Siege of Fort Washington, 15-16 November 1776

Siege of Fort Washington, 15-16 November 1776

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Siege of Fort Washington, 15-16 November 1776

One of the few sieges during the American War of Independence. Fort Washington was one of a pair of forts on opposite banks of the Hudson River, built to prevent British warships gaining access to the upper reaches of the river. The fort was built on the Heights of Washington, a strong position 230 feet above the Hudson, but its outer defensive lines were too long (five miles) and too far from the Fort. The Fort’s guns were thus unable to support the defenders of the outer lines, while the outer lines required a very large garrison to defend. In November 1776 the American garrison was three thousand strong and included a strong contingent of the precious Continentals.

By the end of October, Fort Washington was the only remaining American possession on Manhatten Island, Washington having withdrawn to White Plains on the mainland. The British under General Howe could outnumber the garrison at least three to one. Worse, British warships soon proved themselves able to pass between Forts Washington and Lee without suffering serious damage. Washington was now faced with two questions – could his men defend Fort Washington, and if so should they?

The events leading up to the loss of the fort cast an interesting light on Washington’s style of leadership. On 8 November he wrote to Nathanael Greene, the local commander, expressing his doubts that the fort could be held, but he fell short of giving a firm order to withdraw, merely suggesting that he would not want to risk loosing the men or supplies in the fort. Both Greene, and the commander of the fort – Colonel Robert Magaw – were confident that it could be defended against a British assault. Washington always wanted to see a situation himself before making a decision, and on 14 November he paid a visit to Fort Washington. This inspection apparently confirmed his pessimism about the wisdom of attempting to defend the fort, but he allowed himself to be convinced by Greene and Magaw. Fort Washington was to be held.

The day after Washington’s visit, the British made their move. Howe moved his men into position around the vulnerable American lines and prepared to attack on all three sides at once. Howe gave Magaw the chance to surrender, but he declared that he was prepared to defend the fort to ‘the last extremity’.

The attack was launched on 16 November. From the north General Wilhelm von Knyphausen led the Hessians against Maryland and Virginian regiments commanded by Lt. Colonel Moses Rawlings. They were to meet the most determined opposition, and suffered heavy casualties. From the west General Edward Mathews, with Cornwallis in reserve faced militiamen, while in the south General Percy, who had saved the day after Lexington and Concord, faced Pennsylvanians commanded by Lt. Colonel Lambert Cadwalader.

The British suffered heavy casualties, with 300 dead, but after three hours of fighting all three attacks had succeeded. The remaining American troops were forced back into the fort, where their morale collapsed. Reaching that last extremity, Magaw surrendered that afternoon. American losses were 54 killed, 100 wounded and 2858 captured for a total of over 3000 men lost in a single days fighting. Washington was soon to feel their lose bitterly as he was forced into a retreat that only ended at the Delaware River in early December. Briefly the American cause looked to be in great peril as Cornwallis repeatedly came close to catching Washington in the pursuit across New Jersey. It was only the unexpected victories at Trenton and Princeton that revived American hopes at the end of the year.

Battle of Fort Washington

Combatants at the Battle of Fort Washington: British and German troops against the American Continental Army.

Generals at the Battle of Fort Washington: LieutenantGeneral William Howe commanded the British army.

While General George Washington was in overall command of the American army contesting the invasion of New York Colony by the British, General Nathan Greene commanded the American troops in Fort Lee and Fort Washington. Greene exercised his command from Fort Lee, on the opposite side of the Hudson River from Fort Washington, with Colonel McGaw in command of the troops around Fort Washington.

Officer of a highland regiment: Battle of Fort Washington on 17th November 1776 in the American Revolutionary War: statuette by Pilkington Jackson

Size of the armies at the Battle of Fort Washington: 8,000 British and German troops attacked some 2,900 American troops.

Uniforms, arms and equipment at the Battle of Fort Washington: The British wore red coats, with bearskin caps for the grenadiers, tricorne hats for the battalion companies and caps for the light infantry.

The two regiments of light dragoons that served in America, the 16th and 17th, wore red coats and leather crested helmets.

The German infantry wore blue coats and retained the Prussian style grenadier mitre cap with brass front plate.

The Americans dressed as best they could. Increasingly as the war progressed regular infantry regiments of the Continental Army wore blue uniform coats, but the militia continued in rough clothing.

Both sides were armed with muskets, bayonets and cannons, mostly of small calibre. The Pennsylvania regiments and other men of the woods carried long, small calibre, rifled weapons.

Winner of the Battle of Fort Washington: The British and Germans. Once the Americans were pushed back into Fort Washington, they were forced to surrender.

Major Murray and Black Watch Highlanders at the Battle of Fort Washington on 17th November 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

British Regiments at the Battle of Fort Washington:
Composite battalions of grenadiers, light infantry and Foot Guards (1st, 2nd and 3rd Guards)
4 th , 10 th , 15 th , 23 rd (Royal Welsh Fusiliers), 27 th , 28 th , 33 rd , 38 th , 42 nd (Black Watch), 43 rd , 52 nd Foot and Fraser’s Highlanders.

American Regiments at the Battle of Fort Washington:
Colonel Shee’s 3rd Pennsylvania Regiment, Colonel Magaw’s 5th Pennsylvania Regiment, Colonel Moses Rawling’s Maryland and Virginia Riflemen and Colonel Baxter’s Bucks County Militia, Pennsylvania.

Map of the Battle of Fort Washington on 17th November 1776 in the American Revolutionary War: map by John Fawkes

Account of the Battle of Fort Washington:
In November 1776, the last position the Americans held on Manhattan Island was the area around Fort Washington on the northern tip, known as Harlem Heights. General Nathan Greene commanded the American positions with a discretion to withdraw if he considered it necessary.

Hessian officer and musketeer: Battle of Fort Washington on 17th November 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

General Howe planned three attacks. Brigadier Lord Percy was to attack from the South up the island. Brigadier Matthews with the light infantry and Guards was to cross the Harlem River and attack the Bucks County Militia commanded by Colonel Baxter on the east side, supported by General Cornwallis with the grenadiers and the 33rd Foot.

