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Lord Charles Cornwallis

British Major General

Charles Cornwallis was born is London on December 31, 1738, the eldest son of the 1st Earl Cornwallis. He was educated at Eton College and the University of Cambridge. Later, he also studied at the military academy in Turin, Italy. Cornwallis received his first military commission in 1756. During the early part of the Seven Years' War he served with the British Army in Germany. In 1760 he was elected to the House of Commons. Two years later, after having inherited the title Earl Cornwallis, he entered the House of Lords and became active politically with the Whigs. He was sympathetic to the grievances of the American colonists and voted against the Declaratory Act in 1766.

Cornwallis generally opposed policies that led to the American Revolution, but in 1775 he accepted a military command as a Major General and served with distinction. He took part in the Battle of Long Island, New York and later in the campaigns in New Jersey. General George Washington at Trenton, New Jersey defeated Cornwallis' forces in December, 1776 and also at Princeton in January, 1777. He was responsible for the British victory at Brandywine Creek, Pennsylvania in September, 1777, and later that same month, he occupied Philadelphia. Displeased at the failure of the two successive British commanders in chief, Sir William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton, to be more aggressive in the war, Cornwallis tried to resign.  

The resignation was not accepted, but Cornwallis' plan to blockade the South was approved. Cornwallis, in command of the British forces in the South, achieved a great victory over General Horatio Gates at Camden, South Carolina on August 16, 1780. After a bloody battle at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina in March, 1781, Cornwallis was forced to retreat to the coast. Washington decided to move against Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. The Americans aided by French troops secured the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19, 1781. This defeat was decisive in ending the American Revolution.

After the war Cornwallis returned to Great Britain and in 1786 he was appointed governor-general and commander in chief in India. He restored the military situation and laid the administrative foundation of British rule in India. 

Created Marquis in 1792, Cornwallis returned to England the next year and joined the cabinet as master-general of ordnance in 1795. On the outbreak of rebellion in Ireland in 1798, he was sent there as viceroy and commander in chief. After pacifying the country, he aided Lord Castlereagh in getting the Act of Union through the Irish parliament. After negotiating the Treaty of Amiens in 1802 and 1805, he was sent once again as governor general to India where he died October 5, 1805.



The Pennsylvania Packet


 Philadelphia August 28, 1781


The trap closes on Cornwallis, as reported in the Pennsylvania Packet: "By the latest accounts from Virginia, we learn that the British army. Consisting of about five thousand men, under the command of Earl Cornwallis, still occupied Gloucester and York Town, where they were erecting strong works, in which they were aided by the labour of about 3000 Negroes.


Several small picarrons, from New York, now infest our bay. They have lately taken one of two small vessesla near the mouth of the Potomack. Lord Dunmore, with two or three regiments and a number of refugees, it is said, sailed from England, for Virginia, about the beginning of last June.


The Marquis de La Fayette's Head Quarter were, a few days ago, near fuffin's ferry, on Pamonky, a branch of the York river, in Virginia, 30 miles northward of Williams burg. At the same time General Wayne, (with his division of troops) was at Bottom's Bridge, about 15miles Southward of Richmond, on the Williamsburg road." 


There was also great news from South Carolina that Francis Marion, "The Swamp Fox" and General Sumter were successful in operations against the British.


We invite you to read a transcription of the complete text of the Declaration as presented by the National Archives.


The article "The Declaration of Independence: A History" which provides a detailed account of the Declaration, from its drafting through its preservation today at the National Archives.

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