The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis in 1778 - North American Colonies

Taken from The British Empire in the Nineteenth Century (1898) by Edgar Sanderson

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During 1778 and the two succeeding years, the British troops were often successful in the field, especially in the southern states, and Washington himself was again defeated. In 1781 the persistence of the leader and the faithful adherents of the American cause was rewarded by a great and finally decisive success. On October 19th, at Yorktown, in the east of Virginia, Lord Cornwallis, with about 7000 men, blockaded on land by Washington and the French general La Fayette, and by a French fleet on the coast, held out until his last cartridge was spent, and then had no resource but surrender. It was felt by both sides that the end had now virtually come. It was two o'clock in the morning when the momentous news arrived at Philadelphia, and the people were awakened by the watchmen's cry "Past two o'clock and Cornwallis is taken". The streets were soon thronged with joyous crowds, and Congress, meeting at an early hour, marched in procession to the Lutheran church to make thanksgivings for this glorious issue. On Sunday at noon of November 25th, more than five weeks after the event had occurred, the British cabinet received the ominous news. Lord North, faithful to his king and to what he had held to be the righteous cause, cried in his distress "O God! it is all over". He had never uttered truer words than those.

The incidents of the war included successes for privateers who were let loose by Washington on British commerce with disastrous results. Five hundred ships were taken, and the famous Paul Jones, of Scottish birth, commanding a vessel called The Ranger, attacked Whitehaven, in Cumberland, in 1778, set fire to the shipping, and plundered the Earl of Selkirk's mansion. In the following year, on board of his 42-gun frigate, the Bon Homme Richard, he threatened Leith, and, attacking a convoy of merchantmen in the North Sea, he captured, after a most sanguinary fight, the British war-sloop Serapis, off Flamborough Head. Her consort was also taken by another ship of Paul Jones' little squadron.

Even after Yorktown, the Americans were in a position of much difficulty, though the end of the struggle was well assured, when their antagonist was faced in Europe by the forces of France and Holland and Spain. The colonists, however, had lost all their foreign trade; the currency was worthless; tillage and manufactures had been neglected; countless villages and homesteads had been burned. Charleston was held by the British for more than a year, … continue reading »

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