American Revolution: Major Events 1776

The following list is important dates during the year 1776;


1 January: American forces besieging Boston reorganized in accordance with Congressional resolve of preceding November, making this portion of patriot Army “Continental in every respect”; but only about 5,500 were present and fit for duty.

1 January: First patriot flag bearing seven red and six white stripes raised at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in recognition of reorganization of Continental forces before Boston.

1 January: Governor Dunmore, following patriot refusal to allow him to send ashore parties for provisions, bombarded and set fire to Norfolk, Virginia’s largest town.

5 January: New Hampshire adopted new written constitution replacing its colonial charter, first of 13 colonies to do so.

5 January: Continental Congress ordered work on Constitution Island (opposite West Point) suspended and emphasis placed on Fort Montgomery.

6 January: Alexander Hamilton’s New York artillery battery constituted organization that became only Continental Army unit to have officially recognized modern active army descendant, the 1st Battalion, 5th Artillery.

10 January: Royal Governor Josiah Martin of North Carolina, from aboard British sloop Scorpion, urged loyalists to gather near Wilmington on Cape Fear River to collaborate with forthcoming British Army offensive in South.

10 January: Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense published in Philadelphia, urging American declaration of independence.

12-14 January: Sailors from British ships stationed at Newport raided Patience, Hope, and Prudence Islands in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, and on Prudence engaged militia from Bristol and Warren in 3-hour fight.

20 January: Patriot General Philip Schuyler in New York leading 3,000 militia forced Sir John Johnson of Johnstown, New York, and 700 other loyalists, to surrender, thereby breaking back of loyalist resistance in Albany area and assuring neutrality of neighboring Indians for some time to come.

20 January: General Henry Clinton left Boston with about 1,200 troops to lead British expedition against Carolinas.

23 January: Patriot group from Elizabethtown (modern Elizabeth), New Jersey, led by William Alexander (better, if inaccurately, known as Lord Stirling) and Elias Dayton, captured British supply ship Blue Mountain Valley 40 miles off Sandy Hook.

24 January: Colonel Henry Knox, Washington’s artillery chief, who on the proceeding 15 November had been sent to fetch cannon captured at Ticonderoga, returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts, with 55 guns.

27 February: Congress resolved to establish separate Middle and Southern Departments of Continental Army, former including New York through Maryland and latter Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia.

27 February: Loyalist force of 1,400 including 1,000 Scotch Highlanders advancing toward Wilmington in hope of joining up with British Army force under Clinton was ambushed at Moore’s Creek Bridge, North Carolina, about 15 miles north of Wilmington, and then caught between patriot forces in front and rear. In the fight at bridge, loyalists lost 50-70, patriots 2; but afterward more than 850 loyalists were taken prisoner.

2-5 March: Heavy patriot bombardment of Boston began on 2 March, and on night of 4-5 March darkness concealed Washington’s occupation of Dorchester Heights and emplacement there of cannon from Ticonderoga.

3 March: Secret Committee of Correspondence decided to send “commercial” agent to France to purchase military supplies, and Congress selected Silas Deane of Connecticut for this mission.

3-4 March: Patriot sailors and marines attacked New Providence (now Nassau) in Bahamas, capturing 100 cannon and mortars and a large quantity of other useful military stores. This action was first in which American marines participated as an organized unit.

7 March: Royal Governor Sir James Wright, who fled Savannah, Georgia, on 11 February to take refuge on British warship, returned with naval reinforcements on 6 March, captured 11 rice laden merchant ships, and threatened to attack Savannah from Hutchinson’s Island opposite. Counterattack drove off British and left patriots in control of Savannah for next three years.

9-13 March: British sloop Otter sailing up Chesapeake Bay was attacked and driven away by Maryland ship Defense and two Maryland militia companies stationed at Chariton Creek, Northampton County, Virginia.

17 March: General Howe having abandoned initial plan to attack new patriot fortifications on Dorchester Heights and realizing they made British position in Boston untenable, had decided on 7 March to evacuate Boston and on this date did so, taking with him 1,000 loyalists, and sailing to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

23 March: Congress authorized privateering, resolving “that the inhabitants of these colonies be permitted to fit out armed vessels, to cruise on the enemies of the United Colonies.”

