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American Revolution: 1776–1783

End of the American Revolution

Siege of Yorktown

The Siege of Yorktown ended on October 19, 1781, as a decisive victory for the Continental Army.

    In summer 1780 the British were waging a war on two fronts. The commander of Britain's forces in North America—General Henry Clinton—was based in New York. From there Clinton attempted to control the first front, which encompassed the Middle and New England colonies. The second front was in the South, where British general Lord Charles Cornwallis had captured Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.

    Like General Clinton, Washington and his troops were also stationed in New York. There they were awaiting the arrival of French commander Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau—along with his 5,500 troops. Rochambeau and his soldiers landed in Rhode Island and marched to join Washington in New York.

    Originally, the two leaders had expected a second French fleet to sail to New York. However, the fleet was rerouted to Chesapeake Bay. Washington and Rochambeau quickly changed their plans. Instead of attacking General Clinton in New York, Washington and Rochambeau would take their troops to meet the French fleet in Virginia. There General Cornwallis had established a British stronghold in the coastal city of Yorktown, Virginia.

    Washington used a number of decoys and false documents to mislead the British into thinking he planned to launch an attack in New York. Meanwhile, Washington and Rochambeau quickly made their way to Virginia in August 1781, leaving behind a small number of troops in New York.

    As the Americans and the French marched to Williamsburg, Virginia, the French fleet arrived in the Chesapeake, where they encountered British ships. The French defeated the British in the Battle of Capes and established a blockade, or group of ships guarding the entrance to the bay. The blockade prevented British ships from entering or leaving the bay. The French fleet also transported 3,000 additional soldiers who joined Washington's and Rochambeau's troops.

    General Cornwallis faced a serious dilemma. The American forces totaled over 17,000 men, while his troops numbered a little over 8,000. Although he had requested aid from General Clinton in New York, his messages were not being answered quickly enough.

    The American and French troops began the Siege of Yorktown on September 28. After several bouts of conflict, the British were forced to surrender on October 19. The British defeat sent shockwaves through the United States and Great Britain. The capture of so many British troops significantly damaged morale and weakened British resolve to continue fighting the war.

    Siege of Yorktown, 1781

    American and French troops, including the French navy, laid siege to Yorktown and forced General Lord Cornwallis to surrender his troops in October 1781.

    Treaty of Paris, 1783

    The American Revolution officially ended on September 3, 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, also known as the Peace of Paris.

      Britain's surrender at the Siege of Yorktown on October 19, 1781, ended active combat in the American Revolution. Within a few months—in April 1782—American delegates began negotiating with the British government to officially end the war. Statesmen Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay were appointed the American Peace Commissioners. British prime minister William Petty-FitzMaurice appointed Richard Oswald as the Peace Commissioner representing Great Britain. After two months of negotiations the commissioners reached agreement on several key points:

      • The United States was an independent country.
      • Great Britain would retain Canada.
      • The Mississippi River would act as a western border for the United States.
      • Great Britain and the United States would each be free to navigate the Mississippi.
      • Property would be given back to Loyalists living in the United States.
      • Great Britain would be allowed to withdraw its troops from the United States.
      The United States and Great Britain signed an informal peace treaty on November 30, 1782. The informal treaty would not be finalized until France and Great Britain reached a separate peace agreement. French and British negotiators reached an initial peace agreement in January 1783. The formal Treaty of Paris, also called the Peace of Paris, was signed nearly a year later on September 3, 1783. The Treaty of Paris documented the peace agreement between the United States and Great Britain. France and Spain also signed treaties with Britain in September, while the Netherlands and Britain reached a separate peace agreement in May 1784.

      Postwar Boundaries, 1783

      The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, established new borders in North America and extended the territory of the United States west to the Mississippi River.