How Did the Revolutionary War End?

The American Revolution officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on Sept. 3, 1783. The hostile phase of the war had ended nearly two years earlier, on Oct. 19, 1781, when the British general Charles Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown.

Pinned down on the Yorktown Peninsula by George Washington’s troops on the land and a French fleet on the ocean, Lord Charles Cornwallis had no choice but to surrender his entire army, effectively ending the hostile phase of the war. However, the possibility of further battles remained. British troops still held the important port cities of New York City, Savannah and Charleston, and the British Navy remained a formidable force. On the American side, finances were running low, and some unpaid soldiers were even threatening mutiny.

British public opinion, however, turned strongly against the war after Cornwallis’s defeat. Though King George III wished to continue the fight, his parliament disagreed, and negotiators from America, Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands met in Paris in the spring of 1782 to begin hammering out a peace treaty. The three American negotiators, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, made sure that the final treaty included a British recognition of American sovereignty and enough territory for the United States to expand in the West. The negotiators drafted a preliminary treaty in late 1782 and then signed the Treaty of Paris on Sept. 3, 1783.