On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember those who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy today. The focus is often on the wars of recent memory – Vietnam, Desert Shield/Storm, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While the casualties – dead, maimed mentally and physically– are a reminder of the sacrifices our nation’s servicemen and women made, the reality is that less than one-tenth of a percent of our population is affected. Not so, the American Revolution where between 1775 and 1783, 4.9% of those in favor of independence in the Thirteen Colonies died.
Yes, died – one out of roughly every 20 people perished during our fight for independence. So, here are the numbers from the Department of Commerce. In 1775, the population of the Thirteen Colonies was 2.5 million. According to USHistory.org, about 20% (~560,000) of those were Loyalists, which drops those fighting for freedom to ~2,240,000.
Again, according to the Department of Commerce, in 1780, the U.S. population had grown to ~2.8 million and, by 1790, to ~3.9 million. The Revolution ended in 1783, so three-tenths of the difference between the 1780 and 1790 population estimate is ~330,000. Added to the ~2.8 million from the 1780 count, one can estimate the U.S. population when the 1783 Treaty of Paris was signed at ~3.13 million. (If you want to see more on the early years of the U.S. population growth, check out this September 11th, 2022 blog – https://marcliebman.com/the-u-s-population-shift-begins/.
During the eight years of the Revolutionary War, only 6,800 Americans died of wounds on the battlefield. However, another 17,000 Patriots died from disease – mostly yellow fever and pneumonia, etc. The big killer was smallpox which killed ~130,000 people. Added together, ~153,800 Patriots died during our fight for our freedom.
As an aside, after smallpox decimated the troops that invaded Canada in 1775 and 1776, George Washington ordered every man in the Continental Army and Navy to be variolated against smallpox. See August 2nd, 2020 Blog Post – Smallpox, Variolation and George Washington – https://marcliebman.com/smallpox-variolation-and-george-washington/ .
. Washington’s orders eliminated the disease within the Continental Army. Unfortunately, the general population was not variolated and continued to suffer from smallpox.
Even though variolation was common among many wealthy Britons, the British Army did not use the method to prevent smallpox amongst its ranks. As a result, during the American Revolution, many of its regiments were reduced in size by the disease.
Back to putting the human cost of the American Revolution in perspective. The U.S. Census Bureau projected that on January 1st, the U.S. population would be 334,233,854. Assume that we were fighting for our independence today from an occupying country and that 4.9% or 16,377,459 U.S. citizens would die.
That’s a sobering number. So, on this Memorial Day weekend, think about the price those who went before you paid for your ability to choose what you want to do with your life.
Graves at Arlington National Cemetery of former slaves who died in the service of our country. Carol Highsmith photo.