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American Revolution

The "shot heard round the world" fired at Lexington, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775 began the War for American Independence. On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress unanimously declared the independence of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain, and embarked on the war that ended eight and a half years later on September 3, 1783 with the Treaty of Paris.

Books: Reference

American Eras: The Revolutionary Era, 1754-1783 edited by Robert J. Allison (1998)

Founding the Republic: A Documentary History edited John J. Patrick (1995)

Revolutionary America, 1763-1800 by Thomas L. Purvis (1994)

The Revolutionary Era: Primary Documents on Events From 1776 to 1800 by Carol Sue Humphrey (2003)

Books: Biography

DVDs & Videocassettes: Biography

  • Benjamin Franklin (2002, DVD)
  • Benjamin Franklin: Citizen of the World (1994, DVD)
  • George Washington: American Revolutionary (2000, DVD)
  • George Washington: Founding Father (2002, DVD)
  • Patrick Henry: Voice of Liberty (1995, Videocassette)
  • Paul Revere: The Midnight Rider (1995, DVD)
  • Thomas Jefferson (1996, DVD)
  • Thomas Jefferson: A View From the Mountain (2004, DVD)

Books: History & Causes

Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship That Saved the Revolution by David A. Clary (2007): In this study of the French military and political leader, the Marquis de Lafayette (who came to America to aid in the Revolution), the author focuses on the relationship between Lafayette and George Washington, stating that Lafayette found in the older Washington a father figure whom he could emulate, while Washington discovered in Lafayette a courageous and loyal admirer to mentor and love as a son. Clary portrays how the immature and excitable Lafayette grew under General Washington's tutelage, as well as relating the sad missteps that the politically naïve Lafayette took in trying to transform France into a constitutional monarchy, and the years of imprisonment and exile that resulted.

Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence by John Ferling (2007) : An illuminating portrait of America's triumph in the Revolutionary War, offering vivid descriptions of all the major engagements, from the first shots fired on Lexington Green, to the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown. The text relates how these battles often hinged on intangibles such as leadership under fire, heroism, good fortune, blunders, tenacity and surprise.

The American Revolution by Joseph C. Morton (2003): This concise reference guide includes an overview essay that traces the course of the Revolution, as well as five essays on various aspects of the conflict. Includes biographical sketches and a timeline.

The American Revolution: A History by Gordon S. Wood (2002): A concise summary of the events and circumstances surrounding the conflict. The author describes the seeds of the Revolution, and then follows the course of actual warfare and its aftermath, most interestingly the bitter battle to draw a governing blueprint for the new country. Part of the Modern Library Chronicles series. Also available as an Audiocassette.

American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence by Pauline Maier (1997): A fascinating history of the Declaration of Independence which includes a concise and well-written introduction into the political background of the American Revolution. The book holds many surprises as it details Jefferson's drafting of the document, the editing process, and the varying regard with which the Declaration of Independence has been held in the past two centuries.

Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution by Benson Bobrick (1997): A glorious retelling of the American Revolution which brings to life the major characters of the Revolution and gives readers an excellent glimpse of life in Colonial America. The author does a fine job of covering the ins and outs of this extraordinary war, giving readers enough background to understand the complexities of the issues that led to the Declaration of Independence by taking them through the war years leading to Washington's inauguration - from the end of the French and Indian War to the end of the Revolution. Also includes brief coverage of the framing of the Constitution and the inauguration of Washington.

The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution by Barnet Shecter (2002): The story of New York from the beginning of the American Revolution in the spring of 1775, to the city's evacuation by the British late in 1783.

The Bold and Magnificent Dream: America's Founding Years, 1492-1815 by Bruce Catton and William B. Catton (1978): A chronicle of more than 300 years of American history - from Columbus's voyages of discovery to the War of 1812.

The Brave Bostonians: Hutchinson, Quincy, Franklin, and the Coming of the American Revolution by Philip McFarland (1998): This reconstruction of the political crisis in Boston in 1774-75 rests on the papers of the three men named in the subtitle. All were native sons of Massachusetts. Thomas Hutchinson was the royal governor, Benjamin Franklin the American agent in England, and Josiah Quincy a radical member of the proto-party of revolt, the Committee of Correspondence. This absorbing narrative shows how each grew into their eventual positions of patriot or loyalist after the political temperature rose in the city because of the Boston Tea Party.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the American Revolution by Alan Axelrod (2000): Looks at the causes, effects and events of the American Revolution, from the Sugar Act to the ratification of the Treaty of Paris.

