“The American colonists who took up arms in 1775 were prepared to fight for their rights and for representation — as British subjects. No one demanded independence from Great Britain. But the Crown’s superbly stubborn insistence on unquestioning loyalty and unquestioned obedience turned the colonists’ resistance into a rebellion.
George III, with his Hanoverian determination, some Hessian troops, and a Tory government staunchly short-sighted, turned the Americans’ rebellion into a revolution.
It might have been otherwise. But, as Captain John Parker said to his Minutemen as they formed up before the scarlet column of British grenadiers on Lexington green, ‘Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!’
Colonial craftsman Paul Revere was a skilled and talented silversmith whose highly valued work is in many famous collections today.
The esteemed silversmith is, of course, equally known for that famous ride when he alerted the Lexington militiamen, ‘The British are coming!’ Paul Revere drew and engraved political cartoons that helped stimulate the Revolution. He engraved and printed Continental paper money to help pay for the war. He manufactured gunpowder and cast cannon to fight the British.
One-fifth of the population in colonial America were craftsmen. Eighteenth-century urban centers, such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia, relied more and more on local craftsmen to produce goods that could not be readily imported from Europe. Rural towns and villages far away from shipping centers supported their own artisans who produced windowpanes, clothing and silver buckles, salt shakers, teaspoons and soup ladles.
Because craftsmen were a vital part of colonial economy, they became a powerful political force as well. Artisans could be found in every level of society, from the privileged urban gentry to the white indentured servants and Negro slaves. Each rank hoped to improve its status. As early as 1732 the British Parliament tried to squelch production in America to protect British manufacturers. In that year Parliament passed the Hat Act, restricting colonial hatters to two apprentices and prohibiting hat exports. The Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767 inadvertently encouraged self-sufficiency in America by making it expensive and unpopular to import European goods. When war came, colonial craftsmen and their skills stood on the side of the patriots.
“Rise of the Spirit of Independence”
A ‘Spirit of Independence’ emerged among the colonists in eighteenth-century America. That spirit grew and solidified as men communicated their ideals of political democracy, free press and freedom of conscience.
The Pamphleteer — The printer’s shop was the information center of colonial America. As antagonism increased between the colonies and Britain, the political pamphlet became an important product of the printer’s shop — virtually every literate American read Tom Paine’s challenge for independence, Common Sense.
Posting a Broadside — As war approached, broadsides spread the news of unfolding events. News printed on one side of a single sheet of paper was posted on a prominent wall or board.
The Post Rider — Colonists relied on the continental postal service for news from other towns. The post rider, his saddlebags filled with letters and newspapers, rode 25 miles or more each day, stopping at towns and settlements to deliver and pick up mail.
The Drummer — In the field, the drummer marked the colonial soldier’s daily routine – assembled the militiamen, paced the marching ranks, signaled battle moves, accompanied military ceremonies. At Lexington and at Concord, his beat mustered farmers, merchants and lawyers against the British regulars.
Boston Tea Party
Bostonians thinly disguised as Indians boarded three ships in Boston Harbor on the night of December 16, 1773. The early evening rain had stopped. Hushed crowds watched with approval as they heard the firm whacks of hatchets breaking open 340 chests of tea. The tea was thrown overboard. In less than three hours the Boston Tea Party was over.
This was not the first protest against British taxes on colonists who had no representatives in Parliament. The colonists destroyed the tax stamps required by the Stamp Act of 1765 to be affixed to all legal documents. Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, but in 1767 passed the Townshend Acts which increased duties in the colonies on paper, tea and glass.
Then Parliament attempted to rescue the East India Company from financial disaster — at the colonies’ expense. The East India Company was to have a monopoly on tea trade in the colonies. Though tea would be priced lower in Boston than in London, the colonists would pay a hidden duty on the tea.
Again, colonists protested. One ship arrived in Charleston. The cargo was unloaded, but patriots stashed the tea in a cellar. In New York and Philadelphia, the ships were forced to return to England with the tea still on board. And in Boston — the Tea Party.
