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The Americas

North American Colonial Settlements


United States of America First Republic (Congress of the Confederation)
AD 1781 - 1789

Once the spark of revolution in British North America had created the 'First Congress', this met between 5 September and 26 October 1774 in Philadelphia. It consisted 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 British troops and rebellious Americans at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts.

The 'Congress of the Confederation' was created with the ratification of the 'Articles of Confederation' on 2 March 1781. This was the first constitution for what was becoming a new nation. Otherwise known as the 'United States in Congress Assembled', the congress was the governing body for the thirteen North American colonies during the last years of the war against Britain and during the first years of independence.

Following long spells in Pennsylvania in the 1770s, the revolutionary capital moved from Anapolis to Trenton, New Jersey, in November 1784. A more permanent 'Congress' capital was established in New York between 1785-1790. However, this congress excluded independent-minded Vermont which ploughed its own furrow until 1791.

This congress consisted of the same members as the previous one, and with the same limited powers - the important powers of taxation and policy-making remained with individual states with the result that the weak congress presided over a decade of economic instability, social unrest, and class conflict.

The Treaty of Paris in 1783 marked the end of the 'War of Independence' in the shrunken British Colonies. As part of this, Britain agreed to withdraw from the thirteen colonies on the lower eastern seaboard of North America and also cede its colony in Florida back to Spain. The 'Congress of the Confederation' was replaced in 1781 by the 'United States Congress' which adopted the US constitution and began the form of US governance which continues to the present day.

Although the new nation eventually chose a national anthem which is one of the hardest to sing with any conviction, it also uses as a patriotic melody - 'My Country 'tis of Thee/Sweet Land of Liberty' - to the tune of modern Britain's 'God Save the Queen'.

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).)


Samuel Huntington

Former Provisional Congress president, Mar-Jul.


Thomas McKean

President (Jul-Nov).


The joint French and American army wins the Siege of Yorktown, Virginia, between 28 September and 19 October 1781. It is the last major land battle in the War of Independence, and the surrender of General Lord Cornwallis and his Hessian allies prompts Britain towards the path of a negotiated peace settlement. New York remains occupied.

Siege of Yorktown 1781
French forces were present in large numbers at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, around 11,800 of them, added to 8,800 Continental troops to face 9,000 British and Hessian troops

1781 - 1782

John Hanson

President (Nov-Nov).


In March, a Delaware war party of Moravians which is returning from a raid in Pennsylvania passes through Gnadenhuetten on its way back to northern Ohio. Close on their heels are a hundred-and-sixty American Pennsylvanian volunteers from Washington County, Pennsylvania, under Colonel David Williamson.

Finding the Moravians at Gnadenhuetten, Williamson places them under arrest. In the democratic style of frontier militia, a vote is taken as to whether to take the prisoners back to Fort Pitt or kill them. The decision is to execute them.

The Moravians are given the night to prepare and, in the morning, two slaughter houses are selected. Ninety Christian Delaware - men, women, and children - are taken inside in small groups and beaten to death with wooden mallets.

Delaware Indians
A contemporary sketch of an unidentified tribe of Delaware Indians, with the mass of European influences - especially in terms of dress - suggesting that it may be from the mid or late 1700s

Word of the horrific massacre spreads to the other Delaware, so in June they join the Wyandot to defeat a large force of Pennsylvania militia (at the Battle of Sandusky). The commanding officer, Colonel William Crawford, suffers a slow, terrible death (being burned at the stake) to atone for the 'Gnadenhuetten Massacre'.

1782 - 1783

Elias Boudinot

President (Nov-Nov).


The Pennsylvania Mutiny in June 1783 involves revolutionary troops (known collectively as the Continental Army) protesting at their lack of pay from the government of the 'First Republic'. The government refuses to listen and instead withdraws from the city, heading first for Princeton, New Jersey, until November 1783, and then Anapolis, Maryland.

1783 - 1784

Thomas Mifflin

President (Nov-Oct).


Thomas Mifflin signs the Treaty of Paris which recognises the end of the American War of Independence and the sovereignty of the United States of America. Britain withdraws its troops and Hessian allied units from the thirteen former colonies but still remains in control of various territories within the British Colonies.

