The American Revolution: Timeline & Major Events

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will take a big-picture look at the American Revolution. We will place it within the context of a timeline, and we will highlight major events and themes.

The Fight for American Independence

The American Revolution didn't come about overnight, but it was the result of decades of tension between the American Colonies and the British Empire. It might be helpful to think about American independence in terms of a parent-child relationship. Over time, the young colonies outgrew the authority and rule of their mother country. That's what the American Revolution was all about. It was a social, political, economic, and military movement in which 13 British American colonies got fed up with British authority and broke away from the rule of Great Britain.

American Rev

The American Revolution also included a war called the Revolutionary War, which was fought between 1775-1783. A lot of people tend to view the American Revolution and the Revolutionary War as one in the same, but it is probably better to view the Revolutionary War as one part of the broader American Revolution. Many historians regard the Revolution as taking place between 1765-1783.

Prelude to War

So, a lot of things happened that led up to the Revolutionary War. Tensions began increasing around 1763-1765. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 was a royal decree stating that American settlers could not move west of a boundary drawn along a point in the Appalachian Mountains. This decree upset many colonist, causing them to feel Great Britain was interfering in their lives. Taxes also began increasing during this time. The Sugar Act was passed in 1764, which required a tax on sugar. Then came the Quartering Act, which required colonists to provide shelter to British soldiers seeking quarter. Think about it: you're hanging out, minding your own business in your own home, when a British soldier knocks on the door and demands to stay the night at your house! And he might even demand to take your bed! Not cool.

In 1765, the Sons of Liberty was formed by Samuel Adams to protect the rights of colonists. A major incident took place in 1770. This was the Boston Massacre, which involved the killing of five American colonists by British soldiers. The 'Bloody Massacre' was used as an effective propaganda tool for the independence movement. More taxes and acts were passed, like the Stamp Act (1765) and the Tea Act (1773). To protest the Tea Act, American colonists staged what has come to be called the Boston Tea Party. On the night of December 16, 1773, the colonists dressed like Native Americans and sneaked aboard a British ship loaded with tea. They then dumped the tea into Boston Harbor. From there, tensions only continued and spiraled out of control into a all-out war.

Boston Tea Party

The Revolutionary War

Tension came to a boiling point in the spring of 1775. The Battle of Lexington and Concord took place on April 19th, 1775, when British soldiers attempted to seize and destroy American weapons and supplies near the towns of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. The first shot of this battle is considered 'the shot heard 'round the world,' because of its enormous impact. The American patriots won the battle, leading to the beginning of the war. The second battle of the war was the Battle of Bunker Hill, which took place outside Boston on June 17, 1775. American forces occupied a defense position and successfully repelled wave after wave of British attacks, before finally retreating.

Early hostilities centered around the Boston area, but soon spread to places like Quebec and New York. By the summer of 1776, British forces has captured New York City following the Battle of Long Island. A major highlight of the war was George Washington's surprise crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, leading to the capture of Trenton, New Jersey. This victory energized American forces.

Crossing the Delaware

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