As early in 1774, the British Parliament responded to the Boston Tea Party with what the colonists called the ‘Intolerable Acts.’ The Port of Boston was to be closed and remain closed until the destroyed tea was paid for.
On May 28, 1774, the Virginia House of Burgesses called for a meeting of representatives from each colony. In September some fifty delegates to the First Continental Congress gathered at Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia.
Before adjourning in October, the First Continental Congress approved a petition to be sent to the British king, listing the colonies’ rights. George III ignored the assembly’s petition.
Tension was running high on May 10, 1775 when the Second Continental Congress convened in Pennsylvania’s State House (now called Independence Hall). ‘I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!’ Patrick Henry had cried, as he urged Virginia planters to arm the colonial militia. ‘We’ve fired on the king’s men,’ whispered the farmers of Lexington and Concord. And in the early morning hours of May 10, Ethan Allen shouted to the British commandant at Ticonderoga, ‘Come out and surrender!’
Congress established a Continental Army and Navy. George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief. Benjamin Franklin became postmaster general. The Second Continental Congress had begun forming a new nation.
“Contributors to the Cause”
Colonists everywhere were ready to fight. The Continental Congress was a standing body, Shots had been fired at the king’s troops, Independence must now be won. In the six-year Revolutionary War, many would be called to contribute. Each person would have to make the decision — do I side with the king or do I side with the patriots? Many gave their courage, their fortunes, their lives. Of the countless who did ‘Contribute to the Cause,’ four are remembered here.
Sybil Ludington — Youthful Heroine. On the dark night of April 26, 1777, 16-vear-old Sybil Ludington rode her horse Star alone through the New York and Connecticut countryside rallying her father’s militia to repel a raid by the British on Danbury.
Peter Francisco — Fighter Extraordinary. Peter Francisco’s strength and bravery made him a legend around campfires. He fought with distinction at Brandywine, Yorktown and Guilford Court House.
Haym Salomon — Financial Hero. Businessman and broker Haym Salomon was responsible for raising most of the money needed to finance the American Revolution and later to save the new nation from collapse.
Salem Poor — Gallant Soldier. The conspicuously courageous actions of black foot-soldier Salem Poor at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, earned him citations for his bravery and leadership ability.
Lexington and Concord
‘We have fired upon the king’s men!’
The first shot was fired at Lexington Green.
British regulars marched out of Boston on the night of April 18, 1775, on an expedition to capture the military stores in Concord and to remind the rebellious Americans that the British crown was the supreme authority. The British returned to Boston badly shaken. On the morning of the 19th they had met 130 men of Captain John Parker’s Lexington Minute Company standing in rough formation on Lexington Green. Someone fired a shot. Panic broke out. Eight Americans killed. One British soldier wounded.
Five miles further down the road, assembled men waited in Concord. Most of the supplies the British had come to capture were already hidden or carried on to Worcester. The colonial companies moved across the Concord River to watch as British troops advanced toward Concord, destroying what military supplies they could find hidden in farm houses. When reinforcements arrived from nearby villages, the colonial militia marched down to the North Bridge, defended by three British light infantry companies. The British fired on the approaching Americans. Battle broke out again.
Faced with unexpected resistance, the British retreated. From Concord to Lexington to Boston, along a winding strip that was seldom more than a few hundred yards wide, 73 king’s men lay dead.
In April 1775 some 20,000 militiamen had hastily gathered in the Boston area to repel the British. The Committee of Safety learned in June of British plans to occupy the outlying heights of Dorchester and Charlestown, from which the rebels might bombard Boston. Colonel William Prescott and 1,000 men, sent to entrench on Bunker Hill, inexplicably passed over Bunker Hill and took up their position on Breed’s Hill.
Two times the British regulars advanced up the hill, pushing through thick grass and climbing over fences. Two times the Americans waited until the British were upon them before opening fire. The British advanced a third time. With the last of their ammunition, the Americans fired one more volley. The British swept over the parapet, forcing an American retreat across Bunker Hill.
The American casualties numbered 100 dead, 271 wounded. The British suffered their heaviest losses of the war — of the 2,500 king’s troops engaged in battle, 826 were wounded, 228 were dead.
