The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress
Time Line: The American Revolution
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January 7, Washington writes Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull from Cambridge.
Washington has "undoubted intelligence" that the British plan to shift the focus of their campaign
to New York City. The capture of this city "would give them the Command of the Country and
the Communication with Canada." He intends to send Major General Charles Lee to New York to
raise a force there to defend the City.
George Washington to Jonathan Trumbull, January 7, 1776 |
George Washington to Charles Lee, January 30, 1776
February 4, Major General Charles Lee and British General Henry Clinton both arrive in New
York City on the same day. Lee writes that Clinton claims "it is merely a visit to his
Friend Tryon" [William Tryon, the former royal governor of New York]. "If it is really so, it is
the most whimsical piece of civility I ever heard." Clinton claims that he intends heading south
where he will receive British reinforcements. Lee writes, "to communicate his plan to the Enemy
is too novel to be creditted." Clinton does eventually head south, receiving his reinforcements at
Cape Fear on March 12.
March 27, the British evacuate Boston. Washington writes Congress with the news of this and of
his plans for detaching regiments of the Army in Cambridge to New York under Brigadier
General John Sullivan, with the remainder of the Army to follow.
George Washington to Congress, March 27, 1776
April 4, Washington leaves Cambridge, Massachusetts with the Army and by April 14 is in New
April 17, Washington writes the New York Committee of Safety. New York has not yet come down decisively on the side of independence, and
merchants and government officials are supplying the British ships still in the harbor. Washington,
angry at the continued communication with the enemy, asks the Committee if the
evidence about them does not suggest that the former Colonies and Great Britain are now at war.
He insists that such communications should cease.
George Washington to the New York Safety Committee, April 17, 1776
Charles Lee to George Washington, February 5, 1776,
on his arrival in New York City on the same day as
that of British General Henry Clinton.
George Washington Papers.
June, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia begin campaigns to crush the Overhill
Cherokees. The British Proclamation of 1763 limited frontier settlement to the eastern side of
the Appalachians to prevent incursions into Indian lands and resulting costly wars. But the
Proclamation has not been observed and hostilities between white settlers and Cherokees have
grown over the decades. Supplied with arms by the British, the Overhill Cherokees begin a series
of raids. State militias respond with expeditions and raids of their own. By the Treaty of DeWitt's
Corner, May 1777, the Cherokees cede almost all their land in South Carolina. Similar treaties
result in land cessions to North Carolina and Virginia.
June 4, a British fleet under command of Commodore Sir Peter Parker with Clinton and his
reinforcements approaches the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.
June 28, the British begin
bombardment of Fort Sullivan in Charleston harbor. Failing to take the Fort, the British retreat to New
June 29, General William Howe, and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, arrive in
New York harbor from Boston. In late June, the American army from the campaign against Montreal and
Quebec reassembles at Fort Ticonderoga.
July 9, Washington leads an American Independence celebration in New York City, reading the
Declaration of Independence to the troops and sending copies of it to generals in the Continental
General Artemas Ward, July 9, 1776.
July 14, the Howe brothers attempt to contact Washington to open negotiations, but Washington
refuses their letter which is addressed to "George Washington, Esq., etc., etc.," a form of address
appropriate for a private gentleman rather than for the commander of an army.
August 20, British forces, concentrated on Staten Island, cross over to Long Island for the war's first major
battle. Washington has approximately 23,000 troops, mostly militia. Commanding Continental
officers participating are Lord Stirling (William Alexander), Israel Putnam, John Sullivan, and
Nathanael Greene. Howe has approximately 20,000 troops.
August 27, Howe attacks on Long Island and the American lines retreat. Lord Stirling holds out
the longest before surrendering the same day. Robert H. Harrison, one of Washington's aides,
writes Congress with news of the day's battle and information on Washington's current
whereabouts on Long Island.
Robert H. Harrison to Congress, August 27, 1776
August 28-29, during a heavy night fog, Washington and his army silently evacuate Long Island
by boat to Manhattan, escaping almost certain capture by Howe's army.
