Although Yorktown was the last major battle
of the American Revolution, the war did not technically end with the surrender of Cornwallis’
army. The British still held Savannah, Charleston, and New York. While a few minor skirmishes
took place across the 13 states, the Patriot victory at Yorktown had convinced the British
that the war was too costly to carry on. How did the American Revolution officially end?
The United States and Great Britain sent delegates to Paris, France to work out a treaty. Benjamin
Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay represented the United States. In April of 1783, the American
Congress ratified (approved) the document, and on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris
was signed, officially ending the war. By then, Britain had also made peace with France
and Spain. The Treaty of Paris was a clear victory for
the Americans as Great Britain formally recognized the United States as an independent nation
with territory reaching to the Mississippi River and from Spanish-held Florida to Canada.
The British agreed to withdraw their troops from American territory and to give the Americans
the right to fish off of the coastal waters of Canada.
The United States agreed to allow British merchants to collect debts owed to them by
Americans, and the treaty also advised the states to return property confiscated from
Loyalists during the war. With the treaty signed, General Washington
resigned his command in the army to return to civilian life at Mt. Vernon. Soldiers returned
home to their families, their bravery and service having made the victory possible.
Before their dismissal, Washington told them, “I most devoutly wish that your latter days
may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”
On December 4, 1783, Washington said farewell to his officers at Manhattan’s Fraunces Tavern.
Three weeks later, he presented his formal resignation to the Second Continental Congress.
One witness described the emotional scene: “The spectators all wept, and there was hardly
a member of Congress who did not drop tears.” The American War for Independence, as much
a people’s movement as it was a military one, ushered in a revolutionary idea of creating
a government based on the clear principles of freedom and rights for its citizens.
American liberty did come at a cost. Of an estimated 217,000 men who served, 4,435 Americans
died on the field of battle, while another 17,500 died from wounds, starvation, cold,
or disease. This would be the equivalent of more than 3 million Americans losing their
lives in a war today.