Sections: Memory | Reason | Imagination 

American History

One of the most prominent women authors of her time, Mercy Otis Warren was well situated to write a contemporary history of the American Revolution. She was at the center of major events of the period, and her marriage to General James Warren gave her contacts important to rendering this insider’s fiercely egalitarian telling of the Revolution. Jefferson was one of the original subscribers of the work and corresponded with the author as her writing progressed. In ordering subscriptions of Warren’s History for himself and his cabinet, Jefferson noted his anticipation of her truthful and insightful account of the last thirty years that “will furnish a more instructive lesson to mankind than any equal period known in history.” The Jefferson Collection also contains a copy of Warren’s Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous (1790). The original manuscript of Warren’s History is also held by the Library of Congress.

Mercy Otis Warren (1728–1814)
History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution. 3 vols. Boston: Manning and Loring, 1805. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
(S. 508)

Title Page


…………Troubled on every side……………
Perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken;
cast down, but not destroyed. ST. PAUL.

O God! Thy arm was here………
And not to us but to thy arm alone,
Ascribe we all. SHAKESPEARE.


Back to top

An Address



BE IT REMEMBERED, that on the eleventh day of February, in the thirtieth year of the independence of the United States of America, MERCY WARREN, of the said district, hath deposited in this office the title of a Book, the right of whereof she claims as author, in the words following, to wit: —“HISTORY of the Rise, Progress and
Termination of the AMERICAN REVOLUTION. Interspersed with
Biographical, Political and Moral Observations. In Three Volumes.
By Mrs. MERCY WARREN, of Plymouth, Mass.)”

In conformity to the act of the congress of the United States, entitled,
“An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of
“maps, charts, and books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies,
“during the times mentioned;” and also to an act, entitled,
“An act supplementary to an act, entitled, ‘An act for the encourage-
“ment of learning, by securing the copies of maps, charts, and books, to
“the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein
“mentioned;’ and extending the benefits thereof to the arts of designing,
“engraving, and etching historical and other prints.”

N. GOODALE, Clerk of the District of Massachusetts.

A true Copy of Record. Attest:
N. GOODALE, Clerk.

An Address.


AT a period when every manly arm was occupied, and every trait of talent or activity engaged, either in the cabinet or the field, apprehensive, that amidst the sudden convulsions, crowded scenes, and rapid changes, that flowed in quick succession, many circumstances might escape the more busy and active members of society, I have been induced to improve the leisure Providence had lent, to record as they passed, in the following pages, the new and unexperienced events exhibited in a land previously blessed with peace, liberty, simplicity, and virtue.

As circumstances were collected, facts related, and characters drawn, many years antecedent to any history since published, relative to the dismemberment of the colonies, and to American independence, there are few allusions to any later writers.

Connected by nature, friendship, and every social tie, with many of the first patriots, and most influential characters on the continent; in the habits of confidential and epistolary intercourse with several gentlemen employed abroad in the most distinguished stations, and with others since elevated to the highest grades of rank

An Address (contd.)


and distinction, I had the best means of information, through a long period that the colonies were in suspense, waiting the operation of foreign courts, and the success of their own enterprising spirit.

The solemnity that covered every countenance, when contemplating the sword uplifted, and the horrors of civil war rushing to habitations not inured to scenes of rapine and misery; even to the quiet cottage, where only concord and affection had reigned; stimulated to observation a mind that had not yielded to the assertion, that all political attentions lay out of the road of female life.

It is true there are certain appropriate duties assigned to each sex; and doubtless it is the more peculiar province of masculine strength, not only to repel the bold invader of the rights of his country and of mankind, but in the nervous style of manly eloquence, to describe the blood-stained field, and relate the story of slaughtered armies.

