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View series: The United States: a territorial history

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The War of Independence

This map is part of a series of 20 animated maps showing the history of The United States: a territorial history.

The Declaration of Independence, signed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, marked a complete rupture between the 13 colonies and Great Britain.

Nevertheless, not all the colonists wanted independence and many “loyalists”, who preferred to maintain links with the Crown, decided to migrate to Canada.

The first clashes between British troops and American militias had taken place more than a year earlier in the area near Boston. George Washington was named Commander in Chief of the American army that was still not fully organized.

After an unsuccessful attack against Canada, the battle zone moved to New York. The British Army’s military superiority forced Washington to abandon the city and retreat towards the West.

By mid winter, the series of British successes had been broken by American victories at Trenton and Princeton in New Jersey.

In September 1777, the English troops were in control of New York and went on to take Philadelphia, forcing the Congress to flee the capital.

The following month, American troops captured Saratoga following a battle against a British regiment sent from Canada. This victory marked the turning point, as it gave Benjamin Franklin an opportunity to negotiate an alliance with France, which had supplied arms to the insurgents since the beginning of the war.

Later Spain signed an alliance with the Americans, followed by the Netherlands.

After a terrible winter camped at Valley Forge, General Washington, assisted by the Prussian Baron Von Steuben, succeeded in transforming his demoralized troops into a properly organized army.

Unable to obtain a decisive victory, the British decided to take the war into the Southern colonies, seeking support from the local population, whom they thought was predominantly loyal.

In May 1780, Charleston fell to the British after a siege lasting many weeks. This was a major military set-back for the American forces.

The last major battle took place at Yorktown where the British, commanded by Charles Cornwallis, had set up camp while waiting for reinforcements. The French fleet blocked access to Chesapeake Bay while the American troops led by Washington and Rochambeau set siege to the town.

Cornwallis surrendered on October 19 and the British were obliged to begin peace negotiations.

The Peace Treaty was finally signed in Paris on September 3, 1783. England recognized the 13 colonies as free and sovereign states and handed over all the territory east of the Mississippi River.

The last British troops left New York in November.