Early America—Revolutionary Period

1750 to 1788
French-Indian War to Constitutional Congress

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—Revolutionary Period

Rebellion in the Colonies—The revolutionary period in American history began with the victory of England over France in the French Indian Wars. As long as France controlled territories to the North and west of the English colonies and England's army was required to fend off the French and their Indian allies, there was no talk of rebellion. In 1759, General Wolfe conquered the French capital of Quebec for England, and soon after all of North America was in English hands. Once the French threat was relieved, the colonists no longer desired British troops in the colonies and resented being taxed to provide for services they no longer saw as necessary.

Continental Congress

In the years leading up to the war, a series of laws were passed by the British parliament that affected the colonies. The purpose of most of these laws was to raise revenue from the colonies, control colonial trade, and suppress rebellion. The Stamp Act was the most famous of these laws and it was so unpopular that it encouraged resistance and boycotts in the throughout the colonies. The Boston Massacre, a riot during with British soldiers fired on citizens, and the Boston Tea Party, during which patriots sabotaged a cargo of British Tea, were two well-known incidents of patriot resistance, but even more hurtful to British interests were widespread boycotts and smuggling. All these measures made it difficult for Britain to raise revenues, and strengthened colonial resistance.

Instead of softening its stance towards the colonies, Britain passed more oppressive laws to retaliate against rebellion, and in 1774 the First Continental Congress was called to organize an economic boycott. Although there was considerable disagreement among the delegates, all agreed that a unified resistance to Britain was necessary. Only a year later the first battles of the war were fought at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill.

Surrender of Cornwallis
The Revolutionary War—In diplomatic terms, the American Revolutionary War began with the Declaration of Independence and ended with the Treaty of Paris of 1783. The first battles of the war, however, preceded the Declaration by over a year, and active fighting came to an end with the surrender of General Cornwallis in 1781, two years before the treaty was signed.

The early fighting of the Revolutionary War involved the defense of the city of Boston, and the conquest of Fort Ticonderoga. These events were related because once Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen took the northern fort, almost all its cannon and munitions were moved to Boston, and the British soldiers there were driven out. This successful campaign gave confidence to many wavering patriots and encouraged the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The important campaigns of the following year, 1776-1777, saw the conquest of New York by British General Howe, and patriot victories at Trenton and Princeton led by George Washington. The most critical campaign of the war, however, was fought the following year in upstate New York. The Saratoga campaign began in Canada as General Burgoyne's army recaptured Ticonderoga and headed south towards New York City. The Patriots won several important battles, culminating in the victory at Saratoga, where Burgoyne's army of over 6000 men were forced to surrender, thanks largely to the heroism of Benedict Arnold.

The Patriot victory at Saratoga was a significant blow to Britain, and a critical factor in the decision of France to ally itself with the new nation and declare war on Britain. The war in the colonies was unpopular in Britain to begin with and the situation became dramatically worse when France entered the war in 1778. France's greatest contribution as an ally was not in helping the American patriots fend of Britain directly, but rather, they drew England into a worldwide naval war, forcing her to defend her far flung colonies. France's involvement made it impossible for Britain to bring the rebellion in America to a swift close, making victory almost certain for the patriots if they could hold out long enough.

Unfortunately, the Patriots were even more hard-pressed in terms of resources than the British. Washington suffered a series of defeats at Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth between 1777 and 1778. The losses, however, were not debilitating, and once it was heard that France had joined the war, morale greatly improved. Most of the major battles in the last few years of the war were in the south, most critically at Camden, Eutaw Springs, and Yorktown. By 1781 it was clear that Britain did not have either the will or the resources to defeat the patriots, but due to the complicated worldwide conflict with France, peace was not declared for two years.

Articles of Confederation and the Constitution—Soon after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Continental Congress begand drafting "The Articles of Confederation". Even before they were ratified by all thirteen states, these articles worked as an operating constitution for the newly formed government.

The problems with the Articles of Confederation were apparent very early. They gave each state great autonomy, reserving only a few powers, such as conducting foreign policy, to the federal government. The weak central government, however, had no mechanism to enforce even the few powers that were reserved to it. Some problems that arose during the early years often involved money and revenues, while others were caused by the inability of the legislature to pass any laws without a 9 of 13 majority.