The main attack was to be on Rawlings’ position by Hessian troops commanded by General von Knyphausen. An additional assault was to be carried out on the same side by the 42nd under Colonel Sterling.

Early on the 15th November 1776, Howe called on Fort Washington to surrender. This was refused. The British batteries positioned on the far side of the Harlem River and the frigate Pearl began a bombardment of the American positions.

At 10am on 16 th November 1776, Lord Percy advanced to the attack. At noon Brigadier Matthews landed on Manhattan and began his assault.

Colonel Baxter was killed and his Pennsylvania militia fled into the fort.

Battle of Fort Washington on 17th November 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

Knyphausen crossed onto Manhattan at Kingsbridge and at 10am began his move south. The two Hessian columns assaulted the American positions and, after a hard fight, Rawlings’ riflemen fell back into the fort.

Landing on the East Side: Battle of Fort Washington on 17th November 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

Percy attacked Cadwallader in the South and the 42nd landed on the east side and pushed inland behind Cadwallader’s position, forcing the Americans to fall back to the fort.

With all the American troops pinned in Fort Washington under heavy fire, Magaw was forced to surrender to the Hessian general Knyphausen.

Casualties at the Battle of Fort Washington: The British side suffered 450 casualties of which 320 were Hessians. The Americans suffered 2,900 casualties of which the preponderance were prisoners.

Follow-up to the Battle of Fort Washington: Following the battle Fort Lee on the west bank of the Hudson was abandoned and Washington and the Continental Arm retreated to the Delaware.

Margaret Corbin at the Battle of Fort Washington on 17th November 1776 in the American Revolutionary War

Anecdotes from the Battle of Fort Washington:

  • Of the British troops, the composite battalions of grenadiers, light infantry and Foot Guards and the 33rd and 42nd (Black Watch) Foot were the corps regularly used for demanding assignments. Of the line regiments, the 33rd possessed a consistently high reputation throughout the 1740s and 1750s and was known as ‘the pattern‘.
  • An American woman, Margaret Corbin, a nurse, accompanied her husband John Corbin when he took his position as a gunner, facing the attack by the Hessians of General von Knyphausen at Kingsbridge. On the death of John Corbin, Margaret took his place in the gun crew, until she was wounded. After the battle, Margaret was exchanged as a wounded combatant, continued to serve in the American Continental Army and was granted a pension after the war.

References for the Battle of Fort Washington:

History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue

The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward

The American Revolution by Brendan Morrissey

The previous battle of the American Revolutionary War is the Battle of White Plains

The next battle of the American Revolutionary War is the Battle of Trenton

Battle of Fort Washington

Fort Washington occupied a hilltop position some 230 feet above the Hudson River in northwestern Manhattan. Regarded by some as the “American Gibraltar,” the fort and its sister installation, Fort Lee, offered the prospect of denying control of the Hudson to the vaunted British Navy. Fort Washington was unassailable from the west, but was less impressive from the other three directions. It was constructed as a five-sided earthen structure with several outlying redoubts, the most notable of which was Fort Tryon. Fort Washington was handicapped by its relatively small size and lack of an interior water supply. During the construction of neighboring Fort Lee in the summer of 1776, General Israel Putnam suggested that old ships be sunk in the river in the vicinity of the forts to provide additional obstacles to the British Navy. That precaution was taken and it increased the belief of Nathanael Greene, commander of both forts, that his position was basically secure. In the wake of the American defeat at White Plains in late October, Major General William Howe chose to forgo a direct assault against the Continental Army and instead turned his attention to Fort Washington. In early November, William Demont, an American deserter, handed over drawings of the fort to British officers, enabling them to refine their attack plans for maximum effect. On November 5 three British ships sailed up the Hudson, slipped by the forts and avoided the sunken wrecks. The event deeply disturbed George Washington, who had harbored considerable misgivings about trying to hold Fort Washington. Washington’s suggestion that the fort be abandoned was rejected by the confident Greene, who left Colonel Robert Mcgaw of Pennsylvania in command of the installation, and joined the staff at headquarters in New Jersey. On November 15, a British officer was sent to Fort Washington under a flag of truce. He demanded the facility's immediate surrender, then threatened that if his offer were refused, no quarter would be given to the defenders in the coming battle. Mcgaw declined the offer. On the following morning, British forces in the surrounding hills opened cannon fire on the fort and its outlying installations. Washington, Putnam and Greene crossed the Hudson from Fort Lee to examine conditions at Fort Washington, but concluded that they could not offer assistance and returned to New Jersey. The British then launched a coordinated three-pronged attack and were met with initially stiff resistance. American soldiers at Fort Tryon, including Margaret Cochran Corbin, fought determinedly before falling back or being captured. So many soldiers from the outside positions sought refuge in Fort Washington that its effectiveness was impaired by overcrowding. A vital contribution was made to the British cause by German forces under Colonel Johann Rall when they managed to scale the precipitous north wall of the fort. By mid-afternoon, it was evident to Colonel Mcgaw that the battle was lost and he accepted an offer to surrender. The threatened slaughter of the American defenders did not take place, a decision that was roundly criticized in some quarters. A number of British officers believed that had the soldiers in Fort Washington been massacred, then American resolve would have been weakened and the war would have come to a rapid end. The British listed 67 killed, 335 wounded and six missing. The American lost 54 killed and more than 2,800 captured — a tremendous blow to the Patriot cause. Further, 43 cannon and various vital supplies ended up in British hands. Many captured American officers were later released, but the common soldiers were not so fortunate. Hundreds were incarcerated on unbelievably squalid British prison ships where they died in large numbers because of malnutrition and disease. The loss of Fort Washington exerted a deep impact on the commander-in-chief. Washington regretted allowing Greene to have had the last word on the defense of the fort. In the future the general relied less on the suggestions of others and more on his own intuition. Another result of the loss was the increasingly critical stance taken by Charles Lee. Never one to hide his light under a bushel, Lee corresponded directly with members of Congress, suggesting that the inept Washington be replaced and shamelessly offering himself as a replacement.

