Revolutionary War Historical Article
The American Revolution After Yorktown
By Compatriot Andrew Andy Stough
Editor's Note: This article was reprinted by Permission of the Gold Country Chapter No. 7 of the CSSAR and was slightly edited by the Sons of Liberty Chapter of the CSSAR
Peace on the Atlantic Seaboard, but no peace on the frontier.
Most people who think of the War of the American Revolution seem to think that the war was over with the British capitulation at Yorktown. That was true of the regular forces since there were no actual clashes between the Continental Army and British regular forces and their Hessian mercenaries after Yorktown.
In fact, there was a cessation of major hostilities but not of small encounters, particularly along the frontier, which had now spread into the Ohio Valley. To those living along the Eastern Seaboard, with the exception of the occupied cities of Savannah, Charleston and New York, the war for all practical purposes was over. Peace had returned and the business now in hand was the establishment of the new nation.
For those beyond and as close to New York City as the Mohawk Valley, the war was far from over. Settlers and pioneers never knew when disaster would strike; when some irate Indian or a renegade white would destroy their handiwork and their lives. No matter how or when death occurs, whether it is in peace or in war, it is equally as final.
Nor was the war over at sea! Again there was a general cessation of encounters except for privateers who were looked upon as pirates and subject to hanging. But the war was not even over between the Continental Navy and the Royal Navy. The final naval battle was an unwanted encounter in which the USS Alliance was escorting the USS Duc D'Lauzon from Havana to Philadelphia to deliver gold specie to congress. HMS Sybil attacked the Duc D'Lauzon but was prevented from that pursuit by USS Alliance. This occurred on March 9th, 1783, eighteen months after Yorktown and over a month after King George III issued his Proclamation of Cessation of Hostilities on February 3rd, 1783. The proclamation had been intended to officially end Britain's pursuit of the war and acknowledge the independence of the United States. The Proclamation wasn't a treaty but it was intended to stop any action in the war until a formal treaty could be consummated. In reality, it only stopped the conflict between regular ground forces of the two governments. The signing of the Treaty of Paris would not occur until September 3rd, 1783, some seven months after the issuance of the king's proclamation and it would do little more than eventually remove British troops from the three coastal cities.
Such things as "Post Treaty" British-led invasions in the Mohawk Valley and other parts of the frontier were outright violations of the terms and spirit of the 1783 Treaty of Paris. In addition, British troops retained control of Detroit and other forts in the Ohio Valley. These actions constituted outright aggressive actions by both irregulars and regular British troops and are definitely at odds with the terms and supposedly good faith agreements of both the King's proclamation and the Treaty of Paris. Whether this was an unstated policy of the King or his ministers is moot since it was patently in violation of the Treaty upon which peace was supposedly established.
The only excuse given that I can find is that the British claimed that they had to stay on because the fledgling nation could not maintain order and control of the Indians. However, there is no mention made by them that Indian raids were normally led by official representatives of the Crown and that supplies for the raids were from the British controlled forts on treaty ceded United States territory. This indicated that it was government policy at some level. The King and Parliament may have indicated and even desired an honest application of the terms of the treaty. However, has it not always been true that what the head of State wanted is not necessarily what it got? Too often and evident in this war was that the King desired a certain course of action from his generals in America but their interpretation of those orders frequently met their desires, not those of the King, or of Parliament.
Was that mutiny or disobedience of orders? In the minds of the generals it was their clear-cut interpretation of those orders followed to the letter. Truth is sometimes seen as what transpires in the mind of the beholder of those instructions.
In retrospect, it was all wishful thinking. The general attitude in Europe was that such a new type of government could not long endure. This attitude was prevalent all over Europe and particularly so in Britain where it became a pseudo policy to wait for the upstart nation to fall on it's face. It was foreseen and fondly expected that a grateful United States, like the Prodigal Son would sooner or later come home, licking its wounds, once again to enfold itself in the security of the British Empire.
British policy until the end of the War of 1812 was predicated on this belief that democracy would fail and if not, that corrective action would have to be taken. There is much controversy over what would have happened if the battle of New Orleans had not been won. Considerable weight has been given to the thought that without that clear cut victory, the United States might have come out of the War of 1812 with much less territory, or at best, no territory west of the Mississippi River while Jackson and his defeated army would be held as prisoners of war.
True, The "Treaty of Ghent" that ended the War of 1812 had been signed on December 24th, 1814, by the representatives of the two nations. The caveat is that neither nation had ratified the treaty as an official and binding document. In a worst case scenario, had British forces won the final battle for New Orleans on January 8th, 1815, Britain might have reneged on the peace talks and returned to the battle with the expectation of re-absorbing the entire United States into the empire.
General Andrew Jackson's final victory and the departure of the British expeditionary force after the loss of all but one of its generals and an overwhelming number of its men, gave notice to all European nations that America had competent leadership, that it could and would defend itself to the detriment of any attacker.
Victory at New Orleans confirmed the right of the United States not only to settle all land west of the Mississippi but also confirmed that it had the ability and will to defend the area from any aggressor. George Washington's desire for westward expansion was now realized far beyond his wildest dreams. From this time on the way was open for westward expansion all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.