An ambitious and somewhat aloof young surveyor from Virginia helps to ignite the conflict in 1754. His name is George Washington.
In battle, he will discover his gift for war and leadership.
The French hold a vast territory from Canada to Louisiana. They control it all with heavily armed forts.
Serving in the Virginia militia, the 21 year old Washington goes to the French Fort of Le Boeuf, which guards the Ohio Valley, with a message.
The message demands the French withdraw from their own territory. The French commander refuses, violently.
Washington later said, “I have heard the bullets whistle and believe me there is something charming in the sound.”
Promoted to Colonel in the militia, he volunteers to act as a guide for the British General Braddock. Braddock arrogantly rejects the young Virginian’s advice how to fight a backwoods war.
He pays the price- Braddock and 400 of his men die as the French commander answers his message with an ambush. Washington has two horses shot out from underneath him in the battle.
Washington learns an unexpected lesson from the encounter, one he will remind of himself again and again in a few years- the British Army is far from invincible.
Despite Braddock’s death and a few other losses England eventually wins the war and drives the French out of the Ohio River Valley.
Young Washington begins the war hoping for British recognition. By the end of the war he feels more like a Virginian than an Englishman.
The war between England and France will forever change America.
Taxation without Representation
At war’s end England is nearly bankrupt. She insisted that colonies pay a share of their own upkeep for defense.
England passes the Stamp Act of 1765 in the middle of a Colonial depression. It affects bibles, almanacs, legal documents along with anything printed.
It is the first direct tax ever levied on America. It leads to riots across the colonies. Outrage runs like a fever through the land. It alienates the colonists from their identity as British subjects.
In the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry, the son of a frontier farmer bitterly denounces the tax. His wealthy fellow Virginian George Washington, likes it no better.
The Stamp Act is repealed the next year, but England continues to insist that it rules the colonies. And no matter how much they might rebel the Americans do not, in fact, rule themselves.
Prelude to War
The British presence in the colonies grows more inflammatory with each passing year. New taxes lead to new riots and violence escalates.
In 1770, it is neither taxation nor representation, but ice that leads to tragedy.
An angry colonist throws a chunk of ice at a British soldier guarding Boston’s customs house. It knocks him down.
British reinforcements soon appear to control the crowd. In a moment of terrible confusion several of the British soldiers mistakes a shout for an order to fire.
Five people die including a sailor named Crispus Attucks. He is of African-American and Indian ancestry. He is the first of many of people of color who will die in American history.
The incident becomes known as the Boston Massacre. It fuels the growing fury.
Boston Tea Party
Frustrations erupt again on December 16, 1773. Again, in Boston, but this time over tea. Protesting restrictions on the tea trade. A group of local mechanics, artisans, and merchants head down to the harbor dressed as Mohawk Indians.
They are led by Sam Adams, a former beer maker. He is better at brewing trouble. They call themselves the Sons of Liberty.
They drop several thousand pounds of the finest tea into the ocean.
For Sam Adams and others, it is a chance to keep up colonial anger toward the mother country. Adams intentions are clear. He wants to be free of England. This means only one thing- revolution.
The Continental Congress
They congregate to demand their rights as if freeborn Americans. Fifty-five of the wealthiest and most influential men in the colonies gather. They include Sam Adams, his cousin John Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock- they meet together in September 1774 in Philadelphia.
Violence is the air and the Continental Congress resolves that if the British use force against the people of Massachusetts. All Americans are to support them in resisting.
On March 23, 1775 firebrand Patrick Henry utters the words that still ring in our ears today, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, God Almighty! I know not what course others may take, but for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
Eve of Revolution
On the eve of revolution of open warfare, few colonists consider revolution. Most Americans have no desire for independence from England. They want fair treatment.
It will be the King and his army of occupation in Massachusetts that will push them to the edge.
On the 18th of April 1775, General Thomas Gage, commander of all British troops in North America, readies a column of 800 men.
His orders are put to down the rebellious local militia known as the Minutemen. Night does little to mask the British movements.
Boston is full of patriot spies. Silversmith Paul Revere races ahead to warn of the coming raid. It is the most famous horse ride in American history.
He awakened almost every house until he got to Lexington. He screamed, “The British are coming!”
The Shot Heard Around the World
At daybreak, 841 British troops-the Red Coats, arrive in Lexington Green to face a ragtag group of Minutemen.
No one knows who fired the first shot. In minutes eight Americans are dead and 10 wounded. The British march on unimpeded.
At North Bridge in Concord, a larger force of Americans await them. Now both sides suffer casualties. Two Concord men die and three Red Coats fall. The whole thing is over in three minutes.
This is the Shot Heard around the World.
Hearing the actual musket fire, revolutionary leader Sam Adams exclaims, “What a glorious morning this is!”
As the British fall back to Boston, they are besieged on all sides by patriots. 273 English soldiers are killed or wounded. Within 24 hours, the city of Boston is occupied by British troops, and is under attack by Patriot militia men.
The decision to go to war
Proclaims the Continental Congress, “Our cause is just, our Union is perfect.
Now openly rebellious the Continental Congress establishes an army to fight for the right of all Americans. But who to lead it?
One Virginia delegate arrives at the hall in uniform and volunteers as Commander-in Chief for no pay. Although he untested as a general Congress unanimously accepts his offer.
This is the moment that General George Washington has strived for. He is utterly confident that he is the right man for the job.