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|Centuries:||17th century – 18th century – 19th century|
|Decades:||1750s 1760s 1770s – 1780s – 1790s 1800s 1810s|
|Years:||1780 1781 1782 1783 1784 1785 1786 1787 1788 1789|
|Categories:||Births – Deaths – Architecture
Establishments – Disestablishments
This is a list of events occurring in the 1780s, ordered by year.
- January 16 – American Revolutionary War – Battle of Cape St. Vincent: British Admiral Sir George Rodney defeats a Spanish fleet.
- February – The League of Armed Neutrality is formed between Denmark, Sweden, and Russia.
- February 29 – The Omicron Delta Omega co-ed fraternity is founded by Benjamin Franklin.
- March 8 – Formation of the League of Armed Neutrality.
- March 11 – General Lafayette embarks on French frigate Hermione at Rochefort, arriving in Boston on April 28 carrying the news that he has secured French men and ships to reinforce the American side in the American Revolutionary War.
- March 26 – The British Gazette and Sunday Monitor, the first Sunday newspaper in Britain, begins publication.
- April 16 – The University of Münster in Münster, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany is founded.
- May 12 – American Revolutionary War: Charleston, South Carolina is taken by British forces.
- May 13 – Cumberland Compact signed by American settlers in the Cumberland Valley of Tennessee.
- May 19 – New England's Dark Day: An unaccountable darkness spreads over New England, regarded by some observers as a fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
- May 29 – American Revolutionary War: Loyalist forces under Col. Banastre Tarleton kill surrendering American soldiers in the Waxhaw Massacre.
- June 2–7 – Gordon Riots in London, Great Britain: The Duke of Richmond calls, in the House of Lords, for manhood suffrage and annual parliaments, which are rejected. About 285 people involved with the riots are shot dead by troops.
- June 23 – American Revolutionary War: Battle of Springfield – The Continental Army defeats the British in New Jersey.
- July 11 – French soldiers arrive in Newport, Rhode Island to reinforce colonists in the American Revolutionary War.
- August 16 – American Revolutionary War – Battle of Camden: British troops inflict heavy losses on a Patriot army at Camden, South Carolina.
- August 9 – American Revolutionary War: Spanish admiral Luis de Córdova y Córdova captures a British convoy totalling 55 vessels amongst Indiamen, frigates and other cargo ships off Cape St. Vincent.
- August 24 – Louis XVI of France abolishes the use of torture in extracting confessions.
- September 21 – Benedict Arnold gives detailed plans of West Point to Major John André. Three days later, André is captured with papers revealing that Arnold was planning to surrender West Point to the British.
- September 25 – Benedict Arnold flees to British-held New York.
- October 2 – American Revolutionary War: In Tappan, New York, British spy John André is hanged by American forces.
- October 7 – American Revolutionary War – Battle of Kings Mountain: Patriot militia forces annihilate Loyalists under British Major Patrick Ferguson at Kings Mountain in South Carolina.
- October 10–October 16 – The Great Hurricane flattens the islands of Barbados, Martinique and Sint Eustatius: 22,000 dead.
- November 29 – Maria Theresa of Austria dies and her Habsburg dominions pass to her ambitious son, Joseph II, who has already been Holy Roman Emperor since 1765.
- December 16 – Emperor Kōkaku accedes to the throne of Japan.
- December 20 – Start of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War.
- Jose Gabriel Kunturkanki, businessman and landowner, proclaims himself Inca Túpac Amaru II.
- Jeremy Bentham's Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, presenting his formulation of utilitarian ethics, is printed (but not published) in London.
- Nikephoros Theotokis starts introducing Edinoverie, an attempt to integrate the Old Believers into Russia's established church.
- Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey distillery begins operation in Kentucky.
- In Ireland, Lady Berry, who is sentenced to death for the murder of her son, is released when she agrees to become an executioner (retires 1810)
- The original Craven Cottage is built by William Craven, 6th Baron Craven, in London on what will become the centre circle of Fulham F.C.'s pitch.
- The amateur dramatic group Det Dramatiske Selskab in Christiania is founded in Norway.
