Benedict Arnold, American traitor, born


Year
1741
Month Day
January 14

Benedict Arnold, the American general during the Revolutionary War who betrayed his country and became synonymous with the word “traitor,” was born on January 14, 1741.

Arnold, who was raised in a respected family in Norwich, Connecticut, apprenticed with an apothecary and was a member of the militia during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). He later became a successful trader and joined the Continental Army when the Revolutionary War broke out between Great Britain and its 13 American colonies in 1775.

During the war, Arnold proved himself to be a brave, skilled leader, helping Ethan Allen’s troops capture Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and then taking part in the unsuccessful attack on British Quebec later that year, which earned him a promotion to brigadier general. Arnold distinguished himself in campaigns at Lake Champlain, Ridgefield and Saratoga, and gained the support of George Washington. However, Arnold had enemies within the military and in 1777, a group of lower-ranking men were promoted ahead of him. Over the next several years, Arnold married a second time and he and his wife led a lavish lifestyle in Philadelphia, racking up substantial debt. Money problems and the resentment Arnold felt over not being promoted faster were factors in his decision to become a turncoat.

In 1780, Arnold was given command of West Point, the American fort on the Hudson River in New York (and future home of the United States Military Academy, established in 1802). Arnold contacted Sir Henry Clinton, head of the British forces, and proposed handing over West Point and its men. On September 21 of that year, Arnold met with British Major John Andre and made his traitorous pact, in which the American was to receive a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. However, the conspiracy was uncovered and Andre was captured and killed. Arnold fled to the enemy side and went on to lead British troops in Virginia and Connecticut. He later moved to England, though he never received all of what he’d been promised by the British. The former American hero and patriot died in London, in relative obscurity, on June 14, 1801.

READ MORE: Why Did Benedict Arnold Betray America?

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Patrick Henry voices American opposition to British policy


Year
1775
Month Day
March 23

During a speech before the second Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry responds to the increasingly oppressive British rule over the American colonies by declaring, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Following the signing of the American Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, Patrick Henry was appointed governor of Virginia by the Continental Congress.

The first major American opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the banner of “no taxation without representation,” colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax. With its enactment on November 1, 1765, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.

Most colonists quietly accepted British rule until Parliament’s enactment of the Tea Act in 1773, which granted the East India Company a monopoly on the American tea trade. Viewed as another example of taxation without representation, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the “Boston Tea Party,” which saw British tea valued at some 10,000 pounds dumped into Boston harbor. Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in the following year. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony. In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first volleys of the American Revolutionary War were fired.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Enraged Colonists and Led to the American Revolution

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Vermont declares independence from colony of New York


Year
1777
Month Day
January 15

Having recognized the need for their territory to assert its independence from both Britain and New York and remove themselves from the war they were waging against each other, a convention of future Vermonters assembles in Westminster and declares independence from the crown of Great Britain and the colony of New York on January 15, 1777. The convention’s delegates included Vermont’s future governor, Thomas Chittenden, and Ira Allen, who would become known as the “father” of the University of Vermont.

Delegates first named the independent state New Connecticut and, in June 1777, finally settled on the name Vermont, an imperfect translation of the French for green mountain. One month later, on July 2, 1777, a convention of 72 delegates met in Windsor, Vermont, to adopt the state’s new—and revolutionary—constitution; it was formally adopted on July 8, 1777. Vermont’s constitution was not only the first written national constitution drafted in North America, but also the first to prohibit slavery and to give all adult males, not just property owners, the right to vote. Thomas Chittenden became Vermont’s first governor in 1778.

Throughout the 1780s, Congress refused to acknowledge that Vermont was a separate state independent of New York. In response, frustrated Vermonters went so far as to inquire if the British would readmit their territory to the empire as part of Canada. Vermont remained an independent nation even two years after George Washington became president of the United States of America under the new U.S. Constitution. However, as the politics of slavery threatened to divide the U.S., Vermont was finally admitted as the new nation’s 14th state in 1791, serving as a free counterbalance to slaveholding Kentucky, which joined the Union in 1792.

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Parliament repeals the Stamp Act


Year
1766
Month Day
March 18

After four months of widespread protest in America, the British Parliament repeals the Stamp Act, a taxation measure enacted to raise revenues for a standing British army in America.

The Stamp Act was passed on March 22, 1765, leading to an uproar in the colonies over an issue that was to be a major cause of the Revolution: taxation without representation. Enacted in November 1765, the controversial act forced colonists to buy a British stamp for every official document they obtained. The stamp itself displayed an image of a Tudor rose framed by the word “America” and the French phrase Honi soit qui mal y pense–“Shame to him who thinks evil of it.”

