Skip to main content
Revolutionary War Charleston
Themes of the Period

Post-War Life

Life in a new nation

Once the Patriot forces had won the war and the soldiers had gone home from the battlefields, the whole nation needed to find a way to move forward. The United States government worked on the best way to lead their newly independent country. Those who sided with the British fled to Canada or back to Europe, such as Peggy Shippen and her husband, Benedict Arnold. Soldiers who had spent years fighting now returned to their previous livelihoods and had the opportunity to find new livelihoods, such as Winsor Fry, who was now no longer enslaved. While the new nation had trouble providing pensions and back pay to those who fought on the ground for independence at first, the U.S. government eventually secured money to pay for their service or the care of the soldiers’ widows, such as Sarah Osborn. After the guns were silenced, the work of building a nation and transitioning to post-war life had just begun.  

Stories of Post-War Life

Illustrated portrait drawing of Winsor Fry

Winsor Fry

Former slave fighting as a patriot, and navigating life in a new nation

Like many soldiers of the Continental Army, Winsor found it difficult to make a living. As a free person of color, post-war life may have been especially challenging. Further, primary documents suggest that he was illiterate, making only his mark instead of signing his name.  He applied for a military pension in 1818, and included in his paperwork the record card for a 100-acre land grant which he had never received. He applied again in 1820, describing himself as “much out of health & broken down with infirmities,” and received a pension worth around $8 per month. At the end of his life, he may have been physically unable to travel to Providence to collect his pension. The final amount, collected by the administrator of his estate after his death in February 1823, was the accumulated amount due to him from September 1822 to the end of his life.

Illustrated portrait drawing of Peggy Shippen Arnold

Peggy Shippen Arnold

An attractive socialite who secretly helped facilitate treason

After the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, the family sailed to London and was greeted with a warm reception. Both were presented to Queen Charlotte and King George III, and Peggy was presented with an annual pension of £100 to care for her children and an additional £350 for her services to the British Army. In 1784, Arnold moved to New Brunswick, Canada, on a business venture, and Peggy joined him in 1787. Her hometown of Philadelphia did not greet her as warmly as the Queen and King did; instead, she was treated coldly and called a “traitor” when she visited Philadelphia in 1789. The family left Canada in 1791 to return to London, where Arnold died in 1801. She died in 1804.  

Illustrated portrait drawing of Sarah Osborn Benjamin

Sarah Osborn Benjamin

Supporting the patriot frontlines during the American Revolution

Sarah appears to have avoided the economic hardships that afflicted many veterans after the war’s end, though her life in the new United States was not without difficulty. After her husband Aaron abandoned her, Sarah remarried another veteran of the Revolution. In 1832, the federal government implemented a new law which made widows of veterans eligible to receive pension benefits. Sarah successfully applied for a pension that reflected the services of both her husbands. Sarah was extremely long-lived. While her own accounts of her birth year are contradictory (some accounts place her birth in 1743 while others point to a date in the mid-1750s), her obituary states that she died on May 14, 1858. Sarah passed away just shy of the American Civil War, and lived long enough to see the advent of modern photography, which captured her tenacity for posterity. 

Illustrated portrait drawing of Thomas Brown

Thomas Brown

A loyalist who endured torture and eventually exile

Like many loyalists, Thomas Brown ended the American Revolution in exile from his pre-war home. He first settled in East Florida, but that territory also changed hands and Brown had to relocate once again. He was one of many loyalists who were able to establish new lives in the British colonies in the Caribbean.

Illustrated portrait drawing of Robert Kirkwood

Robert Kirkwood

A veteran of over thirty battles in the War of Independence

After the untimely death of his wife after the American Revolution, Robert Kirkwood traveled to the Ohio country, where he received a land grant in Washington County, Virginia, and an appointment in the newly formed 2nd U.S. Regiment. In 1791, he joined the army at Fort Washington under Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair. However, this proved to be a fateful move when, early in the morning of November 4, an alliance of tribes under Blue Jacket and Little Turtle attacked St. Clair's army in what has become known as "St. Clair's defeat" or the Battle of the Wabash River. Of the soldiers St. Clair commanded, few escaped unharmed, and Kirkwood died in the ensuing battle. Because of this devastating defeat, President George Washington forced St. Clair to resign, and Congress initiated its first investigation of the executive branch. Today, there is a monument to those killed during the battle in Fort Recovery, Ohio.

Illustrated portrait drawing of Lucy Flucker Knox

Lucy Flucker Knox

What would you endure to be with the love of your life?

After the war, Henry Knox was a key member of the Confederation government and President George Washington’s cabinet. The Knoxes were prominent members of the social scene in the American capital. They shared a taste for fine living, which Henry Knox’s government salary could not support. However, the land Lucy inherited from her family helped provide them with a livelihood. 

Illustrated portrait drawing of François Joseph Paul de Grasse

François Joseph Paul de Grasse

The American Revolution wasn't just about thirteen rebellious colonies; it was a world war.

Like many other officers during the war, de Grasse experienced tremendous highs and lows. His successes in 1779-1781 were critical to achieving American independence, but his defeat in 1782 undid much of the gains that France hoped to achieve at the peace negotiations. Like many British officers, de Grasse spent the years after the war publicly defending his conduct and searching for others to blame.