The following January series article will take a look at the American Revolutionary War during this month from 1775 through 1784. Just as in the article on December during the American Revolutionary War, seasons can and did affect military actions. Major battles were few during the winter months; and those that occurred were, arguably defining for the winning side. In the case of January, the greater benefactor was the revolutionaries.

Revolution CollageCredit: Artists: Howard Pyle (1853–1911); John Trumbull (1756–1843); Francis Holman (1729–1784); and William Tylee Ranney (1813–1857)

This first of the January month history articles will look at the years 1775 and 1776.

January 18, 1775:  Not everyone had joined hands in the debate for independence this month in 1775. Georgia still held on to a desire to remain under British rule. The fear of Indian attacks continued to plague Georgian settlers and these settlers felt more secure with the protection of British forces than they did by the Continental Congress. In fact, Georgia rejected being a part of the first Continental Congress in 1774; and when Georgians finale met on January 18, 1775 to elect representative to participate in the Second Continental Congress, all but one of the elected delegates refused to participate. Only Lyman Hall of St. John Parish in Georgia joined the Second Continental Congress. Georgia, as a colony, still did not buy into the notion of an independent “Association” of colonies (initially the congressional representatives discussed establishing an “Association” of colonies; not a “United States”).

Below: Sketch of Lyman Hall

Lyman HallCredit: Ole Erekson, 1876

January 23, 1775:  Even the merchants in London recognized the fallacy of the British government’s tax policies against the North American colonies. Those taxes levied on the colonies by the British government/monarchy were in part intended to raise funds for British military operations. But the taxes actually hurt the London merchants because trade was curtailed and the North American colonies threatened to cut-off all trade with Britain. Since many of the debts owed by the colonies to these merchants and much of that debt was being repaid through the goods being imported, the London merchants were at risk of losing money. So on this date, January 23, 1775, British merchants petitioned Parliament for relief from the adverse effects of the taxes imposed on North American colonies.

January, 1776:  The British were already allowing slaves belonging to colonials to serve in the British military. With the belief that their service to the crown would bring their release from bondage, as well as giving them the opportunity to deliver a little revenge against their former masters, these slaves gladly enlisted. It wasn’t until January 1776 that George Washington lifted a ban on enlisting blacks into the Continental Army. 

United States slave tradeCredit: Published in: American political prints, 1766-1876 / Bernard F. Reilly. Boston

In this month of January 1776, both slaves and free blacks were recruited to serve in the Colonial Army with small units formed in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Approximately 5000 black men from Haiti joined the French army to fight for the colonies. Slaves were promised that service to the Colonial Army would bring them freedom. Of course, George Washington and the Continental Congress ignored their promises to the former slaves; and both former slaves and formerly free-blacks were returned to a slaves life after the war; all except those that were smart enough and cleaver enough to disappear on their own in the confusion and disorganization that existed in the colonies during and immediately after the war for independence.

January 1, 1776:  Winter was not a favored time to fight in the colonies. The severe cold weather in the northern colonies and the difficulty in securing supplies, weapons, ammunition, food, clothing, and adequate shelter hampered both sides of the contest. Even when commanders try to pull their troops together in an effort to recover, refit, and rearm one key ingredient often is limited: food. In December of 1775, as a means to provide protection from the winter weather and aggression by the revolutionaries, Virginia’s Governor Dunmore filled several ships with British forces, Loyalists and slaves. As anyone can guess, conditions were overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and a shortage of food. Some of the troops and loyalists went out to forage for supplies in and around the town, unsuccessfully. Some of the foragers were chased out or captured by colonial troops.

4th  Earl Of DunmoreCredit: Joshua Reynolds,1765

An angry Governor Dunmore, informed the people of Norfolk that he would burn the town down for their insolence. On January 1, 1775, he made good on his promise. But it wasn’t just the rebel colonists and troops that suffered the falling of British cannon fire that day, angry colonists burned down Loyalist homes that had escaped British bombardment. The fires raged for two days. Norfolk did indeed burn to the ground – far beyond Dunmore’s intent.

January 9, 1776:  Thomas Paine's 50 page pamphlet titled Common Sense is published in Philadelphia. This criticism of King George III and allegiance to any monarchy was an instant best seller. Even today, it is still used in courses of philosophy, government and the study of western civilization.

January 18, 1776: We are usually taught, and is just as often inferred, that the Declaration of Independence was written and signed all in a brief moment in time. However, it was a long process of writing, re-writing, and re-writing again. The first draft of the Declaration of Independence that had all the delegates' signatures was first printed on this date.

January 18, 1776:  Colonial rebels led by Major Joseph Hapersham, take another step to oust British rule by arresting the Royal Governor of Georgia, James Wright on this day. The only problem was that they placed Wright on house arrest in his own mansion in Savannah. He escaped, of course and eventually made his way back to London.

Benedict ArnoldCredit: Hall, H. B., Artist, 1879

January 19, 1776:  Colonel Benedict Arnold is hemmed in by Sir Guy Carleton and with no place to run while still trying to defend Montreal. Arnold pleads for reinforcements from Colonel Wooster’s garrison and is initially denied. His appeals to General Schuyler in Albany were also denied. January 19, 1776, Arnold then appealed to the Continental Congress for help; but not only did he get approval for the manpower he needed, he was promoted to Brigadier General and authorize additional funding for his operations in New England.

Revolutionary War Documents - Washington Letter to Reed

1776 - The Signing

January 25, 1776:  "Continental Congress authorizes the first national Revolutionary War memorial in honor of Brigadier General Richard Montgomery, who had been killed during an assault on Quebec on December 31, 1775."[1]

The next article in this month of January of the American Revolution series will look at the events of 1777.