Battle of Fort Washington

The Battle of Fort Washington was a British victory, and brutal loss to the Americans whose casualties were more than 6 times the British casualties.

In November of 1776, Fort Washington was the only point on Manhattan Island still held by the Americans. The Continental army was stationed at Harlem Heights near Fort Washington, led by General Nathanael Greene. They’d retreated here after the Battle of White Plains. General Nathan Greene was in charge of keeping an eye on their position against the British, and if he thought it necessary he was to give the order to withdraw.

The British, led by General William Howe, were planning three attack strategies: General Lord Percy was to attack from the South, General Mathews and Lord Cornwallis were supposed to cross Harlem River and attack from the East, while the main attack was going to be General Von Knyphausen and the Hessian troops on the front of the American’s position. General Howe decided that he would send a message to the Americans, giving them the chance to surrender before he sent in the attack.

View of the attack against Fort Washington and rebel redouts near New York on the 16 of November 1776 by the British and Hessian brigades. By Thomas Davies around 1776. | Public domain image, courtesy of New York Public Library at Wikimedia Commons.

In the early morning of November 15, 1776 a messenger was sent to the American’s fort asking them to surrender. The Americans, not knowing what was waiting outside their little fort, refused. Then all hell broke loose. At 10 a.m., Percy’s men attacked, followed by Mathews and Cornwallis at noon. They gained a hole on the fort, and British militia poured in.

At that moment, the Hessians crossed the river and began to attack the patriots from the head. The Americans were completely overwhelmed, and were forced to flee inside the fort. With all of the Americans pent up inside of Fort Washington, and the British firing unceasingly on them, the Patriots were forced to surrender Fort Washington and give up their last hold on Manhattan Island.

It was a sad loss for the American army. They lost 2,900 soldiers in the fight to keep Fort Washington. The British only lost 450 men before the Americans surrendered their position.

Fort Washington

Fought on November 16, 1776 on the island of Manhattan, the Battle of Fort Washington was the final devastating chapter in General Washington’s disastrous New York Campaign.

After winning a major victory on Long Island in August, British General William Howe began to move against New York City in mid-September. Unwilling to abandon Manhattan entirely, Washington ordered General Nathanael Greene to defend the stronghold. Though hastily constructed, Fort Washington wrought havoc on British warships attempting to sail up the Hudson River. It was similarly successful in repulsing Hessian attacks in early November. These early successes gave Greene and Colonel Robert Magaw, the fort’s garrison commander, a false sense of security.

After inflicting another defeat on the American army at the Battle of White Plains on October 28, Howe chose to focus his attention on Fort Washington. With General Washington stuck on the opposite side of the Hudson, the last American stronghold in Manhattan was completely alone.

Seeing how precarious the American position was, Howe launched a three-pronged assault on Fort Washington and its outer defensive works. The combined British-Hessian assault force of 8,000 men grossly outnumbered the fort’s 3,000 defenders. Nonetheless, the Americans enjoyed initial success, inflicting heavy casualties and repulsing two Hessian charges.

That success did not last. The tide began to turn when 3,000 men under British General Hugh Percy punched through the outer defensive lines to the fort’s south. Almost simultaneously, General Edward Mathew and General Charles Lord Cornwallis overwhelmed the fort’s eastern defenses, sending the Continentals scrambling backwards. With the outer works breached and hemmed in on all sides by a superior force, Magaw realized the situation was hopeless.

Pell's Point

The Battle of Pell’s Point stands as one in a series of engagements in the New York campaign between August and October of 1776. British forces defeated the Patriots in consecutive battles in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Yet, the Continental Army avoided being completely destroyed by timing their retreats and taking advantage of the British reluctance to advance. By October 1776, British General William Howe was planning to pin down Washington’s men at Harlem Heights, New York.

In the early morning hours of October 12, 1776, eighty barges transporting British troops emerged from a dense fog hovering above the waters of Long Island Sound. As the barges landed, a frigate offshore rained down canon fire on Manhattan’s Throg’s Neck peninsula. British General William Howe had launched his amphibious attack on New York.

Howe hoped to surround and trap the main portion of the Continental army and its commander-in-chief, George Washington, on the island. Only twenty-five Patriot soldiers under Pennsylvania Colonel Edward Hand stood ready to meet Howe’s force of 4,000 troops, mostly Hessians, as they disembarked at Throg’s Neck. Hand’s men moved quickly, burning the bridge over the peninsula’s small creek and positioning themselves behind a woodpile. From this vantage point, American riflemen picked off Redcoats funneling into a bottleneck and successfully held off a vast army until reinforcements arrived. Howe ultimately ordered a retreat instead of continuing to attack. The British camped on the island for three nights, affording Washington extra time to reform and prepare.

Howe’s men disembarked, landing again at a spot three miles north of Throg’s Neck called Pell’s Point (now Pelham Bay Park). Upon the British invasion, Continental commander John Glover positioned his force of 750 soldiers, made up mostly of Massachusetts men, in a staggered position behind the natural stone wall formations littering the landscape. As the Redcoats advanced, Patriot riflemen rose, fired, and retreated behind the next wall. The Redcoats charged ahead believing they held the advantage, only to face fire at point-blank range from a concealed second column of Patriots behind every wall. Although not an outright American victory, the tactics employed by the Patriots at the Battle of Pell’s Point successfully delayed the British invasion, inflicted heavy losses on the British, and bought Washington time.

After the engagement, Washington, at the insistence of General Charles Lee, his second in command, moved his force to White Plains, which saved the army from the next wave of the British amphibious assault, but did not prevent them from suffering a loss at the subsequent Battle of White Plains on October 28, 1776.

