stand out in history?

For well over a hundred years, nothing. But in 1962, an obscure memoir of the experiences of an enlisted soldier in the Revolutionary War was republished as Yankee Doodle Dandy, and the world noticed.

Martin first published his account in 1830, titling it Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier, Interspersed with Anecdotes of Incidents that Occurred Within His Own Observations. It didn’t sell well. It probably had something to do with the title.

Whatever the case, the rebrand was successful, and history took notice. Martin’s narrative has since taken its place as one of the key primary sources of information about the Revolutionary War.

So what?

Private Martin carried around a quill and journal and, between arduous marches and ear-splitting cannon fire, kept a log of his experiences in Washington’s Continental Army. His memoir provides a unique perspective on the everyday life of an enlisted soldier.


Insights from Yankee Doodle Dandy

But how much insight can the dusty writings of a long-dead, stocking-wearing patriot provide? As it turns out, plenty. Below are some musings of a teenager coming of age during one of the most turbulent periods of history.


On martial life:

Enlisting at the start of the war and serving until after the Treaty of Paris was signed ending the war in 1783, Joseph Plumb Martin was a veteran of several major engagements that occurred during the Revolution. He served during battles and sieges, such as the inconclusive Battle of Monmouth and the climactic Siege of Yorktown. He describes his experiences as a Continental soldier in detail.

“As there was no cessation of duty in the army, I must commence another campaign as soon as the succeeding one is ended. There was no going home and spending the winter season among friends, and procuring a new recruit of strength and spirits. No—it was one constant drill, summer and winter, like an old horse in a mill, it was a continual routine.”


On Fort Mifflin:

In 1777, Private Joseph Plumb Martin was stationed at Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River just outside of British-occupied Philadelphia. The fort was under intense fire from the guns of massive ships, and Martin describes it in excruciating detail. The uncomfortable intensity with which he describes his experience makes it unflinchingly real.

“I was … sent to reinforce those in the fort [Mifflin], which was then besieged by the British. Here I endured hardships sufficient to kill half a dozen horses. Let the reader only consider for a moment and he will still be satisfied if not sickened. In the cold month of November, without provisions, without clothing, not a scrap of either shoes or stockings to my feet or legs, and in this condition to endure a siege in such a place as that was appalling in the highest degree.”

Martin adds:

“During the whole night, at intervals of a quarter or half an hour, the enemy would let off all their pieces, and although we had sentinels to watch them and at every flash of their guns to cry, "a shot," upon hearing which everyone endeavored to take care of himself, yet they would ever and anon, in spite of all our precaution, cut up some of us.”


On Valley Forge:

When Martin initially joined the fight for independence, he enlisted in the Connecticut militia for a short stint.

“I wished only to take a priming before I took upon me the whole coat of paint for a soldier,” Martin wrote prior to his first enlistment.


Martin’s Service

He served in the militia for the better part of a year until his term of service expired and he was discharged on Christmas Day of 1776 - the same day that the Continental Army was preparing to cross the Delaware and surprise the Hessians at Trenton.

But in 1777 he reenlisted, serving as a private in General George Washington’s Continental Army. The conditions were miserable and the pay, if it arrived at all, was laughable. So why did Martin reenlist?

“If I once undertake, thought I, I must stick to it, there will be no receding,” he wrote. Martin marched with Washington’s Army to Valley Forge, where they encamped for the winter of 1777-78.

 At times and in places in his memoirs he is dark about the war, its leaders, and the overall cause, but he stays true and is insightful when he talks about how important he feels that the war is:

"Our prospect was indeed dreary. In our miserable condition, to go into the wild woods and build us habitations to stay (not to live) in, in such a weak, starved and naked condition, was appalling in the highest degree. But dispersion, I believe, was not thought of, at least, I did not think of it. We had engaged in the defense of our injured country and were willing, nay, we were determined to persevere as long as such hardships were not altogether intolerable."



Joseph Plumb Martin’s account of his time in the Revolutionary Army has helped historians gain a clearer picture of the everyday drudgeries of a Continental Soldier, bringing to light details that had long been lost to history. The importance of Martin’s impact on the study of the American Revolution for both the professional and hobby historian cannot be overstated.


Find out more about Elizabeth and her work at


1776by David McCullough

The Adventures of a Revolutionary Soldier by Joseph Plumb Martin

The American Revolution (1776-1783) was a key event in the making of the modern world. France helped the American rebels to gain their independence in many ways. One of them was by sending black Haitian soldiers to fight at the Siege of Savannah – which is particularly curious considering the position of people of color in the thirteen colonies and Haiti at the time. Jordan Baker explains.

King Henry I of Haiti, or Henri Christophe, who is said to have been a drummer boy during the Siege of Savannah.

King Henry I of Haiti, or Henri Christophe, who is said to have been a drummer boy during the Siege of Savannah.

You've probably heard how France fought on the colonists' side in the American Revolution. But in 1776, France was a world empire, with territories in the Caribbean, South America, Africa, and India. So, when war broke out in Britain's thirteen American colonies, and Louis XVI saw an opportunity to strike a blow against his kingdom's oldest foe, France sent more than just Parisian troops. In October 1779, around 500 black Haitian soldiers reached the port of Savannah, sent by the French Empire to 'free' Georgia - one of the biggest slaveholding colonies at the time - from the British.1 So, black soldiers from France's largest slave colony, came to help give independence to British colonists who themselves enslaved black people.

It just goes to show how fluid notions of race are over time. To contemporary Americans, free black men, no matter from where they hailed, could never fight alongside white slaveowners - but they did. In fact, many of these soldiers wanted to prove just how different they were from the enslaved Africans in both Georgia and Saint-Domingue. Indeed, this dichotomy between enslaved and free blacks proved a rather common occurrence in the colonial world, as ‘freedmen’ were anxious to distinguish themselves from the lowest social class on the eighteenth-century totem pole.


