The Revolutionary Experience

The War for Independence might have transformed thirteen separate British colonies into a single American state, but the experience of living through it changed the lives of women and men on both sides of the Atlantic in unexpected ways. For many soldiers and sailors, the war brought them their first interactions with those from other colonies. They also endured hardships brought on by a new country ill-equipped to deal with unforeseen challenges, such as pay shortages and the lack of medical staff and equipment. For those who remained at home, the same challenges touched them. As new social and economic networks were established to meet the needs of supplying troops, women assumed control of businesses and farms in place of absent husbands, more shortages of necessities and adequate payment led to both innovation and despair, official offers of freedom provided enslaved peoples with an unprecedented opportunity—a choice.

Those whose lives were most transformed by the war were those peoples—free and enslaved—who chose, for a variety of reasons, to remain loyal to Britain and its constitution. A much larger proportion of the population than historians have presumed, tens of thousands of men and women, chose to remain British rather than become American and, in doing so, had to leave behind everything they knew. The lucky ones were able to escape and start a new, often substantially diminished, life elsewhere, such as in London or Nova Scotia. Others had little choice but to remain behind in a nation that was no longer their own, subject to stiff penalties, harassment, and violence. Still others chose to take up arms against their fellow colonials, often pitting brother against brother, underscoring the fact that the War for Independence was, indeed, a civil war. And then there were those—perhaps a majority of Americans—who wanted simply to be left alone during the conflict and willing to live with whatever outcome resulted.

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