The Day the American Revolution Began: 19 April 1775 by William H. Hallahan (2000): Hallahan's narrative examines the events leading up to this fateful day and profiles many players on both sides of the conflict. Throughout, the author remains remarkably balanced, for example, the British were not all tyrants (indeed, many were reluctant to go to war against their colonists), nor were the Americans all noble patriots.

The Day the Revolution Ended: 19 October 1781 by William H. Hallahan (2004): This history actually covers the whole final year of the American Revolution, which began with the American cause facing disastrous shortages of men, money, munitions and morale.

The First American Revolution: Before Lexington and Concord by Ray Raphael (2002): In an eye-opening look at the history of America's revolutionary struggle, the author describes how, in the years prior to the Battle of Lexington and Concord, local people resisted British oppression with acts of rebellion that long predated the Boston Tea party.

Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution by Joseph T. Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin (2006): A vivid account of the Oneida Indians, forgotten heroes of the American Revolution who risked their homeland, their culture and their lives to join in a war that gave birth to a new nation at the expense of their own.

Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828 by Walter A. McDougall (2004): A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian presents a global interpretation of the history of the United States, discussing the ethnic and racial groups (including Native Americans), religious denominations, political parties, wars and institutions of the colonies and early nation.

A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America by Stacy Schiff (2005): An entertaining and illuminating portrait of Franklin's seven-year adventure in France. Benjamin Franklin recognized and accepted the fact that French aid was crucial to American independence, but some Founding Fathers resented him for making America dependent on a foreign power, and severely attacked him for securing the very aid that saved the cause. The author provides fascinating coverage of this American infighting, along with the complex political intrigue in France - complete with British spies and French double agents, secret negotiations and backroom deals.

Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding by Darren Staloff (2005): An interesting examination of how three of America's greatest leaders reacted to - and against - the Enlightenment, and how its principles influenced the Revolution.

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn (1992): The leaders of the American Revolution, writes historian Bailyn, were radicals who "wished to mend a broken system and improve upon it." In doing so they drew on many traditions of political and social thought, ranging from English conservative philosophers to exponents of the Enlightenment. The author carefully examines these sources of sometimes conflicting ideas, and considers how the framers of the Constitution resolved them in their doctrine of federalism.

Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson by Gore Vidal (2003): Vidal sheds light on the shaky alliances, rivalries, egos, personal ambitions and political realities faced by the men who became the first three American presidents. Also available as an Audiocassette.

A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic by John Ferling (2003): Spanning the period between the Stamp Act of 1765 and Thomas Jefferson's inauguration as president in 1801, veteran historian Ferling surveys the politics and politicians of the American Revolution and early republic. Paying particular attention to the role of leaders in shaping political movements, the author offers a gripping account of the most dramatic events of our history, showing just how closely fought were the struggle for independence, the adoption of the Constitution, and the later battle between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans.

The Long Fuse: How England Lost the American Colonies, 1760-1785 by Don Cook (1995): Retelling the saga of the American Revolution from the viewpoint of Mother England, the author portrays the 13 colonies' breakaway as a succession of blunders and missteps in London that led to an unnecessary and unwinnable war. His contention is that with a more conciliatory policy, England might well have reached an accommodation that would have kept the American colonies in the British Empire.

Origins of the American Revolution by John C. Miller (1991): Details the ideological, political and economic causes of the Revolution.

Patriots: The Men Who Started the American Revolution by A.J. Langguth (1988): A narrative history of the American Revolution (1761-1783) focusing on major political figures - Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, the Adamses - and on such notable events as the Boston Tea Party, the meetings of the Sons of Liberty, battles in the Continental Congress, and the final victory at Yorktown.

Paul Revere's Ride by David Hackett Fischer (1994): "The story has been told so many different ways,'' the author says, "that when Americans repeat it to their children, they are not certain which parts of the tale are true, or if any part of it actually happened.'' It did happen. Part biography of Revere and part history of the battles of Lexington and Concord, this work places the "midnight ride" in the broad context of American resistance to Great Britain. Revere was at the center of events during the American Revolution. Fischer's research places him as a member of five of the seven Boston-area groups instrumental in planning a revolution. Not even the better-known Samuel Adams, John Adams and John Hancock could claim membership in as many groups.