Free men of color in Saint-Domingue

Since the seventeenth-century, free men of color had played a prominent role in French Saint-Domingue. Strangely enough, they often served as overseers of the island’s numerous plantations.3 In fact, many free men of color owned slaves of their own. Owning land at higher elevations in Saint-Domingue’s hill country, these black slaveowners often owned several dozen African slaves who they used to plant, grow, and harvest vast amounts of coffee and indigo.4 This group of black planters felt themselves to be every bit as French as the guy next door. I mean, why not? They spoke French, dressed like Europeans, and even owned people! But as the decades wore on, this group of free blacks became subject to ever increasing, racially-based, prejudice.5

And so they came, hoping to prove themselves the “virtuous Frenchmen” they knew themselves to be. Known as the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue, or Saint-Domingue Volunteer Infantry, this group of soldiers constituted the largest contingent of troops of African descent to fight in the American Revolution.6 According to legend, a twelve-year-old boy, named Henri Christophe, sailed with the Volontaires. Supposedly freed from slavery at an unknown, but early, age, Christophe came with the Saint-Domingue forces as a drummer boy. Twelve years later, that drummer boy enlisted in the Haitian militia, and quickly rose to the rank of officer before becoming the first President and King of Haiti.7


The Siege of Savannah

The Siege of Savannah lasted for over a month, stretching from September 16 to October 18, 1779. The Comte d’Estaing (whose full name was quite a mouthful, Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector, Comte de’Estaing) was named the commander of the Siege, responsible for taking Savannah back for the Americans. In the weeks leading up to the decisive confrontation, d’Estaing attempted to use French naval power and the presence of the American ground forces outside the city to persuade the British to surrender. Ultimately, due to British naval savvy and some luck, these efforts bore no fruit - so the French navy began to bombard the city with cannon fire. From October 3 to October 8, the city of Savannah, rather than the British defenses, suffered the destruction brought on back the cannons. But the British refused to surrender, and so, due to the outbreak of scurvy and dysentery among his ranks, and a shortage of supplies, d’Estaing was forced to assault the city.8

When the actual battle got underway, it proved disastrous to the American troops and their allied forces (including the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue). Tipped off by American deserters, the British troops defending Savannah were more than ready for the attack, easily repelling the oncoming mélange of French, American, and Haitian troops. All told, the Franco-American attackers finished the battle with 244 killed, 584 wounded, and 120 taken prisoner - a total of 948 casualties. The British, however, lost 40 men, had 63 wounded, and reported 52 missing - totaling 155 casualties.9

Due to their bravery in battle and reported loyalty to d’Estaing, the Chasseurs-Volontaires took some of the heaviest losses of any regiment. By the end of the battle, 168 Haitian soldiers lay dead, and another 411 were wounded.10But many of the Haitians present for the siege and subsequent battle survived. These survivors of the Siege of Savannah and the American Revolution in general would go on to play an important role in the liberation of their Caribbean homeland. 

While the Franco-American assault on Savannah ultimately failed, men such as Christophe brought back ideals of republicanism, and the knowledge that rising up against one’s colonial overlord was indeed possible. While not all gens de couleur fought in or supported the Haitian revolution, many came back from the Siege of Savannah battle hardened, and with the desire to form a new government in which they no longer occupied some strange middle ground between freedom and slavery.


Jordan Baker writes at the East India Blogging Company here.




1. Cindy Wong, "Savannah, Georgia: Saint-Domingueans or Haitians in the American Revolution," Miami Herald, June 2002.
3. Laurent Dubois, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804,(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 15
4. Dubois, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 16.
5. Dubois, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 16.
6. "Haitian Monument in Franklin Square, Savannah, GA"
7. "Haitian Monument in Franklin Square, Savannah, GA"

8. “Siege of Savannah,” Wikipedia 

9. Ibid

10. “Haitian Soldiers at the Battle of Savannah (1779),”

Many Ulster Scots had been in America for generations at the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1776. Here, Eric K. Barnes (see more here) describes the background to the Ulster Scots’ role in the American Revolutionary War and what they did during key battles.

The death of British Major Patrick Ferguson at the Battle of Kings Mountain in October 1780. The Ulster Scots played a key role in this battle. Engraving by Charles Henry Jeens and painting originally by Alonzo Chappel.

The death of British Major Patrick Ferguson at the Battle of Kings Mountain in October 1780. The Ulster Scots played a key role in this battle. Engraving by Charles Henry Jeens and painting originally by Alonzo Chappel.

They came in droves, as if the floodgates had opened on some Scots Irish dam across the sea. With their recent inclusion into the United Kingdom, they sought freedom and land in the British colonies as new British subjects. They disembarked at New York, Philadelphia, Wilmington and Charleston. They pooled money and families together and set out on the Great Wagon Road in their Conestoga wagons. Different from the planters of the Pee Dee and Coastal regions, they preferred the Piedmont and Mountains of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Men of force and iron were needed in this wild unsettled region that was a buffer between the Native Americans upstate and the gentry of the sandy regions. The wilderness filled up with families of hardy stock, willing to forge a living in the outer territory of the new land.  

When the French and Indian War broke out in 1756, the British treated these stout immigrants with the same disdain that their grandparents and parents had been treated in Scotland and Ireland… Not as equals, but as second-class citizens. All the while they were expected to die for the mother country in preservation of the empire. And they beat back the French and the Indians and forced their capitulation in the name of the Crown, but they did not win their full measure of citizenship.


The Situation by 1776

By 1776 generations of Ulster Scots had lived free and without encumbrances from the Empire’s seat, with it being so far away. Petitions to government for redress against grievances were met with either unrighteous force or general apathy, and never timely. The Empire had stretched beyond the limits of the infrastructure of its government. New Bern, Charleston and Williamsburg were a long way from the Holston river valley or the Yadkin, Broad and Catawba rivers in Virginia and the Carolinas. This distance only added to the bad experiences of the governed concerning the government. 

And grievance upon grievance mounted year after year until an enlightened leadership made a stand against the tyranny. Across the colonies the conversations turned to common rights and common ideas of government…self-government. And though it was based on a natural law known in the breasts of every free man, they were radical in terms of sitting governments in world history. The Ulster Scots had learned to live and flourish on their own in terms of self-government with the moral compass of these natural laws. They, as a people, understood the building blocks of a civil society and recognized when a form of government was not working and had become tyrannical.  These, after-all, were the literate, pious and independent children of the great Scottish Enlightenment.

And all the remonstrations still could have been for naught, and these men and women of the empire would have stayed willingly as faithful subjects, had the King and his generals acted rightfully. Instead, the British came with threats to hang the leaders of the Ulster Scots and lay waste to their towns with fire and sword unless they came and took an oath to this King who was so far away. This same King that bribed the Cherokee to wage war on the settlements from Spartanburg to Nolichucky. The King’s men burned houses, arrested clergy, and confiscated livestock without due payment. British Officers enlisted the local thieves as soldiers and gave them authority to legally ply their formerly illegal trade. Chaos was fomented by the very government that wanted their allegiance.