Sensible of this, the trembling heart has recoiled at the magnitude of the undertaking, and the hand often shrunk back from the task; yet, recollecting that every domestic enjoyment depends on the unimpaired possession of civil and religious liberty, that a concern for the welfare of society ought equally to glow in every human breast, the work was not relinquished. The most interesting circumstances were collected, active characters portrayed, the principles of the times developed, and the changes marked; nor need it cause a blush to acknowledge, a detail was preserved with a view of transmitting it to the rising youth of my country, some of them in infancy, others in the European world, while the most interesting events lowered over their native land.

Table of Contents

Contents of Volume First.

Introductory Observations. 1

The Stamp Act.—A Congress Convened at New York, One thousand seven hundred and sixty-five.—The Stamp-Act repealed.—New Grievances.—Suspension of the Legislature of New York. 27

Cursory Observations.—Massachusetts Circular Letter.—A new House of Representatives called.—Governor Bernard impeached.—A Riot on the Seizure of a Vessel.—Troops applied for to protect the King’s Officers.—A Convention at Boston.— Troops arrive.—A Combination against all Commerce with Great Britain.—A General Assembly convened at Boston—removed to Cambridge.—Governor Bernard, after his Impeachment, repairs to England. 52

Back to top

Contents of Volume First.


Character of Mr. Hutchinson—appointed Governor of Massachusetts.—The attempted Assassination of Mr. Otis.—Transactions on the fifth of March, one thousand seven hundred and seventy.—Arrival of the East India Company’s Tea-Ships.—Establishment of Committees of Correspondence.—The Right of Parliamentary Taxation without Representation, urged by Mr. Hutchinson.—Articles of Impeachment, resolved on in the House of Representatives, against Governor Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Oliver.—Chief Justice of the Province impeached.—Boston Port-Bill.—Governor Hutchinson leaves the Province. 78

General Gage appointed Governor of Massachusetts.—General Assembly meet at Salem.—A Proposal for a Congress from all the Colonies, to be convened at Philadelphia .—Mandamus Counsellors obliged to resign.—Resolutions of the General Congress.—Occasional observations—the Massachusetts attentive to the military Discipline of their Youth.—Suffolk Resolves.—A Provincial Congress chosen in the Massachusetts.—Governor Gage summons a new House of Representatives. 127

Parliamentary Divisions on American Affairs.—Cursory Observations and Events.—Measures for raising an Army of Observation by the four New England Governments of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.—Battle of Lexington.—Sketches of the Conduct and Characters of the Governors of the southern Provinces.—Ticonderoga

Contents of Volume First. CHAPTER VI contd.

taken.—Arrival of Reinforcements from England.—Proscription and Characters of Samuel Adams and John Hancock, Esquires.—Battle of Bunker Hill.—Death and Character of General Joseph Warren.—Massachusetts adopt a stable Form of Government. 170

A Continental Army—Mr. Washington appointed to the Command.—General Gage recalled—succeeded by Sir William Howe.—Depredations on the Sea Coast.—Falmouth burnt.—Canadian Affairs.—Death and Character of General Montgomery. 229

Dissensions in the British Parliament.—Petition of Governor Penn rejected.—Boston evacuated.—Sir Henry Clinton sent to the Southward—Followed by General Lee—his Character.—Sir Peter Parker’s Attack on Sullivan’s Island. General Howe’s Arrival at Sandy Hook.—General Washington leaves Cambridge.—Observations on the Temper of some of the Colonies. 272

Declaration of Independence.—Lord Howe’s Arrival in America.—Action on Long Island.—Retreat of the Americans through the Jersies, and the Loss of the Forts Washington and Lee.—Affairs in Canada.—Surprise of the Hessians at Trenton.—Various Transactions in the Jersies.—General Howe’s Retreat—Makes Head-Quarters at Brunswick—His Indecision—Some Traits of his Character. 305

Desultory Circumstances.—Skirmishes and Events.—General Howe withdraws from the Jersies—Arrives

Back to top


at the River Elk—Followed by Washington.—The Battle of Brandywine.—General Washington defeated, retreats to Philadelphia—Obliged to draw off his Army.—Lord Cornwallis takes Possession of the City.—Action at Germantown, Red Bank, &c.—The British Army take Winter-Quarters in Philadelphia.—The Americans encamp at Valley-Forge.—General Washington’s Situation not eligible.—De Lisle’s Letters.—General Conway resigns.—The Baron de Steuben appointed Inspector General of the American Army. 364


Chapter IX


Chap. IX.

