Cornwallis’ Surrender at Yorktown Did Not End the American Revolution

If most people are asked what was the last battle of the American Revolution, the answer is often Yorktown. It wasn’t.

Cornwallis and approximately 8,000 men surrendered on October 19th, 1781. Peace negotiations didn’t begin until April 1782 and the actual Treaty of Paris wasn’t signed until September 3rd, 1783. So, what happened in the interim?

After Yorktown, the British Army didn’t have the manpower to conduct a major ground campaign in the colonies. The British were left with three enclaves New York, Savannah, Charleston.

In the south, General Greene continued his drive to confined the British Army to the two southern ports. Elsewhere, local militias supported by Continental Army units battled British Army units aided their Native American allies, such as the Iroquois and Cherokee.

Outside the Thirteen Colonies, the war continued unabated. There were many naval actions between the Royal and French Navies, amphibious landings and land battles. The British retook the island of St. Kitts. The fighting on the Indian subcontinent raged on with the British recapturing all of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

In February 1783, the Spanish finally gave up after failing to re-capture Gibraltar after laying siege to the British base for four years. The French raided British forts on Hudson Bay in Canada during the summer of 1782. The Spanish captured the Bahamas in May 1782 and Loyalist forces from British Florida re-took the island chain in April 1783.

In all, 47 skirmishes and/or battles on land or naval actions took place between October 19th, 1781 and April 1783. Of the 20 naval battles, five were in North American waters; eight were in the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico; three in waters around India; and four were off the French or Spanish coasts.

On land, there were 27 battles were fought in the same time frame. Five occurred as the British and French tried to take each other’s islands in the Caribbean. Three battles were fought in Canada and the same number in Central America; four in India and 11 in what eventually became Ohio and the colonies of New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Virginia. Only one, the Spanish siege of Gibraltar took place in Europe.

This strongly suggests that the American Revolution was just one theater of a global conflict. While we, in the United States, think of the American Revolution as a war for independence, in Paris, London and Madrid, this was a war for colonial possessions. King Charles III of Spain and King Louis XVI of France saw the American Revolution was chance to exact revenge for their losses from the Seven Years War and continue the struggle for power, influence and territory.

History shows that the American Revolution had far reaching consequences for Louis XVI whose reign ended in 1789. Spain never regained its position as a world power. England, despite its defeat in North America, emerged stronger and wealthier.


Image (courtesy of Wikipedia) is the 1783 Painting by Benjamin West shows the U.S. delegation, from left to right, John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens and William Tempe Franklin. The British negotiators refused to sit for the painting which was never completed.


  1. Anthony on July 29, 2022 at 10:49 pm

    I read several years ago that although Cornwallis surrendered the battle, he did not concede the war throwing this into question. Under the circumstances is the US still under the control of Britain?

    • Marc Liebman on July 31, 2022 at 10:39 am

      Interesting question. Cornwallis’ defeat at Yorktown did not end the American Revolution. What his defeat did do was cause the ultimate fall of the Lord North’s government in March 1782 and the realization in Parliament that they could not defeat the Americans. Fighting continued for two more years, mostly in the south but there were still battles in the northern colonies. Charleston and Savannah were not evacuated by the British until 1782. While negotiations between the Americans and the British began in the spring of 1782, it took three British governments and 16 more months before the Treaty of Paris was signed. It did not come into effect until May 1784 at which time, the U.S. was “officially” independent from England.

      Thanx for your question

  2. Evelyn Kinzel on November 25, 2022 at 1:43 pm

    Edit? In Paragraph 4 “continued his drive to confined the British Army”, confined should be confine.
    In Paragraph 8 “in six (Ohio, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Virginia) of the Thirteen Colonies”, only five are listed, and Ohio was not a colony.

    • Marc Liebman on November 27, 2022 at 12:55 pm

      You are correct. I shall update the text. Thanx for pointing it out.

  3. Colleen on January 3, 2023 at 10:14 pm

    What happened to the 7-8,000 British soldiers after they were surrendered?

    • Marc Liebman on January 8, 2023 at 9:33 am

      Great question. It is a mixed bag. A significant number of English and German soldiers decided to stay in what would become of the U.S. Most were held captive in camps near modern Frederick, MD and Winchester, VA until they were repatriated back to England. I’ve looked for definitive info on what happened, and can’t find a whole lot other than they were held captive. The Thirteen Colonies were ill-equipped (facilities, money and food) nor were they prepared to hold prisoners of war. Cornwallis was exchanged for U.S. diplomat Charles Laurens who was being held in the Tower of London. Laurens was instrumental in negotiating what became the Treaty of Paris.

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