- Western countries pay 16,000,000 ounces of silver for Chinese goods.
- c.9 million population in the Kingdom of Great Britain.
- January – William Pitt the Younger, later Prime Minister of Great Britain, enters Parliament, aged 21.
- January 1 – Industrial Revolution: The Iron Bridge opens across the River Severn in England.
- January 2 – Virginia passes a law ceding its western land claims, paving the way for Maryland to ratify the Articles of Confederation.
- January 3 – American Revolutionary War: Capture of Sint Eustatius – British forces take the Dutch Caribbean island of Sint Eustatius with only a few shots fired.
- January 5 – American Revolutionary War: Richmond, Virginia is burned by British naval forces led by Benedict Arnold.
- January 6 – Battle of Jersey: British troops prevent the French from occupying Jersey in the Channel Islands.
- January 17 – American Revolutionary War – Battle of Cowpens: The American Continental Army under Daniel Morgan decisively defeats British forces in South Carolina.
- February 2 – The Articles of Confederation are ratified by Maryland, the 13th and final state to do so.
- March – Riots break out in Socorro, Santander, and spread to other towns.
- March 1 – The United States Continental Congress implements the Articles of Confederation, forming its Perpetual Union as the United States in Congress Assembled.
- March 13 – Sir William Herschel discovers the planet Uranus. Originally he calls it Georgium Sidus (George's Star) in honour of King George III of Great Britain.
- March 15 – American Revolutionary War – Battle of Guilford Court House: American General Nathanael Greene loses to the British.
- May 18 – An army sent from Lima put down the rebellions and captures and savagely executes Túpac Amaru II.
- June 4 – The commission[which?] agrees to the rebel's[where?] terms: reduction of the alcabala and of the Indians' forced tribute, abolition of the new taxes on tobacco and preference for Creoles over peninsulares in government positions.
- July 27 – French spy François Henri de la Motte is hanged and drawn before a large crowd at Tyburn, London in England for high treason.
- July 29 – American Revolution – Skirmish at the House in the Horseshoe: A Tory force under David Fanning attacks Phillip Alston's smaller force of Whigs at Alston's home in Cumberland County, North Carolina (in present day Moore County, North Carolina). Alston's troops surrender after Fanning's men attempt to ram the house with a cart of burning straw.
- August 30 – American Revolution: A French fleet under Comte de Grasse enters Chesapeake Bay, cutting British General Charles Cornwallis off from escape by sea.
- September 4 – Los Angeles is founded as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciuncula (City of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of Porciuncula) by a group of 44 Spanish settlers.
- September 5 – American Revolution – Battle of the Chesapeake: A British fleet under Thomas Graves arrives and fights de Grasse, but is unable to break through to relieve the Siege of Yorktown.
- September 6 – American Revolution – Battle of Groton Heights: The British army attacks a fort in Groton, Connecticut.
- September 10 – American Revolution: Graves gives up trying to break through the now-reinforced French fleet and returns to New York, leaving Cornwallis to his fate.
- September 28 – American Revolution: American and French troops begin a siege of the British at Yorktown, Virginia.
- October 12 – First bagpipes competition in the Masonic Arms, Falkirk, Scotland.
- October 19 – American Revolution: Following the Siege of Yorktown, General Charles Cornwallis surrenders to General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, ending the armed struggle of the American Revolution.
- October 20 – A Patent of Tolerance, providing limited freedom of worship, is approved in the Habsburg Monarchy.
- November 5 – John Hanson is elected President of the Continental Congress.
- November 29
- Zong massacre: English slave traders begin to throw approximately 142 slaves taken on in Accra overboard alive from the slave ship Zong in the Caribbean to conserve supplies for the remainder; the Liverpool owners subsequently attempt to reclaim part of their value from insurers.
- Henry Hurle officially founds the Ancient Order of Druids in London, England.
- December – A school is founded in Washington County, Pennsylvania that will later be known as Washington & Jefferson College.
- December 12 – American Revolutionary War – Second Battle of Ushant: The British Royal Navy, commanded by Rear Admiral Richard Kempenfelt in HMS Victory, decisively defeats the French fleet in the Bay of Biscay.
- Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor abolishes serfdom.
- Bank of North America is chartered by the Continental Congress.
- Charles Messier publishes the final catalog of Messier objects.
- Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovers tungsten.
- Immanuel Kant publishes his Critique of Pure Reason.
- Reverend Samuel Peters publishes his General History of Connecticut, using the term blue law for the first time.
- Founding of Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
- January 7 – The first American commercial bank (Bank of North America) opens.
- January 15 – Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris goes before the U.S. Congress to recommend establishment of a national mint and decimal coinage.
- January 23 – Laird of Johnstone, George Ludovic Houston invites people to buy marked plots of land which, when built upon, form the planned town of Johnstone, Scotland, to provide employment for his thread and cotton mills.
- February 5 – The Spanish defeat British forces and capture Minorca.
- March 8 – In Ohio, the Gnadenhutten massacre of Native Americans takes place in which 29 men, 27 women, and 34 children are killed by white militiamen in retaliation for raids carried out by another Native American group.
- March 14 – Battle of Wuchale: Emperor Tekle Giyorgis pacifies a group of Oromo near Wuchale.
- March 27 – Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
- March 31 (Easter Sunday) – Mission San Buenaventura is founded in Las Californias, part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
- April 6 – Rama I succeeds King Taksin of Siam (now Thailand) who is overthrown in an coup d'état and moves the political capital from Thonburi across the Menam to Rattanakosin Island, the historic center of Bangkok.
- April 12 – Battle of the Saintes: A British fleet under Admiral Sir George Rodney defeats a French fleet under the Comte de Grasse in the West Indies.
- April 19 – John Adams secures recognition of the United States as an independent government by the Dutch Republic. During this visit, he also negotiates a loan of five million guilders financed by Nicolaas van Staphorst and Wilhelm Willink.
- May 17 – The Parliament of Great Britain passes the Repeal of Act for Securing Dependence of Ireland Act, a major component of the reforms collectively known as the 'Constitution of 1782' which restore legislative independence to the Parliament of Ireland.
- June 18 – In Switzerland, Anna Göldi is sentenced to death for witchcraft (the last legal witchcraft sentence).
- June 20 – The bald eagle is chosen as the emblem of the United States of America.
- July – Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, receives a visit from Pope Pius VI.
- July 1 – Raid on Lunenburg: American privateers attack the British settlement at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
- July 16 – Première of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Burgtheater in Vienna.
- August 7
- George Washington orders the creation of the Badge of Military Merit (or the Order of the Purple Heart) to honor soldiers' merit in battle (reinstated later by Franklin D. Roosevelt and renamed to the more poetic "Purple Heart" to honor soldiers wounded in action).
- Étienne Maurice Falconet's Bronze Horseman statue of Tsar Peter the Great is unveiled in Saint Petersburg.
- November 30 – American Revolutionary War: In Paris, representatives from the United States and the Kingdom of Great Britain sign preliminary peace articles (later formalized in the Treaty of Paris).
- December 12 – American Revolutionary War: Action of 12 December 1782: A naval engagement off Ferrol, Spain, in which the British ship HMS Mediator commanded by James Luttrell successfully attacks a convoy of French and American ships attempting to supply the United States.
- December 14 – The Montgolfier brothers first test fly a hot air balloon in France; it floats nearly 2 km (1.2 mi).
- Chief Kamehameha I of Hawaii gains control of the northern part of the island of Hawaii after defeating his cousin Kīwalaʻō.
- London creates the Foot Patrol for public security.
- The British parliament extends James Watt's patent for the steam engine to the year 1800.
- The North Carolina General Assembly incorporates Washington, North Carolina.
- In China, the Siku Quanshu is completed, the largest literary compilation in China's history (surpassing the Yongle Encyclopedia of the 15th century). The books are bound in 36,381 volumes (册) with more than 79,000 chapters (卷), comprising about 2.3 million pages, and approximately 800 million Chinese characters.
- Saint Petersburg has 300,000 inhabitants.
- February 3 – American Revolutionary War: The Kingdom of Great Britain acknowledges the independence of the United States of America. At this time the Spanish government does not grant diplomatic recognition.
