On this day in 1780, the patriots suffer their worst defeat in the history of the American Revolution. The significant loss, however, was met with a fortunate outcome when the Treaty of Paris was finalized on this day three years later.
Prior the defeat, the Americans had just recently lost New York. After successfully securing New York for the crown, The British turned their attention to the southern states by launching the “Southern Strategy,” in an effort to gain control and take down the New England states soon after.
Due to the socio-economic dependency on trading with England, the Southern states were more inclined to be Loyalist sympathizers than the New England colonists, due in part to protect their business and interests. After successfully capturing the southern port-city of Savannah, Georgia in 1778, the British were confident that another major southern port town would successfully render the South towards a more favorable outcome.
Led by British Lieutenant General Henry Clinton and Lord Cornwallis, the British laid siege of Charleston, South Carolina on March 29, 1780.
The British, however, soon discovered that Charleston was more difficult to secure than Savannah. Heavily infiltrated with Loyalists and Patriots alike, South Carolina was a politically divided state during the war. Guerrilla warfare tactics by “Swampfox” Francis Marion further instigated civil unrest and dangerous conditions in the Palmetto State.
After fighting for over a month, Patriots Major General Benjamin Lincoln had no choice but to surrender. General Clinton demanded a humiliating unconditional surrender. More than 3,000 Patriot soldiers were captured, in addition to supplies and rations.
Although the defeat was staggering, the patriots did not remain in the dismal estate. Three years later, the Treaty of Paris, which was signed on September 3, 1783, took effect on May 12, 1784. The day of their worst defeat became their day of independent victory a mere three years later.