Declaration of Independence.—Lord Howe’s Arrival in America.—Action on Long Island.—Retreat of the Americans through the Jersies, and the Loss of the Forts Washington and Lee.—Affairs in Canada.—Surprise of the Hessians at Trenton.—Various Transactions in the Jersies.—General Howe’s Retreat—Makes Head-Quarters at Brunswick—His Indecision—Some Traits of his Character.  305

THE commissioners who had been announced as the messengers of peace, were now hourly expected; but the dubious aspect of their mission, and the equivocal character in which they were about to appear, was far from lulling to inattention the guardians of the cause of America. Their errand was ostensibly, to restore peace to the colonies; but many circumstances combined to evince, that the design was in reality, to furnish new pretexts for the prosecution of the war, with redoubled vigor. Thus was the continental congress fully convinced of the impropriety of longer holding themselves in suspense, by delusory hopes, or the uncertain termination of their expectations or their fears. They were sensible the step they were about to take, would either set their country on the pinnacle of human glory, or plunge it in the abject state into which turbulent and conquered colonies have

VOL. I. 2….P

Back to top


Chap. IX.

been generally reduced. Yet they wisely judged, that this was a proper period to break the shackles, and renounce all political union with the parent state, by a free and bold declaration of the independence of the American States. This measure had been contemplated by some gentlemen in the several colonies, some months before it took place. They had communicated their sentiments to the individual members of congress, but that body had been apprehensive, that the people at large were not prepared to unite in a step so replete with important consequences. But the moment of decision had now arrived, when both the congress and the inhabitants of the colonies advanced too far to recede.

Richard Henry Lee, Esq., a delegate from the state of Virginia, a gentleman of distinguished abilities, uniform patriotism, and unshaken firmness and integrity, was the first who dared explicitly to propose, that this decided measure, on which hung such mighty consequences, should no longer be delayed. This public and unequivocal proposal, from a man of his virtue and shining qualities, appeared to spread a kind of sudden dismay. A silent astonishment for a few minutes seemed to pervade the whole assembly: this was soon succeeded by a long debate, and a considerable division of sentiment on the important question.


Chap. IX.

After the short silence just observed, the measure proposed by Mr. Lee was advocated with peculiar zeal by John Adams, Esq., of the Massachusetts Bay. He rose with a face of intrepidity and the voice of energy, and invoked the god of eloquence, to enable him to do justice to the cause of his country, and to enforce this important step in such a manner, as might silence all opposition, and convince every one of the necessity of an immediate declaration of the independence of the United States of America.

Mr. John Dickinson, of Pennsylvania, took the lead in opposition to the boldness and danger of this decided measure. He had drawn the petition to the king forwarded by Mr. Penn, and though no man was more strenuous in support of the rights of the colonies, he had always been averse to a separation from Britain, and shuddered at the idea of an avowed revolt of the American colonies. He arose on this occasion with no less solemnity than Mr. Adams had recently done, and with equal pathos of expression, and more brilliance of epithet, he invoked the Great Governor of the Universe, to animate him with powers of language sufficient to exhibit a view of the dread consequences to both countries, that such a hasty dismemberment of the empire might produce. He descanted largely on the happy effects that might probably ensue from more patient and conciliatory disposi-

Back to top


Chap. IX.

tions, and urged at least a temporary suspension of a step, that could never be revoked. He declared that it was his opinion, that even policy forbade the precipitation of this measure, and that humanity more strongly dictated, that they ought to wait longer the success of petitions and negociations, before they formally renounced their allegiance to the king of Great Britain, broke off all connexion with England, plunged alone into an unequal war, and rushed without allies into the unforeseen and inevitable dangers that attended it.

