Based on a chapter of the book American History by Arthur Cecil Perry and Gertrude A. Price, 1914
Despite the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Americans amazingly still hoped that the king and Parliament would grant them the rights of Englishmen. If so, the colonists would gladly and loyally support the English government. The Second Continental Congress even sent one more petition to George III asking for fair treatment. The king paid no attention to it, but, instead, closed American ports and called the people rebels.
Even as they waited, hopeful of a peaceful settlement, the Americans were not neglecting the military features of the struggle. On the very day Congress met they captured Crown British stores and ammunition at Fort Ticonderoga, New York. The attack was made by Ethan Allen and a party of hardy frontiersmen — the Green Mountain Boys. Although the fort was equipped with 200 cannons, the attacking party, striking unexpectedly in the dead of night, easily took the startled garrison prisoners. Two days later, nearby Fort Crown Point also surrendered.
The Americans hoped to win over Canada to their side as a fourteenth colony. Whether Canada joined them or not it would be to their advantage to gain control of the region. Two expeditions, therefore, were formed to invade the region.
The first one, under Richard Montgomery, succeeded in capturing Montreal. The second, under Benedict Arnold, started in the winter of 1775 to march through the wilderness to Quebec. The soldiers endured unspeakable hardships. Food gave out, and the cold caused dreadful suffering. Many died and others returned home carrying the sick with them. But, Arnold pushed on. By the time he reached Quebec his numbers had been so reduced that an attack was impossible. Finally, Montgomery came to his aid. With joined forces, they stormed the citadel, but without success. In six months the Americans were compelled to leave Canada.
For the first few months after George Washington’s appointment as commander in chief, the people watched him to see what he would do. They likewise found fault with him because he seemed to be doing nothing. Yet, Washington was busy drilling his men and watching his chance to seize Dorchester Heights, on the south side of Boston, Massachusetts and thus compel the British to fight or retreat. English General William Howe, neglected to protect this hill. As a result, the English lost Boston, for Washington succeeded in fortifying the Heights. The British dreaded to meet the fighting Americans on a hill. They had learned their lesson at Bunker Hill and were not to be caught again. Therefore they folded their tents, went on board their ships, and sailed out of Boston on March 17, 1776.
The fighting did not take place only in the north. In February, at Moore’s Creek, North Carolina, a party of Minute Men had defeated a large force of colonists who were loyal to the king. A British force under General Henry Clinton and Lord Charles Cornwallis, together with a fleet, was sent to subdue the people of North Carolina. But 10,000 armed men were awaiting them, so they went farther south, planning to take Charleston, South Carolina. There, they found that the colonists had fortified an island in the harbor. Fort Moultrie, as it was named, was strongly built of sand and logs and was well armed with large cannon. The British fleet bombarded the fort, while the army tried to reach the island from the rear. But, both fleet and army were badly repulsed, and the British sailed away to the north.
All this while, England didn’t want a war any more than did the colonists. Her funds were low and she needed all her strength to drive back the great nations of Europe who were pressing in upon her. France particularly.
But, King George was determined to show his authority. He hired 17,000 German soldiers, called Hessians, to help him subdue the colonists. This much angered the Americans who began to seriously consider the matter of independence. Some of the colonies had already driven away from their royal governors and had begun to govern themselves. In May 1776, the Continental Congress agreed that the colonies should no longer consider themselves under the English Crown but, that they should rule themselves. Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, put his ideas on paper in the form of a resolution. It began: “Resolved: That these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states.”
It was not until July 2, 1776, that Congress agreed to this resolution. The next step was to declare to the world that the United States was an independent country. It fell to Thomas Jefferson to write one of the most famous papers of history, our Declaration of Independence. This was adopted on July 4, 1776, and changed the dependent colonies to free and independent states. Proud indeed are the families who can trace their descent from one of its signers. Someone remarked as he put his signature to the great paper, “We must all hang together.” “Yes,” answered Benjamin Franklin, “if we do not hang together we shall hang separately.”
Within a few days, copies of the Declaration were printed and sent to each colony. In front of the statehouse at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where the Declaration had been adopted, a great crowd gathered to hear it read. As the last words died into silence there came a joyful peal from a bell which hung in the statehouse tower, and which bore the words, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
Throughout the land, the Declaration was read to other eager groups, sometimes by the chief magistrate in the public square, sometimes by the minister from the pulpit.
Now that war for independence was formally declared, England saw that she must change her plans. All the colonies must be treated as in rebellion. In consequence, England thought out two lines of action. If either failed, she could fall back upon the other. One of these was to begin at the south and, working northward, conquer the states one by one until all should acknowledge Britain’s rule. In the other method, she would first take New York and gain control of the Hudson Valley.
For several reasons, the second way seemed better. In the first place, England was the mistress of the seas. The Americans had no navy except small fishing boats whose owners, forsaking their business, armed their boats and went out upon the high seas. Even these made considerable trouble for the English, swooping down upon the English merchant ships and seizing their cargoes. Such private vessels were given permission by Congress to carry on this warfare and were known as privateers.
England had another advantage in that Canada was at her command. Here, was a safe and easy base from which to start an attack upon New York. England also felt that the Six Nations in the Mohawk Valley would help her, because of their loyalty to Sir William Johnson, of French and Indian War fame, and to his son. The Johnsons were loyal to the king.
For these reasons, it seemed wise to gain immediate possession of New York. That would sever New England from the other states and make intercourse between them almost impossible. Then, the New England states would have no means of getting supplies by land or by sea and might soon be brought to terms.
General George Washington guessed what the British would do, so, from Boston, he marched his army to New York. To protect the city, he fortified Brooklyn Heights, which held about the same important relation to New York that York Dorchester Heights did to Boston. On August 22, 1776, General William Howe, with 20,000 men, landed on Long Island. Meeting a smaller body of American troops he worsted them in a short, quick encounter, and forced them to withdraw to Brooklyn Heights.