• 1776

    Thomas Paine writes Common Sense

  • 1777

    Vermont adopts a state constitution prohibiting slavery

    Iroquois begin to raid colonial settlements in western New York and Pennsylvania
    • Key People

    • George Washington

      Commander of the Continental Army

    • Nathanael Greene

      Aide to Washington; one of the highest-ranking and most respected American generals in the war

    • Baron von Steuben

      German commander who helped George Washington and Nathanael Greene train the Continental army

    • Thomas Paine

      Radical philosopher who strongly supported republicanism; wrote 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, which was a best-seller in the American colonies

    • Joseph Brant

      Mohawk chief who advocated alliance with Britain against American forces in the Revolutionary War

    Training the Continental Army

    As the colonies prepared themselves for war, new militias were formed throughout America, primarily to defend local communities from British aggression. Other units, however, rushed to join their comrades in Boston as soon as every man had a musket. Under the strict command of George Washington, Nathanael Greene, and the German Baron von Steuben, this ragtag collection of undisciplined militiamen eventually became the well-trained Continental Army.

    Popular Support for the War

    When the Revolutionary War began, Britain made a costly and ultimately fatal error in assuming that opposition to British policies came only from a core group of rabble-rousing ringleaders such as Washington, Jefferson, and the Adams cousins. The British believed, incorrectly, that if they arrested these men, the revolt would collapse and the minutemen would return to their homes. They failed to understand that a significant majority of Americans disliked British rule and desired something better. Historians estimate that the majority of eligible American men served at some point in the Continental Army, the militias, or both.

    Patriotic Women

    Many American women supported the war effort as well. Some particularly daring women chose to serve as nurses, attendants, cooks, and even spies on the battlefields. Others, such as the famous “Molly Pitcher” (a woman named Mary Hays McCauly, who fought in her husband’s place) and Deborah Sampson (who disguised herself as a man) saw action in battle. Most women, however, fought the war at home. As more and more husbands and fathers left home to fight, more and more wives and mothers took to managing the farms and businesses. A majority of women helped by making yarn and homespun necessities such as socks and underwear, both to send to militiamen and to support the boycott of British goods.

    Common Sense

    The radical English author and philosopher Thomas Paine helped turn American public opinion against Britain and solidify the emerging colonial unity with his January 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, which denounced King George III as a tyrannical “brute.” Paine, reasoning that it was unnatural for the smaller England to dominate the larger collection of American states, called on Americans to unite and overthrow British rule so that they could usher in an era of freedom for humanity. Inspiring and easy to read, Common Sense stirred the hearts of thousands of Americans and persuaded many would-be Loyalists and fence-sitters to fight for independence. The pamphlet caused a huge sensation throughout the colonies and sold over 100,000 copies within a few months of its first printing.

    The Loyalists

    Although most Americans supported the decision to break away from Britain and declare independence, about one-third of the colonists did not. These Loyalists were heavily concentrated in the lower southern colonies but could also be found in concentrated pockets throughout other regions, including the North.

    The Loyalists had several reasons for choosing to support Britain. Some, including many wealthy merchants, Anglican clergymen, and officials, disagreed with Parliament’s policies but felt that it was not right to challenge British rule. Others were political conservatives who preferred the status quo. Many ethnic minorities, including blacks and Native Americans, also backed Britain, fearful that victorious white Americans would trample their rights.

    Popular pages: The American Revolution (1754–1781)