The Revolutionary War

The War

There were tensions between the colonists and the British Parliament, since they disagreed over how the colonies should be governed.

  • Parliament believed it had legal authority in the colonies, while the colonists believed their local governments had legal authority

  • Parliament believed it had the right to tax the colonies on things such as sugar and tea, while the colonists believed they should not be taxed because they had no representation in Parliament

The colonists became so fed up with the taxes that they dumped crates of British tea into the ocean during the Boston Tea Party. Because of these reasons, the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) began.

The Declaration of Independence

  • Written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776

  • Gave reasons for independence and ideas for self-government

  • Says that the authority to govern belongs to the people rather than to kings

  • Says that all people are created equal and have rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

Various roles of American Indians, whites, slaves, and free African Americans in the Revolutionary War:

  • Virginia patriots served in the Continental Army (the colonists) and fought for independence, leading to the British surrender at Yorktown

  • Some Virginians were neutral and did not take sides, while other Virginians remained loyal to Great Britain

  • Some American Indians fought alongside the Virginia patriots, while others fought with the British

  • Women took on more responsibilities to support the war effort

  • Some slaves supported the British, who promised them freedom

  • Some free African Americans fought for independence

Contributions of Virginians during the Revolutionary War era:

  • George Washington served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army

  • Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence

  • Patrick Henry spoke out against taxation without representation by saying “give me liberty or give me death”

  • The Marquis de Lafayette, a French nobleman, volunteered his service, French troops, and supplies to the Continental Army and contributed to many victories

  • James Lafayette, a slave, served as a spy in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and gained his freedom after the war

The last major battle of the Revolutionary War was fought at Yorktown, Virginia. The American victory at Yorktown resulted in the surrender of the British army in 1781, which led to the end of the war.


After the war, the new nation had to form a new government, and they discussed ideas at a Constitutional Convention, at which they wrote the United States Constitution. The ideas of some Virginians helped form the basis for the United States government.

George Washington

  • First president of the United States

  • Provided strong leadership to help the young country

  • Acted as a model for future presidents

  • Often called the “Father of our Country”

James Madison

  • Kept detailed notes during the Constitutional Convention

  • Skills at compromise helped the delegates reach agreement while writing the Constitution

  • Sometimes called “Father of the Constitution”

George Mason

  • Wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which states that all Virginians have rights, including freedom of religion and freedom of the press

Thomas Jefferson

  • Wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which states that all people should be free to worship as they please

After the American Revolution, large numbers of Virginians moved west and south to find better farmland and new opportunities:

  • Tobacco farming was hard on the soil, so farmers moved to find new farming land

  • The development of the cotton gin, which made cotton processing more efficient, led to the opening of new lands in the south and attracted settlers from Virginia

  • As Virginians moved, they took their slaves, traditions, ideas, and cultures with them

  • Settlers crossed the Appalachian Mountains through the Cumberland Gap as they migrated to new lands in the west