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Book Summary: Whirlwind by John Ferling

My Personal Summary

This book covers the American Revolution, from when the French and Indian War ended in 1763 to the Treaty of Paris in 1783 when British troops finally left New York City.

When the French and Indian War ended between France and Britain in 1763, Britain came out on top but their economy was heavily in debt.

To generate revenue to pay off their debt, they issued a series of taxes on colonists living in America.

In addition, the British Parliament stationed soldiers throughout the economy and demanded that colonists pay them goods and offer them shelter whenever they needed it. Parliament also did not allow civilians to expand westward toward the Mississippi to settle new land.

All of these restrictions that the British placed on the colonists eventually lead to rebellions.

Many civilians also engaged in skirmishes with British soldiers, the most famous being the Boston Massacre in 1770 in which British soldiers wounded six civilians and killed five.

Tensions rose each year until, in 1776, a congress formed by representatives from each of the colonies came together and, lead by Thomas Jefferson, wrote the Declaration of Independence, declaring that they were free from Britain and were willing to engage in a war to gain this independence.

British troops fought the Continental Army in a series of battles all the way until 1781 when, thanks to the help of French forces, George Washington and the Continental army were able to defeat British general Charles Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown along the York River in Virginia.

Following this victory, the Treaty of Paris in 1783 officially ended the war. Britain granted the United States their status of independence, agreed to give up all land ranging from the existing colonies to the Mississippi River, and removed all British troops from their soil.