A number of the founding fathers were in favor of a stronger central government, and called a constitutional convention in 1787 to work out the details. As expected, there was disagreement among the states regarding how to organize the federal government, but eventually a compromise was reached. Important features of the new constitution involved a strong executive branch, a two-house legislature, and an independent judiciary. In order to encourage skeptics to accept the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay published the Federalist Papers, defending the precepts of the American Constitution. It was ratified in 1788, and George Washington was elected the first president by a unanimous vote.

Characters—Revolutionary Period

Character/Date Short Biography

Statesmen and Patriots

Benjamin Franklin
Statesman, publisher, inventor, and non-conformist. Founding father, and benefactor of Philadelphia.
Samuel Adams
Founding Father and Governor of Massachusetts. Colonial political philosopher who built support for the revolution.
George Washington
Leader of the Continental Army of the U.S. during the Revolutionary War, and first President.
Robert Morris
American Patriot who helped financed the Revolutionary war. Served as superindendent of finance and controller of the Navy.
Thomas Jefferson
Third President. Author of the Declaration of Independence. Founder of Democrat-Republican Party.
Paul Revere
Paul Revere is famous for his ride from through Lexington-Concord, warning of the British attack.
John Adams
Second President of the United States. Worked tirelessly to help establish the republic on steady footing.
Patrick Henry
American Patriot, active in inciting the rebellion against Britain. First Governor of Virginia.
James Madison
One of the chief authors of the Constitution and writer of the Federalist papers. Fourth President of the U.S.
Alexander Hamilton
Founding Father, principal author of Federalist Papers. Secretary of Treasury.
Nathan Hale
American patriot caught by the British and hung for treason.

War Heroes

Israel Putnam
Outspoken and adventure-loving soldier. Participated in both French-Indian and Revolutionary Wars.
Horatio Gates
Leading Patriot General during the Revolutionary war. Credited with winning the Battle of Saratoga.
Lydia Darrah
When her house was taken over by British officers, she overheard their plans and warned Washington.
John Stark
'Hero of Bennington' during the American Revolution. Fought with Rogers' Rangers during French Indian War.
Robert Rogers
Leader of a band of mountain men who did great service for Britain during the French and Indian War.
Francis Marion
Revolutionary War leader whose used guerilla tactics against the Tories in the Southeast marshes.
Philip Schuyler
Military leader during the American Revolutionary period. Later a statesman from New York.
Ethan Allen
Mountain man who became famous leader of Vermont's "Green Mountain Boys" during Revolution Era.
Benedict Arnold
Hero of the Revolutionary War, but tragically turned traitor. He escaped to the British before discovery.
Anthony Wayne
Bold and popular Revolutionary War Hero. Well known for victory at Stony Point.
John Paul Jones
American Revolution Naval Hero. Famous for the sea fight Bon Homme Richard vs. Serapis.
Molly Pitcher
When her husband was killed, she took over his position and helped man a cannon at the Battle of Monmouth.
Nancy Hart
Pioneer woman who captured a group of Tory soldiers in her home, and later hung them.


Simon Girty
Controversial frontiersman who allied himself with the British and Indians against the American colonists. Accused of torture of white captives while living with Indians.
Elizabeth Zane
As Fort Henry was besieged by Indians, Elizabeth risked her life to leave the barricade and carry back gunpowder from her father cabin.
Simon Kenton
Leading settler of the Ohio and Kentucky valleys. Fought on various Indian wars and the Revolutionary war.
George Rogers Clark
Revolutionary war hero who fought both British and Indians in the Ohio Valley.
Daniel Boone
Explored the Kentucky and Tennessee Valley. Opened a road for settlers through Cumberland Gap.


General Braddock
Led a disastrous campaign to Fort Duquesne (Ohio) during the French and Indian Wars.
General Howe
Commander-and-Chief of British forces during Revolutionary War. Took New York and Philadelphia.
General Burgoyne
British leader who surrendered with 6000 men to American forces at Saratoga.
General Cornwallis
British leader defeated at Yorktown in Revolutionary War. Later served as governor in India.


Leader of a Great Lakes tribe who planned a rebellion. His attempt to take fort Detroit was thwarted by an Indian who warned the garrison.
Chief Logan
Indian chief who was friendly to white settlers until his family was killed. He then warred against the U.S.
Indian leader who tried to be neutral during the Revolutionary War, but was murdered.

Art and Literature

Benjamin West
Eminant American painter who specialized in historical paintings.

