Relations between several of the English colonies in North America and the English imperial government in London deteriorated sharply following the French and Indian War. Finally freed from the threat of a French enemy on the frontier (see The Struggle for Colonial Control of North America), Americans wanted to begin developing the interior. But the English imperial authorities, reluctant to provoke further conflict with Native Americans, blocked westward expansion. Americans wanted to buy and sell wherever they pleased in world markets. But the English authorities wanted to control trade routes for their own benefit and especially to curtail American commerce with their longstanding enemies, the French. Most troublesome of all, the English wanted their North American colonies to help repay the great debt amassed in driving the French from North America. With that in mind, the imperial authorities began to impose various taxes upon the American colonies, which the colonists in turn regarded as illegitimate impositions.

Tensions mounted through the early 1770s and both sides stiffened their resolve. In 1774 the English imperial authorities passed legislation designed to crack down on the colony they regarded as most troublesome, Massachusetts. Boston was placed under military control. Colonial representatives from up and down the seaboard responded to those so-called Intolerable Acts by calling a Continental Congress to discuss what they regarded as a potential threat to all of them. On April 19, 1775, the British launched forays out from Boston to the nearby towns of Lexington and Concord, hoping to demonstrate their military might and to seize weapons from local militia units. When the local militia units confronted the English troops, small battles ensued, which are generally regarded as launching the American Revolution.

The module that follows depicts the principal military events in what would become an eight-year war. As you move along the time line, you will see four distinct stages of fighting: first in New England, then in the middle colonies, eventually along the Ohio River Valley, and finally in the southern colonies.

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