- February 4 – American Revolutionary War: Great Britain formally declares that it will cease hostilities with the United States.
- February 5 – 1783 Calabrian earthquakes: First of a sequence of five earthquakes in Calabria, Italy (February 5–7, March 1 & 28), leaving 50,000 dead.
- February 26 – The United States Continental Army's Corps of Engineers is disbanded.
- March 5 – Last celebration of Massacre Day in Boston, Massachusetts.
- March 15 – Newburgh Conspiracy: A potential uprising in the Continental Army stationed at Newburgh, New York, is defused when George Washington asks the officers to support the supremacy of the United States Congress.
- April 8 – The Crimean Khanate, which had existed since 1441 and was the last remnant of the Mongol Golden Horde, is annexed by the Russian Empire of Catherine the Great.
- April 15 – Preliminary articles of peace ending the American Revolutionary War are ratified.
- May 18 – The first United Empire Loyalists, fleeing the new United States, reach Parrtown in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.
- May 26 – A Great Jubilee Day celebrating end of American Revolution held in Trumbull, Connecticut.
- June 4 or June 5 – The Montgolfier brothers publicly demonstrate their montgolfière hot air balloon at Annonay in France.
- June 8 – The volcano Laki in Iceland begins an 8-month eruption starting the chain of natural disasters known as the Móðuharðindin, killing tens of thousands throughout Europe, including up to 33% of Iceland's population, and causing widespread famine. It has been described as one of "the greatest environmental catastrophes in European history".
- July 16 – Grants of land in Canada to American loyalists are announced.
- July 24 – The Treaty of Georgievsk is signed between Imperial Russia and the Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti making Georgia a protectorate of Russia.
- August 5 – Mount Asama erupts, causing turmoil in Edo period Japan.
- August 18 – The 1783 Great Meteor passes on a thousand-mile track across the North Sea, Great Britain and France, prompting scientific discussion.
- August 27 – Jacques Charles and Les Frères Robert launch the world's first hydrogen-filled balloon, Le Globe, in Paris.
- September 3 – Peace of Paris: A treaty between the United States and Great Britain is signed in Paris, formally ending the American Revolutionary War; and treaties are signed between Britain, France and Spain at Versailles ending hostilities with the Franco-Spanish Alliance. This also was the beginning of the Old West.
- September 9 – Dickinson College is chartered in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
- October 3 – First Waterford Crystal glassmaking business begins production in Waterford, Ireland.
- November 2 – In Rocky Hill, New Jersey, United States General George Washington gives his Farewell Address to the Army.
- November 21 – In Paris, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent, marquis d'Arlandes, make the first untethered hot air balloon flight (flight time: 25 minutes, Maximum height: 900 m).
- November 24 – In Spain, the Cedula of Population is signed, stating that anyone who will swear fealty to Spain and is of the Roman Catholic faith is welcome to populate Trinidad and Tobago.
- November 25 – American Revolutionary War: The last British troops leave New York City 3 months after the signing of the Treaty of Paris.
- November 27 – John Michell and the black holes: The english rector, John Michell concludes that some stars might have enough gravity force to prevent light escapes from them, so he called them "dark stars".
- November 29 – New Jersey earthquake: An earthquake of 5.3 magnitude strikes New Jersey.
- December 1 – Jacques Charles and Nicolas-Louis Robert make the first manned flight in a hydrogen-filled balloon, La Charlière, in Paris.
- December 4 – At Fraunces Tavern in New York City, U.S. General George Washington formally bids his officers farewell.
- December 26 – Louis-Sébastien Lenormand makes the first ever recorded public demonstration of a parachute descent by jumping from the tower of the Montpellier observatory in France using his rigid-framed model which he intends as a form of fire escape.
- Loyalists from New York settle Great Abaco in the Bahamas.
- The city of Sevastopol is founded on the Crimean Peninsula of the Russian Empire.
- The Evan Williams (whiskey) distillery is founded in Bardstown, Kentucky.
- January 6 – The Turks agree to Russia's annexation of the Crimea in the Treaty of Constantinople.