25 March: Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Charles Carrol of Carrolton, and Samuel Chase left Philadelphia as envoys of Congress to Canada, to negotiate with Canadians toward union with 13 coastal colonies in rebellion.

6 April: Congress, disregarding British Navigation Acts and Prohibitory Act of December 1775, opened ports of United Colonies to trade of all nations, except for trade with British dominions and in British goods, and except also for import of slaves.

12 April: Provincial Congress of North Carolina instructed its delegates in Continental Congress to vote for independence first of new governments of United Colonies to do so.

13 April: General Washington arrived in New York, to which bulk of Continental forces that had besieged Boston had already been moved.

2 May: France secretly allotted munitions from royal arsenals valued at one million livres ($200,000) to American patriots, and Spain followed suit.

4 May: Act known as “Rhode Island Declaration of Independence” passed by its General Assembly. While not mentioning independence specifically it denied King’s authority and authorized Rhode Island delegates to accept any Congressional measures they deemed prudent and effectual.

6 May: With large reinforcements under General John Burgoyne about to reach Quebec, Canada, General Carleton led sally from city that ended American siege begun preceding December and started patriot troops under General John Thomas on precipitous retreat.

8-9 May: Thirteen Pennsylvania galleys attacked two British warships in Delaware River off mouth of Christiana Creek (near Wilmington), Delaware, and drove them down the river. Patriots lost one killed and two wounded in actions on successive days.

15 May: Virginia Convention instructed Richard Henry Lee and its other delegates to Continental Congress to propose independence.

16 May: At The Cedars, Canada, on St. Lawrence River about 30 miles below Montreal, patriot force of 400 surrendered almost without fighting and smaller relieving force was also overwhelmed.

19 May: Near Nantasket, Massachusetts, long boats from British men-of-war attempted to board patriot ships Franklin and Lady Washington, but were driven off after hand-to-hand fighting in which captain of Franklin and one other were killed and British may have lost as many as 70 killed including those drowned.

4 June: British expeditionary force of more than 2,000 troops under General Clinton and nine warships under Admiral Sir Peter Parker arrived off Charleston, South Carolina. General Charles Lee assigned by Congress to command Southern Department, arrived same day to direct defenses.

7 June: Richard Henry Lee, delegate from Virginia, proposed resolution by Congress declaring independence of 13 United Colonies from Great Britain.

8-9 June: After retreat from Quebec, 2,000 of best troops of reinforced patriot Army in Canada attacked Three Rivers (Trois Riveres), half way between Montreal and Quebec. Unknown to patriots Three Rivers had been heavily reinforced and attackers lost nearly 400 in casualties, British 17. This action ended any American hope of maintaining hold on St. Lawrence valley.

9 June: Montreal, Canada, evacuated by patriot force of 300 under General Arnold.

10 June: Pierre Augustin Caron Beaumarchais, French playwright and watchmaker, who had set up fictitious Hortalez et Cie as intermediary to transmit French and Spanish munitions to American patriots, received one million livres in gold from French government to initiate financing of his operations.

11 June: Congress appointed committee of five delegates to draft declaration of independence.

12 June: Virginia Convention adopted Declaration (or Bill) of Rights, drafted by George Mason.

12 June: Remnants of American forces, beaten at Trois Riveres and subject to numerous ambushes in route, arrived at base at Sorel, Canada.

12-13 June: On 12 June, Congress resolved to establish Board of War and Ordnance, to consist of five of its members, and next day this board, ancestor of War Department-Department of the Army headquarters, was established.

14 June: Remnant of American troops in St. Lawrence valley, now under General John Sullivan, began retiring from Sorel, Canada, pressed by advancing British forces. Patriots retreated first to Isle aux Noir at north end of Lake Champlain and by early July to Crown Point, New York, thus ending Canadian invasion of 1775-76.

25 June: General William Howe arrived off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, with small British force, but one that was to grow to nearly 32,000 encamped on Staten Island, New York, by 12 August, largest single military body in America during Revolutionary War.

28 June: In New York City Thomas Hickey, belonging to General Washington’s personal guard, executed for “sedition and mutiny,” after discovery of loyalist inspired plot that allegedly included plan to assassinate Washington and other patriot generals.