The consequences of such a solemn act of separation were indeed of serious and extensive magnitude. The energy of brilliant talents, and great strength of argument, were displayed by both parties on this weighty occasion. The reasons urging the necessity of decision, and the indubitable danger of delay, were clear and cogent; the objections, plausible, humane, and important: but after a fair discussion of the question, an accurate statement of the reasons for adopting the measure, and a candid scrutiny of the objections against it, grounded either on policy or humanity, a large majority of the members of congress appeared in favor of an immediate renunciation of allegiance to the crown, or any future subjugation to the king of Great Britain.


Chap. IX.

A declaration* of the independence of America, and the sovereignty of the United States, was drawn by the ingenious and philosophic pen of Thomas Jefferson, Esq., a delegate from the state of Virginia.† The delegates from twelve‡ of the American States, agreed almost unanimously to this declaration; the language, the principles, and the spirit of which, were equally honorable to themselves and their country. It was signed by John Hancock, then president of congress, on the fourth of July, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-six.

The allegiance of thirteen states at once withdrawn by a solemn declaration, from a government towards which they had looked with the highest veneration; whose authority they had acknowledged, whose laws they had obeyed, whose protection they had claimed for more than a century and a half—was a consideration of solemnity, a bold resolution, an experiment

* See Appendix, Note No. XVII.

† This wise and patriotic statesman was afterwards appointed ambassador to the court of France. On the adoption of the present constitution of government, he was appointed secretary for foreign affairs, was chosen vice-president, and afterwards president of the United States of America.

‡ The members from Maryland seceded, but in a short time after joined the confederation.

Back to top


Chap. IX.

of hazard: especially when the infancy of the colonies as a nation, without wealth, resources, or allies, was contrasted with the strength, riches, and power of Great Britain. The timid trembled at the ideas of final separation; the disciples of passive obedience were shocked by a reflection of a breach of faith to their ancient sovereign; and the enemies to the general freedom of mankind, were incensed to madness, or involved in despair. But these classes bore a small proportion to those who resented the rejection of their petitions, and coolly surveyed the impending dangers, that threatened themselves and their children, which rendered it clear to their apprehension, that this step was necessary to their political salvation. They considered themselves no longer bound by any moral tie, to render fealty to a sovereign thus disposed to encroach on their civil freedom, which they could now secure only by a social compact among themselves, and which they determined to maintain, or perish in the attempt.

By the declaration of independence, dreaded by the foes, and for a time doubtfully viewed by many of the friends of America, every thing stood on a new and more respectable footing, both with regard to the operations of war, or negociations with foreign powers. Americans could now no more be considered as rebels, in their proposals for treaties of peace and conciliation with Britain; they were a distinct people,


Chap. IX.

who claimed the rights, the usages, the faith, and the respect of nations, uncontrolled by any foreign power. The colonies thus irretrievably lost to Great Britain, a new face appeared on all affairs, both at home and abroad.

America had been little known among the kingdoms of Europe; she was considered only as an appendage to the power of Britain: the principles of her sons were in some respects dissimilar, and their manners not yet wrought up to the standard of refinement reigning in ancient courts: her statesmen in general were unacquainted with the intrigues necessary for negociation, and the finesse usually hackneyed in and about the cabinets of princes. She now appeared in their eyes, a new theatre, pregnant with events that might be interesting to the civil and political institutions of nations, that had never before paid much attention to the growth, population, and importance of an immense territory beyond the Atlantic.

The United States had their ambassadors to create, or to transplant from the bar or the compting-house. Their generals were many of them the yeomanry or the tradesmen of the country; their subordinate officers had been of equal rank and fortune, and the army to be governed was composed of many of the old associates of the principal officers, and were equally tenacious of personal liberty. The regalia of

Back to top

Sections: Memory | Reason | Imagination