Military Services Bicentennial
“TO ALL BRAVE, HEALTHY, ABLE BODIED, AND WELL DISPOSED YOUNG MEN, IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD, WHO HAVE ANY INCLINATION TO JOIN THE TROOPS, NOW RAISING UNDER GENERAL WASHINGTON, FOR THE DEFENSE OF THE LIBERTIES AND INDEPENDENCE OF THE UNITED STATES.”
Independence was declared. An Army must be raised. A Navy commissioned. General Washington and the Continental Congress continually faced the problem of recruiting soldiers. Recruiters often delivered arousing, martial speech outside a village tavern and bought a round of drinks for the men and boys that gathered. Hopefully, ale and fiery words would inspire enlistment.
This Continental Army uniform was seen in action at Guilford Court House, Cowpens, Eutaw Springs and other engagements.
The Continental Navy stamp shows an ordinary seaman, in the uniform he would have worn in action with John Paul Jones on the Bonhomme Richard.
The Continental Marines — whose most daring action was a raid on Nassau to capture badly needed military supplies — sailed with Jones on the Ranger.
The American Militia — from Lexington and Concord to victory at Yorktown — served in a variety of dress, the colors, kit, and accoutrements varying with state and local units.
Declaration of Independence
It was August 2, 1776. The formal signing of the Declaration of Independence. Delegate William Ellery of Rhode Island sat where he could see each man write his name on the document. ‘I was determined,’ he wrote afterward, ‘to see how they all looked as they signed what might be their death warrants… Undaunted resolution was displayed on every countenance.’ The men who signed the document that day did not know if their actions would lead to death — or American independence.
On July 1 the initial roll call on independence, an official poll, was recorded. Two days earlier, Thomas Jefferson had turned over to the Continental Congress the draft of the declaration he had written with the advice of his committee: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. The vote was taken. New York delegates were in favor of the declaration but abstained, awaiting instructions from their colony. Pennsylvania was opposed. South Carolina — opposed. The Delaware vote was split. The remaining nine colonies voted ‘aye.’
On July 2 a second vote was taken. Caesar Rodney, Delaware’s third delegate, had ridden all night through a rainstorm to be present. He broke his delegation’s tie vote. Twelve votes of approval. New York still abstained.
On July 3 the document was read and voted on, paragraph by paragraph. By the evening of July 4, revisions of Jefferson’s draft were completed. John Hancock, president of Congress, boldly signed the Declaration of Independence. The great bell in the State House tower was rung. Crowds cheered, cannons boomed, church bells pealed. The word ‘colony’ was not to be used again.
Washington Crossing the Delaware
By winter of 1776 the Americans had retreated from New York. Washington’s men were forced back across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Congress, fearing Philadelphia would fall next, fled to Baltimore.
For the British, the year’s campaign was over; the defeated American forces were reduced to a pitifully low number.
Washington nourished one slim hope — a surprise attack on Trenton. If he failed, the Delaware River would be at his back. His army would be destroyed. If he succeeded, the cause of American independence would not die. The troops began their march on Christmas Day. That night, as they started across the Delaware, rain and sleet came driven by gusty winds. Safely across after midnight, the Americans began the nine-mile march to Trenton.
The surprise at Trenton was complete. On the morning of December 26 the Americans swept into the town. Hessians poured out, forming for battle and advancing northward up the two main streets. Washington drove them back two times. General Sullivan took and held the bridge over Assunpink Creek, at the south end of town. Retreat Hessians was impossible. American victory was complete. Nine hundred and twenty Hessians were taken prisoner. Four Americans were wounded.
Washington chose Valley Forge (he called it a ‘dreary kind of place’) for his winter quarters in 1777. His buoyancy after the victories at Trenton and Princeton had been short lived. Battles at Brandywine Creek (September) and Germantown (October) were lost. The British General William Howe occupied Philadelphia.
For the third winter Washington helplessly watched his army begin to disintegrate. Poorly clothed, hungry men died all too easily in the bitter cold. Men deserted. Others went home at the end of their enlistments.
