What was the meaning of liberty in 1776?
First edition. March 2016.

In 1776, colonists in North America declared independence from Britain. But, both before and after the Declaration, independence for the United States was not a given. Amid growing dissatisfaction with British rule, members of colonial society had to decide what their future would be, how they would relate to Britain, and how much blood they would be willing to shed for their demands. Different people had different stakes and interests—freedom did not always mean the same thing to colonial patriots, loyalist Tories, enslaved Africans, or native people facing complex questions about their rights, their identities, and their futures.

The American Revolution: Experiences of Rebellion draws students into the promise and uncertainty of this era. Considering the perspectives of various stakeholders—European colonists, enslaved Africans, and Native peoples—students explore the factors that led to rebellion, war, and, ultimately, the independence of the United States.


Part I of the reading reviews the colonization of British North America and the roles of colonists, enslaved people, and native groups. Part II examines the sources of tension between colonists and the British government as well as the increasing push for political representation. Part III explores how ideas of independence erupted into war and what the Revolutionary War did, and did not, accomplish for different groups of people.

Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.


Interpreting a Native Map

Students interpret an eighteenth century Catawba map and consider the complexities of relations between native people and colonists.

Revolutionary People

Taking on the roles of a range of people present at the time of the American Revolution, students gain familiarity with the ideas and values of individual actors in a broader historical context.

Art History and the American Revolution

Students analyze a print's portrayal of colonial rebellion to consider how art can provide insight into different historical perspectives.

The Options Role Play

Working collaboratively, students take on the roles of people in British North America and explore three different options for the colonies' future in a role-play activity set in 1776.

The Declaration of Independence

Using primary sources from various moments in U.S. history, students examine how the principles of the Declaration of Independence have been interpreted and invoked.


Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Breen, T.H. American Insurgents American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.

Cogliano, Francis D. Revolutionary America: 1763-1815. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Ferling, John. Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011.

Gilbert, Alan. Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Horne, Gerald. The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. New York: New York University Press, 2014.

Raphael, Ray. Founding Myths: Stories that Hide Our Patriotic Past. New York: The New Press, 2014.

Schama, Simon. Rough Crossing: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.

Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1969.

Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Random House, 1993.

Young, Alfred F., Ray Raphael, and Gary Nash, eds. Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

Bradstreet, Anne. The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America. (volume of poetry)

De Crevecoeur, J. Hector St. John. Letters from an American Farmer. (epistolic novel)

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Concord Hymn. (poem)

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself. (autobiography)

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. (autobiography)

Freneau, Philip. The British Prison Ship. (poem)

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The May-Pole of Merry Mount. (short story)

Occom, Samson. The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan. Ed. Joanna Brooks. (volume of works)

Rowson, Susanna. Charlotte Temple. (novel)

Trumbull, John. M’Fingal. (mock epic poem)

Warren, Mercy Otis. The Adulateur, a Tragedy as it is Now Acted in Upper Servia. (satirical play)

Wheatley, Phillis. The Collected Works of Phillis Wheatley. Ed. John C. Shields. 340 pages. (volume of works)

The Avalon Project at Yale Law School offers a selection of primary source documents from 1764-1783 related to the American Revolution.
Library of Congress image of the Catawba map used in the "Interpreting a Native Map" lesson.
Many items from its collection can be viewed online, including images of currency issued by the Continental Congress and the first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence.
The interactive Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database contains more than 34,000 individual slaving expeditions between 1514 and 1866.
Timelines, resources, narratives, and lesson plans associated with the PBS television series.
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