On July 4, we celebrate our independence from Great Britain. The national holiday, which was created in 1870, by the U.S. Congress made July 4th a federal holiday; in 1941, the provision was expanded to grant a paid holiday to all federal employees, with businesses following suit. We have traditions that we follow: picnics and barbecues, flying flags, fireworks, and relaxation. But what really happened so very long ago? What does it mean to have declared our independence? 

The definition of independence (according to Merriam-Webster) is the quality or state of being independent. (I hate when they use the variation of the same word within a sentence). The definition they gave for independent is – not subject to control by others: self-governing.

Let us take a step back and look at what led to the War for Independence

In the Americas, there were many many indigenous people living here prior to the European expansion. There seems to be a disparaging controversy as to when the inhabitants actually came to North America over the bearings straight from Eurasia. Some historians say 13,000 years ago, some historians say 40,000 years ago. Whichever the case may be, they were here for quite a while prior to the European invasion. In the Americas, it is believed that there were up to 50 million people living on the land prior to the 15th century. At least 10 million of them lived in the United States area at the time, with the remainder in Mexico and Canada.

The term Indian originated with Christopher Columbus while he was sailing around looking for the East Indies. Thinking he had found it, he named the native people Indians. Now we know that there are other explorers who had come to the Americas prior to that, but we’re going to start with Columbus. 

Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of the United States is approximately 331,449,281. The current total population of Native Americans in the United States is 6.79 million, which is about 2.09% of the entire population. There are about 574 federally recognized Native American tribes in the U.S. with the largest population in California and the smallest population in Vermont. Courtesy of 

As was mentioned in our May newsletter, the battles for territory have arranged all over the world. The Americas back then was just a giant territory with indigenous people who operated without centralized organization. Because the native people were working under tribal associations, they became a non-entity to the very organized and determined European leaders.  And as we have discussed before, several countries wanted to have control over this rich new land. See our May Newsletter for the various countries involved and how they claimed and divided up the new world.   https://www.1776americanempowered.com/newsletter-may-2021/

The American Indian is of the soil, whether it be the region of forests, plains, pueblos, or mesas. He fits into the landscape, for the hand that fashioned the continent also fashioned the man for his surroundings. He once grew as naturally as the wild sunflowers, he belongs just as the buffalo belonged….

Chief Luther Standing Bear – Oglala Siou

Although Britain claimed and controlled the most populated areas, Spain and France also had great investments into this new territory. When these countries and their explorers first came to the land, they worked with the indigenous population initially. Although they brought a lot of diseases that many of the indigenous died from, they did not seem to realize just how much of an impact they would make on the depletion of the nations.

The United States’ resources and vast unclaimed lands were too much for the people of Europe to ignore. In order to stake their claims, they brought troops over to ensure that the territory they claimed remained in their hands. Early forts were built and after several skirmishes and wars on our soil over the territories, Great Britain became the main usurper of the territory and drove the indigenous population out. 

Shipbuilding in Colonies

Many European colonists had come to our country to start building new lives. It was hard work and the life expectancy was oftentimes cut short due to lack of medical availability. But it was wide open for settlement with many fine lands for farming. Towns sprang up and soon centrally located ones became hubs for trade. The many seaports that sprung up were ideal for shipping all the trade goods back to Europe.

Some people came to this country as free citizens of Britain to make their mark in the new wilderness. Some came as indentured servants (someone who owes the cost of passage to the colonies to someone else and must work it off). After working 4 to 7 years to pay off their indebtedness, they then could go out and become tenant farmers and eventually own their own land. This was considered truly a remarkable step up from what was the land ownership proceedings in Europe.

Life wasn’t that easy in Europe and people found the freedom on the new continent most enticing. In-between birth and death in Colonial life, there was also work. During the Colonial era, nearly all men fell into one of just seven occupational categories: family farmer, Southern planter, indentured servant, slave, unskilled laborer, artisan, or merchant. Women worked in complementary occupations: domestic service, child care, gardening, and household production, either for home use or for trade.

By the 16th century, the Europeans had introduced horses, cattle, and pigs to the new continent. New farming inventions and seeds were also brought over. Firearms and unfortunately all the diseases that come with a civilized society were introduced to the Native Americans. 

