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Presentation U.S. History Primary Source Timeline

Revolutionary War: The Home Front

Defining a "home front" in the Revolutionary War is difficult because so much of the thirteen states became, at one time or another, an actual theater of war. Even so, the war profoudly affected the domestic scene, and the domestic scene, in turn, greatly influenced the conduct and course of the war.

News from America, December, 1776
George Washington Papers

Most Native American tribes east of the Mississippi were uncertain about which side, if either, to take during the Revolutionary War, and many remained neutral. A number of tribes, however, feared the Revolution would replace the British--who had worked hard to protect their lands from colonial encroachments--with the land-hungry colonials. As a result, these tribes fought with the British or took advantage of the situation and acted against the colonists on their own. Patriots viewed the Indians as a threat throughout the war. The patriots' use of the term savages for the Native Americans gives a good indication of their overall attitude toward most tribes.

For some African Americans, the Revolution meant freedom. Because so much of the fighting in the last years of the war took place in the South, many slaves escaped to British lines. The British, hoping to weaken the American war effort, emancipated and evacuated thousands of ex-slaves. A few African Americans also won their freedom by fighting in the Continental Army despite the prejudices of patriot leaders. (This attitude changed somewhat during the course of the war.) For the vast majority of African Americans, however, the liberties touted by the American Revolution remained more promise than reality.

Women's lives were also profoundly affected by the Revolutionary War. Women whose husbands and other male relatives went to war had to assume many of their responsibilities, whether it be the farm or small business. Since Continental Army soldiers were typically drawn from the lower ranks of society, many women did not have farms and businesses to fall back on. Cities throughout the United States witnessed growing populations of impoverished women. Many women did not stay at home when their husbands went off to war. These women flocked to the army camps to join male relatives. There they helped maintain army morale while doing traditional women's chores--cooking, laundry, nursing, and so forth.

In many respects, the Revolutionary War was a civil war. First, most of the land war was fought on United States' soil. Second, somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of the population retained their loyalty to the crown. In some places, the loyalists actively opposed the patriots--through propaganda, spying, military service with the British, and sometimes insurrectionary activities. Loyalist propaganda continually planted seeds of dissention within the wider population. Patriots continuously perceived loyalist threats on the home front and actively worked to quiet the loyalists, arrest them, and confiscate their property.

Because the Continental Congress was unable to levy taxes to pay for the war, it relied on the printing press to issue nearly $250 million in paper money (the so-called Continental). The paper money was backed only by the good faith of the Congress; because of dislocations in trade and manufacturing, there was too much money competing for too few goods. The result was uncontrolled inflation. In early 1780, the Congress confessed that its money was worthless (something the people had known long before as evidenced in their popular saying "not worth a Continental").

For additional documents related to these topics, search using such key words as slaves, blacks, Indians (use "savages" and specific tribes such as MohawkIroquis, or Six Nations), loyalists and tory, women, and economy (including paper currency, depreciation, and inflation), and use the terms found in the documents. Note that using these terms alone will produce thousands of hits each. Therefore, try to use these keywords in specific collections and with more specific modifiers, such as dates or places.