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The American Revolution

11i. Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris

The outlook for General Washington and the Americans never looked better.

Although the American military was still enduring losses in 1780, the French were making a difference. The French navy was disrupting the British blockade. French commanders such as Lafayette and Rochambeau earned the respect and admiration of the American troops.

Although, the British occupied much of the south, they had still been unable to mobilize the local Loyalists. Grumbling in England grew louder over the war's expense and duration. The morale of Washington's men was improving. The war was by no means over, but the general could now see a bright side.

The Siege of Yorktown

Convergence of Continental forces on Yorktown
The French navy and the Continental Army conceived a daring plan to entrap Cornwallis in Yorktown. The plan worked: Cornwallis surrendered Yorktown, and three weeks later the war was over.

The year 1781 found a large squadron of British troops led by Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis hoped to keep his men in the Chesapeake town until fresh supplies and reinforcements could arrive from Britain. The French and the Americans conspired to capture the British before that could happen.

A French naval unit led by Admiral de Grasse headed north from the West Indies. Washington's army was stationed near New York City at the time. Along with a French unit from Rhode Island, Washington's troops marched over 300 miles south toward Yorktown. Along the way, he staged fake military maneuvers to keep the British off guard.

When Washington reached Virginia, Americans led by Lafayette joined in the siege. The French navy kept the British out of Chesapeake Bay until Cornwallis was forced to surrender his entire unit of nearly 8,000 troops on October 19, 1781. The capture of the troops severely hampered the British war effort

Peace and the Treaty of Paris

Surrender of Cornwallis, John Trumbull
John Trumbull painted Surrender of Cornwallis in 1786-87. Although Trumbull did sketch the actual scene of surrender, his painting was not meant to be a literal recording of the event. Instead, he placed Cornwallis between the French and American forces to show their united effort against England.

Despite the American victory, the British military continued to fight. But the Battle of Yorktown turned the British public against the war. The following March, a pro-American Parliament was elected and peace negotiations began in earnest.

Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay met with the British in the hopes of securing a peace treaty. The Americans played off European rivalries to reach a most favorable agreement.

In the 1783 Treaty of Paris the British agreed to recognize American independence as far west as the Mississippi River. Americans agreed to honor debts owed to British merchants from before the war and to stop persecuting British Loyalists.

David had triumphed over Goliath. Independence was achieved at last!

Articles from the Treaty of Paris

Article 1: His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.

Article 2: And that all disputes which might arise in future on the subject of the boundaries of the said United States may be prevented, it is hereby agreed and declared, that the following are and shall be their boundaries, viz.; from the northwest angle of Nova Scotia, viz., that nagle which is formed by a line drawn due north from the source of St. Croix River to the highlands; along the said highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the river St. Lawrence, from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean, to the northwesternmost head of Connecticut River; thence down along the middle of that river to the forty-fifth degree of north latitude; from thence by a line due west on said latitude until it strikes the river Iroquois or Cataraquy; thence along the middle of said river into Lake Ontario; through the middle of said lake until it strikes the communication by water between that lake and Lake Erie; thence along the middle of said communication into Lake Erie, through the middle of said lake until it arrives at the water communication between that lake and Lake Huron; thence along the middle of said water communication into Lake Huron, thence through the middle of said lake to the water communication between that lake and Lake Superior; thence through Lake Superior northward of the Isles Royal and Phelipeaux to the Long Lake; thence through the middle of said Long Lake and the water communication between it and the Lake of the Woods, to the said Lake of the Woods; thence through the said lake to the most northwesternmost point thereof, and from thence on a due west course to the river Mississippi; thence by a line to be drawn along the middle of the said river Mississippi until it shall intersect the northernmost part of the thirty-first degree of north latitude, South, by a line to be drawn due east from the determination of the line last mentioned in the latitude of thirty-one degrees of the equator, to the middle of the river Apalachicola or Catahouche; thence along the middle thereof to its junction with the Flint River, thence straight to the head of Saint Mary's River; and thence down along the middle of Saint Mary's River to the Atlantic Ocean; east, by a line to be drawn along the middle of the river Saint Croix, from its mouth in the Bay of Fundy to its source, and from its source directly north to the aforesaid highlands which divide the rivers that fall into the Atlantic Ocean from those which fall into the river Saint Lawrence; comprehending all islands within twenty leagues of any part of the shores of the United States, and lying between lines to be drawn due east from the points where the aforesaid boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one part and East Florida on the other shall, respectively, touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean, excepting such islands as now are or heretofore have been within the limits of the said province of Nova Scotia.

Article 3: It is agreed that the people of the United States shall continue to enjoy unmolested the right to take fish of every kind on the Grand Bank and on all the other banks of Newfoundland, also in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and at all other places in the sea, where the inhabitants of both countries used at any time heretofore to fish. And also that the inhabitants of the United States shall have liberty to take fish of every kind on such part of the coast of Newfoundland as British fishermen shall use, (but not to dry or cure the same on that island) and also on the coasts, bays and creeks of all other of his Brittanic Majesty's dominions in America; and that the American fishermen shall have liberty to dry and cure fish in any of the unsettled bays, harbors, and creeks of Nova Scotia, Magdalen Islands, and Labrador, so long as the same shall remain unsettled, but so soon as the same or either of them shall be settled, it shall not be lawful for the said fishermen to dry or cure fish at such settlement without a previous agreement for that purpose with the inhabitants, proprietors, or possessors of the ground.

