Today, September 28, 1781: Battle of Yorktown Starts

The embers that eventually erupted into the fires of the Revolutionary War began back in 1754.

From 1754 to 1763, the British fought against the French and American Indians over territory in what is today the north central and north eastern America and southern Canada. The war extended to fighting with France and several other nations in Europe at the same time. The financial cost of the war was extensive for the British and they went into considerable debt. Over the next twelve years, the British took drastic and harsh measures against the American colonies in an attempt to have them pay for part of that debt.

On April 5, 1764, the British Parliament passed the Sugar Act, requiring colonial merchants to pay a tax of 6 pence per gallon for foreign molasses they imported.

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On September 1, 1764, the British Parliament passed the Currency Act. At the time, there were no gold or silver mines in the colonies, so currency was generally printed paper currencies which were issued by bank and loan offices. The value of the printed currency generally was based upon the current value of mortgaged land. Under the Currency Act, colonies were no longer allowed to print any form of currency or even re-issue any currently printed currency. Basically, the British took full control over all currency used in the colonies and it wasn’t a favorable control for many colonial merchants.

On March 22, 1765, the British Parliament passed the infamous Stamp Act. The stamp act required that all materials used for writing or printing including paper, parchment, vellum and skins, be taxed in the form of an official British stamp or symbol. Even to write a letter to someone, you would have to use a piece of paper that contained a British stamp usually located on a bottom corner. Every newspaper printed had to have a British stamp, which increased the cost every paper. The Stamp Act exacted a great deal of money from the colonists and the American colonists were not at all happy. The Virginia colony, among several others, tried to request a reading of their opposition to the Stamp Act before it was passed, but all of their requests were denied by Parliament. This actually led to the basis for the complaint of ‘taxation without representation’ which became one of the main rallying cries of the Revolutionary War.

On March 24, 1765, Parliament passed the Quartering Act. Maintaining troops in the colonies was becoming too expensive for the British and they decided to make the colonies assume a large part of that expense. The Quartering Act basically required the colonists to house and feed many of the British troops in the colonies. In some areas, the British troops moved into taverns, hotels, businesses, town halls and private homes where they expected to be fed and provided drink at their beckon command.

On March 18, 1766, Parliament passed the American Colonies Act, better known as the Declaratory Act. This act repealed the Stamp Act and lessened the effects of the Sugar Act while at the same time declared that the British government still maintained absolute control over the colonies and were free to pass any laws they pleased and that the colonies were to obey all of those laws. This was done because of the growing unrest and protests among the colonist over the various British acts and oppression, especially those taking place in Massachusetts.

On June 29, 1767, the British Parliament passed the Townsend Revenue Act. Since the repeal of the Stamp Act and reduction of the Sugar Act, the British still needed more money to pay off their debts. The Townsend Revenue Act placed a tax on glass, paint, oil, lead, paper and tea. The goal was raise a minimum of £40,000 a year in additional tax revenue from the colonies.

On March 5, 1770, a skirmish took place in Boston that led to what is known as the Boston Massacre. The tension between the colonists and the British were rising and soon to ignite into war.

On May 10, 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act. By this time, many Americans had stopped drinking tea because they didn’t want to pay the British taxes. There was also a growing amount of tea being illegally smuggled into the colonies. Consequently, the British East India Company had warehouses in London filled with tea that wasn’t being purchased, placing the company in financial trouble. The Tea Act cut part of the price of British tea and increased the penalty for smuggling tea into the colonies. The purpose was to encourage the colonists to start buying British tea to help the struggling British East India Company. However, the tax placed on British tea in the Townsend Act remained in force.

On December 16, 1773, a group of colonial patriots rebelled against the British and raided the docks in Boston, boarded the British ships and dumped 342 chests of British tea into Boston Harbor. In today’s dollars, the tea was worth around $750,000.

In 1774, the British Parliament and Crown responded to the Boston Tea Party and other acts of rebellion by passing a serious of acts that are collectively known at the Intolerable Acts. The British thought that this series of acts would force the colonists into submission but the opposite was true.

On April 19, 1775, the British and American Minutemen clash at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, officially launching the Revolutionary War.

On June 15, 1775, The Second Continental Congress appoints George Washington to be the American Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.

Over the next several years, Washington and the Continental Army experience only a few victories over the British. For the most part, the Continental Army is underfed, under-clothed, under-armed and under-trained. The British Army is well fed, clothed, armed and trained. Yet the Continentals have a resolve like that of Patrick Henry who spoke the famous words ‘give me liberty or give me death.’

On April 27, 1776, Washington loses the Battle of Long Island and the British take possession of New York City by September 15, 1776.

On May 12, 1780, British troops capture Charlotte, South Carolina.

On May 29, 1780, British troops defeat Patriots at Waxhaw Creek, South Carolina.

On August 16, 1780, British troops defeat Patriots at Camden, South Carolina.

On October 7, 1780, Patriot troops defeat the British at King’s Mountain, South Carolina. Nearly one-third of the British Army of General Charles Cornwallis is defeated.

On March 15, 1781, British troops win battle at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina.

On April 25, 1781, Patriot General Nathaniel Greene is driven back by British troops at Hobkirk’s Hill, South Carolina.

On May 15, 1781, Patriot Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee defeat the British, forcing them to surrender Fort Granby, South Carolina.

On June 6, 1781, Patriot troops defeat the British and take control of Augusta, Georgia.

On this day, September 28, 1781, the Battle of Yorktown, Virginia began when Patriot General George Washington laid siege to the British. Washington was in control of 17,000 colonial and French forces. Approximately, 7,800 of the 17,000 troops were French under the command of Lieutenant General Jean-Baptist Donatien de Vimeur. Yorktown is defended by British General Charles Cornwallis, who is in control of 9,000 British troops. A French fleet of ships commanded by Rear Admiral Comte de Grasse, took position blocking Chesapeake Bay, preventing a British escape by sea. Washington sent 5,000 troops south of Yorktown to prevent the British from retreating in that direction while he surrounded them to the west and north. This was to prove to be the most pivotal battle in the Revolutionary War and Washington’s greatest military victory.

For more details on the Battle of Yorktown, which lasted for three weeks, see Today, October 19, 1781: George Washington Wins Revolutionary War, which will first be posted on October 18, 2016.


Sources for the above includes: Timeline of the Revolutionary War; The Yorktown Campaign of 1781; Battle of Yorktown Begins; The Battle of Yorktown 1781; American Revolution: Battle of Yorktown; History of the Siege

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