Cavalry of Landgrave Frederick II of Hessen-Kassel
Like many of the German states, Kurfürst William I of Hessen-Kassel inherited his father's eighteenth century military forces and they remained largely unchanged by 1806, far from ready to be able to resist the new and overwhelmingly efficient military tactics being employed by the French empire

At the same time, while American merchant vessels had been protected from raids in the Mediterranean by the Barbary pirates of Algiers during the war, thanks to its alliance with France, they lose that protection with the ending of the Treaty of Alliance. Subsequently, US merchant shipping continually falls foul of successive pirate raids in the Mediterranean, launched from Morocco and Algiers.

Despite diplomatic efforts, large payments of tribute are demanded for the release of captured American crews, and the US regularly pays up to a million dollars a year to ensure the safe passage of its ships.

1784 - 1785

The government of the republic moves from Anapolis to Trenton, New Jersey, in November 1784, before finding a new home in New York City in January 1785.

Barbary pirates
The somewhat colourful view of the Barbary pirates masked their relentless pursuit of captures and their accumulation of wealth at the expense of innocent merchantmen

1784 - 1785

Richard Henry Lee

President (Nov-Nov).

1785 - 1786

John Hancock

Second term as president (Nov-Jun).

1785 - 1795

Although the Delaware war faction dominates their affairs, the natural instinct of the 'grandfathers' is for compromise and the resolution of disputes. This reasserts itself within the alliance, and the Delaware become one of its more moderate members. The new government of the United States also wishes to avoid war and, if possible, settle the dispute through treaty.

In January 1785, the Delaware, Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Wyandot sign the Treaty of Fort McIntosh, which acknowledges American sovereignty in Ohio and agrees to the frontier boundary lying along the Tuscarawas and Muskingum rivers.

Fighting occurs the same year in Ohio and Indiana under the title of the Old North-West War or North-West Territory Indian War. Following two humiliating defeats at the hands of native warriors, the Americans win a decisive victory under 'Mad Anthony' Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794.

The Battle of Fallen Timbers 1974
The Battle of Fallen Timbers on 20 August 1794 near Toledo was the last major conflict of the North-West Territory Indian War between native Americans and the fledgling United States


Nathaniel Gorham

President (Jun-Nov).

1786 - 1787

The post is vacant between November 1786 and February 1787. Butat the same time, despite having rendered valuable service to the American army during the Revolutionary War, the Oneida, Brotherton, and Stockbridge Indians slowly lose their lands to New York land speculators.

The first capitol of their 'Western Alliance' is at the Shawnee village of Wakatomica, but this is burned by the Americans in 1786. The council fire is moved in November to Brownstown, a Wyandot village which lies just to the south of Detroit.


Arthur St Clair

President (Feb-Nov).


On 17 September 1787, the constitution of the United States of America is ratified. Almost immediately the first three of the former colonies of Great Britain are admitted into the Union. On 7 December 1787, Delaware becomes the first state to join the Union. On 12 December 1787, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is the second, while on 18 December 1787, New Jersey becomes the third state.

The Battle of Glenshiel in 1719
Britain in 1787 had already refocused its attention on Australia, although Captain William Bligh (pictured here) and his autocratic governance of HMS Bounty caused Fletcher Christian and much of the crew to rebel


Cyrus Griffin

President (Jan-Nov). Gave way to 'Second Republic'.


Admitted to the Union are eight more of the thirteen former colonies of Great Britain. On 2 January 1788 Georgia becomes the fourth state. On 9 January, Connecticut becomes the fifth state. On 6 February, the commonwealth of Massachusetts becomes the sixth state.

On 28 April, Maryland becomes the seventh state. On 23 May, South Carolina becomes the eighth state. On 21 June, New Hampshire becomes the ninth state. On 25 June, the commonwealth of Virginia becomes the tenth state. On 26 July, New York becomes the eleventh state.

On 2 November, the 'Congress of the Confederation' is abolished, no longer required now that the new US constitution has been signed.

Algonquin people fishing
Although the USA had successfully forged a new nation from the thirteen colonies, it still had to face internal problems which were related to the native American tribes - although the Algonquian-speaking tribes in the Virginia area had largely been destroyed, there were always new tribes to face on the western frontier


The 'Congress of the Confederation' is succeeded by the United States Congress, to be headed by a democratically elected governing president instead of opting for a more ceremonial role. It meets for the first time on 4 March, heralding the political beginning of the modern United States of America.

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