The American Revolution in the New York City area played a pivotal role in shaping the course of the war and the ultimate outcome of American independence. The city, a key strategic location due to its bustling port and its political significance as the capital of British America, became a major battleground between American patriots and British forces.
The conflict in New York City began in 1776 when the British launched a massive military campaign to capture the city. Despite the efforts of General George Washington and his Continental Army, they were forced to retreat as the British advanced, resulting in the loss of the city. However, the Americans launched a daring counteroffensive later that year on Christmas night, famously known as the Battle of Trenton, where Washington and his troops crossed the icy Delaware River and surprised and defeated the Hessian garrison, boosting morale and reinvigorating the American cause.
Over the next several years, New York City remained a focal point of the Revolutionary War. The British occupied the city, using it as a base of operations to launch further campaigns against the American forces. However, the tide began to turn in 1778 when the French joined the war on the American side, increasing their naval presence and shifting the balance of power. The decisive turning point came in 1781 with the Battle of Yorktown, where American and French forces trapped the British under General Cornwallis, leading to their surrender and effectively ending the war. The American Revolution in the New York City area demonstrated the resilience and determination of the American patriots, and it remains a crucial chapter in the history of the United States struggle for independence.
Diaries and Memoirs
Miles, Colonel Samuel, An Account of his actions on the left of the American Line at the Battle of Brooklyn, unpublished memoirs.
Wemyss, Major James, Assessment of Lt. Gen. William Howe’s leadership at the Battle of Brooklyn, unpublished memoirs.
Other Primary Sources
Braisted, Todd. Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground around New York City, 2016.
Bliven Jr., Bruce. Under The Guns New York: 1775-1776. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
Carp, Benjamin L. Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Carp, Benjamin L. The Great New York Fire of 1776: A Lost Story of the American Revolution. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2023.
Click for a review of Benjamin Carp’s book in the Journal of the American Revolution
Washington Post Review
Daughan, George C. Revolution on the Hudson: New York City and the Hudson River Valley in the American War of Independence. First edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.
Gallagher, John J. The Battle of Brooklyn, 1776. New York: Sarpedon, 1995.
Lewis, Charles H. Cut off: Colonel Jedediah Huntington’s 17th Continental (Conn.) Regiment at the Battle of Long Island August 27, 1776. Westminster, Md: Heritage Books, 2009.
Minty, Christopher F. Unfriendly to Liberty: Loyalist Networks and the Coming of the American Revolution in New York City. Ithaca [New York]: Cornell University Press, 2023.
Reno, Linda Davis. Maryland 400 in the Battle of Long Island, 1776. Jefferson: McFarland, 2014.
Schecter, Barnet. The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the American Revolution. New York: Walker & Co, 2002.
Wertenbaker, Thomas Jefferson. Father Knickerbocker Rebels – New York City During the Revolution. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948.
While Barnet Schecter’s book provides a superior description of the New York battles, Wertenbaker’s monograph is most useful to describe New York City life during the American Revolution. He depicts New York suffering from inadequate fuel supply, full of sick and wounded soldiers, groups of squalid shanties and tents, and blackened ruins remaining from the 1776 fire. However, the British officers amused themselves with trips to the Johns Street Theater and other social diversions.
Carp, Benjamin L. “Fire of Liberty: Firefighters, Urban Voluntary Culture, and the Revolutionary Movement.” The William and Mary Quarterly 58, no. 4 (2001): 781–818. https://doi.org/10.2307/2674500.
Carp, Benjamin L. “The Night the Yankees Burned Broadway: The New York City Fire of 1776.” Early American Studies 4, no. 2 (2006): 471–511.
Maryland 400 soldiers who served at the battle of Brooklyn
Field guide to New Jersey Revolutionary War sites
Tour of New Jersey Revolutionary War sites
Tours of Battle Locations
While many Revolutionary War sites are built over or the landscape greatly modified, historians still benefit from seeing the actual locations to better inform their analysis and writing. Finding the sites can be challenging. Here is a New York Times article which is helpful for those wishing to visit the Revolutionary sites in NYC.