The colonists, who had convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the impending enactment, greeted the arrival of the stamps with outrage and violence. Most Americans called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest, and an appeal by Benjamin Franklin before the British House of Commons, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766. However, the same day, Parliament passed the Declaratory Acts, asserting that the British government had free and total legislative power over the colonies.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Led to the American Revolution

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King George III dies


Year
1820
Month Day
January 29

Ten years after mental illness forced him to retire from public life, King George III, the British king who lost the American colonies, dies at the age of 82.

In 1760, 20-year-old George succeeded his grandfather, George II, as king of Great Britain and Ireland. Although he hoped to govern more directly than his predecessor had, King George III was unable to find a minister he could trust, until 1770, when he appointed Lord North as his chief minister. Lord North proved able to manage Parliament and willing to follow royal leadership, but George’s policy of coercion against the American colonists led to the outbreak of the American War for Independence.

The subsequent loss of England’s most profitable colonies contributed to growing opposition to the king, but in 1784 his appointment as prime minister, William Pitt (the younger), succeeded in winning a majority in Parliament. After Pitt’s ascendance, the king retired from active participation in government, except for occasional interference in major issues such as Catholic Emancipation, which was defeated in 1801.

In 1765, the king suffered a short nervous breakdown and in the winter of 1788-89 a more prolonged mental illness. By 1810, he was permanently insane. It has been suggested that he was a victim of the hereditary disease porphyria, a defect of the blood that can cause mental illness when not treated. He spent the rest of his life in the care of his devoted wife, Charlotte Sophia, whom he had married in 1761. Following his retirement from public life, his son, the Prince of Wales, was named regent and upon his father’s death in 1820 ascended to the throne as King George IV.

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Continental Army enters winter camp at Valley Forge


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Year
1777
Month Day
December 19

With the onset of the bitter winter cold, the Continental Army under General George Washington, still in the field, enters its winter camp at Valley Forge, 22 miles from British-occupied Philadelphia. Washington chose a site on the west bank of the Schuylkill River that could be effectively defended in the event of a British attack.

During 1777, Patriot forces under General Washington suffered major defeats against the British at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown; Philadelphia, the capital of the United States, fell into British hands. The particularly severe winter of 1777-1778 proved to be a great trial for the American army, and of the 11,000 soldiers stationed at Valley Forge, hundreds died from disease. However, the suffering troops were held together by loyalty to the Patriot cause and to General Washington, who stayed with his men. As the winter stretched on, Prussian military adviser Frederick von Steuben kept the soldiers busy with drills and training in modern military strategy.

When Washington’s army marched out of Valley Forge on June 19, 1778, the men were better disciplined and stronger in spirit than when they had entered. Nine days later, they won a victory against the British under Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey.

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The Boston Tea Party


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Year
1773
Month Day
December 16

In Boston Harbor, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians board three British tea ships and dump 342 chests of tea into the harbor.

The midnight raid, popularly known as the “Boston Tea Party,” was in protest of the British Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a virtual monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny.

When three tea ships, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor, the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England. After Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused, Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the “tea party” with about 60 members of the Sons of Liberty, his underground resistance group. The British tea dumped in Boston Harbor on the night of December 16 was valued at some $18,000.

Parliament, outraged by the blatant destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

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Stamp Act imposed on American colonies


Year
1765
Month Day
March 22

In an effort to raise funds to pay off debts and defend the vast new American territories won from the French in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), the British government passes the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765. The legislation levied a direct tax on all materials printed for commercial and legal use in the colonies, from newspapers and pamphlets to playing cards and dice.

Though the Stamp Act employed a strategy that was a common fundraising vehicle in England, it stirred a storm of protest in the colonies. The colonists had recently been hit with three major taxes: the Sugar Act (1764), which levied new duties on imports of textiles, wines, coffee and sugar; the Currency Act (1764), which caused a major decline in the value of the paper money used by colonists; and the Quartering Act (1765), which required colonists to provide food and lodging to British troops.

With the passing of the Stamp Act, the colonists’ grumbling finally became an articulated response to what they saw as the mother country’s attempt to undermine their economic strength and independence. They raised the issue of taxation without representation, and formed societies throughout the colonies to rally against the British government and nobles who sought to exploit the colonies as a source of revenue and raw materials. By October of that year, nine of the 13 colonies sent representatives to the Stamp Act Congress, at which the colonists drafted the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances,” a document that railed against the autocratic policies of the mercantilist British empire.