Historical Events on November 16

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Ivan the Terrible Kills His Son

1581 Tsar Ivan the Terrible attacks his son and heir, Ivan Ivanovich, with a scepter after an argument leading to the latter's death three days later

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1632 Battle of Lützen: Significant battle of Thirty Years' War - Swedish and Saxon forces defeat the Holy Roman Empire, at cost of the death of Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus

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1669 French state funeral for Henrietta Maria, princess of France, widow of English King Charles I, at St Denis with famous oration by Bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

    1st colonial prison organized in Nantucket, Massachusetts French troops occupy Freiburg Monarch of Brandenburg becomes king of Prussia English journalist John Wilkes injured in a duel Native Americans surrender to British in Indian War of Chief Pontiac West Indian Company & Amsterdam divide up Suriname 1st gun salute for an American warship in a foreign port - US Andrew Doria at Fort St Eustatius (Dutch Caribbean isalnd)

Historic Publication

1835 Extracts from Letters to Henslow, a collection of letters written by Charles Darwin during his voyage on the Beagle, is published

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Legends of America

George Washington in the American Revolution by Junius B. Stearns, 1854.

For more than a century England had possessed 13 colonies stretching along the coast between Canada and Florida. The British Parliament made laws that benefited the English merchants, and by 1750 had passed many laws to encourage trade with her colonies. Some of the laws forbade them to trade with other countries or even, in some cases, with one another. Had all these laws been rigidly carried out, the great Revolution might have come before it did. This is a timeline of events through the Revolutionary War which would see a Nation’s birth and the world’s beacon of Freedom.

British Reforms and Colonial Resistance:


No Taxation without Representation

February 1764 – James Otis urges a united response to the recent acts imposed by England. The phrase “Taxation without Representation is Tyranny” is usually attributed to James Otis

July 1764 – James Otis publishes “The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved.”

August 1764 – Boston, Massachusetts merchants begin a boycott of British luxury goods.


March 22, 1765 – The Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament.

March 24, 1765 – The Quartering Act required American colonists to house British troops and supply them with food.

July 1765 – The Sons of Liberty, a secret organization opposed to the Stamp Act, is formed.

December 1765 – Over 200 Boston merchants refuse to pay the Stamp Tax.


January 1766 – The New York assembly refuses to fully enforce the Quartering Act.

March 18, 1766 – The Stamp Act is repealed.

August 1766 – Violence breaks out in New York between British soldiers and members of the Sons of Liberty.


July 1768 – Merchants in Boston and New York boycott British goods

September 1768 – English warships sail into Boston Harbor leaving two regiments of English troops to keep order.


March 1770 – The Boston Massacre occurs and four workers are shot by British troops in Boston, Massachusetts.


December 16, 1773 – The Boston Tea Party occurs when Massachusetts patriots dressed as Mohawk Indians protest against the British Tea Act by dumping crates of tea into Boston Harbor.


1774 – The First Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

March 1774 – The Coercive Acts, called Intolerable Acts by Americans, are implemented.

The American Revolution Begins:


February 9, 1775 – The English Parliament declares Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion.

April 14, 1775 – Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage is ordered by the British to enforce the Coercive Acts and suppress any rebellion among colonists by using all necessary force.

April 18, 1775 – General Thomas Gage orders 700 British soldiers to Concord to destroy the colonists’ weapons depot. Paul Revere and William Dawes are sent from Boston to warn the colonists. Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were hiding in Lexington, Massachusetts were able to escape.

April 19, 1775 – The first shots are fired at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts where the weapons depot is destroyed. “Minute Men” force British troops back to Boston. George Washington takes command of the Continental Army.

April 19, 1775 – American Militia defeated British regulars at Concord, Massachusetts.

April 23, 1775 – The Provincial Congress in Massachusetts orders 13,600 American soldiers to be mobilized. Colonial volunteers from all over New England assemble and head for Boston and begin a year-long siege of the city.

May 10, 1775 – The Second Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with John Hancock elected as its president.

May 10, 1775 – American forces led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold capture Fort Ticonderoga and its artillery in New York.

May 15, 1775 – The Second Continental Congress places the colonies in a state of defense.

Battle of Lexington, April 19, 1775. illustration by John H. Daniels & Son, 1903.

June 15, 1775 – The Second Continental Congress unanimously votes to appoint George Washington general and commander-in-chief of the new Continental Army.

June 17, 1775 – The first major fight between British and American troops occurs at Boston, Massachusetts in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

July 3, 1775 – General George Washington assumes command of Continental Army, about 17,000 men, at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

July 5, 1775 – The Continental Congress adopts the Olive Branch Petition which appeals directly to King George III for reconciliation.

July 6, 1775 – The Continental Congress issues a Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. It details the colonists’ reasons for fighting the British and states the Americans are “resolved to die free men rather than live as slaves.”

The American Revolution, the American War of Independence, led by George Washington begins between Great Britain and the 13 British colonies in North America.

July 26, 1775 – An American Post Office is established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with Benjamin as Postmaster General.

August 1775 – King George III refuses even to look at the petition submitted by the Continental Congress and instead issues a proclamation declaring the Americans to be in a state of open rebellion.

November 10-21, 1775 – Patriots are sieged by the British at Ninety-Six, South Carolina. The battle ended in a truce.

November 28, 1775 – The American Navy is established by Congress.

November 29, 1775- Congress appoints a secret committee to seek help from European nations.

December 1775 – Congress is informed that France may offer support in the war against Britain.

December 11, 1775 – Virginia and North Carolina patriots routed Loyalist troops and burned Norfolk.

December 22, 1775 – At Great Canebrake, South Carolina Colonel William Thomson with 1,500 rangers and militia captured a force of Loyalists.

December 23, 1775 – King George III issues a royal proclamation closing the American colonies to all commerce and trade, to take effect in March of 1776.

December 23-30, 1775 – During the Snow Campaign in South Carolina against Loyalists, the Patriot militia is impeded by 15″ of snow.


February 27, 1776 – North Carolina militia defeated South Carolina Loyalists at Moore’s Creek, North Carolina inflicting heavy casualties.

View of Boston from Dorchester Heights, by Robert Havell, 1841.

March 4-17, 1776 – At Dorchester Heights, Massachusetts, American forces capture Dorchester Heights which overlooks Boston harbor. The British evacuate Boston and set sail for Halifax.

March 17, 1776 – British Navy evacuated Boston, Massachusetts and moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Washington’s Army then occupies Boston.