- January 14 – The Congress of the United States ratifies the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain to end the American Revolutionary War, with the signature of President of Congress Thomas Mifflin.
- January 15 – Henry Cavendish's paper to the Royal Society of London, Experiments on Air, reveals the composition of water.
- February 28 – John Wesley ordains ministers for the Methodist Church in the United States.
- May 20 – A treaty is signed in Paris between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Dutch Republic formally ending the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War.
- June 4 – Elizabeth Thible is the first woman to ride in a hot air balloon, at Lyon, France.
- August 15 – Cardinal de Rohan is called before the court to account for his actions in the Queen's Necklace Affair.
- August 16 – Britain creates the colony of New Brunswick.
- September 22 – Russia establishes a colony at Kodiak, Alaska.
- October 31 Revolt of Horea, Cloșca and Crișan in Transylvania
- November 26 – The Roman Catholic Apostolic Prefecture of the United States is established.
- December – Immanuel Kant's essay "Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?" is published.
- December 25 – The Methodist Episcopal Church, USA is officially formed at the "Christmas Conference" led by Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury.
- Emperor Josef II suspends the Hungarian Constitution because of a revolution in Transylvania.
- King Carlos III of the Spanish Empire authorizes land grants in Alta California.
- The North Carolina General Assembly incorporates the town of Morgansborough, named for Daniel Morgan. The town is designated as the county seat for Burke County, North Carolina and is subsequently renamed "Morgantown" and later shortened to become Morganton.
- The North Carolina General Assembly changes the name of Kingston, North Carolina, originally named for King George III of Great Britain, to Kinston.
- The Japanese famine continues as 300,000 die of starvation.
- A huge locust swarm hits South Africa.
- Benjamin Franklin tries in vain to persuade the French to alter their clocks in winter to take advantage of the daylight.
- Benjamin Franklin invents bifocal spectacles.
- Antoine Lavoisier pioneers quantitative chemistry.
- Cholesterol is isolated.
- Carl Friedrich Gauss pioneers the field of summation with the formula summing 1:n as (n(n+1))/2, at the age of 7.
- Madame du Coudray, pioneer of modern midwifery, retires.
- The India Act requires that the governor general be chosen from outside the British East India Company and it makes company directors subject to parliamentary supervision.
- Britain receives its first bales of imported American cotton.
- January 1 – The first issue of the Daily Universal Register, later known as The Times, is published in London.
- January 7 – Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American John Jeffries travel from Dover, England to Calais, France in a hydrogen gas balloon, becoming the first to cross the English Channel by air.
- January 20 – Invading Siamese forces, attempting to exploit the political chaos in Vietnam, are ambushed and annihilated at the Mekong River by the Tây Sơn in the Battle of Rạch Gầm-Xoài Mút.
- January 27 – The University of Georgia is founded.
- May 10 – A hot air balloon crashes in Tullamore, Ireland, causing a fire that burns down about 100 houses, making it the world's first aviation disaster (by 36 days).
- June 3 – Continental Navy disbanded.
- June 15 – After several attempts, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and his companion, Pierre Romain, set off in a balloon from Boulogne-sur-Mer, but the balloon suddenly deflates (without the envelope catching fire) and crashes near Wimereux in the Pas-de-Calais, killing both men, making it the first fatal aviation disaster.
- July 6 – The dollar is unanimously chosen as the money unit for the United States.
- July 16 – The Piper-Heidsieck Champagne house is founded by Florens-Louis Heidsieck in Reims, France.
- August 1 – The fleet of French explorer Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse leaves Paris for the circumnavigation of the globe.
- August 15 – Cardinal de Rohan is arrested in Paris; the Necklace Affair comes into the open.
- November – A drought occurs in Haiti.
- November 28 – The Treaty of Hopewell is signed between the United States of America and the Cherokee Nation.
- The University of New Brunswick is founded in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.
- Coal gas is first used for illumination.
- Louis XVI of France signs to a law that a handkerchief must be square.
- The British government establishes a permanent land force in the Eastern Caribbean, based in Barbados.
- The North Carolina General Assembly incorporates Lincolnton, North Carolina (named for American General Benjamin Lincoln) as the new county seat for Lincoln County.
