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The Role of New York in the American Revolution

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 look at the role New York played throughout the American Revolution. We will highlight key themes and developments that relate to New York during this time.

New York Was Important Too!

When you think of the American Revolution, what city normally comes to mind? For most people, it's Boston, Massachusetts. After all, it was home to the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, John Adams, the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and the list goes on and on. But there is another city that played a pretty big role in the American Revolution as well, and that is New York.

In this lesson we'll be highlighting what happened in New York throughout the American Revolution. While our main focus will be on New York City (referred to as 'New York' unless otherwise stated), we will also look at events throughout the colony as a whole.

New York During the Revolutionary War

New York played a pivotal role in throughout the American Revolution, particularly early on. It's central position in the American Colonies and its port made it vital to commerce and a key strategic point. As a budding center of commerce, the citizens of New York were particularly angered over the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765. This act demanded that everyone pay a tax on any paper product, including newspapers, licenses, even playing cards. Like their brethren in Boston, many took up the cause of resistance.

The Sons of Liberty was a secret organization set up to protest British taxation and other abuses of power. The Sons of Liberty often resorted to forms of violence and intimidation, such as tarring and feathering. While the Sons of Liberty was founded in Boston, the organization exerted a forceful presence in New York City. Ties between the Boston branch and the New York branch were strong, and the New York branch played a crucial role in transmitting news and messages to other colonies to the south.

Sons of Liberty members are depicted here tarring and feathering a Loyalist.
Sons of Liberty

In October 1765, a group of delegates from several colonies met in New York City's Federal Hall to decide what to do about the Stamp Act. This group has come to be known as the Stamp Act Congress. It was kind of a big deal because this was the first time elected representatives from various colonies came together in a unified fashion to protest British taxation. The Stamp Act Congress drafted the Declaration of Rights and Grievances which basically stated Parliament had no right to tax them. You know, the whole 'no taxation without representation' thing.

Shortly after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Patriot forces led by Ethan Allen and Colonel Benedict Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British in upstate New York. Here's the cool part: the cannons captured at the fort were dragged all the way to Boston, where they were used to help break the British siege there. So we see that what happened at Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York had a direct impact on events in Boston.

By the summer of 1776, the British were ready to capture New York. The Battle of Long Island was fought August 27, 1776. It was the largest battle of the entire war, and was a decisive defeat for George Washington and his Continental Army. British forces landed off of Staten Island, and following the Continental retreat, assumed control of Manhattan and eventually the entire colony of New York. Following the loss of New York, many Continental soldiers were imprisoned in British 'prison ships' in New York Harbor where they anguished under horrible conditions.

Continental soldiers take part in the Battle of Long Island.
Battle of Long Island

In the fall of 1777, the Americans achieved an important victory over the British in upstate New York at the Battle of Saratoga. British General John Burgoyne's surrender at that battle is often considered the 'turning point' of the war because it won French aid and because it kept the colonies strategically unified.

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