Then Washington received welcome news: a treaty of alliance signed with France in February 1778. Guns and ammunition could now come to America with official sanction.
Washington equally welcomed the arrival at Valley Forge of Major General Baron von Steuben, former officer under Frederick the Great of Prussia. von Steuben began drilling the army in the winter snow. His only handicap was his command of the English language- words would fail him at drill and he would turn to others to swear at the troops for him. Washington’s men, delighted with von Steuben, worked hard under his training. When Washington broke camp in the spring, he at last led a well-trained force.
In the years following the winter at Valley Forge, the war moved south. By mid-1781 General Nathaniel Greene had driven the British out of Georgia and the Carolinas.
In Virginia, Cornwallis and his army occupied Yorktown. On September 28, the allied armies of Rochambeau and Washington arrived to lay siege to Yorktown. Cornwallis moved his forces to the inner defense line, hoping this consolidation would make the defense tenable until he received reinforcements from General Clinton. Clinton, who promised to arrive in a few days, did not sail from New York until October 19.
By October 16, the British cause clearly was hopeless. At 10 a.m. the next morning, a British drummer mounted a parapet and began to beat a parley. Firing ceased. A blindfolded British officer, taken through American lines, brought the request for an armistice.
On the afternoon of October 19, dressed in bright new uniforms, the defeated army marched out from Yorktown, as its bands played an old English tune, ‘The World Turned Upside Down.’
George Washington wrote to Congress that same day, “I have the Honor to inform Congress that a Reduction of the British Army under the Command of Lord Cornwallis, is most happily effected.” The siege at Yorktown was ended. The war was won.
“Spirit of 76″
The ‘Spirit of 76.’ It has endured for two hundred years.
It was there — unformed and unnamed — the night disguised patriots threw chests of British-taxed tea into Boston Harbor.
It became a fearful reality as rebel drum beats summoned Minutemen to Lexington Green.
It was proudly declared in that summer of 1776, when men signed their names to a document that began, ‘When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…’
It was formally conceded by the British five years later, on the fields of Yorktown, as the American, General Lincoln, received the sword of defeated Cornwallis.
Many fought to keep that spirit alive. Young, old, famous, unknown. Benjamin Franklin was 70 the year he signed the Declaration of Independence.
Peter Francisco was 15 the year he enlisted in the Continental Army. Sybil Ludington was 16 when she rode through the New York and Connecticut countryside alerting her father’s militiamen.
We will never know most of those who felt the ‘Spirit of 76.’ Salem Poor represents many unknown heroes whose courage and valor were necessary to keep that spirit alive. A painting, done by Archibald M. Willard in 1876, shows how the spirit continued in the consciousness of Americans, as it continues today — part hope, part dream, an ideal that points toward the future even as it reflects the past — the ‘Spirit of 76.’
American Revolution Bicentennial Symbol — 1971
Designer: Chermayeff and Geismar
Issued: July 4, 1971, Washington, DC
The first commemorative stamp of a series planned for issuance throughout the Bicentennial Era was introduced on July 4, 1971. The vertical design reproduces the central detail of the official symbol created for the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission by the New York design firm of Chermayeff and Geismar. The Bicentennial symbol is a five- pointed star outlined in red, white and blue rounded contours. Dedication of this stamp signaled the beginning of Postal Service participation in the Bicentennial Observance.
Colonial Craftsmen — 1972
The second issue in the Postal Service series saluting the Bicentennial Era was a block of four stamps depicting colonial craftsmen at work. Three of the four crafts shown-glassmaking, wigmaking and hatmaking — were introduced in Virginia. Silver crafting began in Boston. The stamps were first sold in Williamsburg, Virginia, a city reconstructed to resemble the colonial capital.
Designer: Leonard Everett Fisher
Issued: July 4, 1972, Williamsburg, VA
Rise of the Spirit of Independence — 1973
This series of four Bicentennial stamps, issued separately during 1973, emphasizes the vital role of communications as colonists moved toward independence. The Pamphleteer stamp notes the contributions of the pamphleteer and the printer, whose efforts united patriots and kept their courage high. Thomas Paine, the most famous pamphleteer, is best remembered for writing ‘These are times that try men’s souls’ in his pamphlet, The American Crisis.
