Was peace possible between the American colonies and Great Britain before the Declaration of Independence?

Major General Benedict Arnold, 18th century illustration, JamestownYorktown Foundation.

Major General Benedict Arnold, 18th-century illustration, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Continued conflict between American Patriots, American Loyalists, and British forces after the Battle of Bunker Hill on the outskirts of Boston decreased the possibility of peace and increased the likelihood of a permanent break between Great Britain and America.

The Continental Congress also took the offensive against British interests in North America by launching a major invasion of Canada in the Fall of 1775. This offensive was made possible by the weakness of British land forces in Canada and the American seizure of critical British forts like Fort Ticonderoga in northern New York in May 1775. The Continental Congress saw an invasion of Canada as a way to free Canada of British influence while adding another British colony to the movement for independence. Seizing Canada would also remove the possibility of a British counter-attack down the strategic Hudson River corridor which would have severed the rebellious New England colonies from the remaining American colonies.
The American attack on Canada was a two-pronged offensive which began in September 1775 with an attack on Fort St. Jean (also known as Fort St. John). One prong of the offensive, led by General Richard Montgomery, traveled up the Hudson River corridor towards Montreal. General Benedict Arnold led the second-prong of the offensive with a difficult cross-country attack on Quebec in the dead of winter. Though the Americans were able to take Montreal, they were not able to take Quebec. General Montgomery would die in the attack on Quebec while Benedict Arnold would also be injured. After being defeated at Quebec, General Arnold was forced to withdraw American forces from Canada. Though the Canadian offensive was unsuccessful, the American’s success in taking Montreal coupled with the heroism of the American forces during the short campaign, further instilled patriotic pride in the great undertaking and led many to join the cause of the Patriots.

British raids on American coastal towns in late 1775 also contributed to a general deterioration of relations between Great Britain and her American colonies. On October 18, 1775, the British Navy bombarded and burned the town of Falmouth, Massachusetts (known today as Portland, Maine). Vice-Admiral Graves had been instructed to use the British Navy to suppress the rebellion.

In February 1776, Patriots in North Carolina stopped North Carolina Loyalists from reaching the coast and joining up with British forces at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. This decisive battle weakened the strong Loyalist forces in North Carolina and helped drive the colony into the Patriot camp.