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The Americas

North American Colonial Settlements


Provisional Government of the United States (Continental Congress)
AD 1774 - 1781

The English crown made its first tentative efforts to establish overseas settlements in the sixteenth century. This accelerated in the seventeenth century to result in the establishment of settlements in the Americas and the West Indies. The Spanish were already very active in South America and the Gulf of Mexico, and as far north as their newly-founded colony in Florida, as they founded their Spanish Empire.

Early explorative efforts from the British Isles were generally either aimed at islands or much further north, mainly towards Newfoundland and the New England coast of the modern United States of America.

Governance of the North American colonies by Britain was theoretically carried out through Britain's Parliament in the eighteenth century, but King George III did his best to ensure a series of cabinets which looked to him for direction and policy. In 1765, the leader of the cabinet, George Grenville, attempted to regain favour with the king by lowering domestic taxes at the expense of the British Colonies, introducing the Stamp Act.

The laws gave rise to widespread protests in the colonies where a small but well-organised radical element emerged. Even so, this element was without general support even when the protests boiled over into the first years of the War of Independence.

Feeling in Britain was also mixed, with Prime Minister William Pitt (the Elder) putting forward the case that the colonies should not be taxed because they had no right to representation in parliament (hence the later cry of 'no taxation without representation'). The rebels formed the 'Continental Congress' in 1774, although armed rebellion broke out before it could decide upon anything concrete.

CompendiumOutside of the colonised regions, European settlers in North America coined the phrase 'Indian' or 'Red Indian' to describe the Native North American tribes they found. To the north of this vast collection of varying regions and climates and tribes were the native settlements of what is now Canada, while to the south were the various peoples of modern Mexico (more background information on northern native tribes is available via the compendium link, right).

The 'Continental Congress' was the provisional government for the fledgling United States (initially known as the 'United Colonies'). The body of delegates which formed it claimed to speak for the people of the colonies. The 'First Continental Congress' was formed in September 1774, before the opening of hostilities in the war. It consisted of a convention of delegates which was administered by a presidential position which was largely impartial and was intended to be ceremonial for the most part. It was unrelated to the later post of US president.

The 'First Congress' met between 5 September and 26 October 1774 in Philadelphia, consisting of delegates from twelve of the thirteen colonies. Georgia did not send a delegate. However, the situation was already so tense that, before the 'Second Continental Congress' could assemble in the Pennsylvania state house, hostilities had already broken out between rebellious Americans and British troops at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts.

Initially the congress met as the driving force behind the 'United Colonies', but on 9 September 1776 it adopted a new name: the 'United States of America'. New members of the Second Congress included Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, while John Hancock and John Jay were amongst serving presidents. The congress 'adopted' New England military forces which had converged upon Boston. General Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the American army on 15 June 1775.

The Continental Flag of 1775

(Information by Peter Kessler and from the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information by Mick Baker, from The Native Tribes of North America - A Concise Encyclopaedia, Michael Johnson (1993), from the Atlas of Indians of North America, Gilbert Legay (1995), from Confederation Congress 1781-1789, Carl E Prince, from The Beginnings of National Politics: An Interpretive History of the Continental Congress, Jack Rakove (New York, 1979), and from External Links: First Nations: Issues of Consequence, Lee Sultzman, and Legends of America, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Dictionary of American History (dead link), and Why does Liechtenstein use 'God Save the Queen' as its national anthem? (Guardian Notes).)


Peyton Randolph

President of the 'First Congress', Sep-Oct.


After a meeting with the 'Patriots' of the 'Continental Congress' at Boston in April, Captain Hendrick Aupamut of the Mahican decides not to follow the advised path of neutrality in the approaching war and instead joins the rebels. Nimham's Wappinger follow suit. The Stockbridge Mahican are one of the few tribes to support the independence cause during the war.

First Continental Congress
The 'First Continental Congress' - the provisional government of the colony's rebels - began with prayer led by Chaplain Jacob Duché at Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia in September 1774

Between September and October, the 'First Continental Congress' considers its options and petitions King George in Britain for the redress of colonial grievances which have accumulated since 1763. In an effort to force compliance, it calls for a general boycott of British goods and the eventual non-exportation of American products, except rice, to Britain or the British West Indies. Its last act is to set a date for another congress to meet on 10 May 1775, to consider further steps.

1774 - 1775

Henry Middleton

President (Oct-May).


Peyton Randolph

Second term, May only. Died Oct 1775.


With the petition of 1774 to King George III of Britain having been ignored, a 'Second Congress' is confirmed for 10 May 1775 in order to organise an armed resistance against the king's administration in the colonies.

1775 - 1777

John Hancock

President (May-Oct).


