British general and playwright John Burgoyne surrenders 5,000 British and Hessian troops to American General Horatio Gates at Saratoga, New York, on this day in 1777.
In the summer of 1777, General Burgoyne led an army of 8,000 men south through New York in an effort to join forces with British General Sir William Howe’s troops along the Hudson River. After capturing several forts, Burgoyne’s force camped near Saratoga while a larger Patriot army under General Gates gathered just four miles away. On September 19, a British advance column marched out and engaged the Patriot force at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, or the First Battle of Saratoga. Failing to break through the American lines, Burgoyne’s force retreated. On October 7, another British reconnaissance force was repulsed by an American force under General Benedict Arnold in the Battle of Bemis Heights, also known as the Second Battle of Saratoga.
Gates retreated north to the village of Saratoga with his 5,000 surviving troops. By October 13, some 20,000 Americans had surrounded the British, and four days later Burgoyne was forced to agree to the first large-scale surrender of British forces in the Revolutionary War.
Burgoyne successfully negotiated that his surviving men would be returned to Britain by pledging that they would never again serve in North America. The nearly 6,000-man army was kept in captivity at great expense to the Continental Congress until the end of the war.
Soon after word of the Patriot victory at Saratoga reached France, King Louis XVI agreed to recognize the independence of the United States and French Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, Count de Vergennes, made arrangements with U.S. Ambassador Benjamin Franklin to begin providing formal French aid to the Patriot cause. This assistance was crucial to the eventual American victory in the Revolutionary War.