Primary Source Images: The American Revolution


In 1763, nothing would have seemed as improbable as the American Revolution. And yet, in a little over a decade, American colonists would declare their independence and break away from the British Empire. Revolutionaries justified their new nation with radical new ideals that changed the course of history and sparked a global “age of revolution.” Men and women of all ranks contributed to the colonies’ most improbable victory, from the commoners protesting against the Stamp Act to the women who helped organize the boycotts to the Townshend duties; from the men, Black and White, who fought in the army and the women who contributed to its support. Over time, the Revolution’s rhetoric of equality, as encapsulated in the Declaration of Independence, helped highlight inequalities and became a shared aspiration for future social and political movements. These sources explore the experiences of those who lived through this time of transformation and created a legacy for future generations of change-makers.

American Revolution Cartoon, 1782

A political cartoon showing Britian as a lion, then other countries that drain its resources are depicted as a spaniel, rattlesnake, rooster, and pug.

Political cartoons provide insight into public opinion and the decisions made by politicians. These cartoons became an important medium for voicing criticism and dissent during the American Revolution. In this 1782 cartoon, the British lion faces a spaniel (Spain), a rooster (France), a rattlesnake (America), and a pug dog (Netherlands). Though the caption predicts Britain’s success, it illustrates that Britain faced challenges –and therefore drains on their military and treasury—from more than just the American rebels.

Uniforms of the American Revolution, 1781

Jean-Baptiste-Antoine DeVerger, "American soldiers at the siege of Yorktown," 1781, via Wikimedia. It shows four soldiers of various backgrounds and styles, including a black soldier, a militiaman, frontiersman, and French soldier.

American soldiers came from a variety of backgrounds and had numerous reasons for fighting with the American army. Jean-Baptiste-Antoine DeVerger, a French sublieutenant at the Battle of Yorktown, painted this watercolor soon after that battle and chose to depict four men in men military dress: an African American soldier from the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, a man in the homespun of the militia, another wearing the common “hunting shirt” of the frontier, and the French soldier on the end.