Slaughter was commenced: a study of American Revolutionary War massacres
MacNiven, Robert Donald
This thesis examines massacres that were committed during the American Revolutionary War, seeking to recontextualise their importance within the broader frame of the study of violence while building a narrative that holds that the American Revolution, though broadly conceived in ideological terms, was both driven and decided by acts of extreme violence on the battlefield – in short, that wartime massacres shaped military outcomes to a degree that has been hitherto underappreciated. Late twentieth and early twenty-first century studies have sought to highlight the central role that violence played during the revolutionary war, helping to bring an end to the sanitised nineteenth century view of a revolution driven by principle rather than force (see Gelb, Hoock, Breen et all). Despite this there has been no complete study of the many massacres committed by both sides during the war, or an attempt to identify the broader role they played in the conflict’s outcome. Massacres frequently emphasised both the superior combat proficiencies of Crown Forces and the superior propaganda capabilities of the Patriots. Unable to respond militarily to small-scale British successes especially in the years 1777 and 1778, the Patriots instead created a highly successful atrocity narrative – nascent and growing since the Boston Massacre of 1770 – that offset the damage done on the battlefield. Massacres came to define entire theatres of the war, such as the western frontier or the south from 1780 onwards. Modern efforts such as Holger Hoock’s Scars of Independence (2018) have used occasional accounts of massacre to reinforce various points about revolutionary violence, but have failed to offer a comprehensive analysis of massacres throughout the conflict or assessed how these events had a decisive impact on the war. This thesis will seek to rectify that. Beginning with the Boston shootings of 1770 and closing with an assessment of the effect that massacres had on the Treaty of Paris, this thesis uses massacres as the central narrative focus for a reassessment of the course of the entire conflict, ultimately showing that many of them were pivotal events and not mere by-products of the wider conflict or footnotes in later histories of the revolution.