The second stamp in the series recognizes the importance of broadsides, the wall posters which were prominently displayed to keep colonial Americans aware of the events and issues of the times. Some broadsides were news while others were propaganda.
The Post Rider stamp, third in the series, depicts delivery of mail by horseback. In the colonies, the postage rate was as expensive as the mail delivery was slow. Post riders using the best known mail route, the Boston Post Road, were expected to complete a round trip from Boston to New York in a month.
The fourth stamp is the only one in the series suggesting armed conflict. Drums in those days often were used to sound alarms and the central figure in the stamp design is using one to summon his neighbors to defend their homes.
Designer: William A. Smith
Issued: Pamphleteer — February 10, 1973, Portland, OR
Broadside — April 13, 1973, Atlantic City, NJ
Post Rider — June 22, 1973, Rochester, NY
Drummer — September 28, 1973, New Orleans, LA
Boston Tea Party — 1973
This block of four stamps — each a design entity — combines to depict the scene that night in 1773 when enraged colonists, inspired by Samuel Adams, dumped chests of tea into Boston Harbor in protest of an English-levied tax. In reprisal for the Boston Tea Party, the British Parliament passed what colonists called the Intolerable Acts. An angry George III wrote his prime minister, ‘The die is now cast. The colonies must either submit or triumph.’ Revolution was inevitable.
Designer: William A. Smith
Issued: July 4, 1973, Boston, MA
Continental Congress — 1974
This block of four stamps commemorates the 200th anniversary of the start of the process that led in two years to the colonists’ formal break with England. Two of the stamps call attention to the First Continental Congress, which assembled at Philadelphia in 1774. These show Carpenter’s Hall, where this body met, and words written there (‘We ask but for peace, liberty and safety’). The other two stamps honor the Second Continental Congress, depicting Independence Hall and words from the Declaration of Independence (‘Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed’).
Designer: Frank P. Conley
Issued: July 4, 1974, Philadelphia, PA
Contributors to the Cause — 1975
This set of stamps was issued as commemoration of the Bicentennial of the American Revolution continued. All four Contributors to the Cause stamps were designed by Neil Boyle. Each was issued on March 25 in the city indicated. On the reverse of each is printed a thumbnail account of the individual’s contribution to the American Revolution. The stamps honor patriots half forgotten by history.
Paul Revere was not the only patriot who rode by night to warn of peril. Sybil Ludington, when but sixteen, is reported to have ridden forty miles to muster the militia commanded by her father, Colonel Henry Ludington. Thus alerted, the militia formed to fight the British returning from the sack of Danbury, Connecticut, in 1777. The British lost a tenth of their forces to the militiamen and were forced to retreat to the safety of ships at Fairfield.
Issued: Carmel, NY
Salem Poor, a free black, left his home in Andover, Massachusetts, to enlist in the militia and had his baptism of fire at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. He fought with such distinction that fourteen officers on the same field petitioned the Massachusetts government to bestow on Poor ‘the Reward due to so great and Distinguished a Character.’ There is no record of him receiving any such reward. Poor also served at White Plains and Valley Forge. He symbolizes Revolutionary War participation by blacks, whose role in the conflict was until lately largely ignored by historians.
Issued: Cambridge, MA
Of the four persons honored in the ‘Contributors to the Cause’ set, Haym Salomon has received the most attention from historians. A Polish-born Jew, Salomon came to New York, where he was twice jailed by the British for his revolutionary activities as a member of the Sons of Liberty. He later became a successful banker and broker. It takes money to wage war, and Salomon fought for liberty with the best weapon at his command — a prestigious skill for raising money, often to bail out a bankrupt Continental Congress. He gave generously, and without repayment, of his personal funds and died penniless.
