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Engraving of the Boston Tea Party

3 significant events from the American Revolution 

Image: Boston Tea Party | Public Domain

Every year on 4th July, the United States of America celebrates its Independence Day. While we may know all about the gaudy costumes brandishing the stars and stripes, the banquet-like barbecues and the absurd number of fireworks that illuminate the night sky, the historical events behind America’s Independence often go forgotten.

So, in commemoration of America’s national day, we will go over the three key events of the American Revolution that allowed its independence from the British Empire and its establishment as a nation.

1. The Boston Tea Party (16th December 1773)

Despite the name, the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was far from a quaint affair. The Americans were enraged by the Boston Massacre of 1770, where British soldiers fired into a mob of civilians, killing five people. The passing of the Tea Act in 1773 that allowed the British East India Company to sell directly to Americans, thus undercutting the sale of duty-free Dutch tea, further strained relations between the colonists and their Imperial hosts. The Americans saw these acts as attempts at further controlling them, despite them having no say in the Empire’s affairs. The Tea Act caused tensions to boil over into revolt.

Pro-American partisans, under the name the 'Sons of Liberty', seized control of ships carrying tea in the Boston Harbour and dumped the cargo into the sea. Some dressed as Indigenous Americans to demonstrate their separation from the Empire. The message was clear: America would be free to dictate its own affairs with no meddling from the Crown.

Britain’s vengeance was swift. Four acts were passed to punish Boston for the destruction of the tea. The port of Boston was closed, unruly officials could be tried in Britain instead of in a Massachusetts court, British soldiers were allowed to quarter in any building and, most infuriating of all to the colonists, Massachusetts was stripped of its rights to self-govern.

This treatment led many of the other American colonies to turn on Britain. And on 19th April 1775, American Patriots attacked British soldiers at Lexington and Concord. With this, the Revolution had officially begun.

2. The Battles of Saratoga (October 1777)

Since the beginning of the Revolution and the signing of the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776, the fight against the British had gone poorly. While George Washington had forced the British out of Boston by the spring of 1776, the British were able to capture New York City in the summer of 1776, allowing them to keep the port open to supply the troops still on the continent while also allowing for reinforcements to arrive.

The British believed that the revolutionaries were merely miscreants and rebels with just a rabble of disorganised colonists to support them. A swift campaign across New Jersey only inflated the confidence of British commanders. Little did they anticipate that the revolutionaries had more up their sleeves.

Under the leadership of George Washington, a small army of American soldiers crossed the icy waters of the Delaware River on 25th December 1776 and attacked an unsuspecting group of British soldiers at Trenton. While it was a small victory, it showed the Revolutionaries that their Imperial overlords could be overthrown. The odds had been evened and the result of the war hung in the balance.

Britain’s last chance to quash this rebellion before it grew too strong to combat lay in the army of General John Burgoyne. A veteran commander during the Spanish Invasion of Portugal in 1762, Burgoyne was no novice to leading men into battle. At the helm of around 7,200 imperial soldiers, Burgoyne invaded America from Quebec, seeking to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.

However, Burgoyne’s invasion was too slow and despite some early successes, he was forced to retreat to Saratoga (now called Schuylerville) where his army was surrounded by American forces. Burgoyne was able to win the first battle, but he was forced to surrender when the Americans returned with more men. Around 440 British soldiers were killed and the rest were captured, with only 90 American soldiers dying in the battle. This was a humiliating defeat for Britain, having lost the only force in America significant enough to threaten the revolutionaries.

American hopes were at an all-time high, especially with the French entering into the war on the side of the Revolutionaries (in large part due to the success at Saratoga). While the Revolutionary War would continue until 1783 with some significant battles, Britain had no real chance of regaining its former colony with the American forces consolidated and the British army largely distracted by their European foe.

3. The Treaty of Paris (3rd September 1783)

With British support for the war in America at an all-time low, the two sides declared peace with the drafting of the Treaty of Paris in late 1782 and its final signing on 3rd September 1783. The terms of the treaty were generous, allowing for America’s existence as a free and sovereign power with territorial concessions for land east of the Mississippi, including places such as Michigan, Ohio and more that had originally belonged to the British.

The signing of the Treaty meant that the blood of America’s patriots had not been spilled needlessly. Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee were granted statehood in the 1790s and American settlers expanded westwards into the territories gained during the war.

America became an internationally recognised nation and a symbol of liberty and democracy in an age dominated by European Empires.

The American Revolution is but one example of a seemingly lost cause being kept alive by pure determination, of the power of individuals guided by the same principle and how a nation can rise from nothing to one of the major superpowers of our age.