April 6, 1776 – The Continental Congress declares colonial shipping ports open to all traffic except the British

April 12, 1776 – The North Carolina assembly is the first to empower its delegates in the Continental Congress to vote for independence from Britain.

May 2, 1776 – The Continental Congress gets the much needed foreign support they had been hoping for. King Louis XVI of France commits one million dollars in arms and munitions. Spain then also promises support.

May 10, 1776 – The Continental Congress authorizes each of the 13 colonies to form provincial governments.

Leaders of the Continental Congress, John Adams, Morris, Hamilton, Jefferson, by A. Tholey

June 7, 1776 – Richard Henry Lee, a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, presents a formal resolution calling for America to declare its independence from Britain. Congress decides to postpone its decision on this until July.

June 8, 1776 – Patriot attempt to take British position in Three Rivers, Canada failed.

June 11, 1776 – Congress appoints a committee to draft a declaration of independence. Committee members are Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Livingston, and Roger Sherman. Thomas Jefferson is chosen by the committee to prepare the first draft of the declaration, which he completes in one day.

June 28, 1776 – Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is ready and is presented to Congress, with changes made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

June 28, 1776 – At Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, British naval attack failed when the palmetto logs held against the bombardment.

June-July, 1776 – A massive British war fleet arrives in New York Harbor consisting of 30 battleships with 1200 cannon, 30,000 soldiers, 10,000 sailors, and 300 supply ships, under the command of General William Howe and his brother Admiral Lord Richard Howe.

July 1, 1776 – Incited by British royal agents, the Cherokee attacked along the entire southern frontier.

July 2, 1776 – Twelve of 13 colonial delegations (New York abstains) vote in support of Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence.

Declaration of Independence by Arthur Szyk

July 4, 1776 – The Congress formally endorses Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, with copies to be sent to all of the colonies.

July 12, 1776 – As a show of force, two British frigates sail up the Hudson River blasting their guns. Peace feelers are then extended to the Americans. At the request of the British, General George Washington meets with General William Howe’s representatives in New York and listens to vague offers of clemency for the American rebels. Washington politely declines before he leaves.

July 15, 1776 – At Lyndley’s Fort, South Carolina, Patriots defended against attack by Indians and the British dressed as Indians.

August 1, 1776 – At Seneca, South Carolina, Americans are ambushed by Cherokee Indians. Patriot forces saved by a mounted charge.

August 10, 1776 – Cherokee Indians defeated by Andrew Pickens at Tugaloo River, South Carolina.

August 1776 – In the Ring Fight in South Carolina, 200 Cherokee Indians attacked Andrew Pickens and 25 militia. From a circle, firing in turn, the Patriots held off attackers until a rescue force arrived.

August 12, 1776 – Colonel David Williamson and Andrew Pickens defeated a large Cherokee war party and burned the Indian town near Tamassee, South Carolina.

August 27, 1776 – George Washington’s army defeated is defeated but, escaped by night in the fog at Long Island, New York.

The Battle of Long Island, New York by Virtue and Co. Click for prints & products.

August 27-29, 1776 – General William Howe leads 15,000 soldiers against Washington’s army in the Battle of Long Island, New York. Washington, outnumbered two to one, suffers a severe defeat as his army is outflanked and scatters. The Americans retreat to Brooklyn Heights, facing possible capture by the British or even total surrender.

September 11, 1776 – A peace conference is held on Staten Island, New York with British Admiral, Lord Richard Howe, meeting American representatives including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. The conference fails, however, as Howe demands the colonists revoke the Declaration of Independence.

September 16, 1776 – After evacuating New York City, Washington’s army repulses a British attack during the Battle of Harlem Heights in upper Manhattan, New York. Several days later, fire engulfs New York City and destroys over 300 buildings.

September 19, 1776 – Colonel David Williamson’s patriots were attacked by Cherokee south of Franklin, North Carolina in a gorge known as the Black Hole. Americans eventually cleared the pass.

September 22, 1776 – After he is caught spying on British troops on Long Island, New York, Nathan Hale is executed without a trial, his last words, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

September 26, 1776 – Congress appoints Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Silas Deane to negotiate treaties with European governments. Franklin and Deane then travel to France seeking financial and military aid.

October 11, 1776 – With makeshift boats on Lake Champlain, Benedict Arnold engaged a British squadron. Arnold was defeated but delayed the British until it was too close to winter to continue their campaign.

Yankee Doodle, A.M. Williard, 1776.

October 28, 1776 – After evacuating his main forces from Manhattan, George Washington’s army suffers heavy casualties in the Battle of White Plains, New York from General William Howe’s forces. General George Washington then retreats westward.

November 16, 1776 – American commander surrendered Fort Washington, New York to the Hessians.

November 20, 1776 – Lord Charles Cornwallis captured Fort Lee, New Jersey. Nathanael Greene abandoned the position.

December 6, 1776 – The naval base at Newport, Rhode Island is captured by the British.

December 11, 1776 – General George Washington takes his troops across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.

December 12, 1776 – With concerns of a possible British attack, the Continental Congress abandons Philadelphia for Baltimore, Maryland.

December 26, 1776 – General George Washington re-crosses the Delaware River and conducts a surprise raid on a Hessian brigade and defeated it. Known as the Battle of Trenton.


George Washington in military uniform, by Rembrandt Peale.

January 3, 1777 – A second victory for General George Washington as his troops defeat the British at Princeton and drive them back toward New Brunswick.

Winter, 1777 – General George Washington establishes winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey. During the harsh winter, Washington’s army shrinks to about a thousand men as enlistments die and deserters flee the hardships. By spring, with the arrival of recruits, Washington will have 9,000 men.

March 12, 1777 – The Continental Congress returns to Philadelphia from Baltimore after Washington’s successes against the British in New Jersey.

April 27, 1777 – American troops under Benedict Arnold defeat the British at Ridgefield, Connecticut.

May 20, 1777 – The Cherokee sued for peace and lost most of their land east of the mountains in the Treaty of DeWitt’s Corner, South Carolina.

June 14, 1777 – The flag of the United States consisting of 13 stars and 13 white and red stripes is mandated by Congress.