The Ulster Scots in the American Revolution

So, they came in droves.  Not by the tens or the dozens, but by the hundreds each time they were called in from the fields for service. They chose to live life on their own terms and fight back. 

At Fort Thicketty, in upstate South Carolina, they rode with Colonel Isaac Shelby and their mere presence forced a capitulation without a shot being fired. At Musgrove Mill in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, they combined forces and routed the British with ease. At Kings Mountain, near the North and South Carolina State line, they combined forces again with independent commands, and went on to surround and obliterate one third of the standing British Army in the Carolinas. And at Cowpens they helped the Continental army win the day and decimate still more of Cornwallis’ standing army, thereby starting the chain of events that ended the war and established a new nation.

We can still walk where the intrepid heroes once raised rifle and saber in defense of Liberty. On the trails and roads of old we can stroll under the canopies of the white oak and tulip poplar while our ankles brush by the green ferns along the way. Squirrel and fox, deer and owl, all co-exist on these sacred grounds. The whispers of the wind are all that is left of those awful conflicts, save the man-made markers and graves that dot the anointed landscape. Thankfully we are fortunate to be able to reflect upon these noble deeds of men and women who may have been poor in terms of wealth but were rich in their determination to live free.  

Freedom Reigns!

Protected now from the conquest of civilization’s steady roll, 

where man made monuments stand with the beauty of nature’s soul.  

envision yourself amid the battle cries and smoke while charging into the fray…


you do so under the umbrella of liberty won on that hallowed day. 


Let us know what you think of the article below.

Contributing author, Eric K. Barnes, is a retired Detective Sergeant who enjoys walking in the footsteps of heroes and proclaiming “Freedom” along the way. Find out more here:


The Winning of the West, Theodore Roosevelt

Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution in the Carolinas and Georgia, Benson J. Lossing

King’s Mountain and It’s Heroes: History of the Battle of King’s Mountain, October 7th, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It,Lyman C. Draper and Anthony Allaire

History of the Upper Country of S.C., John H. Logan

Before They Were Heroes at King’s Mountain, Randell Jones

Parker’s Guide to the Revolutionary War in South Carolina, John C. Parker Jr.


This article originally appeared on Eric’s site here.

The American Revolutionary War saw thirteen mere colonies declare themselves independent from one of world history’s most powerful empires, the British Empire. Even more revolutionary were the remarkable men that fostered the Revolutionary War - from aristocratic men and lawyers to silversmiths such as Paul Revere and self-made statesmen like Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton. Yet, even these exceptional men could not have officially declared the colonies “free and independent states” without the rally of ordinary men, women, and yes, children. Casey Titus explains.

A statue of Sybil Ludington in Carmel, New York.

A statue of Sybil Ludington in Carmel, New York.

Nicknamed the “Female Paul Revere,” Sybil Ludington was only sixteen years of age when she embarked on horse through the night in order to warn Patriot militia of the approaching British Army. Sybil was born in 1761 in Fredericksburg, (now called Ludingtonville) New York. She was the eldest of twelve children and the daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington who had fought in the French and Indian War. Loyal to the British crown until 1773, Colonel Ludington volunteered to lead their local militia in Duchess County, New York, during the Revolutionary War. His area of command was along a vulnerable route between Connecticut and the coast of Long Island Sound that British troops could easily take.

On the night of April 26, 1777, two years after the famous Midnight Ride, barely 16-year old Sybil Ludington was putting her younger siblings to bed when a horseman reached the Ludington residence with news that a nearby town, Danbury, Connecticut, was attacked by British forces. Danbury at the time contained a supply depot for the Continental Army. Colonel Ludington’s regiment was disbanded and returned to their homes, the horseman was exhausted, and there was no neighbor to contact. Sybil then volunteered to ride through the countryside and alert the disbanded militia.


Night Ride

Her night-long ride began at 9 PM. Sybil rode through the stormy night on roads roamed by outlaws, British soldiers, and loyalists. She rode through the towns of Kent, Mahopac, and Stormville bringing her through both Putnam and Dutchess Counties in New York, her only defense being her horse Star and a stick she carried throughout her ride. Some historians believe that along Ludington’s ride, a man offered to travel with her but instead, she turned him away to warn a town called Brewster of the impending British forces. One account retells that Ludington defended herself against an outlaw that attempted to accost her. Sybil Ludington rode a total of 40 miles (twenty miles more than Paul Revere’s ride) and warned the approximately 400 militiamen who gathered at the Ludington residence to fight the British under her father’s command. Her exact words were, “The British are burning Danbury. Muster at Ludington’s at daybreak!”

Meanwhile, the militia captain of the British forces that attacked Danbury, William Tryon, decided to burn Danbury, capture its supplies, and withdraw towards Long Island Sound. Although the militia arrived too late to defend Danbury, they were able to force the British to retreat in what became known as the Battle of Ridgefield, making them pay dearly for their destruction of Danbury. Sybil returned to her home at dawn the next day, soaked with rain and exhausted.

For her heroic acts, Sybil received personal thanks from General George Washington of the Continental Army and General Rochambeau, the French commander fighting alongside the patriots. Future Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, wrote to Colonel Ludington: “I congratulate you on the Danbury expedition. The stores destroyed have been purchased at a pretty high price to the enemy.” Her father, Colonel Ludington’s memoir claims:

One who even now rides from Carmel to Cold Spring will find rugged and dangerous roads, with lonely stretches. Imagination only can picture what it was a century and a quarter ago, on a dark night, with reckless bands of “Cowboys” and “Skinners” abroad in the land. But the child performed her task, clinging to a man’s saddle, and guiding her steed with only a hempen halter, as she rode through the night, bearing the news of the sack of Danbury. There is no extravagance in comparing her ride to that of Paul Revere and its midnight message. Nor was her errand less efficient than his. By daybreak, thanks to her daring, nearly the whole regiment was mustered before her father’s house at Fredericksburg.


Following the end of the Revolutionary War, Sybil Ludington married a farmer and innkeeper, Edmond Ogden at the age of the twenty-three and had one son named Henry, presumably after her father. She died on February 26, 1839 in Catskill, New York. She was buried near her father in the Patterson Presbyterian Cemetery in Patterson, New York.