People of the American Frontier: The Coming of the American Revolution by Walter S. Dunn, Jr. (2005): Life on the frontier in the decades before the Revolution was extremely difficult and uncertain. It was a world populated by Native Americans, merchants, fur traders, land speculators, soldiers and settlers, including women, slaves and indentured servants. Each of these groups depended on the others in some way, and collectively they formed the patchwork that was life on the frontier. Using a wealth of material culled from primary sources, the author paints a vivid picture of a world caught up in the winds of change, a world poised on the edge of revolution.

A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence by Ray Raphael (2001): A history of the American Revolution from the perspective of farmers, soldiers, laborers and other common folk by using personal letters, diaries and additional primary source material

The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon S. Wood (1992): The noted U.S. historian restores the radicalism to what he terms "one of the greatest revolutions the world has ever known" as he explains the astonishing transformation from a "deferential, monarchical, ordered, and static society to a liberal, democratic, and commercial one."

The Real Revolution: The Global Story of American Independence by Marc Aronson (2005): The author investigates the origins of the American Revolution and discovers some startling global connections. Employing a new approach called "transnational history," Aronson demonstrates the evolution of the colonists from English subjects to an entirely new breed - Americans - and points out such ironies as the fact that slavery made it possible for wealthy Virginia squires to have the leisure to ponder the concept of freedom.

Rebels & Redcoats: The American Revolution Through the Eyes of Those Who Fought and Lived It by George F. Scheer and Hugh F. Rankin (1957): This history examines individuals on both sides of the conflict

Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes by Christopher Hibbert (2002): This unusual and interesting book takes readers through the familiar chronology from the English point of view, demonstrating the obstacles that faced the British in their attempts to maintain control of North America. Also available in Audiocassette format.

Revolutionary Citizens: African Americans, 1776-1804 by Daniel C. Littlefield (1997): A chronicle of the lives of African Americans during the Revolutionary War and the early years of the nation.

The Road to Valley Forge: How Washington Built the Army That Won the Revolution by John Buchanan (2004): The story of the development of the Revolutionary Army from the disastrous New York campaigns of 1776, to its confident emergence from Valley Forge in 1778.

Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson and the American Revolution by John E. Ferling (2000): An examination of the lives of the three men - from childhood through the post-revolutionary years - who were, in the author's view, the most important leaders of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson was the "pen," John Adams the "tongue," and George Washington the "sword. Personal anecdotes from all periods of their lives add to this rich portrait and gives the reader a unique sense of how Washington, Adams, and Jefferson negotiated the many challenges they encountered throughout their lives.

1776 by David G. McCullough (2005): In this stirring book, the author of John Adams tells the intensely human story of those who marched with General George Washington in the year of the Declaration of Independence, when the whole American cause was riding on their success. The book begins in London on October 26, 1775, when King George III went before Parliament to declare America in rebellion and to affirm his resolve to crush it. From there the story moves to the Siege of Boston, then to New York, where British ships and British troops appear in numbers never imagined and the newly proclaimed Continental Army confronts the enemy for the first time.

The Spirit of 'Seventy-Six: The Story of the American Revolution as Told by Participants edited by Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris (1967): This exceptional collection of eyewitness writings presents a magnificent narrative history of the Revolutionary War, as told by those who were there - from the soldiers in the ranks, to the American and British statesmen and generals. Arranged chronologically, it includes illustrations and maps, as well as a vast compilation of letters, journals, diaries, official documents, diplomatic correspondence and Parliamentary debates.

Turning the World Upside Down: Inside the American Revolution by John Tebbel (1993): The title of this history refers not only to the song played by the British at their Yorktown surrender but also to the upheaval caused by the eight-year conflict. Based largely on eyewitness accounts, the author details to often stunning effect the problems that plagued the patriots: starving and badly paid soldiers; a citizenry as apathetic as it was opportunistic; a sometimes impotent Continental Congress; recruiting scandals; profiteering contractors; and vicious attacks and reprisals by rebels and loyalists.

The Unknown American Revolution by Gary B. Nash (2005): In this insightful and challenging exploration of the ideas and radical sentiments that prompted the American Revolution, the author cites the uprisings within every facet of American society, arguing that the war was a people's revolution and civil war, as well as an insurrection against colonial control.

Voices of 1776: The Story of the American Revolution in the Words of Those Who Were There by Richard Wheeler (1991): In this engrossing volume, the words of officers and enlisted men, rebels and redcoats, men at war - and the women who watched them go - form an unforgettable narrative of the time.

Yankee Doodle boy: A Young Soldier's Adventures in the American Revolution Told by Himself edited by George F. Scheer (1995): The narrative of young Revolutionary War soldier Joseph Plumb Martin.