June 14, 1777 – John Paul Jones is chosen by Congress to captain the 18 gun vessel Ranger with a mission to raid coastal towns of England.

June 17, 1777 – A British force of 7,700 men under General John Burgoyne invades from Canada, sailing down Lake Champlain toward Albany, planning to link up with General William Howe who will come north from New York City, thus cutting off New England from the rest of the colonies.

July 6, 1777 – General John Burgoyne’s troops surprise the Americans with the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, New York on Lake Champlain. Its military supplies are greatly needed by Washington’s forces. The loss of the fort is a tremendous blow to American morale.

July 23, 1777 – British General William Howe, with 15,000 men, sets sail from New York for the Chesapeake Bay to capture Philadelphia, instead of sailing north to meet up with General John Burgoyne.

July 27, 1777 – Marquis de Lafayette, a 19-year-old French aristocrat, arrives in Philadelphia and volunteers to serve without pay. Congress appoints him as a major general in the Continental Army. Lafayette will become one of General Washington’s most trusted aides.

Continental Army by Henry Ogden

August 1, 1777 – General John Burgoyne reaches the Hudson River after a grueling month spent crossing 23 miles of wilderness separating the southern tip of Lake Champlain from the northern tip of the Hudson River.

August 6, 1777 – British column with Iroquois warriors attack Oriskany, New York from Oswego. rescue troops ambushed.

August 16, 1777 – British General John Burgoyne detached Hessians, British regulars, Loyalists and Iroquois against Bennington, Vermont. American militia attacked and defeated the British. Known as the Battle of Bennington.

August 23, 1777 – Benedict Arnold intended to siege Fort Stanwix, New York but the Indians and Loyalists deserted and the British retired.

August 25, 1777 – British General William Howe disembarks at Chesapeake Bay with his troops.

September 9-11, 1777 – At Brandywine, Pennsylvania, General George Washington and the main American Army of 10,500 men are driven back toward Philadelphia by General William Howe’s British troops. Both sides suffer heavy losses.

September 11, 1777 – Once again worried about an attack, Congress leaves Philadelphia and resettles in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

September 26, 1777- British forces under General William Howe occupied Philadelphia. Congress relocates again to York, Pennsylvania.

Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga New York

October 17, 1777 – General John Burgoyne surrendered his British Army to American Major General Horatio Gates at Saratoga, New York. It is the first major American victory of the Revolutionary War.

September 21, 1777 – British troops attack with bayonets and surprised Americans at Paoli, Pennsylvania. Americans called it the “Paoli Massacre.”

October 4, 1777 – At Germantown, Pennsylvania, an American attack on British positions failed.

November 15, 1777 – Congress adopts the Articles of Confederation as the government of the new United States of America. Conditions are terrible for the soldiers.

December 17, 1777 – At Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, the Continental Army led by General George Washington sets up winter quarters.


February 6, 1778 – France signed a treaty with the Continental Congress which would provide troops, ships, and supplies to America.

George Washington at Valley Forge in 1777 by P. Haas

February 23, 1778 – Baron von Steuben of Prussia arrives at Valley Forge to join the Continental Army. He then begins much-needed training and drilling of Washington’s troops, now suffering from poor morale resulting from cold, hunger, disease, low supplies, and desertions over the long, harsh winter.

March 16, 1778 – A Peace Commission is created by the British Parliament to negotiate with the Americans. The commission then travels to Philadelphia where its offers granting all of the American demands, except independence, are rejected by Congress.

May 8, 1778 – British General Henry Clinton replaces General William Howe as commander of all British forces in the American colonies.

May 30, 1778 – A campaign of terror against American frontier settlements, instigated by the British, begins as 300 Iroquois Indians burn Cobleskill, New York.

June 18, 1778 – Fearing a blockade by French ships, British General Henry Clinton withdraws his troops from Philadelphia and marches across New Jersey toward New York City. Americans then re-occupy Philadelphia.

June 19, 1778 – General George Washington sends troops from Valley Forge, Pennsylvania to intercept General Henry Clinton.

June 27-28, 1778 – The Battle of Monmouth occurs in New Jersey as Washington’s troops and General Henry Clinton’s troops fight to a standoff.

July 2, 1778 – Congress returns once again to Philadelphia.

July 3, 1778 – British Loyalists and Indians massacre American settlers in the Wyoming Valley of northern Pennsylvania.

Illinois Campaign during the American Revolution.

July 4, 1778 – Kaskaskia, Illinois is captured by Colonel George Rogers Clark.

July 8, 1778 – General George Washington sets up headquarters at West Point, New York.

July 10, 1778 – France declares war against Britain.

September 14, 1778 – Benjamin Franklin is appointed to be the American diplomatic representative in France.

August 8, 1778 – American land forces and French ships attempt to conduct a combined siege against Newport, Rhode Island. But bad weather and delays of the land troops result in failure. The weather-damaged French fleet then sails to Boston for repairs.

December 29, 1778 – The British begin a major southern campaign with the capture of Savannah, Georgia, followed a month later with the capture of Augusta.


Major General William Moultrie

February 3, 1779 – Major General Moultrie defeated a British detachment at Port Royal Island, South Carolina.

February 14, 1779 – At Kettle Creek, Georgia, Andrew Pickens and Elijah Clarke and their Georgia and Carolina militia defeated North Carolina Loyalist militia who were traveling to Augusta to join the British forces.

February 24, 1779 – Loyalists and Indians recaptured Vincennes, Indiana but, George Rogers Clark forced them to retreat.

March 3, 1779 – British Lieutenant Colonel Augustine Prevost defeated Americans under General John Ashe at Brier Creek, Georgia.

April 1-30, 1779 – In retaliation for Indian raids on colonial settlements, American troops from North Carolina and Virginia attack Chickamauga Indian villages in Tennessee.

May 10, 1779 – British troops burn Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia.

May 11-13, 1779 – In Charleston, South Carolina Major General Augustine Prevost had to break his siege as American forces under Major General Benjamin Lincoln approached.