Following her death and the revelation of her little known heroic ride in 1907, several commemorations were made in her honor. In 1912, a poem by Fred C. Warner, On an April Night 1777, narrated her journey using the form and style of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1863). In the 1930s the New York State Education Department posted historical-marker signs along her probable route and her home site. In 1940, a statue of her and her horse, Star, was erected by Anna Hyatt Huntington and placed on Gleneida Avenue in Carmel, New York. In 1975, Ludington became the thirty-fifth woman to be honored on a United States postal stamp.

A plaque underneath her statue in New York reads:

Sybil Ludington – Revolutionary War Heroine, April 26, 1777. Called out the volunteer militia by riding through the night, alone, on horseback, at the age of 16, alerting the countryside to the burning of Danbury, Conn, by the British.


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Today we have an excerpt from George Washington’s Secret Spy War: The Making of America’s First Spymaster by American Revolution historian, John A. Nagy (available here US) | (here UK).


This is the story of how America was really won. Using George Washington’s diary as the primary source, historian John A. Nagy uncovers the never-before-known history of how Washington was not just the first president but also America’s first spymaster. Nagy reveals how Washington first dabbled with espionage in the French and Indian War. Ultimately, it is this expertise that leads to the defeat of the British - they weren’t just outplayed, they were out spied: from double-crosses to doubly shady characters. Nagy unearths the surprising true stories behind numerous spy rings on both sides of the war.

Below we share an excerpt from the book.

Chapter 4: Pools of Blood

Washington was always concerned about spies. They were a constant problem except when the armies were on the move. He knew he could not stop all of them, so feeding them false information was his next best defense. With that in mind on December 12, 1776, he told Colonel John Cadwalader of the Philadelphia Associators of the Pennsylvania militia, “Keep a good look out for spies; endeavor to magnify your numbers as much as possible.” It was a ploy he would use over and over again in creating false troop information, inflating the size and giving the wrong location of his forces for spies to discover and take back to enemy headquarters.

Washington in December of 1776 was desperate to know what the British were doing. Spare no pains or expense to get intelligence of the enemy’s intentions, Washington told Cadwalader. He had also told General James Ewing, “Spare no pains nor cost to gain information of the enemy’s movements and designs. Whatever sums you pay to obtain this end I will cheerfully refund. “He also advised Brigadier General Philemon Dickinson to spare no pains or expense to obtain intelligence, and all promises he made or monies advanced would be acknowledged and paid. Three days later Washington was still desperate for information and again was encouraging Cadwalader to get intelligence of the enemy’s intentions.

Dickinson, who was at Yardley’s farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, advised Washington on the 21st of the information he was able to collect from two people who had come out of New Jersey on what was going on in New Brunswick, and from a person from Crosswicks regarding boats at Lewis’s Mill. A slave from Trenton told of boats being built a mile from town. Dickinson told Washington he was going to increase the amount he was offering to $15 or $20 for someone to go as a spy to Trenton and return. “People here are fearful of the inhabitants betraying them.” On the 24th he was able to secure someone to take the risks and he got him across the river into New Jersey. He was due back the next morning, at which time he was going to be provided with a horse to get to Washington.

On the morning of December 31, 1776, while at Crosswicks, one of Cadwalader’s spies, who was identified only as “a very intelligent young gentleman,” had just returned from the British camp at Princeton some sixteen miles distant. He identified the number and locations of British and Hessian forces in the town. He said “there were about five thousand men, consisting of Hessians and British troops—about the same number of each. . . . He conversed with some of the officers, and lodged last night with them.” As part of a disinformation campaign, Washington had previously instructed that the numbers of American troops were to be magnified. The spy complied with these instructions by saying that Washington had 16,000 men. However, they would not believe that Washington had more than 5,000 or 6,000. The spy reported, “They parade every morning an hour before day [break]—and some nights lie on their arms—An attack has been expected for several nights past—the men are much fatigued, and until last night [were] in want of provisions—when a very considerable number of wagons arrived with provisions from [New] Brunswick.” He provided a crucial piece of information: the enemy was not expecting an attack from the east, as there were “no sentries on the back or east side of the town” facing the water, thus leaving the town unguarded. The spy also provided enough detailed information for a map, which was made by Cadwalader, showing the enemy’s positions at Princeton.

Washington and the army re-crossed the ice-choked Delaware and returned to New Jersey on December 29. The artillery was unable to cross till the 31st due to the ice. When assembled at Trenton, Washington’s forces numbered 6,000 men and forty cannons. However, enlistments were expiring and soldiers would be going home. The army was going to evaporate before his eyes. Washington appealed to his men to stay in service for some promised bonus money. On December 31, Robert Morris in Philadelphia sent Washington the sum of 410 Spanish milled dollars, 2 English crowns, 10½ English shillings, and one half a French crown, amounting to 155 pounds, 9 shillings, 6 pence in Pennsylvania currency, or 124 pounds, 7 shillings, 8 pence lawful money, which is the value in gold and silver. Buoyed by the combination of victory at Trenton and money from Morris, most men stayed.

After Washington’s victory at Trenton, British General Cornwallis returned to New Jersey from New York City. He assembled a force of 8,000 at Princeton, leaving 1,200 at Princeton under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood of the 17th Regiment of Foot. On January 2, he took his remaining forces, which included twenty-eight cannons, and marched toward Trenton and Washington’s army. When he reached Maidenhead (now Lawrenceville), he detached Colonel Alexander Leslie of the 64th Regiment of Foot with 1,500 men. He ordered them to stay there until the next morning. As soon as Washington heard that Cornwallis was on his way to attack him, he detached men to skirmish with the approaching British forces in a delaying action. Due to the American resistance it was not until late in the day when the British army finally reached Trenton. It was the second time in eight days that the Americans would engage the enemy.

The Americans were encamped on the east side of a bridge across the Assunpink Creek. The British advanced in solid columns onto the bridge. The Americans fired in unison and the British fell back. The British regrouped and charged the bridge again. This time the Americans fired a cannon into the redcoats and they fell back once more. After regrouping they moved onto the bridge. This time the American cannons fired antipersonnel canister shot, which is like a shotgun blast of small pellets. The bridge was littered with the dead. A soldier described the scene: “The bridge looked red as blood, with their killed and wounded and their red coats.” The firing and the killing continued till sunset when Cornwallis called off the attack. He planned to take the bridge the next morning and then crush Washington and the Continental Army. Both sides were exhausted and the soldiers on both sides were ordered to rest.

