8 Key Figures from the Revolutionary War

key figures from the revolutionary war

The Revolutionary War, otherwise known as the American Revolution, was a battle for independence fought between the United States (then the Continental Colonies) and Great Britain that spanned the years of 1775 to 1783. The conflict was the result of mounting tension between the colonists and the colonial government, which was an extension of the British crown’s authority. Throughout the war, a number of individuals played essential roles for their respective parties, with the following individuals standing out for their bravery, intelligence, and leadership.

Ethan Allen

Born in 1738, Ethan Allen was credited with commanding the Green Mountain Boys in the victory at Fort Ticonderoga, a battle which later became known as the United States’ first success during the Revolutionary War. While the Green Mountain Boys may have been instrumental in this battle, the group didn’t start with militaristic intentions. Allen first arranged the group as a contingent that worked against the New York Supreme Court, which was pushing to invalidate Allen’s ownership of land he had legally purchased. The mission of the group changed in 1775 when the Green Mountain Boys aided the Patriots in fending off Great Britain during the American Revolution. Due to the group’s ability to infiltrate and surround Great Britain’s troops, the fight was easily won and remains Allen’s most notable victory. Further, and in tandem with Benedict Arnold, Allen and his men went on to topple several poorly fortified British holdouts. However, in an attempt to seize Montreal, Allen was captured and imprisoned in England. He returned to North America after his sentence and lived in Vermont, then known as the Vermont Republic.

Benedict Arnold

Before defecting to the British army, Benedict Arnold had a humble upbringing in which he began serving in the militia at an early age. Shortly after joining the militia, Arnold established himself as one of George Washington’s most trusted generals. As a general, Arnold quickly recognized how valuable New York was to the Patriots’ cause and assembled a unit of men and marched on Fort Ticonderoga. With the help of Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, Fort Ticonderoga soon fell under American control.

Yet as Arnold’s success grew, so did his pride. Though he was promoted to Brigadier General, Arnold became frustrated that he was repeatedly being looked over for promotion to the rank of Major General. After being passed over five times, Arnold began to express his outrage, threatening to resign from military service. In efforts to keep one of his best men, George Washington rewarded Arnold with a military commander post in Philadelphia and a promotion to Major General in 1777. With mounting frustration between Arnold and the other Continental officials came a poor reputation that led to Arnold being suspected of treason. Arnold was later found guilty of providing the British with critical information for taking control of West Point, a post he was in command of. After escaping the United States death penalty by fleeing to England, Arnold would go on to become the most notorious traitors in American history when he later served against the Patriots as a member of the British army.

Elijah Clarke

Though much of the information regarding the life of Elijah Clarke contains conflicting points, it is believed that Elijah Clarke was born circa 1742 in North Carolina. At the start of the Revolutionary War, Clarke provided support to the Patriots, taking the helm of a Georgian partisan militant force that fended off the British, as well as the aggressive Creek and Cherokee Native Americans. Clarke and his group of fighters defeated a loyalist militia in February 1779, and later participated in a guerilla campaign against British forces in the South Carolina backcountry. After being wounded in the Battle of Musgrove’s Mill, Clarke settled into a position serving Georgia’s legislature in 1781, but still lead militia in battles against Native Americans who were unhappy with the theft of their tribal lands. Clarke’s actions during the Revolutionary War has earned him consideration as one of its essential heroes who fought through numerous battle wounds and a number of diseases, including smallpox.

Alexander Hamilton

Though Alexander Hamilton was born in the British West Indies, he was one of the most influential founders of the American political system. Arriving in 1772 as a teenager, Hamilton immediately began an extremely notable career in the colonial military, then later as a politician. After being positioned as a captain of artillery in 1776, Hamilton went on to fight in the Battle of Long Island and the retreat from New York City. Upon being welcomed to Washington’s staff in 1777, he commanded another battery of artillery during the Battle of Yorktown. Following the Revolution, Hamilton became a member of the Continental Congress. He wrote the famed The Federalist Papers, became the first Secretary of the United States Treasury, and he helped establish the first national bank, the United States Mint.

Paul Revere

Paul Revere is known by most as the man who alerted the colonial militia of the approaching British forces, which otherwise would have gone unnoticed. Yet, Revere made additional contributions to the Patriots’ campaign for independence. As a prominently wealthy silversmith in Boston, Revere was responsible for organizing an intelligence and alarm system that made it easier to keep tabs on the British forces. The most notable instance being when he alerted colonial troops of the British approach leading up to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, allowing the Patriots to gain a substantial advantage.

Crispus Attucks

Having fallen as the first casualty of the Revolutionary War, Crispus Attucks was a pivotal figure in urging American colonists to break free from British rule. At the time of his death, which took place on March 5, 1770, Attucks was a long-time sailor that spent a considerable amount of time in Boston. While socializing outside with a group of Boston residents, conflict broke out between the group and a number of British soldiers. The situation escalated, resulting in shots being fired into a crowd of Boston residents. Attucks was the first to be shot and his murder was one of five that occurred in the event that is now known as the Boston Massacre—one of the key factors that helped to spur the American Revolution. Attucks’ legacy endured and is now recognized as a tragic hero of the Revolution.

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin had a number of roles in his effort to strengthen the American intellectual brand, developing a long and bountiful career within a number of professions that touched upon the realms of publishing, diplomacy and science. Though Franklin didn’t participate in militaristic affairs, he was instrumental in the United States gaining the support of King Louis XVI of France in the form of a military alliance signed in 1778. Franklin also promoted the end of the Revolutionary War, for he was responsible for negotiating the Treaty of Paris of 1783 which signaled the end of the conflict.

King George III

With 59 years in power, King George III would be known for many years as the longest-ruling monarch in British history, until Queen Victoria surpassed his record many years later. George was responsible for leading Britain to victory during the Seven Years’ War, successful resistance in the campaign against France, and the long-winded exchange between Britain and the Continental Colonies during the American Revolution. Though Britain were initial favorites in the Revolutionary War, by 1781, America had the advantage after winning the Battle of Yorktown. Upon realizing defeat, King George III agreed to peace negotiations with the United States in 1783.

The individuals that participated in the American Revolution are to be remembered as those that helped shape the course of American history and establish the core principles of our nation. By understanding their actions, students and professionals are able to develop a better perspective of some of America’s early leaders, as well as the events and philosophies that led to the success of America’s foundation.

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Revolutionary War, History.com

Benjamin Franklin, History.com

George III, History.com

Crispus Attucks, PBS.org

Paul Revere, History.com

Alexander Hamilton, History.com

Elijah Clarke (1742-1799), New Georgia Encyclopedia

Major General Jacob Jennings Brown, Army Historical Foundation

Benedict Arnold, History.com

Who Was Ethan Allen?, The Ethan Allen Homestead Museum