Although Spain, France, the Netherlands, Russia, and England all formed colonies that would become part of the US territory –  it was the original 13 English colonies that would become the first United States. These colonies began to be established along the East Coast and grew for the next 50 years in population to 50,000 by 1650.

As time proceeded, by 1700 a mere 50 years later, there were about 250,000 people in the colonies. Through all of these early years, there were quite a few battles that took place between Native Americans and some of the colonists that were coming in. Some examples are The Powhatan uprising in Virginia in 1622, King Phillip’s War in southern New England – 1675 to 76, and the Yamasee War in South Carolina, 1715 to 1717. One of the most notable of the wars was the French and Indian War, with the French and Indians against the British.

Fort Wiki – French and Indian War

Because Indian tribes worked separately and not together, for the most part, they didn’t think about banding together to keep all of these Europeans out. Instead,  as with the French and Indian War as an example, they seem to pick a side of one or another of the nations from Europe to fight with…probably for promised privilege or payment. They did not think about getting together to push the Europeans out of their lands.

As time went on Britain became the dominant factor in the United States. The people were very mobile, and most of the Freemen owned their own farms. The colonies were self-governing for the most part and although they were officially under the rule of Britain, they rarely had to deal with them. They only had their own home government. But that was soon to change.

The British felt they needed not only to protect the colonies and the trade routes between the colonies and Britain but also needed to prevent other European countries from trying to take over. They needed to post more military, especially on our seaports. That started one of the problems – quartering troops in private homes.

 They had to bring the troops over which was expensive, so they started setting up different taxes to help cover it. In the newsletter in May that we mentioned earlier, they added a stamp act, taxes on tea, and started to restrict what territories could be owned by the colonists.

The colonials had started to enjoy the freedom of expansion. They resented the British government telling them they could not cross a certain territorial line. They also had a problem with paying taxes, but not being allowed to have equal representation in parliament. Also remember, the British were recovering from the French and Indian War which had lasted seven years. Very expensive so the stamp act was passed on March 22, 1765. This act gave a tax on any legal document, newspaper, and even playing cards.

The British tried to bully some of the larger territories into obedience. Boston was one of their first targets. They sent British troops into Boston to enforce what was called the Town Shed Duties which was a tax on paint, paper, tea, and many other items. They also wanted to clamp down on local radicals who are making noise in the freedom direction. Locals didn’t like the British troops coming in and occupying their homes and there were a lot of street fights.

In March 1770, there was a clash between a mob and the soldiers. It left five dead and the colonials called it the Boston massacre; the British called it the incident on King Street. Two different viewpoints on the same incident. In the spring of 1772, committees from the colonies started to organize. They wanted to give a response to the things that Britain was doing in their area. This was a very bold and large undertaking considering the distances between colonies.

From March to June of 1774, the British Parliament passed the Coercive Acts also known as the Intolerable Acts in America. Britain closed down the Port of Boston, required British troops to be housed in the taverns, in vacant buildings, and homes. This had the adverse effect that they wanted – it generated sympathy for the Massachusetts colony from all the other colonies.

War broke out on April 19, 1775, at Lexington and Concorde in Massachusetts. Men came in from Cambridge, Massachusetts to fight and this was the beginning of the continental army.  We know how the war proceeded and ultimately ended, but as with everything, there are always two sides to the coin. We’re going to explore how the British, French, Spanish, and Native Americans felt as well as how the colonials felt when the war broke out and how many of the colonials thought it was wrong to go against their king.

The British Outlook

The British looked at the American revolution as an insurrection of 13 of Great Britain’s northern colonies. They felt that one of the primary reasons that it took place was something called salutary neglect. The Navigation Act of 1651 stated all goods exported to or from the colonies must be transported on English vessels or on the ships from the country from which the goods originated. This was later changed to only British Ships.

But in 1721, Robert Walpole was elected as Britain’s chief minister (regarded as the first Prime Minister) along with his new secretary of state, Thomas Pelham-Holles, who later served as prime minister for two terms. Walpole tended to relax the terms of these shipping regulations and thus the colonies felt more relaxed in their trade terms. This lead to one of the main reasons for the Colonies to rebel when Britain tried, later on, to tighten up their policies. The British felt this was a cause called Salutary Neglect.

