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
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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.
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 York.

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
Prisoner's on Parole document
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.

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 York.

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 Army. George Washington to 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 from British 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
Washington's personal copy of the Declaration of Independence
Washington's personal copy
of the Declaration of Independence

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 Brunswick.

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

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