August 31, Washington writes Congress about the evacuation and about a forthcoming request
General William Howe to meet with members of Congress. A formal request from Howe is sent
to Congress via captured American general, John Sullivan. A committee made up of Benjamin
Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge meet with Howe on September 6. But discussions
cease when the committee learns that Howe's only offer is that if the rebels lay down their arms,
they may await the generosity of the British government.
George Washington to Congress, August 31, 1776
September 15, Howe's army attacks Manhattan at Kip's Bay, where a Connecticut militia unit
flees in fear and confusion. Washington writes Congress, calling the rout "disgraceful and
dastardly conduct," and describing his own efforts to halt it. On September 16, the same unit
redeems itself in the battle of Harlem Heights. In his September 17 general orders, Washington
praises the officers and soldiers, noting the contrast to the "Behavior of Yesterday."
George Washington to Congress, September 16, 1776 |
George Washington, General Orders, September 17, 1776
September 24, Washington writes Congress on the obstacles to creating a permanent, well-trained
Continental Army to face the regulars of the British Army and describes his frustrations in
employing local militia units. He closes by acknowledging the traditional fears of a "standing
army" in a republic but urges Congress to consider that the war may be lost without one.
George Washington to Congress, September 24, 1776
George Washington's copy of Congress's
May 21, 1776 resolution on treatment of
prisoners and on parole.
A prisoner under parole was relatively
free but could not take up arms
again until formally exchanged.
This resolution allows that "prisoners
be permitted to exercise their trades
and to labour in order to support
themselves and families." George Washington Papers.
September 26, Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Thomas Jefferson are named American commissioners to France by Congress.
October 11-13, Benedict Arnold wins the naval battle of Valcour Island off Crown Point. A small
victory, it nonetheless causes Sir Guy Carleton to delay plans for an invasion from Canada.
October 16, Washington orders the retreat of the army off Manhattan Island. New York City is
lost to the British. British General William Howe wins a knighthood for his successes in the
campaign of 1776.
November 16, Fort Washington and its garrison of 250 men on the east side of the Hudson River
fall to the British, commanded by General Charles Cornwallis. Fort Lee, on the west side, is
abandoned by the Americans two days later.
November-December, under command of General Charles Cornwallis, the British invade New
Jersey. Cornwallis takes Newark November 28 and pursues Washington and his army to New
December 6, British General Henry Clinton takes Newport, Rhode Island.
December 7, Washington's army finishes crossing the Delaware, with the British close behind.
Once on the western side of the river, Washington awaits reinforcements. By mid-December, he is
joined by Horatio Gates, John Sullivan, and their Continental Army forces. The British establish
winter camps in various New Jersey locations, with the Hessians primarily at Bordentown and
Trenton, and the British regulars at Princeton.
December 25, Washington orders readings to the assembled troops from Thomas Paine's The
Crisis, with its famous passage, "This is the time to try men's souls." The Crisis had
just been published December 23 in Philadelphia.
December 25-26, during the night, General Washington, General Henry Knox, and
troops cross the Delaware in freezing winter weather to launch a surprise attack on British and
Hessian mercenaries encamped at Trenton. Early morning, December 26, the attack begins, with
Generals Nathanael Greene and John Sullivan leading the infantry assault against the Hessians,
commanded by Colonel Johann Rall. After a short battle, Washington's army takes Trenton.
December 27, Congress gives Washington special powers for six months. He may raise troops
and supplies from states directly, appoint officers and administer the army, and arrest inhabitants
who refuse to accept Continental currency as payment or otherwise show themselves to be
disloyal. Washington acknowledges these extraordinary powers, assuring Congress that he will
use them to its honor.
George Washington to Congress, January 1, 1777
December 31, Washington writes Congress with a general report of the state of the troops.
Toward the end, he notes that "free Negroes who have served in the Army, are very much
dissatisfied at being discarded." To prevent them from serving the British instead, he has decided
to re-enlist them. In 1775, Washington had opposed enlisting not just slaves but free blacks as well.
His general orders of November 12, 1775, direct that "neither Negroes, Boys unable to bare
Arms, nor old men unfit to endure the fatigues of the campaign" are to be recruited. In 1776 and
thereafter, he reverses himself on both counts.
George Washington, General Orders, November 12, 1775 |
George Washington to Congress, December 31, 1775
Washington's personal copy
of the Declaration of Independence
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