Salutary neglect, the policy of the British government from the early to mid-18th century regarding its North American colonies under which trade regulations for the colonies were laxly enforced and imperial supervision of internal colonial affairs was loose as long as the colonies remained loyal to the British government and contributed to the economic profitability of Britain. This “salutary neglect” contributed involuntarily to the increasing autonomy of colonial legal and legislative institutions, which ultimately led to American independence.  Courtesy of Encyclopaedia Britannica

The British felt that this conflict was a civil war at the onset, but later it became an international war as France and Spain joined the colonies.

Old Northern Bridge – Concord, MA

Before the war started officially, the British on both continents were concerned about what King George would do to all the unrest that had taken place up to this point. Long before the actual declaration, the Stamp Act (which caused riots)was passed in 1765 and the Boston Tea Party took place in 1773, and lastly, the “shot heard ‘round the world” in 1775. 

A look through letters from the period, now held in the archives of the U.K.’s Nottingham University, shows that British people were divided about the outbreak of war with what was then their colony. They worried about how bad it was, whose fault it was and what to do about it.

A group of merchants and traders from Bristol wrote a letter to the British government expressing their fears and concerns that the changes that were being made would start a revolution. They wrote to the king to express their concern about the “unhappily distracted empires” and urged him to give the American colonists the freedoms they wanted rather than risk a precious trading relationship.

“It is with an affliction not to be expressed and with the most anxious apprehensions for ourselves and our Posterity that we behold the growing distractions in America threaten, unless prevented by the timely interposition of your Majesty’s Wisdom and Goodness, nothing less than a lasting and ruinous Civil War,” they wrote. “We are apprehensive that if the present measures are adhered to, a total alienation of the affections of our fellow-subjects in the colonies will ensue, to which affection much more than to a dread of any power, we have been hitherto indebted for the inestimable benefits which we have derived from those establishments. We can foresee no good effects to the commerce or revenues of this kingdom at a future period from any victories which may be obtained by your majesty’s army over desolated provinces and […] people.”

The traders warned the King that “the subsistence of a great part of your kingdom has depended very much on the Honourable and in this instance amicable behaviour of your American subjects. We have in this single city received no less than one million bushels of wheat […].”

But in 1776, when news reached Britain of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the atmosphere back in Great Britain completely changed. However, early on in the war, the traders were fairly confident that the Americans would stay friendly to Britain because “none can profit by the continuance of this war,” IF the British would adopt a more conciliatory approach.

In one letter they stated,… “Our fellow subjects in that part of the world are very far from having lost their affection and regard to their mother country or departed from the principles of commercial honour,”

They were thinking from a purely commercial point of view, which they felt was the reason the colonials were fighting…financial independence.

Colonials hope to stave off the war

Though their optimism might seem misplaced today, at the time it wasn’t completely ridiculous. After all, this was the same year(July 5, 1775) that Americans’ Second Continental Congress sent the British crown the Olive Branch Petition, a last-ditch attempt to convince the King to back off so that the British subjects in the colonies could continue to live happily under his rule alongside their counterparts in England. In flowery language, the petition attempted to convey the “tender regard” the colonists felt “for the kingdom.” The petitioners assured the King that they remained “faithful subjects…of our Mother country.” Congress wanted the King to intervene on their behalf and repeal a number of “statutes and regulations adopted for the administration of the colonies” by Parliament, which they claimed had stoked colonial rebelliousness.  Courtesy of the New York Public Library

The British aristocracy was horrified at the news that the Americans had decided to form their own country. One of the more outspoken of them was the third Duke of Portland. His letters and many others from British noblemen living all over Europe showed how the opinions of the royals differed greatly on the subject. They also feared that other governments would take advantage of the situation to supplant Britain in the Americas. 