28 June: British naval forces attacked fortified Sullivan’s Island guarding entrance to harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. Coordinated land attack by Clinton’s troops from neighboring Long Island proved impossible because of deep water, and British warships were worsted in spirited exchange of fire with patriot forces. Patriots lost about 37, the British 225, and British gave up and sailed away, ending efforts to invade the South for nearly three years.

2 July: General Howe with 9,300 troops landed unopposed on Staten Island, New York.

2 July: Congress at Philadelphia approved resolution of independence introduced by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia on 7 June.

4 July: Congress at Philadelphia approved formal Declaration of Independence, as drafted by Thomas Jefferson and other members of committee appointed for this purpose, and in doing so “solemnly published and declared that these United Colonies are, and of Right, ought to be Free and Independent States.”

8-10 July: Patriot forces attacked and captured Gwynn Island, Virginia, off western shore of Chesapeake Bay where Governor Dunmore had taken refuge with some 500 white and Negro loyalist’s troops. Dunmore and survivors were forced to flee, and after raid up Potomac River went to Lynnhaven Roads near Cape Henry and then to New York.

16 July: Lord Dunmore landed some of his force on St. George’s Island, Maryland, near mouth of Potomac River, but was driven off by local militia.

23 July: Lord Dunmore in sailing up Potomac River destroyed several plantations and then turned into Occoquan Creek, Virginia, to its falls and village, where he destroyed mill before being driven off by Prince William County militia.

22 August: British disembarked 15,000 troops on Long Island, New York, and during next few days Washington sent large patriot reinforcements to Long Island to meet this threat and British also built up their initial landing force.

27 August: Battle of Long Island (Long Island Campaign) fought between about 10,000 American defenders and 22,000 British and German troops. Americans were badly defeated and pushed into narrow confinement of Brooklyn Heights, losing about 1,400 (1,100 captured) against British losses of 375.

28 August: At Jamaica, New York, after British victory day before, militia detachment of 100 commanded by patriot General Nathaniel Woodhull was overwhelmed by much larger British force.

29-30 August: Washington first reinforced Brooklyn Heights after the defeat in Battle of Long Island, then in masterly fashion secretly withdrew his entire force at night across the East River onto Manhattan Island, above New York City, without loss.

6-7 September: In New York harbor Sgt. Ezra Lee attempted first submarine attack in history of warfare in David Bushnell’s “American Turtle,” but copper bottoms of British ships off Governor’s Island were too thick to be damaged by powder charges released from “Turtle.”

9 September: Congress resolved that in future all of its commissions and other instruments should be issued in name of United States instead of United Colonies as heretofore.

11 September: Three-man delegation from Congress (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge) discussed possibilities of peace with Admiral Lord Richard Howe on Staten Island, but fruitlessly when Americans discovered Howe had no powers to negotiate, only to refer proposals to London.

15 September: British troops from Long Island, under protection of warships, crossed East River and routed patriot forces at Kip’s Bay (presently 34th Street) on Manhattan Island almost without firing shot. Washington managed to extricate his troops from New York City which British then occupied.

16 September: After Washington withdrew his army to heights of northwestern Manhattan Island, he sent out small reconnaissance force to check British near site of present Columbia University. With both sides putting in reinforcement’s as the battle of Harlem Heights developed. Patriots lost 130, British and German troops involved about 170, and American morale was much improved by this successful holding action

16 September: Congress resolved that 88 battalions of Continental Army troops, apportioned among the states according to population, should be enlisted as soon as possible for duration of war. This action was essential since existing Continental forces were enlisted only to end of 1776.

20 September: Congress adopted Articles of War, “rules and articles to govern the armies of the United States.”

21-22 September: Captain Nathan Hale of Connecticut captured by British on Manhattan Island while returning to American lines, and executed as spy. On 12 September he had volunteered for an intelligence mission within British lines on Long Island.

23 September: Patriot force of 240 attempted to recapture Montresor’s (now Randall’s) Island, New York, at East River end of Harlem River, but was repulsed with loss of 14.

26 September: Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Thomas Jefferson as commissioners to court of France. When Jefferson declined to serve, Arthur Lee was appointed in his place.

