The Peace Negotiations with Britain

Author:   Edmund Pendleton


Although Americans often treat their history in isolation from other countries’, in fact foreign events have played a shaping role in the American past. After Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Sir Henry Clinton still had 16,000 British troops in New York. But British leaders were fearful that they might lose other parts of the British empire if the American war continued.

During the eighteenth century, the Caribbean, not the thirteen mainland colonies, was the heart of Britain’s New World empire. During the early 1700s, the value of exports to England from islands like Antigua, Barbados, Montserrat, and Jamaica was fourteen times greater than the value from all the colonies north of the Chesapeake combined.

By the end of 1781, the American Revolution had become a global war, with fighting taking place in India, the West Indies, and Florida. In Europe, France and Spain were planning an offensive against Gibraltar. In Britain there was much internal opposition to the American war and even sympathy for the colonists. In April 1782, the British began peace talks with the Americans in Paris and the two sides agreed to a peace treaty in November. The following letter was written a few weeks before Britain and the United States reached a peace agreement.

Total American war-related deaths were more than 25,000. About 7,200 Americans were killed in battle. Another 10,000 soldiers died of disease and exposure; approximately 8,500 died in British prison camps; and about 1,400 soldiers were reported missing in action. British deaths numbered about 10,000. To assist soldiers following the war, many states offered aid in the form of bonuses or land. Congress, however, did not agree to provide pensions to soldiers until 1818.


The continuance of the negotiation after the last change of ministry, shews they do not care to loose sight of that object, & will probably be serious in it, at the close of this Campaign…. We have nothing to expect pacific to us; but I think their situation & the spirit of the nation will coerce the acknowledgment of American independence.

There is nothing material in the Bill for peace or truce, since it only gives a (perhaps unnecessary) power to the King to make either without anything mandatory–yet it’s having lain so long with the Lords, & being passed just at the close of the Session, together with the purging it of the offensive terms Revolted Colonies, give it a conciliatory aspect….

I find your opinion coincides with mine as to the designs of the enemy in strengthening Canada, & bending the residue of their force against the West Indies. I hope our allies are prepared there for such an event, so as to disappoint any extraordinary fruits of their plan, which the superiority of the combin’d Fleets in Europe tho’ at a distance.<


Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute