Birth of a Great Nation
Today we celebrate our independence from Great Britain. It was a time of fear, uncertainty, turmoil and sheer courage as Patriots geared up to face off against the world’s greatest superpower. Our nation today appears to be perched on a great precipice as opposing factions threaten to rip the nation, so dearly gained over 200 years ago, apart.
Beginning of the Conflict With Britain
The conflict had begun a decade before when Parliament enacted a series of laws, since called the Intolerable Acts, meant to make the Americans pay for the recent French and Indian War, which ended in 1763. Britain had won this war, evicting France from Canada as well as many of their other colonies. It had cost Britain many lives and monies to win this war and they sought to exact the cost from the American colonies, as they felt that the colonies had benefitted from it.
“Taxation Without Representation”
Many in the colonies felt strongly that the taxes imposed by Parliament were illegal, as none of the colonies had representation in Parliament. Thus the cry of “Taxation without representation,” had erupted.
Friction increased between the colonies and Great Britain until in April 1776 General Thomas Gage, stationed in Boston, sought to confiscate weapons cached by the Patriots at Lexington and Concord, in Massachusetts colony. Word spread quickly and various units of colonial militia, now called Minute Men, arose to stop them. The British found no weapons and retreated back to Boston under constant harassment by Minute Men as they hid behind fences, tree lines and other places of concealment.
Growth of the Army
Word continued to spread and in a few weeks a rabble of about 18,000, more or less, colonials surrounded Boston. A stalemate ensued, called the Siege of Boston, until General George Washington, appointed as Commander in Chief in July 1775, received a multitude of cannon hauled hundreds of miles over treacherous terrain in the dead of winter. Under the cover of darkness Washington had these cannon positioned on the heights around Boston, forcing General Gage to abandon the city in March 1776.
Defeat in Canada
Meanwhile, to the north an American army met with defeat as the Americans had attempted to capture Montreal and Quebec from the British. Led by Generals Phillip Schuyler and Benedict Arnold, this army retreated to Fort Ticonderoga and prepared to halt British General Guy Tarleton as he descended from Canada where he hoped to link up with a huge British army led by General William Howe. Together, they hoped to cut the colonies in half and end the war.
Time Line of Events
Below is a time line of events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Many modern Americans are unaware of the great peril those that signed the document faced as the largest British fleet assembled to that date off the shore of Long Island in New York.
The time line is part of my book, 1776, which I am now writing and hope to publish sometime this year.
July 01, 1776 – Debate Begins on Declaration of Independence
Richard Henry Lee introduced his resolution declaring independence from Britain on June 7, 1776, however at that time most delegates either did not favor it or were unsure of the desires of their state legislatures. The consensus among the delegates was that the vote should be unanimous. They had delayed the debate until July 1. Debate on the resolution began on July 1, as planned.
July 01, 1776 – American Forces Arrive Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga
By late June and early July the retreating American army had reached Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga, which is about 100 miles south of Montreal on Lake Champlain. Meanwhile, the British, commanded by General Guy Carleton, had taken up positions further up the Richelieu River on the northern part of Lake Champlain. Both the American forces and the British forces knew that Lake Champlain was an important strategic point. Whoever controlled the Lake controlled eastern New York and western New Hampshire. If the British captured Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga the route to New York City from Canada was clear. The British had an army of nearly 10,000 men. The much smaller American army was in poor condition and demoralized. The Americans possessed four ships that they used to patrol the lake, blocking the British advance up the River.
July 02, 1776 – British Troops Land at Manhattan
British General William Howe’s strategy was to capture New York, then move British troops up the Hudson Valley to meet up with General Guy Carlton as he pushed down the Hudson Valley from Canada. This maneuver would cut off the New England colonies from the southern colonies. On July 2, 1776 Howe commenced putting this plan into action by landing an initial force on the island. His plan was to use the island, which was large enough to allow his troops to maneuver, as a staging area to force a landing on the city of New York. His troops landed about 9,000 troops as a company of about 1000 militia commanded by Captain Ephraim Manning. Manning had been given the task of rounding up the livestock on the island and transferring it to New Jersey. Manning had given token resistance to the British before abandoning it in the face of the far superior British force.