Timeline—Revolutionary Period

AD YearEvent

French and Indian Wars

1754-63 Britain drives the French out of North America during the French Indian Wars.
Jul 1755 George Washington accompanies General Braddock on ill-fated expedition to Fort Duquesne.
Sep 1759 Quebec, the capital of New France, falls to Britain. Both generals, Wolfe, and Montcalm are killed.
1763-66 Pontiac, an Ottawa chieftain, leads a Rebellion against Britain following its conquest of Canada.
May 1763 Fort Detroit is besieged after the British commander was warned of an ongoing attack.

Rebellion in the Colonies

1765 Britain passes the Stamp Act, a tax on all printed material, to raise money from the colonies.
1770 Boston Massacre—Five citizens killed by British soldiers when a mob protests British policies.
1773 Boston Tea Party—Colonists destroy a shipload of tea rather than pay taxes on it.
1774 Lord Dunmore's War, first conflict with Indians in the Ohio Valley.
1774 "Intolerable Acts" are passed by the British Parliament to punish Boston for Tea Party.
1774 First Continental Congress called to address colonial resistance to Intolerable Acts.
1775-83 American Revolutionary War.
Apr 1775 Paul Revere's Ride, battles of Lexington and Concord.
May 1775 Second Continental Congress called to manage colonial war effort after battles of Lexington.
Jun 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill.
Jul 1776 Continental Congress signs the Declaration of Independence.
Dec 1776 Washington leds men accross the Delaware to surprise the British at the Battle of Trenton.
Aug 1777 John Stark leads colonists to victory of British at the Battle of Bennington/Oriskany.
Sep 1777 Battle of Brandywine.
Oct 1777 British General Burgoyne surrenders after the Battle of Saratoga.
Dec 1777 George Washington and his men spends the winter at Valley Forge.
Feb 1778 France recognizes the Independence of the Unites States and joins the war effort against Britain.
Jun 1778 Battle of Monmouth.
Sep 1779 John Paul Jones, sailing the Bonhomme Richard defeats the H.M.S Serapis at Flamborough Head.
Aug 1780 General Horatio Gates disgraces himself at the disastrous Battle of Camden, in South Carolina.
Sep 1780 Benedict Arnold's plot to surrender West Point discovered when Major Andre, a Tory spy is captured.
Oct 1781 General Cornwallis surrenders after being trapped in Battle of Yorktown.

Formation of the Constitution

1781 All 13 Colonies adopt the Articles of Confederation.
1783 Britain recognizes the Independence of the United States, signs the Treaty of Paris.
1781-89 The Continental Congress becomes the governing body of the United States.
1786 A Constitutional Convention meets in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.
1787 Northwest Ordinance plan for governing "Northwest Territory" surrounding Great Lakes is adopted.
1788 The American Constitution is in force when New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify.
1787-88 The Federalist Papers are published by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.
1789 George Washington is elected first President of the United States.
1789 The Bill of Rights is ratified by the First United States Congress.

Recommended Reading—Revolutionary Period

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments

Guerber - Story of the Thirteen Colonies   Washington's Boyhood to Washington's Farewell (34)
Guerber - Story of the Great Republic   The Beginning of the U.S to The Constitution (4)
Marshall - This Country of Ours   A Terrible Disaster to A Turning Point (16)

Supplemental Recommendations

Evans - America First—100 Stories from Our History   Israel Putnam to Benjamin Franklin (32)
Pratt - American History Stories, Volume II    entire book
Baldwin - Four Great Americans    entire book
Otis Kaler - Stephen of Philadelphia    entire book
Burton - Four American Patriots    entire book
Barnes - The Hero of Stony Point    entire book
Russell - George Washington    entire book
Tappan - The Story of the Constitution    entire book
McSpadden - Thomas Jefferson    entire book
Morris - Historical Tales, Vol I: American   Franklin in Philadelphia to Marion, the Swamp Fox (12)
Morris - Historical Tales: American II   Boy's Holiday in the Wildwood to General Greene's Retreat (8)
Drake - Indian History for Young Folks   The "Old French War" to The Indians Join Britain against the Colonies (5)

Special Interest - Military

Sabin - Frontier Fighters   Attack on Logan's Station to Betty Zane's Powder Exploit (9)
Sabin - Boys' Book of Border Battles   Washington Stands Fast to Braddock's Bloody Field (2)
Sabin - Boy's Book of Indian Warriors   The Adirondack Champion to Cornstalk Leads the Warriors (9)
Fraser - Boys' Book of Battles   Bunker Hill to Yorktown (3)
Fraser - Boys' Book of Sea Fights   Commodore John Paul Jones (1)

I: Introductory, II: Intermediate, C: College Prep