Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris

The outlook for General Washington and the Americans never looked better. Although the American military was enduring losses in 1780, the French were making a difference; the French navy was disrupting the British blockade. French commanders such as Lafayette and Rochambeau earned the respect and admiration of the American troops.

The British occupied much of the south, but they had been unable to mobilize the local Loyalists. Grumbling grew in England over the war’s expense and duration. The morale of Washington’s men was improving and the general could now see a bright side.

The Siege of Yorktown: The year 1781 found a large squadron of British troops led by Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis hoped to keep his men there until fresh supplies and reinforcements could arrive from Britain. The French and the Americans conspired to capture the British troops before that could happen.

A French naval unit led by Admiral De Grasse headed north from the West Indies. Washington's army was stationed near New York City at the time. Along with a French unit from Rhode Island, Washington's troops marched over 300 miles south toward Yorktown. Along the way, he staged fake military drills to keep the British off guard.

When Washington reached Virginia, other Americans joined in the siege. The French navy kept the British out of Chesapeake Bay until Cornwallis surrendered his unit of nearly 8,000 troops on October 19, 1781. The capture of the troops severely hampered the British war effort.

Peace and the Treaty of Paris: Despite the American victory, the British military continued to fight. The Battle of Yorktown turned the British public against the war. The following March, a pro-American Parliament was elected and peace negotiations began in earnest.

Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay met with the British to secure a peace treaty. The Americans used European rivalries to reach a favorable agreement.

In the 1783 Treaty of Paris, the British agreed to recognize American independence as far west as the Mississippi River. Americans agreed to honor debts owed to British merchants from before the war and to stop persecuting British Loyalists.

Source: Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris
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