Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

American Revolution Era

Photograph of caltrops.Wrought-iron caltrops like these, with sharp spikes, were strewn on the ground as defensive weapons during the era of the American Revolution. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

Situated midway between New England and the southern colonies, Philadelphia became the capital of the American Revolution as representatives gathered for the First and Second Continental Congresses. When the delegates to Congress declared independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776, they also secured Philadelphia’s enduring place in American history. In military action as well as politics, the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware stood at the crossroads of revolution.

Following the War for Independence, population growth outside the city of Philadelphia led to the designation of new counties in Pennsylvania, including Montgomery (created in 1784, from a portion of Philadelphia County) and Delaware (created in 1789, from a portion of Chester).

Topics: American Revolution Era

Gallery: American Revolution Era

Carpenters’ Hall
Carpenters’ Hall

Library of Congress (Explore in Continental Congresses and Independence National Historical Park).

Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Rush

Library of Congress (Explore in Animal Protection).

Congress Voting Independence
Congress Voting Independence

Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Explore in Declaration of Independence and Continental Congress).

Liberty Bell
Liberty Bell

Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (Explore in Liberty Bell).

Esther Reed
Esther Reed

Library of Congress (Explore in Ladies Association of Philadelphia).

City Tavern
City Tavern

Library of Congress (Explore in Taverns).

Timeline: American Revolution Era

February 10, 1763: Treaty of Paris ends the Seven Years’ War. Burdened with debt, British Parliament enacts Sugar Act (1764), Stamp Act (1765), Townshend Revenue Acts (1767), and modifications in the Tea Act (1773), provoking resistance in the colonies.

September-October 1765: Philadelphians’ anger over Stamp Act escalates. Mob threatens home of Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania’s agent in London (September 16); mass meeting in State House yard calls for resignation of stamp commissioner John Hughes (October 5).

October 7-25, 1765: Protest issued by Stamp Act Congress, held in New York with delegates from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and lower counties on the Delaware in attendance.

November 1765: Philadelphia merchants agree to boycott most British goods until Stamp Act is repealed.

Image credit: Library of Congress

1766: Stamp Act repealed; news celebrated with banquet at the State House.

1767: Pennsylvania Chronicle begins publishing influential “Letters from a Farmer,” by John Dickinson (shown here).

1767-69: Philadelphia merchants are slow to react to Townshend Acts until pushed by boycotts and threats by lower-rank artisans and mechanics; nonimportation agreement signed March 1769.

1770: Townshend Acts repealed, with the exception of tax on tea.

1773: Merchants have mixed response to Tea Act; some require persuasion or threats to refuse cargo. After news of Boston Tea Party, Philadelphians turn back a ship loaded with tea before it reaches the city. In New Jersey, residents of Greenwich seize tea and burn a storehouse.

Image credit: Library of Congress

June 18, 1774: After Governor John Penn refuses to call Pennsylvania Assembly into session to appoint delegates to a Continental Congress, mass meeting in State House yard leads to Committee of Correspondence to choose representatives.

September 5-October 26, 1774: First Continental Congress convenes in recently completed Carpenters’ Hall (pictured here in 1900).

1775: Pennsylvania Abolition Society founded.

January 1775: Extralegal Provincial Convention, meeting in Philadelphia, challenges authority of the Assembly.

May 23, 1775: Extralegal Provincial Congress in New Jersey challenges authority of the Assembly.

Image credit: Library of Congress

May 1775: Although Pennsylvania Assembly clings to unity with Great Britain, Second Continental Congress convenes in the State House (shown here).

July-August 1775: When Olive Branch Petition from Congress is rebuffed by King George III, pro-independence members of Congress seize the opportunity to push for separation.

1776: Society of Friends bans its members from holding slaves.

January 9, 1776: Philadelphia printer Robert Bell publishes Thomas Paine’s  Common Sense, which sells nearly 500,000 copies in first year of publication.

Spring 1776: William Franklin is removed as New Jersey’s Royal Governor.

Image credit: Library of Congress

May 1776: While moderates retain a majority in Pennsylvania Assembly, Continental Congress resolves that royal governments in the colonies should be suppressed.

