American Revolution (in Wisconsin) | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

American Revolution in Wisconsin, 1776-1783

American Revolution (in Wisconsin) | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.


During the Revolution the British and the Americans competed for two main prizes in Wisconsin, the allegiance of the Indians and control of the fur trade.

Initially there was little support in Wisconsin for the revolt of English-speaking colonists far away on the eastern seaboard. Most economic and political ties connected traders and Indians to Montreal rather than to Boston or Philadelphia. In 1776, 1777 and 1778, Charles de Langlade even led Indian warriors to fight alongside the British against American troops in the St. Lawrence Valley.

But in 1778-1779 many Indian fighters grew disillusioned with the British, adopted a stance of neutrality, or even began to sympathize with ¿the Bostonniens. The southern part of the state, in particular, began to change sides after the successful invasion of Illinois by Georges Rogers Clark in the winter of 1778-79. Milwaukee became known to the British as a "renegade" Indian village, and most communities from there west to Prairie du Chien leaned toward their new American friends in the south. When the French entered the war on the side of the U.S., even more Indians and traders — most of whom spoke French rather than English — began to oppose the British. In the northern part of the state, however, Indians and traders both remained loyal to England, which was the market for their furs and the source of their supplies.

Throughout the war the fur trade continued largely uninterrupted, and in some years actually increased, since both sides wanted to keep wealth flowing out of the wilderness. For example, in 1778 about 500 people were employed in the Lake Superior fur trade, shipping 40,000 pounds worth of furs out of the Northwest. English-speaking traders were consequently astonished in 1783 when the British gave Wisconsin to the United States at the war's end. Despite this paper concession, however, the British continued to occupy their Great Lakes trading posts on the American side of the U.S./Canadian border for another 13 years. During this time they succeeded in keeping the Great Lakes tribes loyal to Britain and Wisconsin's furs flowing toward Montreal.

[Source: Smith, Alice E. "From Exploration to Statehood: The History of Wisconsin, Volume I," Madison, 1973]

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