It was brought to Washington’s attention that the British could cross the creek farther down at Philip’s Ford and turn his flank. He would have been caught between the British forces and the Delaware River. It would have been a repeat of the Battle of Long Island. This time he could not escape by crossing the Delaware, as he had crossed the East River before, as his vessels were farther upstream. He did not have the time for them to be brought to his rescue. Later the British quietly, under the cover of darkness, began moving 2,000 men in the woods into position to cross Philip’s Ford in the morning.

Washington had received Cadwalader’s spy’s intelligence on the enemy situation at Princeton. The unknown spy provided great detail of the British fortifications. This would be the rare occasion that Washington acted on a single spy’s intelligence, as there was no time to get corroborating intelligence. Because of the desperate situation, he could not stand pat. He had to do something or be destroyed.

He hurriedly called a council of war. It was decided to slip away during the night and surprise the British at Princeton. The Continental Army’s military and personal baggage was sent south to Burlington. The artillery was wrapped in heavy cloth to quiet the noise. Five hundred soldiers were left at Trenton with two cannons. Some were assigned to tend the campfires to keep them burning. Others were to make noise digging with picks and shovels to convince the British that the American army was going to make a stand and was reinforcing its position preparing for the British attack at Philip’s Ford. The soldiers who were left as a distraction were to sneak away during the night and catch up to the Continental Army before dawn. The army, as silently as possible, slipped away beginning at 2 a.m. while the British watched the light from the American camp- fires. For some of the men it would be their third night march in a row in the cold and extreme darkness. They were slowed by the task of getting the artillery over stumps in the frozen, rutted road. After crossing the new bridge, Washington split the army into two units just as when he approached Trenton a week earlier.

Unfortunately, just like a week earlier, they were arriving later than intended and lost the cover of darkness.

Thirty-four-year-old Rhode Islander General Nathanael Greene took the smaller column of soldiers and went west to take control of the main road from Princeton to Trenton. They were to keep the enemy at Princeton from escaping and block any reinforcements coming to the aid of those at Princeton. General John Sullivan of New Hampshire commanded the main body of the army of 5,000 men. They went to the right along the Saw Mill Road.

Cornwallis had ordered forty-seven-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood to bring the 17th and 55th British Regiments of Foot along with some artillery to Trenton to join his army in the morning. Mawhood marched out from Princeton at about five in the morning. While on the march he sighted the main American army under General Sullivan. He immediately sent a rider to warn the 40th Regiment of Foot in Princeton of the advancing Americans.

Mawhood decided to attack with 450 men the main American army. Brigadier General Hugh Mercer’s 1,500 men of Greene’s division made the first contact with Mawhood’s men in William Clark’s orchard. Lieutenant William John Hale of the 45th Regiment of Foot wrote that the American volley was “a heavy discharge, which brought down seven of my platoon at once, the rest being recruits, gave way.” He continues, “I rallied them with much difficulty, and brought them forward with bayonets.” The two sides matched volley for volley. Pools of blood glistened on the ice-covered field. Mawhood saw an opportunity and ordered a bayonet charge against the American riflemen, who did not have bayonets. Brigadier General Mercer’s horse was hit and down Mercer went as he ordered a retreat. His men safely retreated but Mercer fell into British hands. He fought with his sword and was bayoneted many times and would die several days later. His men retreated right into Colonel John Cadwalader’s Pennsylvania Associators as they were trying to deploy. Washington came on the field and rallied the men, riding on a white horse within seventy-five feet of the British line. He made a very easy target but somehow came through the battle without a scratch. More American units came onto the field, some with bayonets drawn.

The British fired a volley that went over the heads of the Americans. Washington with the army under control then ordered a platoon to fire as it marched forward. Washington was turning their flank and was about to attack the British rear as well as the front and flank. The circle was closing. The British decided their only course of action was either to fight and be cut to pieces or retreat through the only way still available. Mawhood sent the artillery back to Princeton in an effort to save them. The 55th Regiment of Foot took up position south of the town at a place called Frog Hollow. They were outnumbered 10 to 1. They did some delaying actions, falling back to new defensive positions. This bought the British some time to remove as much of their supplies and artillery out of Princeton as possible and take them to safety in New Brunswick. When the American army was within fifty or sixty feet of the British defenses and ready to charge, a British officer with a white handkerchief on the point of his sword asked for a truce in order to surrender. General Sullivan accepted his surrender.

Some of the British forces that were in the town took shelter in Nassau Hall, which was the main building for the College of New Jersey (now Princeton). Alexander Hamilton had some cannons brought to the front of Nassau Hall and fired at the building. When some Americans broke open the front door, the British waved a white flag through one of the windows and surrendered. The Americans had defeated the British regulars and were now in control of the town. As soon as Cornwallis realized the Americans had slipped away during the night, were now behind him, and he was in an unsupported position, he and his troops headed back to Princeton.

The British payroll chest of £70,000 lay just sixteen miles up the road in New Brunswick guarded by a skeleton force. It was a great prize but Washington’s men were exhausted. Some had not had any rest for two nights and a day. From the best intelligence Washington was able to get, the British were so alarmed at the possibility of an attack at New Brunswick that they immediately marched there without halting at Princeton. This al- lowed Washington to take his men unmolested another thirty miles past New Brunswick to the safety of an encampment in the Watchung Mountains in and around Morristown.

The increase in the morale of the public and the troops was meteoric. The mood went from the despair of expecting Philadelphia to fall to the British juggernaut, which had ridden rough- shod over New York and New Jersey, to euphoria over the two American victories. William Hooper, a Continental congress- man from North Carolina, best described the change in the public morale and the heady confidence in Washington and the Continental Army after the victories at the Battle of Trenton over the Hessians and the Battle of Princeton over the British.


Excerpted with permission from George Washington’s Secret Spy War: The Making of America’s First Spymaster by John A. Nagy. Published by St. Martin’s Press. Copyright 2016. Book available here US | here UK.

John Quincy Adams was not a Founding Father, but he was a ‘Founding Son’. Here, William Bodkin continues his series on the presidents of the USA. He looks at a fascinating tale of how John Quincy Adams fought to preserve the Union against “States’ rights” over 50 years after the end of the American Revolutionary War.

