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Virginia Studies 5 (VS5) Notes

VS5a Reasons for Independence

In the early 1700s, England became Great Britain. What didn’t change was that Great Britain wanted control over the 13 colonies as they grew and prospered. One of the main disagreements between Great Britain and the colonies was in the area of government. The British Parliament believed that it had the legal right to govern, or rule the colonies. The colonies believed that their local assemblies should have this authority. After all, the colonies were very different from Great Britain. Laws were needed that would deal with these differences.

In addition, the British Parliament believed that it had the right to tax the colonists and it began to pass new tax laws. A tax is money that citizens are required to pay their government. This made the colonists very angry because they believed they should not be taxed since they had no representation in Parliament.

King George III and the British lawmakers did not listen. They were determined to raise money for Great Britain by taxing the colonies. New tax laws were passed and enforced in the colonies. One of these laws required the colonists to pay a tax to get married, buy land, or print a newspaper. Another forced colonists to pay a tax when they bought things like paint, paper, glass, or tea from Great Britain. If the colonists did not pay the taxes, they would be punished in British courts.

Problems between Great Britain and the colonies continued to grow. In 1774 representatives from all 13 colonies met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This meeting was known as the Continental Congress. The Congress asked the king to repeal, or undo all unfair laws and give the colonists the rights and freedoms of British citizens. When King George did not respond, the colonists prepared for war.

In April of 1775, the first shots of the war rang out in Concord, Massachusetts. One year later, as the fighting continued, the Second Continental Congress met to declare that the colonies were free and independent states. The Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson, a Virginian, expressed the reasons for independence from Great Britain and ideas for self-government. It declared that the authority to govern belonged to the people rather than to kings and that all people were created equal and had rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

VS5b Virginians and the American Revolution

In addition to Thomas Jefferson’s political leadership, other Virginians made significant contributions to the American Revolution, or Revolutionary War era.

A Virginia plantation owner by the name of George Washington was chosen as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Washington’s army of patriots was made up of brave men from all over Virginia and the other colonies. Washington provided much needed military leadership to the rough, inexperienced colonial troops.

Another Virginian by the name of Patrick Henry inspired patriots from other colonies when he spoke out against the unfair British tax laws. He believed that war was the only answer to the growing problems with Great Britain. In a famous speech in the city of Richmond, Virginia he stated, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me… give me liberty or give me death!”

James Armistead Lafayette, a enslaved African American from Virginia, served in the Continental Army. At the end of the war he was successful in gaining his freedom.

Whites, enslaved African Americans, free African Americans, and American Indians all had different roles during the Revolutionary War. Virginians from all walks of life served in the Continental Army. These patriots fought for independence that finally led to the British surrender at Yorktown. Soldiers were not the only citizens supporting the war effort. Brave farmers, merchants, traders, craftsmen, and even ministers joined the fight for independence.

Although many Virginians supported the war, some Virginians remained neutral. They did not take sides in the conflict. Other colonists called Loyalists wanted to remain loyal to the king and their homeland of Great Britain.

VS 5c Major Events in Virginia during the American Revolution

On December 9, 1775, the Battle of Great Bridge was fought. It was the first land battle fought in Virginia during the American Revolution.

Norfolk was captured by the patriots. The bombardment and complete destruction of Norfolk three weeks later forced Lord Dunmore, the British colonial governor, to flee the city. In fact a cannon ball fired from the British ship carrying Lord Dunmore as he fled the city still remains inside the southeast wall of St. Paul’s Church in Norfolk. British authority in the Virginia colony was at an end.

Jack Jouett served as a captain in the 16th regiment of the Virginia militia during the American Revolution. In 1781, while the Virginia General Assembly was in session at Charlottesville some forty miles away, Jack Jouett found out that the British were planning to arrest Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, Patrick Henry, and other key members of the Virginia legislature. He rode horseback through the backwoods of Virginia from Louisa County to Charlottesville to warn Jefferson and the others. His brave actions prevented the British from capturing the assemblymen.

Stuart Gibbony, president of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, said in 1926: “But for Captain Jack Jouett’s heroic ride, there would have been no Yorktown and the Revolutionists would have been only unsuccessful rebels.”

On October 19, 1781, after six long years of fighting, the British army led by General Lord Cornwallis surrendered to the Continental Army at Yorktown, Virginia. The American victory at Yorktown resulted in the defeat of the British army which led to an end to the war.