Books: Women & the American Revolution

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised our Nation by Cokie Roberts (2004): Focusing mainly on the wives, daughters, sisters and mothers of the Founding Fathers, this lively and engaging title chronicles the adventures and contributions of numerous women of the era between 1740 and 1797.

Glory, Passion and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American Revolution by Melissa Lukeman Bohrer (2003): A journey through revolutionary America as seen from a woman's perspective. The author portrays a culturally diverse group of women, and offers a valuable perspective on the efforts and achievements of Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, Mercy Otis Warren, Deborah Sampson, Lydia Darragh, Nancy Ward, Sybil Ludington and Molly Pitcher.

Journal of a Revolutionary War Woman by Judith E. Greenberg and Helen Carey Mckeever (1996): Mary Titus Post, the wife of an officer in the Continental Army, recorded her feelings, her experiences, and the events of her time in this intimate account of life during the American Revolution.

Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence by Carol Berkin (2005): A splendid overview of the remarkable contributions made by a cultural cross section of women during the course of the American Revolution, including women who toiled on the homefront; women who followed the army; generals' wives; Loyalist women; Native American women; and African American women.

Books: Biographies of Revolutionary Women

Books: Writings

The American Revolution: Writings From the War of Independence edited by John Rhodehamel (2001): From the Library of America, the editor has assembled a comprehensive collection of over 120 pieces by more than 70 Revolution-era writers from both sides of the War. The book begins with Paul Revere's personal account of his famous ride in April 1775 and ends with a description of George Washington's resignation from the command of the Continental Army in December 1783. Other selections include letters, speeches and newspaper articles. The authors range from the famous (Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Paine) to more obscure American and British observers with eyewitness accounts of just about every significant development during the Revolution.

A Benjamin Franklin Reader selected and annotated by Walter Isaacson (2005): This book collects dozens of Franklin's essays and letters, along with a complete version of his Autobiography. Each selection is accompanied by a preface and notes that provide background, context and analysis. Through the writings and the introductory essays, the reader can trace the development of Franklin's thinking, along with the birth of the nation he and his pen helped to invent.

The Boisterous Sea of Liberty: A Documentary History of America From Discovery Through the Civil War edited by David Brion & Steven Mintz (1998): Drawing on a gold mine of primary documents - including letters, diary entries, personal narratives, political speeches, broadsides, trial transcripts and contemporary newspaper articles - this panoramic look at American history provides a fuller understanding of such historical issues as the Stamp Act Crisis, the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.

Common Sense by Thomas Paine (1994): "These are the times that try men's souls," begins Thomas Paine's first Crisis paper, the impassioned pamphlet that helped ignite the American Revolution. Published in Philadelphia in January of 1776, Common Sense sold 150,000 copies almost immediately. A powerful piece of propaganda, it attacked the idea of a hereditary monarchy, dismissed the chance for reconciliation with England, and outlined the economic benefits of independence while espousing the equality of rights among citizens. Many historians argue that his work unified dissenting voices and persuaded patriots that the Revolution was indeed necessary. Also available in Audiocassette format.

George Washington: A Collection compiled and edited by W.B. Allen (1988): Covering the years from 1756 to 1799, this comprehensive volume includes letters to members of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, military orders, personal letters, and presidential addresses, including his Farewell Address.

Jefferson on Jefferson edited by Paul M. Zall (2002): The author uses original manuscripts and correspondence for a new view of the statesman's life.

The Letters of John and Abigail Adams edited by Frank Shuffelton (2004): This collection provides an insightful record of American life before, during and after the Revolution. Covering key moments in American history, the letters reveal the concerns of a couple living during a period of explosive change.

Political Writings by Thomas Paine edited by Bruce Kuklick (1989): A collection of Paine's most famous works - Common Sense, The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason.

The Portable John Adams edited by John Patrick Diggins (2004): This collection of writings by America's second president features selections from his correspondence with his wife, Abigail, along with diary excerpts, parts of his memoirs, and his most important political writings: "A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law," "Thoughts on Government," "A Defense of Constitutions," "Novanglus," and ""Discourse on Davila."

Writings by Benjamin Franklin (1987): From the Library of America, this volume includes news reports, moral and political essays, as well as his Autobiography.

Writings by Thomas Jefferson (1984): From the Library of America, this volume includes his Notes on the State of Virginia, letters to political allies, as well as his First Inaugural Address.