July 02, 1776 – Congress Adopts Independence Resolution
The Congress held the vote to adopt the independence resolution on July 2, 1776. Twelve states voted in favor of Independence. Only New York, whose state legislature had not informed the delegates of their stance, abstained from voting.
July 03, 1776 – First Troops For New York Defense Begin to Arrive
Upon the arrival of the British fleet, General Washington had requested Congress to send more reinforcements. General Nathaniel Heard arrived on July 2, 1776 with his brigade, the first large force to arrive from the colonies to the south.
July 04, 1776 – Continental Congress Approves Declaration of Independence
Richard Henry Lee, a delegate to the Continental Congress from Virginia, had introduced a resolution on June 7, 1776 that urged the Congress to declare Independence from Great Britain. Weeks of debate followed. Congress appointed a committee composed of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston to write the Declaration. More debate followed and finally, on July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the resolution, thus declaring the United States free and independent of Great Britain. Twelve of the thirteen colonies voted in favor of independence, with the New York delegation abstaining from the vote. New York’s delegates claimed that the New York Provincial Congress had not authorized them to vote. This authorization came about a week later. The Congress then worked on the wording and draft of the final Declaration of Independence. Congress approved the final draft for the Declaration on July 4, 1776 and sent the document to the printers for publication.
July 05, 1776 – Printer John Dunlap Begins Distributing Declaration of Independence
After the delegates signed the approved Declaration of Independence, the Congress sent the document John Dunlap’s print shop on the corner of Second and Market Streets. Dunlap spent all night setting the print and running off copies. He printed approximately 200 copies. On the morning of the 5th, he delivered them to John Hancock, President of the Congress. Hancock, in turn, sent them out to the various state governors, assemblies, Committees of Safety and newspapers.
July 08, 1776 – Declaration of Independence First Official Reading – Philadelphia
On July 8 Colonel John Nixon stepped to a platform outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia to read the Declaration of Independence officially for the first time before a crowd that had assembled. There were cheers and bells rung throughout the city to celebrate the event. Since the bell tower on Independence Hall was under repair, it is likely that the Liberty Bell did not ring, however strong tradition states that it did. Historians really do not know.
July 09, 1776 – General Howe Reads Declaration of Independence to his Troops
An historical marker on Staten Island at the corner of New Dorpe Lane and Richmond Road (The King’s Highway) notes that British General William Howe had the Declaration of Independence read aloud to his troops. Howe was staying at the Rose and Crown tavern, a farm house/inn establishment. The establishment served as Howe’s headquarters during the time Howe waited with his 30,000 troops on the island as they prepared to invade New York. The Richmond County Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution installed the marker in 1921.
July 09, 1776 – Statue of King George III Torn Down in New York
General George Washington received a copy of the Declaration of Independence and had it read in front of the troops on July 9, 1776. After the reading, troops and citizens alike went to Bowling Green Park in Manhattan where they pulled down a stature of King George III that had been erected in 1770. They used the lead statue to pour 42,088 musket balls for use during the war.
July 12, 1776 – Admiral Howe Arrives at Staten Island
Admiral Richard Howe had departed Halifax on June 23 for what should have been a six day voyage to New York. Adverse weather conditions had delayed his arrival until July 12. During the three weeks on board ship Howe wrote a declaration to the colonies that stated that he and his brother William were empowered to offer amnesty to any that would pledge an allegiance to the king. He next drafted a circular letter that he would dispatch, with the petition, to the Royal governors. In the letter he instructed them to publicize the declaration. On July 12 he arrived at Staten Island with 82 ships and thousands of additional troops. Observes in New York reported that the masts of massive fleet in the harbor resembled a “forest of pine trees,” spread across the water.
Long, Difficult War
The war would last seven more long years. Thousands of American and British soldiers would die in that war as the colonies ripped themselves from the rule of Great Britain and united as a nation. The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, officially ended the war. The United States had gained her freedom.
For More United States History see my
Timeline of United States History