British General Henry Clinton

June 1, 1779 – British General Henry Clinton takes 6,000 men up the Hudson River toward West Point, New York.

June 16, 1779 – Spain declares war on England, but does not make an alliance with the American Revolutionary forces.

June 20, 1779 – At Stono River, South Carolina Major General Benjamin Lincoln engaged a British rear guard. The indecisive battle resulted in many casualties.

July 10, 1779 – Naval ships from Massachusetts are destroyed by the British while attempting to take the Loyalist stronghold of Castine, Maine.

July 5-11, 1779 – Loyalists raid coastal towns in Connecticut, burning Fairfield, Norwalk, and ships in New Haven harbor.

July 16, 1779 – At Stony Point, New York, Americans attacked with bayonets only resulting in extensive British casualties.

July-August 1779 – American attempt to dislodge British along the Penobscot River in Maine failed.

August 13, 1779 – At Paulus Hook, New Jersey, the Americans make a successful surprise attack on British outposts.

August 14, 1779 – A peace plan is approved by Congress which stipulates independence, complete British evacuation of America and free navigation on the Mississippi River.

August 28, 1779 – After two terrible massacres, American forces moved into the Indian territory of New York and burned villages. Iroquois and Seneca power was diminished although they remained hostile.

August 29, 1779 – At Elmira, New York American forces defeat the combined Indian and Loyalist forces at Elmira, New York. Following the victory, American troops head northwest and destroy nearly 40 Cayuga and Seneca Indian villages in retaliation for the campaign of terror against American settlers.

September 16-Oct 19, 1779 – American Army under Major General Benjamin Lincoln failed to dislodge British from Savannah, Georgia.

“I have not yet begun to fight!” – John Paul Jones, painting by Charles J. Andres.

September 23, 1779 – Off the coast of England, John Paul Jones fights a desperate battle with a British frigate. When the British demand his surrender, Jones responds, “I have not yet begun to fight!” Jones then captures the frigate before his own ship sinks.

September 27, 1779 – John Adams is appointed by Congress to negotiate peace with England.

November 11, 1778 – At Cherry Valley, New York, Loyalists and Indians massacre over 40 American settlers.

December 26, 1779 – British General Henry Clinton sets sail from New York with 8,000 men and heads for Charleston, South Carolina, arriving there on February 1, 1780.

Winter 1779-1780 – Morristown, New Jersey sheltered the main encampments of the American Continental Army and served as the winter quarters of its commander-in-chief, General George Washington.


George Washington was named the head of the Continental (American) Army by Congress on June 15, 1775. His first task was to travel to Philadelphia from Boston, where a successful siege which drove British forces from the city was an early victory. The next chapter would prove to be much more difficult, and nearly disastrous to the Continental Army.

After British forces were driven from Boston in March 1776, General Washington headed to New York City, where he arrived on April 13, 1776. The task for him and his army was to protect New York from British invasion. The city was of great strategic importance, and New York harbor offered control of the Hudson River. The British had a large and powerful navy, and their strategy was to use their ships to gain control of the Hudson River in order to split the thirteen colonies in two.

On June 29, British ships began arriving in the New York harbor. Over the next two months, a steady stream of additional ships would arrive, carrying more and more British and Hessian troops. (Hessians were German mercenary soldiers hired by the British to fight in the war.)

While the main body of Washington's army was on Manhattan and Long Island, work began on a fort here in July 1776, which was originally called &ldquoFort Constitution.&rdquo It would later be renamed &ldquoFort Lee&rdquo in honor of General Charles Lee. Across the Hudson River, another fort called Fort Washington had already been constructed. The idea was that these two forts on opposite sides of the river could be used to stop British ships from sailing up the Hudson River.

On July 4, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, raising the stakes of the war. British ships continued to sail into New York harbor throughout the summer, bringing a total of more than 31,000 British and Hessian troops. This was the largest invading force in history up to that time. As the British and Hessian forces continued to grow on Staten Island, General Washington was uncertain as to where they would attack first. He therefore kept some of his troops on Manhattan Island and some in Brooklyn on Long Island.

The first test for the effectiveness of Fort Washington came when two British ships, the Rose and the Phoenix, sailed up the Hudson River on July 12. Cannon fire from Fort Washington made little impact the two ships suffered no serious damage, and no casualties. Despite these poor results, General Washington stuck to the plan of defending the river with the forts, and so work continued to complete Fort Lee.

The initial attack by British and Hessians came on Long Island on August 22, in which the Americans were forced to evacuate defenses they had spent months building. Over the following weeks, the Continental Army suffered a series of defeats and retreated north across Manhattan. By the end of September, British were in control of all of Manhattan, except Fort Washington.

The decision was made to defend Fort Washington, even though its effectiveness had been shown to be ineffective in its purpose of stopping British ships from sailing past it on the Hudson River.

On November 16, British and Hessian troops attacked Fort Washington, easily and quickly overrunning its defenses and capturing 2,800 American troops. Washington ordered General Nathanael Greene to manage an evacuation of Fort Lee, while Washington himself was headquartered ten miles away at the Zabriskie house in Hackensack. [2] A surprise invasion several days later would keep the evacuation from being an orderly one.

On the night of November 19-20, 5000 British and Hessian forces under General Cornwallis crossed over the Hudson River, disembarking about six miles north of Fort Lee at Lower Closter Landing. Upon learning of the invasion, the American troops at Fort Lee made a hasty evacuation, leaving behind such important items as tents, entrenching tools, heavy artillery, and a large amount of food. This began a twelve-day retreat across New Jersey, arriving on December 2 in Trenton, where they spent five days moving all the troops and supplies across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. (See the Bergen County 1776 Retreat Route Signs entry lower on this page.)

This was a desperate time for General Washington and his army, what Thomas Paine would describe as "These are the times that try men's souls." [3] Washington himself wrote in a letter to his brother John after the fall of Fort Washington, "I am wearied almost to death with the retrograde motion of things." [4]

More bad news followed. The army's second ranked General, Charles Lee, for whom Fort Lee was named, was captured by the British in Basking Ridge on the night of December 12 - 13. [5]

However, within weeks Washington and his army would turn the tide. On Christmas night, Washington's forces crossed the Delaware River back into New Jersey and win a small but important victory the next morning at Trenton, followed a week later by another victory at Princeton. Having revived their chances and morale, Washington's army headed to Morristown where they spent the winter.