11-13 October: By June 1776 British had 13,000 troops in Canada, but invasion path by water route southward from the St. Lawrence River was barred until October by flotilla hastily constructed by General Benedict Arnold on Lake Champlain. On 11 October, Arnold led his ships northward and met principal British ships at Valcour Island, New York, then lost most of his ships in next two days and a quarter of his troops were casualties. Although Arnold was defeated, his operations thwarted British invasion from Canada in 1776, when it might have been fatal to patriot cause.

12 October: General Howe’s attempt to flank Washington’s force in northern Manhattan started with landing at Throg’s Neck, New York (northern end of modern Throg’s Neck Bridge over Long Island Sound), but British were unable to get across bridge and causeway to dry ground because of stiff patriot rifle and cannon fire.

14 October: After defeating Arnold’s flotilla on Lake Champlain, General Carleton’s invading force on this date occupied Crown Point, New York, but because of American strength at Ticonderoga and lateness of season withdrew to Canada on 3 November.

18 October: Frustrated at Throg’s Neck, General Howe shifted northward to Pell’s Point and fought an action at Pelham, New York. American units posted there delayed British advance and helped Washington’s safe withdrawal with main Continental force from Manhattan to White Plains.

22-23 October: Force of Continentals attempted to surprise and cut off from main British Army Maj. Robert Rogers’ “Queen’s American Rangers,” stationed at Mamaroneck, New York. Surprise was incomplete, but patriots came off with 36 prisoners and booty, at cost of 15 casualties.

27 October: British attacked Fort Washington, New York, from both land and river sides, but attack was driven off with considerable loss to enemy, including one warship badly damaged.

28 October: Having failed to flank Washington’s main force of 14,500, Howe attacked it with 13,000 at White Plains, New York. Although Americans again withdrew northward after battle, British suffered heavier losses (300 or more to 150) and once again failed to trap and destroy Washington’s army.

9-10 November: Washington with part of his army crossed Hudson River and moved into northeastern New Jersey.

13-29 November: Patriots from Machias, Maine, and Bay of Fundy region, attacked and besieged Fort Cumberland, Nova Scotia (near modern Amherst), but were repelled when reinforcements arrived from Halifax. This was principal armed effort of American patriots to get New England settlers of Acadia aligned with American cause.

16 November: Fort Washington, New York, surrendered to British. After battle of White Plains, Howe pulled his army back for another attack on Fort Washington on northern Manhattan Island overlooking Hudson River. Using 8,000 troops he forced surrender of more than 2,800 Continentals after fighting that cost enemy about 450 killed and wounded and Americans about 300.

20 November: Fort Lee, New Jersey, on Hudson River opposite Fort Washington, made untenable after latter’s capture, was abandoned to British with heavy losses in materiel, and some 160 Americans were taken prisoner.

21 November-7 December: After loss of Fort Lee, Washington with about 4,000 troops retreated across New Jersey and Delaware River into Pennsylvania, with some of Howe’s forces under General Charles Cornwallis following in close pursuit to Delaware.

8 December: With Washington’s forces safely across Delaware River and in possession of all small boats that might have been used to follow him across, Howe’s advanced forces occupied Trenton, New Jersey.

12 December: Constitution by Congress of regiment of light dragoons and appointment of Elisha Sheldon of Connecticut as its commander mark establishment of Cavalry.

13 December: American General Charles Lee captured at Basking Ridge, New Jersey, after two of his guard were killed and two wounded.

19 December: Opening tract of The Crisis, “these are the times that try men’s souls,” by Thomas Paine, published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

20 December: Congress, with British so near, adjourned at Philadelphia and on this date met in Baltimore, Maryland.

26 December: General Clinton and Admiral Parker with 6,000 British troops occupied Newport, Rhode Island, providing the British with an important naval base in New England.

26 December: About 2,400 patriot troops under Washington having re-crossed the Delaware River surprised 1,400-man Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey (Trenton Campaign), killing and wounding about 105 and capturing 918, with American losses at most 4 killed and 4 wounded.

27 December: In view of critical situation, Congress in Baltimore resolved to grant General Washington almost dictatorial powers over military affairs for ensuing six months including authority to recruit 22 additional battalions.

29-31 December: After escorting Hessians captured on 26 December across Delaware, Washington returned to New Jersey and reoccupied Trenton.

GOTO: American Revolution: Major Events 1777

SOURCE: War of the American Revolution; BY: Robert W. Coakley & Stetson Conn
CONTRIBUTOR: Frances Thompson


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