The clouds of dissent and dissolution thickened, men of vision saw the need for freedom from the “Great King across the water”...but, the King refused to heed and sent more troops and his Navy.
In 1774 George Washington was one of the delegates elected by
Virginia to attend the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The
Colonies, though torn by regional politics, were certain that they must heal
the breech with the King and sent resolutions and petitions that were mostly refused. Then came the first battles of rebellion in New England. Fighting spread and, alarmingly, more battles were being lost than won.
Although many Colonists, including Washington, had abhorred the idea of independence from England, they slowly came to realize that the ultimate outcome of a bitter struggle must be the complete freedom from all ties with the British government.
In May 1775 the 2nd Continental Congress understood that they must have one man as the Commanding General of the entire colonial military force. Would it be a New Englander? John Hancock, was then presiding over the Congress, and although Hancock had no real military experience he was hoping to be nominated. This troubled John Adams. He came to a thoughtful decision and brought before the assembly a motion that Congress adopt the forces then assembled at Cambridge as a Continental Army and appoint a Commanding General for it. But, he added, that it was not the proper time to nominate such a man as it would be a difficult choice, even though he was ready to propose the name of a a gentleman from VA.
George Washington, who had been sitting near the door, realized that Adams was hinting about him as nominee. Modestly, Washington quickly rose and left the assembly room.
On May 15th 1775, the decision was reached and the position was offered to the Colonel from Virginia, George Washington. In speaking to the Congress as he accepted their commission, Washington expressed his uncertainty, saying his ability and military experience might not be adequate to carry out the trust they had conferred on him . But, that he would exert his every power in the cause of the United States and if he failed, they were to remember his words. He refused the monthly salary that had been voted for the position and promised to keep careful expense accounts for which he would take reimbursement . In a letter to Martha he said that he “would enjoy more real happiness and felicity in a month with you ...than if my stay abroad (away) was to be seven times seven years. ”
A month later, June 17, 1775, while Washington was still making preparations to join the troops in New England, the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought. It was a brave fight, the British lost many men and important officers but they carried the day and the Americans, short on powder and lead, had to flee. A British colonel, dying from wounds said, ”A few such victories would ruin the Army”, and Nathaniel Greene, an American commander from Rhode Island remarked, ” I wish we could sell them another hill at the same price.”
For the next eight years, the British were his enemy in the field and the Continental Congress was in many things like an albatross around his neck. Washington and his troops outmaneuvered the British Army on one hand , while on the other, with wise words and patience, Washington reasoned and remonstrated with Congress.
Some of the major events these years were: 1775 - the siege of Boston. 1776 -Success came as the British left Boston but hope was fading that Canada could be saved. Continental Congress shocked the world as it officially broke with England and the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed. Howe defeated Washington at the Battle of Long Island , and occupied New York City. The victory of the American forces at Trenton ended the year on a more positive note. 1777 - Began with another American victory at Princeton; Howe entered Philadelphia and Congress had to flee. Then came the defeat at Germantown, but the surrender by British General Burgoyne at Saratoga was greeted with much relief. The winter at Valley Forge was harsh but spirits and hopes brighten when France became our ally early in 1778. It was said that Washington’s men had never seen such delight on their Commander’s face. The Marquis de Lafayette was so excited he kissed Washington on both cheeks to demonstrate his joy. The wilderness area,in Pennsylvania known as Wyoming seemed to burst into flame and destruction on July 3, 1778 as British troops and the Indians of the Iroquois League ravaged along the central Susquehanna River. In the South, Savannah, GA was captured by the British. Then, in mid-November, the town of Cherry Valley, NY at the upper reaches of the Susquehanna was destroyed and many residents killed or taken prisoner.
1779- An attempt to retake Savannah failed, and Charleston ,NC fell as the British began a campaign to conquer the Southern colonies. In the North , General Sullivan was sent by Washington to march through the ”Lake country” of New York and subdue the Indian population. Cornwallis was cornered at Yorktown and with the arrival of the French fleet was put under siege. On October 19,1781, Cornwallis surrendered . Britain now realized that they can’t continue fighting America and France at the same time and the war essentially ended. Still, Washington knew he must keep the American forces intact and ready to answer any new outbreaks by the British until the final peace agreement was signed in France.
In 1782, a year after the victory over Cornwallis, many American soldiers had not been paid for several years for their services and there was considerable unrest in the ranks. When some word of a plan to mutiny and march on the Congress at Philadelphia reached the Commander in Chief he arranged to meet the officers in a face to face meeting. When the General completed speaking on the matter, he withdrew a letter from his pocket and began to read the pledge of a Congressman to redeem the debt owed by the nation to the Army. After a paragraph he stopped and in a moment produced a pair of eyeglasses. “Gentlemen, you must pardon me,” he remarked,” I have grown gray in your service and now I find I am growing blind.” Finishing the reading of the letter, he turned and left. The thought of their commander having given so much touched the men’s hearts and they decided to let their demands be carried to Congress by this man they had followed so long.
On April 19, 1783, the 8th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, the announcement was made of the signing of the Peace Treaty ay Versailles. The War of the American Revolution had ended.
Washington spent several months winding up his responsibilities. Then, in late November, as the British flag no longer flew over New York City, he consented to go there. After seven years of occupation, a triumphant ride down Broadway was in order, but only if the American flag was flying. Today we honor our nation’s heroes in a similar events. It was at the Fraunces Tavern in New York that he met with his officers’ in farewell. A somber moment, many wept as they did not expect to see him again. Glasses were raised in a final toast and each man came forward to shake his hand and silently embrace. There were more receptions, grand balls, parades, bells, and cannon salutes in his honor as he traveled through Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore, on his way to Mount Vernon.
Congress gathered in Maryland’s State House at Annapolis on December 23, 1783 to hear from this amazing leader.The man who had once expressed his doubts about his abilities to be Commander -in- Chief, now stood before them victorious. Thomas Mifflin, the presiding officer, greeted Washington and said to him, “...the United States in Congress assembled are prepared to receive your communication. “ Twenty members leaned forward to hear his remarks. With trembling hands the paper was opened and all there listened carefully to his written address. As Washington commended his country to the providence of Almighty God, his voice broke. Then he removed from his pocket his commission, penned in 1775, and presented it to Thomas Mifflin saying, “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, and bid an affectionate farewell to this august body under whose orders I have so long acted. I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all employments of public life.” Little did he know!