From this point on, New Jersey would play a major role in the Revolutionary War, and Washington would spend more time in this state than any other. Important events in New Jersey over the next six years include encampments in Morristown and Middlebrook the Battles of Monmouth, Connecticut Farms, and Springfield as well as many other major and minor events. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, officially ending the war. When the news of the signing reached America, Congress was meeting in Nassau Hall in Princeton, and General Washington was headquartered in Kingston. Given New Jersey's significant role in the Revolutionary War, it was fitting that both General Washington and Congress were in New Jersey at the time they received this momentous news. [6]

The Visitor Center contains two floors of exhibits which explain and interpret the historic events which occurred at Fort Lee in 1776.There is also a small gift/book shop.

One of the most helpful exhibits is a large three-dimensional map of the New York/Fort Lee area titled "The New York Campaign." The exhibit combines narration with lights on the map which represent the movement of troops across the terrain of the area. When visiting Fort Lee, I highly recommend using this exhibit to understand the geography and troop movements of events in New York and Fort Lee in 1776.

In addition to the information and exhibits available at the Visitor Center, there are signs placed throughout the park grounds to describe the history of this site. There are also soldier hut recreations, and cannons. The view from the park of the Hudson River, New York City, and the George Washington Bridge are outstanding.

Monument Park was created by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1908. At the park's dedication ceremony, the keynote speaker was General John "Black Jack" Pershing, who would go on to lead the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I . [7]

The centerpiece of Monument Park is the majestic Rebelmen statue shown above. In addition to this statue, there are historic plaques located throughout the park. Two plaques describe the use of surrounding Fort Lee roads by the troops in 1776. Others are dedicated to individual Revolutionary War Generals who played a role in the events in Fort Lee.

Bergen County 1776 Retreat Route Signs
Running from Fort Lee Historic Park
to Acquackanonk Bridge in Wallington

Washington's Army 1776 Retreat Route signs are posted throughout Bergen County along the retreat route taken by the army after abandoning Fort Lee on November 20, 1776. These signs can be followed through Bergen County from Main Street in Fort Lee to Acquackanonk Bridge in Wallington.

Washington's Army reached the Acquackanonk Bridge in Wallington on November 21. They continued their retreat across New Jersey, through Newark, New Brunswick, and Princeton, finally reaching Trenton on December 2. The next five days were spent moving all of the troops and supplies in small boats over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. They made their famous Crossing of the Delaware back into New Jersey several weeks later on Christmas night.

Source Notes:

1. ^ A variety of sources were consulted in preparing this entry, including:

&bull David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005)

&bull David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)

&bull Markers, signs, brochures and exhibits at Fort Lee Historic Park

&bull George Washington Edited by Jared Sparks, The Writings of George Washington Volume 4 (Boston: Russel, Odiorne and
Metcalf and Hilliard, Gray, and Co., 1834) Available to be read at Google Books here

2. ^ Note that using modern roads, the distance is only eight miles from the Fort Lee encampment to Zabriskie's house site in Hackensack. However, in 1776 the journey was longer because it was necessary to use the New Bridge to cross the Hackensack River.

3. ^ "These are the times that try men's souls" is the opening sentence of Thomas Paine's The Crisis.

4. ^ George Washington to John Augustine Washington, sent from "Hackinsac" [Hackensack] on November 19, 1776 , reprinted in:
George Washington Edited by Jared Sparks, The Writings of George Washington Volume 4 (Boston: Russel, Odiorne and Metcalf and Hilliard, Gray, and Co., 1834) pages 182 - 185 Available to be read at Google Books here

5. ^ General Charles Lee was captured at Widow White's Tavern in Basking Ridge by a group of British dragoons (cavalry) under the command of twenty-two-year-old officer Banastre Tarleton.
▸ For more information, see the Basking Ridge page of this website.

6. ^ For more information and accompanying source notes about the events mentioned in these two paragraphs, see the pages linked to within the text.

7. ^ Official Website of the Borough of Fort Lee and the General John 'Black Jack' Pershing plaque in the park.

The ultimate field guide to New Jersey's Revolutionary War historic sites!
Fort Lee New Jersey Revolutionary War Sites &bull Fort Lee New Jersey Historic Sites
Fort Lee Historic Park &bull Monument Park &bull Washington's Army Retreat Route 1776

Website Researched, Written, Photographed and Designed by Al Frazza
This website, its text and photographs are © 2009 - 2021 AL Frazza. All rights reserved.

8. Battles of Trenton and Princeton (Winter of 1776-1777)

General George Washington crossed the icy Delaware River on the night of Christmas and into the morning of December 26th in 1776, leading his Continental Army against the British forces stationed at Trenton, having with him around 1,400 men. General Washington captured more than 900 men and occupied Trenton four days later. On January 3, he led a daring night match to capture Princeton after luring the British forces south. These two victories were pivotal in boosting the morale of the American troops and reassuring their cause in independence.

Demont, William

DEMONT, WILLIAM. American traitor. Pennsylvania. Born in England, Demont settled in Pennsylvania before the Revolution. Commissioned ensign in the Fifth Pennsylvania Battalion on 6 January 1776, he became regimental adjunct to Colonel Robert Magaw, commander of Fort Washington, on 29 September. He deserted on the night of 2-3 November 1776 to the camp of Earl Percy at McGown's Pass in Manhattan, taking with him complete information on Fort Washington's defenses. Shortly after the fall of fort to the British, Magaw and other American officers learned of Demont's treason Washington, however, kept the incident quiet for fear of its impact on morale. Dement traveled with General William Howe's army until 1780, when he went to England to press his claims for some sort of reward. Though he had done the British great service in turning over the plans to Fort Washington, as late as 1792 Dement was still attempting to gain recompense for his losses during the Revolution. The government awarded him sixty pounds.

revised by Michael Bellesiles

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