William's previous pieces have been on George Washington (link here), John Adams (link here), Thomas Jefferson (link here), James Madison (link here), and James Monroe (link here).

John Quincy Adams, 1858. Painting by G.P.A. Healy.

John Quincy Adams, 1858. Painting by G.P.A. Healy.

Even though he was not a member of America’s Founding generation, John Quincy Adams had much in common with the Founders.  We can even call him their first son. For example, like his father, John Adams, John Quincy Adams’ time as president was likely his least important contribution to the Republic.  John Quincy Adams’ life was a litany of service to the nation; Ambassador, Senator, Secretary of State, President, and then, finally, Congressman representing his home district in Massachusetts.[1]  It was during his time in Congress that the younger Adams secured the esteem that often eluded his family.  His debating skills earned him the nickname “The Old Man Eloquent” and he stood, during a time when the American Union was being gradually torn apart by slavery, as a reminder of the importance of unity in the United States.

1839 was a pivotal year in this regard.  Adams was nearing the height of his post-presidential influence, which culminated in his 1841 argument of the Amistad case before the Supreme Court, where he helped secure freedom for Africans who had been kidnapped in violation of international law and treaties to be sold as slaves.[2]  1839 helped lay the foundation for the successes to come.

In December 1839, a fight for control of the House of Representatives was resolved only when Adams himself agreed to preside over the chamber.  Following the 1838 election, two delegations from New Jersey presented themselves in the House, one Democrat (pro-slavery), one Whig (anti-slavery).  Control of the House, which was evenly split between the two parties, hinged on which New Jersey faction was seated.  In the absence of a Speaker, usually elected by the majority party, the Clerk of the House controlled debate and called for votes.  But the Clerk was a Democrat seeking to preserve his party’s rule.  He refused to do anything, and would not call votes, even to adjourn.  After five days of chaos, Adams, then a Whig, rose and made an impassioned plea directly to his fellow Congressman to override the Clerk, whom he thundered was in defiance of the will of the people and who was holding the whole Congress, ironically enough his employers, in contempt.  When someone asked who would “put the question” to a vote since the Clerk refused, Adams, in complete disregard for parliamentary procedure, declared that he would.



Stirred by Adams’ speech, a Democratic member who was usually a bitter opponent of Adams, Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina, proposed that the oldest member of Congress serve as temporary Speaker.  When he declined, Rhett then rallied Democrats and Whigs alike behind Adams.  As the chamber erupted in cheers, Adams was escorted to the dais to preside in the wholly manufactured role of “Chairman of the House of Representatives”, replacing the Clerk.  Adams filled the role for nearly two weeks until a compromise candidate for Speaker was settled on.[3] 

But while in December 1839 Adams was a rallying point for Democrat and Whig alike, in April of that year he used his status as Founding Son and former president to attack one of the Democrats’ favorite arguments supporting slavery, that of “states’ rights” over the federal government.  The occasion was an oration Adams delivered at the New York Historical Society celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the United Stated Constitution.[4]

Adams viewed “states’ rights” as an insult to the principles his father fought for in the Revolution.  Adams seized on the opportunity of the “Jubilee of the Constitution” to follow once more in his father’s footsteps. He strove to establish a unified theory of the American Founding, one based on the idea that sovereignty in the United States, i.e., supreme power and authority, rested not in “states’ rights” over the federal government, but in the power of the people over both the states and the federal government, each of which should be looked at warily as potential usurpers of the people’s power.

Adams based his argument in the Revolution itself, contending that the act of declaring Independence from Britain was one of all the people of the United States renouncing allegiance to the “British crown”, and seizing anew for themselves the “natural rights of mankind”.  Adams described it as the “whole people” declaring, “in their united condition,” that they were “free and independent.”[5]

Adams, like his father, believed that following the Declaration of Independence, the former colonies had, in truth, no government.[6]  The former colonists decided that the most practical course was to constitute themselves as independent states along their old colonial boundaries, and for the people of each state to draft their own state constitutions.  While this decision was correct, Adams believed that it led to the near fatal error of the new states, the decision to relax the Union that had fought and forged Independence into a “league of friendship” between “sovereign and independent states”[7], placing the states over the Union.  Adams argued that as a result of the Articles of Confederation, the “nation fell into atrophy” and the “[t]he Union languished to the point of death.”[8]



Rebirth was needed, and it came, according to Adams, in the form of the new Constitution, with George Washington at its head.  Adams asserted that the Constitution was the perfect “complement” to the Declaration of Independence, as they were based on the same principles.   Adams believed that the Declaration and the Constitution were “parts of one consistent whole, founded upon one and the same theory of government.”  The theory was that the “people were the only legitimate source of power” and that “all just powers of government were derived from the consent of the governed” and not the consent of the states.  In Adams’ formulation, “We, the People” of the American Union had again come together, as surely as they had to throw off the despotic rule of George III, to throw off the Articles of Confederation.  Adams derided states’ rights as “grossly immoral,” and the “dishonest doctrine of despotic stare sovereignty.”  Those who advanced it were advocating a theory of government that stood in direct opposition to the principles of the Founding Era.[9]

John Quincy Adams took this fight personally.  It had been the life’s work of his family for two generations.  As history tells us, however, the lawyerly arguments of John Quincy Adams did not carry the day.  It took the near apocalyptic bloodshed of the Civil War to preserve the Union.  And even that did not end the debate over the idea that states’ rights were superior to the federal government.  The argument continues to this day,[10] with various “popular” movements making the case for states’ rights and secession from the Union.[11]  Governors from various states have asserted that their state can handle any American issue better than the federal government, from containing Ebola, to immigration, to health care.

But there seems to be one key difference between John Quincy Adams’ era and the present day, and that is in the apparent unwillingness of any major public figure to make the case for Union, and why the American Republic, for all its flaws, remains better, stronger, and more free together than it ever could broken into its constituent parts.  Indeed, there seems to be no one to argue on behalf of all the American people why the more perfect union they established must endure.


Did you find this article interesting? If so, tell the world! Tweet about it, like it or share it by clicking on one of the buttons below!


1. “The Election of John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts” on

2. See, Teaching With Documents, the Amistad Case. (


4. “The Jubilee of the Constitution.  A discourse delivered at the request of the New York Historical Society in the City of New York on Tuesday the 30th of April 1839, being the fiftieth anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States, on Thursday, the 30th of April, 1789” by John Quincy Adams, Published by Samuel Colman, Astor House, 1839. (“Jubilee”).