June 1776: At the home of Jacob Graff, Seventh and Market Streets, Thomas Jefferson pens first draft of the Declaration of Independence. It is presented for debate and revisions on June 28.

July 2, 1776: New Jersey Provincial Congress, meeting in Burlington, drafts state constitution.

July 2, 1776: Continental Congress formally declares independence.

July 4, 1776: Declaration document is approved and sent to printer John Dunlap for publication.

July 8, 1776: Philadelphians hear the Declaration for the first time when Sheriff John Nixon reads the document in the State House yard.

Image credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania

July-September 1776: Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention convenes in the State House and produces the most democratic state constitution in the new nation.

August-September 1776: With drafting of state constitution, the three lower counties on the Delaware become “the Delaware State.”

August 2, 1776: Signing the Declaration of Independence begins.

December 26, 1776: George Washington leads a column of the Continental Army across the Delaware River (depicted here), and defeats Hessian forces in Trenton; victory bolsters waning American morale. Additional victories follow in Second Battle of Trenton (January 2, 1777) and Battle of Princeton (January 3).

Image credit: Library of Congress

September 11, 1777: The Philadelphia Campaign begins southwest of the city with Battle of Brandywine. After a British assault, Washington’s army retreats.

September 20, 1777: Paoli Assault.

September 26, 1777: British forces capture Philadelphia and occupy the city through the winter of 1777-78. The Continental Congress moves to York, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia closes its shipyards from Southwark to Kensington.

October 4, 1777:  The Continental Army attacks the 9,000 British troops garrisoned in Germantown and is defeated.

October-November 1777: The British army lays siege to Fort Mifflin (depicted here) and Fort Mercer (Red Bank, New Jersey), capturing both by November 15.

Image credit: Library of Congress

November 15, 1777: Congress sends Articles of Confederation to states for ratification, a process not completed until March 1, 1781.

December 1777-June 1778: Continental Army spends winter at Valley Forge, eighteen miles west of Philadelphia. Soldiers construct nearly 2,000 huts, miles of trenches and redoubts, and a bridge spanning the Schuylkill River. Baron Friedrich von Steuben institutes new training program.

February 6, 1778: France and the United States sign Treaty of Alliance.

June 18, 1778: British abandon Philadelphia to concentrate forces in New York.

June 28, 1778: At Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey, women patrol battlefield and carry water to soldiers, giving rise to legend of “Molly Pitcher.”

October 1779: Fort Wilson riot.

Image credit: Library of Congress

1780s: Rapid growth in Pennsylvania spurs creation of eight new counties, including Montgomery (1784) and Delaware (1789).

March 1, 1780: Pennsylvania Assembly passes Gradual Abolition Act, freeing children born to enslaved parents at age 28. Enslaved persons born before 1780 remained in bondage.

June 12, 1780: Esther De Berdt Reed (shown here) pens “Sentiments of an American Woman,” inspiring formation of the Ladies Association of Philadelphia to raise money for Continental Army.

1781: Quakers who reject pacifism form the Religious Society of Free Quakers; build meeting house at Fifth and Arch Streets, 1783.

1781: Congress approves creation of Bank of North America, first commercial bank in U.S.

1781: Dover becomes capital of Delaware.

Image credit: Library Company of Philadelphia

1782: Philadelphia’s first Hebrew Synagogue is built on Cherry Street.

November 30, 1782: U.S. and Great Britain sign preliminary Articles of Peace. Congress ratifies treaty April 19, 1783.

April 12, 1787: Richard Allen and Absalom Jones form the Free African Society.

May 25-September 17, 1787: Federal Convention convenes in the State House. Ostensibly called to strengthen Articles of Confederation, convention drafts new U.S. Constitution.

December 7, 1787: Delaware becomes first state to ratify Constitution, followed by  Pennsylvania (December 12) and New Jersey (December 18). Constitution takes effect with ratification by New Hampshire June 21, 1788.

1789: City of Philadelphia is incorporated.

Image credit: Library of Congress

Map: American Revolution Era

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