Historical Chart of the Causes, Milestones, and Battles of the Revolutionary War

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Feb. 26 2014 12:45 PM

Historical Chart of the Causes, Milestones, and Battles of the Revolutionary War

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

The George Washington Bicentennial Commission, established in 1924, collected this commemorative chart of battles, leaders, and milestones of the Revolutionary War and deposited it in the National Archives.

The Commission, appointed by Calvin Coolidge, worked through the 1920s to plan activities to commemorate the anniversary of Washington’s 1732 birth. As part of this mission, the commission collected graphic materials and photographs related to Washington. We don’t have specific identifying information related to this chart, in the form of a tree, beyond its having been collected by this commission. It’s not clear who the original artist might have been, and when the chart might first have been printed.


The chart’s representation of time and causation isn’t intuitive. The trunk contains major events related to the formation of the United States as a nation (the Continental Congresses; the adoption of the flag). Bizarrely, Benedict Arnold’s treason is accorded equal status with the Articles of Confederation. The tree branches represent years, with each individual branch showing battles. Numbers and letters tell the viewer which generals, American and British, were involved in which engagements.

The roots of the tree make a historical argument about the causes of the war. “Taxation without representation” is the strongest root, central to the tree’s structure (and showing a jagged rip at the bottom, perhaps a reference to the violence of the war). “Acts of Parliament” and “Colonial Events” form other major parts of the root structure, while the root named “Perversity of George III” dangles, an unrelated wild card.

Click on the image below to reach a zoomable version.


National Archives.

Rebecca Onion, who runs Slate’s history blog The Vault, is a writer and academic living in Ohio. Follow her on Twitter.


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