On Sept. 7, 1776, Stephen Sayre of Harley Street, London, wrote to the Duke of Portland urging him and others to come to a meeting to figure out how to cut Britain’s losses. “And tho we think America is lost: yet we wish to preserve this country,” he wrote

The French felt a kindred spirit with the colonial freedom fighters. In a letter by Chevalier Renaud Boccolari to some of his peers in Modena, Italy, he indicated, “We still find among us souls who are sensitive to freedom, souls that have not been swallowed by the insulting dominion of priests, the barbarous constriction of the inquisition and the blind, despotic monarchy,” he wrote. But, he felt “every free country should be alarmed” that “in this century everything is tending towards the most illegitimate despotism.”

The Spanish felt it was a strategic time to support the Colonials’ cause. They knew the British would be fighting on multiple war fronts and would be vulnerable. Spain declared war on Britain as an ally of France, itself an ally of the American colonies.

Aerial view over the Matanzas Bay of Castillo de San Marcos St. Augustine, Florida

Spain played an important role in the independence of the United States, as part of its conflict with Britain. Spain declared war on Britain as an ally of France, itself an ally of the American colonies. Most notably, Spanish forces attacked British positions in the south and captured West Florida from Britain in the siege of Pensacola.  As the American diplomat Benjamin Franklin reported from Paris to the Congressional Committee of Secret Correspondence in March 1777, the Spanish court quietly granted the rebels direct admission to the rich, previously restricted port of Havana under a most favored nation status. Franklin also noted in the same report that three thousand barrels of gunpowder were waiting in New Orleans and that the merchants in Bilbao “had orders to ship for us such necessaries as we might want.”  Courtesy Wikopedia

What did the Native Americans Think?

Native Americans were divided, not only by tribes but within the tribes, as to which side to take. Many tried to stay neutral and let the colonial invaders fight it out with the British King’s men. But several tribes sided with the British because of promises the crown had made to ‘curb’ the settlements in the Indian lands. The British were concerned by the violence between white settlers and Native peoples on the frontiers and attempted to keep the two groups apart. The Proclamation of 1763 reserved the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains for Native Americans, which the colonists resented greatly. It meant they could not expand and seek new lands.

Gradually, however, it became clear to most native groups, that an independent America posed a far greater threat to their interests and way of life than a continued British presence that restrained American westward expansion. From the perspective of almost all Native Americans, the American Revolution was an unmitigated disaster. According to USHistory.org

 Cherokees and Creeks (among other tribes) in the southern interior and most Iroquois nations in the northern interior provided crucial support to the British war effort.

The Mohawk chief, Thayendanegea (known to Anglo-Americans as Joseph Brant) was the most important Iroquois leader in the Revolutionary Era. He convinced four of the six Iroquois nations to join him in an alliance with the British and was instrumental in leading combined Indian, British, and Loyalist forces (Oftentimes these warriors were accompanied by American Loyalists who had been forced to flee those communities.),  on punishing raids in western New York and Pennsylvania in 1778 and 1779. 

 These raids led to harsh retaliation. In 1779, General George Washington dispatched an expedition under General John Sullivan into Iroquois country to destroy Native villages and crops. The expedition was one of the largest and most meticulously planned operations that the Continental Army undertook during the war. The objective of the campaign was to stop the raids by burning Native villages and crops, and it earned Washington the Iroquois name of “Town Destroyer.”  Courtesy of Battlefields.org

Summation of the Countries and opinions regarding the War For Our Independence

  • The Americans felt bullied, unrepresented, and forcefully controlled by a once appreciative colonizing partner – Great Britain.

  • The French, Spanish and Netherlands and others felt mixed emotions but could identify and support the underdogs who wanted to be free of British dominance. But it also benefited them with their struggles with Britain.

  • The British felt betrayed by their once obedient and loyal subjects. They felt the Insurrection and rebellion was to be short-lived with British superior naval forces and Native American support.

  • The Native Americans were divided and uncomfortable by the war. On one hand, they had trading relationships with some of the forts and colonial towns, while they still fought on other fronts to prevent the invaders from taking all of their hunting and fishing, homelands. Just as the colonists had to decide which side they would fight on – the Continental American Side or the Loyalist British side, the Native American Tribes had to choose.

It was a very difficult time. Everyone had been trying to survive, trade, expand, and coexist with everyone else and now they were all embroiled in a war on this continent – the War for Independence.