5. Jubilee, p.6

6. See, e.g., Ellis, Joseph, “American Summer,” Chapter 1, “Prudence Dictates” (Knopf 2013).

7. Jubilee at 10.

8. Jubilee at 11.

9. Jubilee, 40-42

10. See, “Angry with Washington, 1 in 4 Americans open to secession.”

11. See, “Americans for Independence…From America” (

The American Revolution from 1775-1783 changed the world. In this article, Aidan Curran takes a unique look at the causes of the Revolution – stamps, sugar and tea. This article is part of our introductions to history series.


Thinking of hosting an afternoon tea party any time soon? Think again, you might just spark a revolution!

The Boston Tea Party in 1773 was not your ordinary tea party. There were no forced pleasantries, scrumptious pastries, or even tea being drunk. Instead, there were 60 men, dressed as Native Americans, flinging 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. This was in response to the British Government passing the Tea Act, which stated Americans had to buy tea from Britain only. Americans were less then pleased by this, as taxes were being placed on them, yet they had no representation in the British Parliament. This led to the cry for “No Taxation without Representation.” However, a tea party is not complete without sugar, and this was also a cause of the American Revolution. A third cause was a tax on stamps.

But before we get into tea, sugar, and stamps, it is important to understand what life was like for the colonists under British rule. Society was made up of ruling elites, from great landowners to British placemen, who were trying to make their fortune in the Thirteen Colonies. Nobody really cared about the colonists; everybody was in it to serve their own interests. Americans were restricted in their day-to-day living. The Navigation Acts stated that the most important goods had to be sent to British ports, and transported in British vessels. Turning crude iron into finished goods was also forbidden, along with selling beaver hats. Granted, not being able to buy a hat is hardly an excuse for a Revolution, but the fact remains: the colonists were serving needs other than their own, as economically they were restricted, and politically they had no influence. Upon the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, it was colonists who had to pay the price, literally. 

The tarring and feathering of the Loyalist Commissioner of Customs, John Malcolm, January 1774, underneath the Liberty Tree. He is also being forced to drink tea. In the background, the Boston Tea Party is taking place, an event that in reality occurred in December 1773. Painting attributed to Philip Dawe.

The tarring and feathering of the Loyalist Commissioner of Customs, John Malcolm, January 1774, underneath the Liberty Tree. He is also being forced to drink tea. In the background, the Boston Tea Party is taking place, an event that in reality occurred in December 1773. Painting attributed to Philip Dawe.

War Debt

Why did Britain have to impose taxes on tea, sugar, and stamps? From 1754-1763, they battled with France over North American territory, which is known as the Seven Years’ War. To fight this war, Britain borrowed huge amounts of money from banks and individual investors. The colonists assisted Britain in the war by providing soldiers and economic resources, and this made Britain realize just how important the colonies were in maintaining its status as a world power.

Were the British grateful for the colonists help though? Absolutely not!

The British saw the colonists as inferiors, whose main role was to enrich the mother country. One British official even described the colonists as “fools.” In fact, the British even believed that Americans should be grateful for the continued protection they received, and so did not hesitate in making Americans pay for the war debt.


Taxing the Colonies

And now, we get to the tea, sugar, and stamps! By placing taxes on these items, Britain hoped to regain the huge amount of money that it had spent fighting the Seven Years War. In 1764, the Sugar Act was introduced by Prime Minister George Grenville, which forced Americans to pay a three-cent tax on sugar. There was also a tax placed on wine and coffee.

While, the Sugar Act was really only a new reinforced aspect of the Navigation Acts, the Stamp Act was a new matter altogether. Introduced in 1765, it placed a tax on every single piece of paper that Americans used, from newspapers to playing cards.

Now, it would seem reasonable that a person should be able to buy tea from wherever they want, don’t you think? Well, the British didn’t think so. The Tea Act of 1773 meant that if Americans wanted tea, they had to buy it from the British owned East India Company. And the colonists certainly liked their tea – they drank at least 1.2 million pounds of it every year.

The colonists were annoyed, very annoyed indeed. Not so much with the acts themselves, but the fact that Britain was making decisions without their consent. Furthermore, the colonists believed that if they were paying taxes, they should be represented in the British Parliament, and devised the slogan “No Taxation without Representation.” This simply meant that if colonists were to pay taxes, they wanted somebody in the British Parliament, who would claim their rights and fight taxation. If Americans were British citizens, they wanted to be treated as such.


American reaction to taxation

Feeling that their rights were being violated, colonists reacted to taxation with mass meetings, protests, and boycotting British goods. Everything revolved around the word “liberty.” Opponents of the new taxes went as far as to hold mock funerals, in which liberty’s coffin would be carried to the grave. At the last minute, the occupant would jump out of the coffin, and everybody would go to a tavern and celebrate. In Boston, there is a large elm tree, where protesters once hanged an effigy of stamp distributor Andrew Oliver, and this became known as the Liberty Tree. Mass meetings were also held under this tree, and this space became known as Liberty Hall.

In New York, hundreds of residents passed through the streets every night shouting “liberty.” Around this time too, the Sons of Liberty were formed, and while they were unsupported by society’s elite, they had a large following from the city’s laborers, craftsmen, and sailors. A British officer by the name of Major Thomas James infuriated colonists by boasting that he would force the stamps down New Yorkers’ throats, and the colonists reacted by destroying his home.

Faced with such resistance, the British government repealed the stamp act in 1766. However, they did proceed to pass a Declaratory Act, which dismissed the colonists’ claims that they should be represented in Parliament.

The Townsend Acts also contributed to the American Revolution. They angered the colonists even further by placing taxes on glass and paper. The colonists again protested and boycotted British goods. British troops were sent to enforce the laws, but this led to many unpleasant clashes with colonists. Indeed, on March 5, 1770, the Boston Massacre took place. British troops who were guarding a customs house, opened fire and killed five Bostonians, while wounding many more. It is believed that the soldiers panicked, after somebody began to throw snowballs.