Realizing that it actually cost more to enforce the Stamp Act in the protesting colonies than it did to abolish it, the British government repealed the tax the following year. The fracas over the Stamp Act, though, helped plant seeds for a far larger movement against the British government and the eventual battle for independence. Most important of these was the formation of the Sons of Liberty—a group of tradesmen who led anti-British protests in Boston and other seaboard cities—and other groups of wealthy landowners who came together from the across the colonies. Well after the Stamp Act was repealed, these societies continued to meet in opposition to what they saw as the abusive policies of the British empire. Out of their meetings, a growing nationalism emerged that would culminate in the fighting of the American Revolution only a decade later.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Led to the American Revolution

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Washington leads troops into winter quarters at Valley Forge


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Year
1777
Month Day
December 19

On this day in 1777, commander of the Continental Army George Washington, the future first president of the United States, leads his beleaguered troops into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

Things could hardly have looked bleaker for Washington and the Continental Army as 1777 came to a close. The British had successfully occupied Philadelphia, leading some members of Congress to question Washington’s leadership abilities. No one knew better than Washington that the army was on the brink of collapse–in fact, he had defied Congress’ demand that he launch a mid-winter attack against the British at Philadelphia and instead fell back to Valley Forge to rest and refit his troops. Though he had hoped to provide his weary men with more nutritious food and badly needed winter clothing, Congress had been unable to provide money for fresh supplies. That Christmas Eve, the troops dined on a meal of rice and vinegar, and were forced to bind their bleeding frost-bitten feet with rags. “We have experienced little less than a famine in camp,” Washington wrote to Patrick Henry the following February.

Desperate to keep the army intact, Washington tried to stem desertion by resorting to lashings as punishment and then threatening to shoot deserters on sight. For those soldiers who remained with him, Washington expressed deep gratitude and awe. He described men marching without clothes, blankets or shoes–leaving bloody trails in the snow–who displayed “patience and obedience which in my opinion can scarce be paralel’d.”

Meanwhile Washington faced the displeasure of Congress and rumors of plots to replace him with his typical stoicism and composure. On December 31, he wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette that he would continue “to observe one steady and uniform conduct, which I shall invariably pursue, while I have the honour to command, regardless of the Tongue of slander or the powers of detraction.” Furthermore, he told the press that if Congress could find someone better suited to lead the army that he would be more than happy to resign and return to private life at his Mount Vernon estate.

The winter at Valley Forge might have signaled the end of the American Revolution. Fortunately for the Continentals though, Washington did not give up. During this time Washington made several key additions to his officer corps, such as the Prussian General Friedrich von Steuben, who was tasked with implementing a new training regimen, and Nathanael Greene, who served as quartermaster general, relieving Washington of the duty of supply procurement. Washington, supported by a loyal officer corps, was now free to focus on strategies to beat the British. He was further buoyed by France’s agreement to join the revolutionaries in February 1778. (Washington was so happy with the news from his “powerful friend” France that, upon hearing the news, he pardoned two of his own soldiers who were awaiting execution for desertion.)

Once Washington’s detractors in Congress realized they could not sway his troops’ loyalty, they gave up on any secret plans to replace him. In March 1778, Washington led his troops, their bodies and supplies replenished and their confidence restored, out of Valley Forge to face the British again.

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George Washington wins first major U.S. victory at Trenton


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Year
1776
Month Day
December 26

At approximately 8 a.m. on the morning of December 26, 1776, General George Washington’s Continental Army reaches the outskirts of Trenton, New Jersey, and descends upon the unsuspecting Hessian force guarding the city. Trenton’s 1,400 Hessian defenders were still groggy from the previous evening’s Christmas festivities and had underestimated the Patriot threat after months of decisive British victories throughout New York. The troops of the Continental Army quickly overwhelmed the German defenses, and by 9:30 a.m.Trenton was completely surrounded.

Although several hundred Hessians escaped, nearly 1,000 were captured at the cost of only four American lives. However, because most of Washington’s army had failed to cross the Delaware the previous day, he was without adequate artillery or men and was forced to withdraw from the town.

Although the victory was minor from a strategic perspective, it bore tremendous significance for the future of the Continental Army. Washington needed a success before his solders’ enlistments expired on December 31–without a dramatic upswing in morale, he was likely to lose the soldiers under his command and be unable to recruit new men to replace them. The victories at Trenton and a few days later at Princeton proved to the American public that their army was indeed capable of victory and worthy of support.

The image of ragged farm-boy Patriots defeating drunken foreign mercenaries has become ingrained in the American imagination. Then as now, Washington’s crossing and the Battle of Trenton were emblematic of the American Patriots’ surprising ability to overcome the tremendous odds they faced in challenging the wealthy and powerful British empire.

READ MORE: 6 Myths About George Washington, Debunked

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