DVDs & Videocassettes: Biography & History

Founding Fathers (2000, DVD): The story of how these disparate individuals fomented rebellion in the colonies, formed the Continental Congress, fought the Revolutionary War, and wrote the Constitution is told by noted historians. The production is enhanced with beautifully photographed reenactments as well as the use of period paintings and engravings.

Liberty! The American Revolution (1997, DVD): A unique, detailed peek into the 25 years of events that led to the establishment of the United States of America. Beginning after the French and Indian War (1763), Liberty! opens with the issue of taxation, the colonies' revolt, a declaration of independence, war with the British, eventual victory, and the establishment of a country and constitution unlike any other in the history of mankind. Inspired a companion Book by the same name.

Rebels & Red Coats: How Britain Lost America (2004, DVD): Told from the perspective of Mother England, this is not a tale of freedom and independence, but one of loss.

Saving the National Treasures (2005, DVD): Since its creation over 200 years ago, the Declaration of Independence has seen plenty of abuse - escaping British armies rolled up in a saddlebag, traveling the country with the Continental Army, and baking in the window of the U.S. Patent Office. Now the ink has faded so badly, it is rapidly disappearing. In this fascinating program the cameras of NOVA follow the efforts to protect the Declaration, Bill of Rights, and the Constitution from further damage.

Books: Music

Songs of '76: A Folksingers' History of the Revolution by Oscar Brand (1972): A collection of songs sung during the American Revolution, accompanied by explanatory notes revealing the ideas and attitudes of the colonists and British soldiers.

Compact Discs: Music

Liberty! The American Revolution (1997) by Mark O'Connor: Songs from the Revolutionary period.


The American Revolution: This site was created by the National Endowment for the Humanities to serve as a complement to the official companion site to PBS' Liberty! documentary series.

The American Revolution: A comprehensive site containing sections on the Founding Fathers, causes of the war, significant events and battles, the Continental Congress, the slavery issue, women, plus much more.

American War of Independence 1775-1783: Over 1,000 links devoted to the Revolution.

Archiving Early America: This unique array of primary source material from 18th Century America contains excerpts from original newspapers, maps and writings; biographies of important men and women of the era; links to downloadable music of the period; a digital library of images; and maps and histories of significant battles of the Revolution.

The History Place: American Revolution: A timeline of the Revolution and its causes beginning in the Colonial period through the adoption of the Constitution.

Liberty! The American Revolution: A dramatic documentary about the birth of the American Republic and the struggle of a loosely connected group of states to become a nation. Winner of the George Foster Peabody Award.

The Papers of George Washington: A comprehensive site dedicated to our first president, including documents, articles, maps, images, links and an FAQ.

Rediscovering George Washington: The companion site for the PBS series.

Signers of the Declaration of Independence: Short biographies of each of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson: Digital Archive: Over 1,700 items, including some color manuscript images from the University of Virginia Library.

The Thomas Jefferson Papers: The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress. Consisting of approximately 27,000 documents, this is the largest collection of original Jefferson documents in the world. Document types in the collection include correspondence, financial account books and manuscript volumes.

Women of the American Revolution: Biographies of several significant women of the era. Based on the book by Elizabeth F. Ellet.

Feature Films

The Crossing (1999, DVD): In December 1776, the armies of General George Washington are near the point of collapse; short on money and supplies, ravaged by disease, their numbers thinned by desertion, and freezing in summer uniforms in the midst of a brutal winter. It seems all but impossible that the Colonial Army can hold out much longer against the British Army and their allied German Hessian forces. With imminent defeat a clear possibility, Washington and his troops organize for an audacious surprise attack against the British soldiers on Christmas Day, hinging on the crossing of the freezing Delaware River in the middle of a storm. Based on the novel by Howard Fast. Starring Jeff Daniels and Roger Rees.

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939, DVD): A young couple struggles to maintain their farm during the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in New York's Mohawk Valley - where repeated attacks by Indians drive them, along with other settlers in the valley, into a nearby fort. Starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert. Directed by John Ford. Based on the book by Walter Edmonds.

Johnny Tremain (1957, DVD and Videocassette): Johnny Tremain, a silversmith's apprentice, takes part in the Boston Tea Party and the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Based on the Book by Esther Forbes.

The Patriot (2000, DVD): After swearing off violence and fighting, French and Indian War hero Benjamin Martin takes up arms again to protect his family against the British soldiers that arrive at his South Carolina home at the outbreak of the Revolution. Starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger.

1776 (1972, DVD): Set during the first Continental Congress, when the Declaration of Independence was drafted, the film was adapted from the hit 1969 Broadway musical. Starring William Daniels and Ken Howard.