The Effects of the Revolutionary War on Civilians and Slaves

Woman spinning, looking after her child and chopping wood for the fire during the Revolutionary War. A rifle has been placed by the window for defense.
Black person from the American colonies fighting for the British army dressed in a dark blue uniform.

Many civilians suffered greatly during the Revolutionary War. To begin with, there were food shortages among civilians, since men in the military could not be home working in the fields and tending to animals as they usually did. To make matters worse, armies on both sides sometimes confiscated what little food families had in order to feed soldiers and the armies’ horses, and countless families received messages of loved ones having died in the war.


At a time when civilians needed each other’s help the most — as they were starving and fearing for their families’ lives — unfortunately, there was also an unfavorable split between civilians in colonial society. This split was between colonists who supported the American rebels and colonists who supported the British, and it manifested itself in both of these groups being harassed and killed by soldiers and civilians of the opposing side. Consequently, animosity between colonists was created, and the divide between people grew so strong that, after the war, many of the colonists who had been loyal to the losing British found it impossible to continue living in the United States. Instead, these people moved north to British North America, which is present-day Canada, or to other British territories.

Some slaves became soldiers

Moving away from civilians in general and focusing on slaves, we see that they were significantly affected by a British tactic used to undermine the revolutionaries. The tactic in question, though not yielding a decisive advantage, consisted of British military commanders offering blacks who were owned by patriot masters freedom in return for revolting against their masters and joining the British army. For some of the slaves who had answered the British calls, the freedom they had been promised then came as Great Britain lost the war, when they were allowed to join the surrendering army on their boats going back to Britain. The black recruits who didn’t manage to get on a British ship, however, were often re-captured and punished by their American slave owners.

Just like the British, during the war, the American rebel army offered certain blacks freedom in exchange for enlistment. At first though, the American leadership had been reluctant to arm slaves, since arming slaves could result in slave revolts, but in desperate need of new recruits they had had little choice. As the rebels thereafter won the war and the United States became independent, the promise of freedom to enlisted slaves was fulfilled, and within a couple of decades, many of the northern states of the United States did away with slavery altogether.