July 4th, 1776 or September 3, 1783?
Independence Day is upon us once again. Time for parades on Main Street where officials will pontificate atop podiums draped in patriotic bunting, picnics in the nation’s parks, topped off by a vivid display of red, white and blue fireworks to end the evening. It’s one of America’s most celebrated, and best loved, holidays. But should we instead be celebrating on September 3?
It’s true that on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress declared its independence from Britain. But even though tempers had been simmering for nearly a decade, the declaration was merely the beginning of the conflict. The British did not turn tail and run, leaving us hardy Americans to make our own way. England recognized the wealth to be had in this new land and wasn’t about to give it up without a fight.
They sent 34,000 British troops to our shores shortly after the Declaration was signed. The first shots of the war were fired at Lexington and Concord in April, 1775. One stinging defeat after another followed during the remainder of 1776, after the Declaration, and for a time, Americans were on the verge of disaster. It wasn’t until the surprise attack when George Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Eve, that American forces began to gain traction.
Some of my distant relatives fought alongside Washington in those early days of the conflict, and our family tree is littered with children named after the famous general. George Washington Myers and Washington Myers, along with their offspring, carried on the family tradition for several generations in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
By 1777, the British realized the upstart Americans weren’t going to make things easy. They decided to use a two-pronged approach toward fighting, effectively cutting off New England from the remainder of the colonies. General Burgoyne was to head south from Canada and meet up with General Howe near the Hudson. Burgoyne beat back the colonists and retook Ft. Ticonderoga. Meanwhile, Howe met Washington’s forces near the Chesapeake Bay. The British defeated the Americans in Pennsylvania. The two forces skirmished until Washington withdrew to Valley Forge to wait out the winter. Meanwhile, Howe’s move left Burgoyne’s forces vulnerable, and the Americans struck at what would become known as the Battle of Saratoga. This stunning victory prompted the French to enter into the battle, turning what had been a little conflict into a world war.
Despite learning military discipline and training during the long winter at Valley Forge, the rag-tag group of Americans were in a stalemate from 1778-1781. A number of stunning setbacks happened, including the defection of Benedict Arnold to the British. Nathanel Greene took over command of the American troops from General Gates, who had suffered some major defeats,
and the war began to wind down. Greene’s militia forced Cornwallis to retreat to Yorktown. With the powerful French fleet in the harbor, Cornwallis had no option except to surrender. Even though it was a stunning defeat for the British, the battle was not considered enough to send the British packing. That took another couple years.
Finally, British and American forces signed The Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783, signaling a formal end to the war that began over taxation without representation nearly ten years prior. So, should we be celebrating the declaration of our independence or celebrating the end of the conflict? I vote for both.
The History Channel