In response to the Tea Act imposed by the British government, colonists boarded three British ships in Boston Harbor and threw $4 million worth of tea into the sea. This is event of now known as the Boston Tea Party. As the British loved their tea (and money), they were furious, and quickly and decisively enforced the Intolerable Acts. As part of the Acts, Boston’s port was closed to all trade until the tea was paid for, town meetings were banned, and colonists had no choice but to feed and house the extra British soldiers that were sent to keep order. The British realized that they had to stand firm against the Americans – to back down over the Tea Party would portray them as weak to their other colonies. Again, colonists responded with resistance and defiance to the Intolerable Acts, claiming that their rights to liberty were being violated. They went so far as to accuse the British as being “instigated by the devil.” Revolution was edging ever closer…


The Continental Congress and outbreak of war

In response to the Intolerable Acts, the First Continental Congress was held in Philadelphia from September 5 through October 26, and urged citizens to resist the new laws and prepare themselves for war. It was here that Patrick Henry made his famous proclamation: “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

The Continental Congress was the final bolt that opened the door of Revolution. By May 1775, war had broken out between British soldiers and armed colonists.


 To sum it all up

Who knew a row over tea, sugar, and stamps could contribute to the establishment of one of the world’s great superpowers? However, as has been outlined, there were many factors that led to the American Revolution and, eventually, American Independence. Colonists were tired of being seen as inferior and wanted to have the rights of an English citizen, but more importantly, they wanted the rights of a human being. They also felt they should not be made to pay for Britain’s debt resulting from the Seven Years War. In addition, they thought that they should not have to pay taxes if they were not represented in Parliament – “No Taxation without Representation.”

With the Declaration of Independence, Americans were allowed to embark on their “pursuit of happiness” and realize their goals. They could shape their society in whichever way they saw fit. Oh, and they had the freedom to buy tea from whoever they chose…


You can find out more from Aidan Curran on his site here or his Twitter feed here.


This article is the first in what will be occasional articles on introductions to history. Introductions to History will feature an overview of a major event in world history, often told in a somewhat humorous or different way!


Finally, you can find out more about the American Revolution in our podcast series here.



Selected References

  • The American Revolution, Colin Bonwick
  • The American Revolution, Edward Countryman
  • The Limits of Liberty, Maldwyn Jones
  • Give Me Liberty!, Eric Foner

In this article, as our part of our American Revolution season, we look at the life of a British soldier during the American Revolutionary War. 

British army redcoats through the ages.  Source: Regimental Nicknames and Traditions of the British Army, London: Gale & Polden, 1916.   

British army redcoats through the ages.

Source: Regimental Nicknames and Traditions of the British Army, London: Gale & Polden, 1916.


Army muster rolls in general provide an overview of each soldier's career, allowing each man to be traced from the time that he joined his regiment to the time he left it. Occasionally, however, a soldier enigmatically appears on the rolls without any indication of where he came from, and sometimes men disappear from the rolls with no explanation of where they went. Benjamin Reynard, a grenadier in the 37th Regiment of Foot, provides an example of both of these nuances.

Reynard served in America, but it is not clear when he joined the army or arrived on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean. He first appears on the roll of the grenadier company covering the period 25 December 1777 through 24 June 1778. Most men who joined grenadier or light infantry companies had served for at least a year in other companies of the regiment (there were occasional exceptions, particularly for men who had prior military experience). There is no annotation on this roll that he joined the company during that muster period, and no trace of him on the rolls of other companies during preceding periods. Admittedly, more detailed analysis might resolve this mystery; sometimes there are significant changes in the ways that names are spelled from one roll to another, and sometimes even the man's first name changes (for example, there's a chance that Benjamin Reynard is the 'Thomas Raynor' who appears on the prior roll of the same company), but determining this requires careful tracing of all of the names on the rolls, a long and tedious process.

Reynard continues on the rolls of the grenadier company of the 37th Regiment through August of 1783. At that time, the regiment was reorganized due to force reductions at the end of the war; the strength was reduced from ten companies to eight, and many men were discharged. Reynard appears on a set of rolls covering the period 24 June through 24 August (an unusual muster period), but is absent from the subsequent roll covering 25 August through 24 December. Again, it is possible that his name is not obvious because of spelling permutations, but the spelling is very consistent on all of the interim rolls.
Although we lack career details on Reynard that we have for most soldiers, there survives a record of a personal vignette during Reynard's American service, something we lack for most soldiers. At the beginning of June 1779 the grenadier battalion that included his company was part of an expedition that fortified posts on the Hudson River north of New York city including Stony Point on the west shore and Verplanck's Point on the east shore. They camped in wigwams made of brush, a typical practice for the British army in America. On 4 June they fired a salute in honor of the King's birthday.

At about 10 AM on 5 June, Reynard asked his sergeant for leave to go outside of the camp to gather greens, which was granted. He took a haversack with him, and after about an hour returned to camp with the haversack full of dock greens and other wild greens. At noon he fell in for a formation.

Later that day or the next day, a local inhabitant named Mary Baker claimed that some soldiers had come to her house about two miles from the camp at around 11 in the morning of 5 June. She had an inventory of things that they had plundered which included "shirts, and a quantity of wearing Apparel." She identified Reynard as one of the perpetrators, and claimed that he had also killed a pig of hers and made off with it.

Reynard was put on trial for this crime on 7 June. Mary Baker was the only witness supporting the charge. Reynard claimed that he was away from the camp with leave but had not gone far and had only gathered greens. His sergeant and another grenadier both testified in his support, corroborating his story. Both testified that they were in the same mess as Reynard, that is, they prepared their food and dined together; this explained their explicit interest in having seen the greens that Reynard gathered, and both said that Reynard had nothing else with him when he returned to camp. As an aside, typically a mess consisted of 5 men; military authors of the era recommended that sergeants and soldiers mess separately, so the testimony in this trial indicates either that this company of the 37th did not heed these recommendations or that the size and composition of messes varied while the army was on campaign.

In a striking verdict, which is perhaps yet another mystery about Reynard, the military court found him guilty of the crime. Apparently they gave greater significance to the testimony of the injured party than to Reynard and his two comrades. There is no mention in the trial proceedings of how Mary Barker singled out Reynard, but there are other accounts of soldiers being paraded so that wronged inhabitants could recognize an offender in the ranks. It is possible that the officers who sat on the court were privy to information that was not explicitly presented at the trial. It also may be that the court wanted to set an example to stave off plundering by other soldiers.

Benjamin Reynard was sentenced to receive 1000 lashes. We have no information on the extent to which this punishment was inflicted. Sometimes soldiers who were severely punished, particularly on dubious evidence, deserted, but not this one. As described above, Reynard continued to serve through to the end of the war. 


By Don N Hagist

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