Encompassing a nearly 20 year period (1765-1783), the American Revolution is the event that transformed thirteen British colonies into the United States of America. It was a time of great victories, harsh winters, and heroic acts. It was when George Washington and his army crossed a chilly Delaware River and Paul Revere made his famous midnight rides. And Alexander Hamilton fought in the Battle of Long Island so that his life story could become a Tony-winning Broadway play some 200-plus years later. Here are five other things you may not know about the American Revolution.
1. Independence Was Not the Original Goal
The initial riff between the colonists and Great Britain had nothing to do with a desire to become an independent nation. In a letter sent to King George III the year before the Declaration of Independence was drafted in 1776, the colonists sought protection from the king. The only “demand” they made was for more autonomy within the British Empire—and it was actually more of a formal request. It was only when the king sided with the assertion of other leaders in the British government that the colonists’ request was “an act of war” that independence became the goal for the colonists.
2. Several American Cities Are Named After a Continental Army General Who Turned Out to be a Traitor
Benedict Arnold may be the most famous traitor in American history, but he wasn’t the only one. In 1857, it was discovered that Charles Lee, a general in the Continental Army, also shared inside info that helped the British by spilling the beans after being captured. He was later released as part of a prisoner swap and returned to his post. Despite his act of betrayal, several American cities are still named for Lee, including Lee, Massachusetts, Leetown, West Virginia, Fort Lee, New Jersey, and Lee, New Hampshire.
3. General Washington Was Almost Ousted from His Position
Washington suffered some humiliating defeats during his time as leader of the Continental Army. In the Battle of Germantown, for instance, the general lost 150 men and 400 were taken prisoner. Because of this, there was some dissention in the ranks and talk of replacing Washington. The effort to have him ousted began with an anonymous letter to Patrick Henry (the guy who said “Give me liberty, or give me death!”) suggesting that Washington be replaced. An ambitious general named Thomas Conway made a similar suggestion, taking his complaints about Washington right to the Continental Congress. Washington found out about all the talk going on behind his back and confronted Conway. Even after he backed down, Conway remained a thorn in Washington’s side through his days as the nation’s first president. He finally sent his former commander a letter of apology about a year before his death.
4. The Boston Tea Party was Initially Considered an Act of Vandalism by Many Americans
When angry colonists led by Samuel Adams (the man, not the beer) dumped tea into Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773, it wasn’t an instant rallying cry for war. In fact, many Americans viewed the action as an act of vandalism rather than a gallant act of rebellion. Even George Washington voiced his disapproval when commenting on the action in a letter a year later. It was the British government’s decision to close the port and expand the Quartering Act that really irked colonists, who considered such measures to be “intolerable acts.”
5. A Woman Disguised as a Man Fought in the American Revolution and Ended up Being Honored for Her Actions
Depending on the source you go by, Deborah Sampson joined the war effort in either 1781 or 1782. She did so disguised as a man;, wearing breeches and a waistcoat she sewed herself. Sampson joined the Continental Army and fought as a light infantryman for the 4th Massachusetts Regiment under the alias Robert Shurtliff. After being shot in the thigh during the Battle of Tarrytown, she removed the bullet herself and returned to her post. It was only after Sampson developed a fever from a gunshot wound to the shoulder that her secret was discovered. The doctor who made the discovery let her recover before informing her superior, General Patterson. Surprisingly (given the times), the general gave her an honorable discharge in October of 1783 before she returned home.
There’s some debate over whether or not the colonists were the odds on favorites to win the war. Nonetheless, it was a combined effort of the Continental and French armies under George Washington that ultimately led to the British surrender in the fall of 1781. The war officially ended in 1783. Incidentally, it was remaining debt from the Revolution that contributed to the America’s first national debt of $80 million when the new nation established its government nearly a decade after independence was officially declared on July 4, 1776 at the Second Continental Congress.