The Treaties of Paris That Ended the American Revolution


Yes, treaties because there were four and collectively, they are known as the Peace of Paris. The popular perception is that the fighting in North America ended when Cornwallis surrendered after being trapped at Yorktown, VA. But it did not. In fact, it continued until well into 1783.

At the time of Cornwallis’ defeat in October 1781, the British occupied Charleston, New York and Savannah. But the twin losses – Yorktown and in a naval battle off the Virginia Capes in which a French fleet defeated an English one – convinced the British Government that continuing to fight the American Colonists was a losing proposition. Already, the war was unpopular in England and opposition was growing.

In April 1782, roughly seven months after Cornwallis’ army laid down its arms, negotiations between the major players – the Americans, the British, the Spanish, the Dutch and the French – began. Only the Spanish wanted to continue fighting because King Charles III saw an opportunity to recapture Gibraltar which had been in British hands since 1704.

The desires of the French and American delegations quickly diverged. John Jay discovered he could get a better deal if he negotiated directly with Lord Shelbourne who was representing Great Britain. This move cut out the Spanish, French and Dutch from the deal with the United States.

However, Jay and the rest of his team – Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Henry Laurens – knew that the other treaties had to be coordinated. Hence the four treaties.

In the treaty with Spain, the British ceded their rights to Florida from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi River and the Minorca Islands in the Mediterranean. The French and British swapped bits of land around the world with the French gaining the Caribbean island of Tobago and Senegal in Africa along with, what they wanted most – continuation of fishing rights off Newfoundland. To this day, two islands – St. Pierre and Miquelon – less than 10 miles from the southern tip of Newfoundland are French possessions.

The Dutch had already lost most of their overseas territories so what they wanted was their colonies at Trincomalee on Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Negapatnam in India returned.

The U.S. was granted the land from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River south of the Great Lakes, except for Florida along with fishing rights in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and the entrance to the St. Lawrence River. Lord Shelbourne saw the United States as a valuable trading partner and source of raw materials.

However, the actual geography of North America didn’t match the lines drawn on a map or the vague language of the treaty. The northern boundary as outlined gave the U.S. what would be today large chunks of Ontario and Manitoba. The northern boundary of Florida was not settled until the U.S. and Spain signed the Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation Between Spain and the United States a.k.a. Treaty of Madrid in 1795.

The British agreed to give up all their claims and withdraw their army from what is now Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota, but they did not. They continued to incite the Indians until 1794 when both countries signed the Jay Treaty in 1794.

The four treaties gave the Americans what they wanted, total independence from Britain. It also set in motion events in the U.S. that would enable it to grow as well as upheaval in Europe that would shake the continents very foundations.

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