The first blood to be shed is at the battles of Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775. The British win both, as well as successfully defending West Florida. General George Washington is appointed commander of the Continental (rebel) field army in July. The onset of open hostilities hobbles the growth of population in British Florida and the expansion of trade which this may bring. American privateers further hamper the flow of goods and immigrants to British territories.

British troops enter Concord
With reports of fighting in Lexington, militiamen of Concord and Lincoln assembled in Concord, but they wisely retreated out of town as several hundred British troops and irregulars entered it


On 15 June, in anticipation of coming events, the colonial assembly of Delaware declares itself to be separate from British rule. On 4 July 1776, Britain's remaining twelve eastern colonies in North America make a public declaration of independence. On 9 September the United Colonies adopt the name 'United States of America'.

In revenge for the British seizure of Havana in Cuba in 1762, the Spanish governor of Louisiana supplies gunpowder to the revolutionary forces. The Stockbridge Mahican and Nimham's Wappinger also join the fight on the Congress side.

The British urge the Ohio tribes to attack settlements because the American revolutionaries are trying to take Ohio - a very obvious lie since the Americans want everything and not just Ohio. Only the Detroit tribes, Mingo, Seneca, and some Shawnee, side with the British at first, but their raids and indiscriminate American retaliation are enough to start a downwards spiral towards total war.

Delaware Stockbridge
The remnants of a great many tribes of the eastern seaboard congregated as the Stockbridge, Brotherton, and Housatonic, seeking protection amongst numbers - this oil painting is entitled 'Delaware Indians sign the Treaty of Penn with Benjamin West'

The Delaware remain neutral, and their head chief, White Eyes (Koquethagachton) of the Unami, even addresses the revolutionary 'Philadelphia Congress' during 1776. Toward the end of 1776, the 'Continental Congress' moves from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Baltimore, Maryland, to avoid capture by the British.


Between January and July 1777 New Connecticut (today's Vermont) stands as an independent colony, separate from the United States, although it is claimed both by New Hampshire and New York. In July Connecticut's delegates declare independence from Britain, New Hampshire, and New York, forming the state of Vermont.

On 11 September 1777, British forces decisively beat General George Washington at the Battle of Brandywine, which leaves the reoccupied capital of the revolutionary forces, Philadelphia, in direct danger. It is subsequently occupied by British forces. The Continental Congress flees to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where it meets for one day before moving on to York, Pennsylvania.

The battles of Saratoga in 1777 end first with a stalemate (on 19 September) and then a defeat for heavily-outnumbered British forces (7 October). This defeat provides a turning point in the war.

British forces surrender at Saratoga
The Second Battle of Saratoga on 7 October saw the mixed British forces of about five thousand British, Brunswickers, Canadians, and Indians surrender to around 14,000 American militia and regular troops


Charles Thomson

Acting president, Oct-Nov.

1777 - 1778

Henry Laurens

President (Nov-Dec).


After being visited by a deputation of American diplomats, Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane, France declares war on Britain in support of the rebellion, only too glad to make the most of Britain's misfortune.

In June the British forces pull out of Philadelphia to help defend New York. Also in 1778, the apparent immunity of the West Florida province disappears when James Willing of the Continental navy launches a raid through the province's back door, the Mississippi. Meeting almost no resistance, his force of about a hundred men destroy many plantations in the colony's western districts.

Although his success is short-lived, and Willing soon sees the inside of a British jail, his achievement alerts the British crown to West Florida's vulnerability, and extra troops are brought in.

Fort Laurens
Fort Laurens was built by the revolutionary Americans at Bolivar in what is now Ohio, in a failed attempt to use it as a staging point to attack the British

1778 - 1779

John Jay

President (Dec-Sep).

1779 - 1781

Samuel Huntington

Sep-Mar. Became Congress of the Confederation president.


In the spring, the British launch an offensive to seize the Ohio valley, as well as St Louis and New Orleans. The result is a major escalation in warfare in the west.

That April, Captain Henry Bird leaves Detroit with six hundred warriors to attack Kentucky. By the time he reaches the Ohio River there are almost twelve hundred of them. Throughout the summer, the Americans take a terrible beating in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

By this time, most of the Delaware have joined Captain Pipe at Pluggys Town (Delaware, Ohio), against the Long Knives. Only Killbuck remains loyal to the Americans, who ignore his requests for a fort to protect Coshocton. Threatened by Wyandot and Mingo warriors, he relocates to Fort Pitt, and the hostiles take over the Delaware capitol.

Shawnee warriors
The Shawnee were an Algonquian-speaking North American native people who lived in the central Ohio River valley and who attempted to avoid being dragged into the Revolutionary War


On 1 March, the 'Continental Congress' is succeeded with immediate effect by the Congress of the Confederation. Samuel Huntington remains its president and all other members remain in place.

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