The Complete Overview of the American Revolutionary War


The American Revolutionary War 1775-1783.

The roots of the American Revolution can be traced to the French and Indian War. Battles between the French and British over territory from Nova Scotia to Virginia spread to Europe and became known as the Seven Years’ War. The North American theater of this war, the French and Indian War, was concluded with the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763. The victorious British received France’s Canadian territories but doubled its national debt in the process. To satisfy this debt, the British Crown imposed highly unpopular taxes on the Colonies.

The English Parliament passed the first Navigation Act in 1650. The Act required all trade with the North American colonies to be performed by English or colonial ships. Some items, such as tobacco and sugar, could only be shipped within the British Empire and all colonial trade had to pass through England before being shipped to other countries. The Navigation Acts stifled colonial trade and increased resentment against English control.

The Stamp Act, passed in 1765, taxed the colonies by requiring that many printed materials, such as newspapers and legal documents, use paper produced in London bearing a revenue stamp. The colonists considered the Stamp Act a violation of their rights as British citizens, particularly their right not to be taxed without legislative representation. Beginning in 1767, the British Parliament passed the Townshend Acts that included the Revenue Act, the Indemnity Act, the Commissioners of Customs Act, the Vice Admiralty Court Act, and the New York Restraining Act. These acts were designed to punish those who failed to comply with the Quartering Act of 1765, enforce colonial compliance with trade regulations, to establish a British right to tax the colonists, and to raise revenue to pay colonial governors and judges independently of the colonists. Fierce resistance to the Acts led to British occupation of Boston in 1768 and the Boston Massacre of 1770.

The colonists viewed King George III with suspicion and hostility. After the colonists defied new taxes, King George opposed the repeal of the Stamp Act and retained the taxes on tea purchased from Great Britain, which led to the Boston Tea Party in December of 1773. Colonial resistance to the tax on tea led protestors to destroy a shipload of British tea rather than allow its unloading and taxation or its return to Britain. After the Tea Party, King George pushed five acts, referred to as the Coercive Acts or the Intolerable Acts, through Parliament that further aggravated the colonists: the Boston Port Bill, the Regulating Act, the second Quartering Act, an act requiring those accused of rioting to be transported to England for trial, and an act expanding the province of Quebec. The outraged colonists organized the First Continental Congress in 1774 to protest these Acts. The Congress met in Philadelphia and comprised delegates from all of the thirteen colonies, except Georgia. The Congress appealed to King George for redress of its grievances, which it did not receive.

  • Causes of the American Revolution: Information on the causes of the war, major battles, important people, and post-war events.
  • Causes of War: Information on the Stamp Act, the Quartering Act, the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, the Intolerable Acts, and the First Continental Congress.
  • The Revolution: Background and causes of the American Revolution.
  • Reasons for War: Causes leading to the Revolution and the Declaration of Independence.
  • Road to War: A timeline with short profiles of war with engravings.
  • Stamp Act: Full-text of the Stamp Act.

British forces stationed in Boston after the Tea Party began to move south in April of 1775. Paul Revere was warned that the British forces were moving toward the colonial forces at Concord. On the night of April 18, Revere began his famous midnight ride to alert patriots of the British movement, alerting Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington on his way to the militia’s weapons depot in Concord. The first shot of the Revolution was fired in Lexington during a conflict between minutemen and British regulars on April 19, although the source of the shot remains unknown. The militiamen mustering in Concord removed most of their weapons before the arrival of the British and pushed the British troops back toward Boston. This began the Siege of Boston, which lasted until March 17, 1776. The colonial forces prevented British military resupply and to prevent the massed British troops from moving out of the city. The colonials, under George Washington, forced the British to withdraw from Boston after 11 months. During the siege, colonial intelligence learned of British plans to leave the city and secure nearby hills in order to break the siege. Colonial troops occupied Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill in anticipation of the British, who moved to attack them on June 17, 1775. The British pushed the colonials back to Cambridge, although they lost almost one-third of their troops. The colonial forces lost a smaller percentage of troops and proved their willingness to stand and fight against the well-disciplined British. 

The Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775 in Philadelphia to direct colonial military and diplomatic action. The Congress created the Continental Army and appointed George Washington its general. The Congress published the colonial reasons for taking up arms against the British by approving the Declaration of Causes on July 6, 1775. Pressure for independence was mounting among the colonists. Thomas Paine published a 50-page pamphlet entitled “Common Sense” on January 9, 1776 in Philadelphia. The pamphlet, in which Paine criticized King George III and argued for American independence, became a best-seller in the colonies. The Congress officially adopted the Declaration on Independence, largely drafted by Thomas Jefferson, on July 4, 1776. The Congress began to function as the national government, although without the power to tax the colonies to support the war effort.

After British defeats in Boston and Charleston, the British navy under General William Howe invades New York harbor with 30 battleships in July of 1776. Washington meets with Howe in New York but refuses offers of clemency. Howe leads a large British force against Washington, defeating him at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776 and pushing the Americans back and forcing a peace conference on Staten Island on September 11. The Americans refused Howe’s demand to repeal the Declaration of Independence, and Washington and his men defeated the British at the Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16. The British were victorious at the Battle of White Plains on October 28 and captured Fort Washington and Fort Lee in November. Washington retreated over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, but after regrouping, he recrossed the Delaware on Christmas Day, 1776 and defeated the British at Trenton, New Jersey. The American defeat of the British at Trenton provided a necessary boost to American morale. The British under Charles Cornwallis attempted to push the Americans back, but Washington and his men defeated them at Princeton and opened a corridor for Washington to bring his men to winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey. The British still held New York City and Newport, Rhode Island, and planned to send a second invasion force to New York through Canada in 1777 to capture and control the entire Hudson River. Skirmishes along the invasion route weakened the British, and General John Burgoyne and his 5,700 troops surrendered after losing 600 men at the battle of Saratoga, New York. The British soldiers were sent back to England from Boston, bringing news of the American victory to Europe.


The French celebrated the American victory at Saratoga. America and France signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance in Paris on February 6, 1778. France recognized America’s independence from Britain and agreed to support the new state against Britain. On March 17, 1778, Britain declared war on France. France sent 6,000 troops to Rhode Island in July of 1780 and, united with American troops, marched to Virginia. The French and American forces defeated the British at the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781, which prevented the resupply and relief of Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. The American and French land forces, commanded by George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau, surrounded Cornwallis’s forces and were supported by the French navy during the Siege of Yorktown. Cornwallis’s surrender on October 19 lead to the Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783. The Treaty formally ended American-British hostilities, recognized the Thirteen Colonies as free and independent states, established their boundaries, and negotiated the transfer of prisoners and the return of confiscated loyalist property.