Flight or Flight: The Men of the American Revolution

The American Revolution helped to show the true colors of the men leaders of the 18th century. A leader during the Revolution was a man who would stand by his men, colony, and comrades. A coward would think only of himself and his own well-being.  In America we mostly give light to the men with the greatest achievements are often put on pedestals and no one gives any thought to what kind of a leader they were.  However, by taking a closer look at the men of the American Revolution, it becomes more limpid and the men can be categorized as either a coward or a hero.


One of the most prominent men of the early revolution was Lord Dunmore. Lord Dunmore was the governor of Virginia from 1771-1775. During his term, he made many controversial decisions that now classifies him as one of the cowards of the war. The first step leading into Dunmore’s downfall was when he took the gunpowder away from the colonists.  Lord Dunmore greatly upset the colonists to the point where he feared for the life of himself and his family. On the night of June 8, 1775 Lord Dunmore and his family fled to the British warship, HMS Fowey (The Governor’s Palace, Colonial Williamsburg).  In the Merriam-Webster dictionary a governor is described as “a person who is the leader of the government of a state, providence, etc.”(Merriam-Webster). The word that stands out the most in this definition is leader. Right in Lord Dunmore’s job description is the word leader, but he is far from this. A leader does not run from their citizens when they grow upset. A leader does not treat the people under them as lesser than them.  Lord Dunmore worked against his colonists rather than with them.  The governor is suppose to work with the people and for the people. Lord Dunmore cowardly worked for himself and his personal gain. When the colonists confronted him on this, Dunmore ran rather than face the people he was suppose to govern and take care of. Dunmore showed that he was a coward as he ran from his community instead of standing with them.


Lord Dunmore's house located in colonial Williamsburg.

Lord Dunmore’s house located in colonial Williamsburg.

While General Charles Cornwallis is remembered simply for his surrender at Yorktown, most people do mot know that he actually did not surrender in person. Cornwallis cowardly sent the second in command to go not accepting the shame himself (Dr. Whittenburg). After discussing the terms of surrender with advisors, Cornwallis decides to surrender to the continental army. But as he realizes he will not receive the full honors of war Cornwallis claims he is ill and instead sends his second in command, General Charles O’Hara. Cornwallis, the man who is suppose to be brave and lead his soldiers into combat, could not even face his men and the rebels that won after he lost the battle of Yorktown. General Charles Cornwallis abandoned his men and showed the traits of a coward as he stayed behind while his men honorably gave up their weapons.


On the opposite side of the men of the revolution were the ones that emerged as heroes. Patrick Henry is one of these men. Unlike the more common heroes of the American Revolution, Henry came a more humble background. Born to a middle class family, Henry tried multiple careers before finally settling into being a lawyer. Patrick Henry worked his way up from the bottom to become one of the most well known lawyers in the commonwealth of Virginia (Scotchtown).   Henry was thrust into the public eye by his famous Hanover County Court House speech.  It was rumored that Henry’s words moved the crowd so much that they carried him out of the courthouse and across to the tavern (Dr. Whittenburg). Unlike Dunmore, Patrick Henry listended to the concerns of the people and showed them that they were not alone.  Henry’s words moved a nation and kept spirits high at some of the lowest points of the war (Scotchtown).  Henry’s most famous “Give me Liberty, Give me Death” speech helped to rally the colonist. Patrick Henry is known as “the voice” of the American Revolution and truly helped to lead the United States to the freedom we cherish so much today.


The pulpit at which Patrick Henry gave his "Give Me Liberty..." speech.

The pulpit at which Patrick Henry gave his “Give Me Liberty…” speech.

While many people have strong opinions towards Thomas Jefferson, he is no doubt a hero and leader of the American Revolution. Jefferson is known as “the pen” of the Revolution. Some try to argue that Jefferson “plagiarized” the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson intentionally put other’s work into the document (A Talk with Thomas Jefferson). Jefferson took 17 days to meticulously pick documents that would contribute our nation’s founding document.  Thomas Jefferson was so careful with the construction of the Declaration that he often “suffered moments of self-doubt” (Maier, 184).  Together with George Washington and Patrick Henry, Jefferson lead the nation to independence, marking him as a leader and hero of the American Revolution.

The last man of the American Revolution that I believe is a hero is George Washington. If you ask almost anyone in America about the Revolution they are bound to mention Washington. However as we put Washington on to the presidential pedestal we must look not just at is presidency but his actions taken as a general that classify him as an American hero.  Washington was a key component to winning the Revolution and our freedom and independence today can be attributed to his leadership and bravery many years ago. As the Washington heard that Admiral de Grasse’s fleet was headed for the York river he decided to “quickly marched south to attack General Cornwallis, who was encamped at Yorktown, Virginia” (Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation). However, Washington’s real leadership was shown when he refused to accept the surrender sword from General Charles O’Hara of the British army. Instead he has Benjamin Lincoln accept the sword because he was refused the full honors of war when he had to surrender at the fall of Charleston (Dr. Whittenburg). Washington showed his men that a leader not only needed to be strong but also humble. Unlike Cornwallis and Lord Dunmore, Washington stood by his men till the very end. He was there in the worst of conditions and in the best. Washington cared for each of his men and what they went through, he went through. Washington displays a level of heroism that no other man of the Revolution was able to achieve.


Often the hard times that come through our lives can either make or break a person. This is most apparent in the American Revolution. When hard times fell on both the colonial and British sides those men in the spotlight were forced to chose between fight or flight. The men that chose fight came out as heroes and those who chose flight came out as cowards.



Outside Sources

“George Washington | History | Yorktown Chronicles.” George Washington | History | Yorktown Chronicles. Jamestown-Yorkstown Foundation, n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2014. <http://historyisfun.org/yorktown-chronicles/history/washington.htm>.




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