Book Notes

  • From 1700 to 1770, the population in the thirteen British colonies increased eightfold. Many people immigrated in hopes of starting a new life with more economic opportunities. By 1770, 20% of the total population were slaves.
  • The French and Indian war, fought between the French and the British colonies, with both sides supported by various Indian tribes, ended with British victory in 1763 in which the French agreed to give up all land east of the Mississippi. The Spanish also gave up Florida to the British.
  • By 1763, there were many differences between the Americans living in the colonies and those back home in England, including their dress, food and religious practices. This made it easier for those living in America to think of themselves as separate from the British empire. Even more, many individuals in the colonies by that point were fifth-generation Americans whose ancestors had come to America over 100 years ago. It was easy to think of themselves as Americans instead of Britains simply living in America.
  • By 1763, one-third of England’s trading – both imports and exports – were with the colonies. The economy in the colonies was booming.
  • Following the end of the French and Indian War, Britain was in a massive amount of debt and turned to taxing the colonies as a source of revenue. The Sugar Act of 1764 enacted a tax imported from sugar plantations in the West Indies to the colonies. This was one of the first acts that ruffled the feathers of many colonists, who argued that it was unlawful for Britain to tax the colonists when the colonists didn’t even have seats in Parliament to vote on which laws got passed. “No taxation without representation.”
  • British Parliament then passed the Stamp Act in 1765, which required nearly all pamphlets, bills, letters and other documents to have a stamp on them. Revenue from the stamps was essentially a tax that would be collected by the British. Two months later, Parliament passed the Mutiny Act, which required colonists to pay firewood, salt, candles, bedding, utensils and rum to the British soldiers stationed in their region. It also authorized the seizure of vacant barns and houses for housing British soldiers.
  • In August of 1765, a mob of angry citizens stormed through Boston and vandalized the property of the stamp master. He resigned the next day and many other stamp masters in other cities promptly resigned, fearing for their own safety.
  • The British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766 over fears that it could start to alienate America from them, which would have huge economic downsides since the British depended heavily on America for trading. This marked the first point where several colonies had acted together in unison to fight an unjust tax and seemed to “wake up” many colonists to the idea that they needed to defend their liberties and freedom.
  • The Townshend Duties were passed in 1767, which introduced a series of taxes and regulations on the colonists. The colonists vehemently opposed these new taxes. When customs officials from England came to collect taxes in Boston, citizens would gather outside of their homes and terrorize them, sometimes breaking their windows.
  • England sent troops to Boston to maintain order. Citizens frequently had skirmishes with officers, spitting and cussing at them.
  • In March of 1770, a mob of citizens stood outside the customs house in Boston, hurling snowballs and insults at a group of British officers. One officer fired into the crowd and eventually several more shots were fired until six civilians were wounded and five were dead. This became known as the Boston Massacre.
  • After the French and Indian War, all soldiers who fought in the war were promised chunks of land. However, in 1772 Parliament ruled that only the soldiers who were British regulars were entitled to land. This aggregated many colonists who fought in the war, George Washington included.
  • Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773, which removed taxes that the British East India Company had to pay on imports and exports, which allowed them to reduce their prices for tea and effectively create a monopoly on the tea market in America. This angered the colonists and resulted in a group of men rowing out to three boats in the Boston harbor and destroying over 92,000 pounds of tea. This became known as the Boston Tea Party.
  • In response to the Boston Tea Party, Parliament passed four acts that became known as the Intolerable Acts: (1) the port of Boston would be closed until the city paid for the tea they destroyed, (2) town meetings were no longer allowed, (3) British officials could no longer be held on trial in the colonies and (4) British soldiers could house themselves anywhere they would like, even in private residences. This infuriated the colonists, many of whom decided to boycott all imports from Britain.
  • In 1774, a total of 56 delegates from various colonies met in what would be known as the First Continental Congress. At this meeting, it was decided to boycott all British imports and to ensure that all colonies had their militias prepared for war if necessary.
  • In April of 1775, General Gage of the British army received word from Parliament that he was to use force to suppress any rebellions by the colonists. He chosen Concord as his first target, which had a known militia of colonists. He set out from Boston via the Charles River, but there were colonist spies in Britain who saw the soldiers on the move and they hung two lanterns in the tallest bell tower in Boston to alert Paul Revere that the soldiers were traveling by sea as opposed to land. Revere made his famous horse ride to Concord to beat the British soldiers there and warn the militia of colonists of the impending attack.
  • On the way to and from Concord, the British soldiers fought various groups of “minutemen” – colonist men who were mostly farmers and not trained soldiers but were told to be ready at any minute when called upon for battle – in bloody battles. These were the first battlee of the American Revolution.
  • In May of 1775, the second Continental Congress met. A total of 65 delegates from each of the colonies attended. The delegates decided to create a formal army – The Continental Army – that would fight as one united group of Americans instead of random assortments of militias from each individual colony. George Washington was appointed to lead the army because he had plenty of military experience at age 43, he was regarded as a natural leader, and he was physically imposing, standing at 6 feet 4 inches at a time when the average male height was 5 feet 7 inches.
  • Interesting: At the time, it took about 4 weeks for a ship to cross the Atlantic. This meant Congress had to wait nearly a month for Parliament to receive letters from them and then wait another month for Parliament’s response.
  • One of the biggest problems that Washington faced after taking command of the army was procuring ammunition. When he became general, each soldier only had, on average, nine bullets.
  • In January of 1776, Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense, a pamphlet in which he declared that the colonists were capable of governing themselves and that it was their divine right to be independent and free from the burden of taxes and other restrictions placed on them by England. Over 100,000 copies of the pamphlet were sold in just a few months.
  • Interesting: Throughout the book, various important people die from smallpox, which was highly contagious and basically impossible to treat. The last reported case of smallpox was in 1977 and by 1980 the World Health Organization declared smallpox to be eradicated thanks to the development of vaccines.
  • In late June of 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the bulk of the Declaration of Independence. Upon congress approving the decision to declare independence, the declaration was edited by various delegates and then signed on July 4, 1776. However, this was only the first step in actually gaining independence. A war still had to be won.
  • Washington knew that his continental troops would likely be outmatched by the size and competency of the British troops, so he opted for a Fabian strategy – a war strategy in which he attempted to win through a long drawn out war of attrition, opting never to face the enemy head on and never risking all of his troops in a single battle.
  • “In retrospect, 1776 was the year in which Great Britain perhaps had its best chance to destroy the American rebellion. Instead, it had failed to win the war, and as 1777 dawned, the United States witnessed a palpable resurgence of optimism.
  • In 1777, the French provided the Americans with a boatload of ammunition and artillery, which they desperately needed and made a huge impact on the course of the war.
  • At the start of 1778, Washington and his troops set up camp in Valley Forge, a forested area in southeastern Pennsylvania. During that winter, typhus, pneumonia and various fevers claimed the lives of 2,500 soldiers, roughly one in five of the total men who entered the camp at the start of the winter.
  • One major disadvantage Great Britain had throughout the war was the fact that they had to constantly ship food, clothes, and supplies 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to support their troops. Often ships wouldn’t make the voyage due to storms or, among the ships that did make it, cargo was often damaged and sometimes unusable.
  • “For John Adams and many like him from every social class and every colony, the American Revolution was about opening doors for the ambitious and the talented so that they could ascend as far as industry and merit could take them, something that was unimaginable in an aristocratic-dominated nation, or in the colonies of such a nation.”
  • Interesting: More soldiers in the continental army died of disease than those who died in battle. Dyptheria, typhus, dysentery, pneumonia, and malaria claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers mostly while living in unsanitary areas in cramped quarters during the winter months.
  • In 1780, the British delivered a massive defeat to the Americans, killing hundreds of soldiers in Charleston, South Carolina and taking over 6,000 soldiers as prisoners upon their surrender.
  • In 1780, Benedict Arnold, then the U.S. commander in charge at West Point, made a deal with the British to give up West Point and work with them in exchange for a bounty worth $1 million in today’s dollars.
  • In 1781, U.S. rebels won a decisive battle at Kings Mountain, North Carolina. This was a crippling defeat for the British, who severely outnumbered the American troops and yet still lost the battle. This battle also discouraged Tories – Americans who supported the mother country of Britain – from joining British forces.
  • During a 13-month span, from 1780 to 1781, British general Charles Cornwallis lost several battles in the Carolina’s and lost roughly half of his total troops.
  • In October of 1781, Cornwallis and 8,000 British troops made their way to Yorktown, Virginia, a location located directly on the York River. French forces joined the Continental army, amassing a total army of 19,000 men. Over the course of a week and a half, the Allied forces destroyed Yorktown and Cornwallis was forced to surrender. This monumental loss for the British is what set things in motion for peace talks to finally occur.
  • In 1783, the Treaty of Paris officially ended the war. Britain granted the United States their status of independence, agreed to give up all land ranging from the existing colonies to the Mississippi River, and removed all British troops.
  • “About one in sixteen free American males of military age died in the Revolutionary War, compared with one in ten in the Civil War and one in seventy-five in World War ll.”

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