Article 4: It is agreed that creditors on either side shall meet with no lawful impediment to the recovery of the full value in sterling money of all bona fide debts heretofore contracted.

Article 5: It is agreed that Congress shall earnestly recommend it to the legislatures of the respective states to provide for the restitution of all estates, rights, and properties, which have been confiscated belonging to real British subjects; and also of the estates, rights, and properties of persons resident in districts in the possession on his Majesty's arms and who have not borne arms against the said United States. And that persons of any other decription shall have free liberty to go to any part or parts of any of the thirteen United States and therein to remain twelve months unmolested in their endeavors to obtain the restitution of such of their estates, rights, and properties as may have been confiscated; and that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several states a reconsideration and revision of all acts or laws regarding the premises, so as to render the said laws or acts perfectly consistent not only with justice and equity but with that spirit of conciliation which on the return of the blessings of peace should universally prevail. And that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several states that the estates, rights, and properties, of such last mentioned persons shall be restored to them, they refunding to any persons who may be now in possession the bona fide price (where any has been given) which such persons may have paid on purchasing any of the said lands, rights, or properties since the confiscation. And it is agreed that all persons who have any interest in confiscated lands, either by debts, marriage settlements, or otherwise, shall meet with no lawful impediment in the prosecution of their just rights.

Article 6: That there shall be no future confiscations made nor any prosecutions commenced against any person or persons for, or by reason of, the part which he or they may have taken in the present war, and that no person shall on that account suffer any future loss or damage, either in his person, liberty, or property; and that those who may be in confinement on such charges at the time of the ratification of the treaty in America shall be immediately set at liberty, and the prosecutions so commenced be discontinued.

Article 7: There shall be a firm and perpetual peace between his Brittanic Majesty and the said states, and between the subjects of the one and the citizens of the other, wherefore all hostilities both by sea and land shall from henceforth cease. All prisoners on both sides shall be set at liberty, and his Brittanic Majesty shall with all convenient speed, and without causing any destruction, or carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American inhabitants, withdraw all his armies, garrisons, and fleets from the said United States, and from every post, place, and harbor within the same; leaving in all fortifications, the American artilery that may be therein; and shall also order and cause all archives, records, deeds, and papers belonging to any of the said states, or their citizens, which in the course of the war may have fallen into the hands of his officers, to be forthwith restored and delivered to the proper states and persons to whom they belong.

Article 8: The navigation of the river Mississippi, from its source to the ocean, shall forever remain free and open to the subjects of Great Britain and the citizens of the United States.

Article 9: In case it should so happen that any place or territory belonging to Great Britain or to the United States should have been conquered by the arms of either from the other before the arrival of the said Provisional Articles in America, it is agreed that the same shall be restored without difficulty and without requiring any compensation.

Article 10: The solemn ratifications of the present treaty expedited in good and due form shall be exchanged between the contracting parties in the space of six months or sooner, if possible, to be computed from the day of the signatures of the present treaty. In witness whereof we the undersigned, their ministers plenipotentiary, have in their name and in virtue of our full powers, signed with our hands the present definitive treaty and caused the seals of our arms to be affixed thereto.

Done at Paris, this third day of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.

D. HARTLEY (SEAL)
JOHN ADAMS (SEAL)
B. FRANKLIN (SEAL)
JOHN JAY (SEAL)

– The Treaty of Paris (1783)

On the Web
The Paris Peace Treaty (1783)
With this document, from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, Britain gave formally recognized the United States as an independent nation. This American history website offers a brief intro to the Treaty of Paris, the text of the document, and information about the Americans who drafted it.
Articles of Capitulation, Yorktown
What did it mean to be a British prisoner of war after the surrender at Yorktown? Surrendering involves much more than waving a white flag, as this agreement between Washington and Cornwallis illustrates. The Yale Law Library provides the text of the document that sealed the American win at Yorktown.
Yorktown Is Won!
Victory at Yorktown was dependent on coordinating the movements of the American army and the French navy with near split-second precision. How was this done without computers? This PBS website companion to "LIBERTY! The American Revolution" examines the importance of the Battle of Yorktown. Be sure to read about the key French leaders, Spanish aid, and the "miraculous convergence."
Marquis de Lafayette
Lafayette fought alongside Washington, petitioned for aid from his native France, and fought at Yorktown. After the American victory was secure, he returned to France to aid in the revolution there.
Yorktown Campaign
Follow the Americans and the French through the Colonies to their miraculous convergence at Yorktown. Through several campaign timelines and maps, from the military history specialists, Xenophon Group presents the major players and moments of the Battle of Yorktown.
The Marquis de Lafayette visited every colony.
Learn More...
Unfinished Painting
The famous American artist Benjamin West began to paint those who signed the Treaty of Paris, but he never finished his painting. Find out why!
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