Issued: Chicago, IL
Peter Francisco, believed to have been of Portuguese birth, joined the Continental Army at fifteen and fought in seven major battles, including the final one at Yorktown. He was a giant of a man and his feats were legendary. One of his trademarks was a five-foot broadsword. So great was his strength that he was said to have shouldered a cannon weighing more than one thousand pounds. When he died years after the Revolution, LaFayette was notified and sent sympathy to Francisco’s widow, remembering this man who had been a private in the army.
Issued: Greensboro, NC
Battles of Lexington and Concord — 1975
Earlier there had been the Boston Massacre, where American taunts drew British bullets, but it was at Lexington and Concord, on April 19, 1775, that Americans first pulled triggers on the Redcoats. At Lexington, the British easily won by sheer force of numbers. But at Concord they were turned back and suffered heavy losses during the retreat to Charlestown. As Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, there was fired “the shot heard ’round the world.” The stamp, which shows action at Lexington and is based upon a painting by Henry Sandham, continues postal recognition of the Bicentennial of the American Revolution.
Designer: Bradbury Thompson
Issued: April 19, Lexington and Concord, MA
Battle of Bunker Hill — 1975
The Battle of Bunker Hill was a British victory paid for at disastrous price. Of all English officers killed in the Revolution, one eighth fell in this battle. When Washington learned of the courage displayed by raw Continental troops, he said, ‘The country is safe.’ This stamp incorporates the left portion of a painting by John Trumbull depicting the death of Major General Joseph Warren. The right portion of the painting was the subject of a six-cent stamp issued in 1968. The painting is in the Trumbull collection at Yale University, where the artist is buried.
Designer: Bradbury Thompson
Issued: June 17, Charlestown, MA
200th Anniversary of U.S. Military Services — 1975
Other uniforms were worn by many of the estimated quarter million men who fought in the American Revolution, but these on the stamps are representative. The militiaman, who fought in his civilian clothes, fought all the way — from Lexington and Concord to Yorktown. Soldiers who wore the uniform depicted on the stamp fought chiefly in the mid-Atlantic colonies. The sailor made naval history with John Paul Jones. The most daring feat of the marines was a raid on Nassau. The set of four stamps is in the Bicentennial of the American Revolution series of commemorative stamps.
Designer: Edward Vebell
Issued: July 4, Washington, DC
Signing of the Declaration of Independence — 1976
This strip of four stamps commemorates a significant milestone in the American struggle for independence — the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia. The stamps reproduce a portion of a painting by John Trumbull, an artist of the Revolutionary period who became famous for his ambitious and detailed portrayals of events and personalities of the struggle for freedom. The stamps were issued on the 200th anniversary of the event they salute.
Designer: Vincent Hoffman
Issued: July 4, 1976, Philadelphia, PA
Bicentennial Souvenir Sheets — 1976
During the Bicentennial year the United States was host to INTERPHIL 76, the Seventh International Philatelic Exhibition, which took place in Philadelphia. Four large souvenir sheets with Bicentennial themes were issued during the exhibition. Reproduced on the sheets are details from famous paintings portraying events of the Revolutionary period. Depicted are Washington Crossing the Delaware, Washington at Valley Forge, the Signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. Overprinting and perforations permit five portions of each sheet to be removed and used as postage stamps.
Designer: Vincent Hoffman
Issued: May 29, 1976, Philadelphia, PA
Spirit of 76 — 1976
This strip of three Spirit of 76 commemorative stamps was placed on sale on January 1 at Pasadena, California, during the annual Tournament of Roses parade. The strip was the first 1976 commemorative issue and it coincided with the official start of the nation’s Bicentennial Year Observance. The design reproduces the central portion of the famous painting by Archibald M. Willard of a Revolutionary War fife and drum trio. The three stamps together form a design entity perforated so as to make each of the three figures in the painting appear as the principal subject of a single stamp.
Designer: Vincent Hoffman
Issued: January 1, 1976, Pasadena, CA”
-Excerpt and images courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library, Google, University of Michigan, “A heritage collection of United States stamps commemorating the Bicentennial,” by the U.S. Postal Service, Washington, 1976