- Belfast Academy (later Belfast Royal Academy) is founded by Rev. Dr James Crombie in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
- Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi publishes Letters on the Teachings of Spinoza, and starts the Pantheism controversy.
- Napoleon Bonaparte becomes a lieutenant in the French artillery.
- Music: Mozart's "Haydn" String Quartets are published.
- January 3 – The third Treaty of Hopewell is signed between the United States of America and the Choctaw.
- January 6 – The outward bound East Indiaman Halsewell is wrecked on the south coast of England in a storm with only 74 of more than 240 on board surviving.
- February 2 – In a speech before The Asiatic Society in Calcutta, Sir William Jones notes the formal resemblances between Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit, laying the foundation for comparative linguistics and Indo-European studies.
- May 1 – Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro premieres in Vienna.
- May 21 – The trial in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace ends in Paris.
- June 10 – An earthquake-caused landslide dam on the Dadu River gives way, killing 100,000 in the Sichuan province of China.
- June 25 – Gavriil Pribylov discovers St. George Island of the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea.
- July 14 – Convention of London between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Spain: British settlements on the Mosquito Coast of Central America are to be evacuated; Spain expands the territory available to the British in Belize on the Yucatán Peninsula for cutting mahogany.
- August 1 – Caroline Herschel discovers a comet (the first discovered by a woman).
- August 8 – Mont Blanc is climbed for the first time by Dr. Michel-Gabriel Paccard and Jacques Balmat.
- August 11 – Captain Francis Light acquires the island of Penang from the Sultan of Kedah on behalf of the British East India Company, renaming it Prince of Wales Island in honour of the heir to the British throne, the first colony of the British Empire in Southeast Asia.
- August 17 : The paternal nephew of Frederick the Great, Frederick William, becomes King of Prussia, as Frederick William II.
- August 29 – Shays' Rebellion begins in Massachusetts.
- September–December – Goethe undertakes his Italian Journey (published in 1817).
- September 2 – A hurricane strikes Barbados.
- September 11–14 – Annapolis Convention held, resulting in scheduling of the Philadelphia Convention.
- September 26 – Eden Agreement: Commercial treaty signed between the Kingdoms of Great Britain and France.
- November 7 – The oldest musical organization in the United States, the Stoughton Musical Society, is founded.
- November 30 – Peter Leopold Joseph of Habsburg-Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany, promulgates a penal reform making his country the first state to abolish the death penalty. November 30 is therefore commemorated by 300 cities around the world as Cities for Life Day.
- December 4 – Mission Santa Barbara is founded by Padre Fermín Lasuén as the tenth of the Spanish missions in California.
- The Kingdom of Denmark–Norway charters six settlements in Iceland to trade with it, thus ending the Danish–Icelandic Trade Monopoly and founding Reykjavík.
- The town of Martinsborough, North Carolina, itself named for Royal Governor Josiah Martin in 1771, is renamed "Greenesville" in honor of United States General Nathanael Greene by the North Carolina General Assembly; the name "Greenesville" is later shortened to become Greenville.
- The last reliably recorded wolf in Ireland is hunted down and killed near Mount Leinster, County Carlow, for killing sheep.
- January 6 – The North Carolina General Assembly authorizes nine commissioners to purchase 100 acres (0.40 km2) of land for the county seat of Chatham County. The town is named Pittsborough (later shortened to Pittsboro) for William Pitt the Younger.
- January 11 – William Herschel discovers Titania and Oberon, two moons of Uranus.
- January 19 – Mozart's Symphony No. 38 is premièred in Prague.
- February 4 – Shays' Rebellion in Massachusetts fails.
- February 28 – A charter is granted establishing the institution which will become the University of Pittsburgh.
- April 2 – A Charter of Justice is signed providing the authority for the establishment of the first New South Wales (i.e. Australian) Courts of Criminal and Civil Jurisdiction.
- May 7 – The New Church is founded.
- May 13 – Captain Arthur Phillip leaves Portsmouth in England with the eleven ships of the First Fleet carrying around 700 convicts and at least 300 crew and guards to establish a penal colony in Australia.
- May 14 – In Philadelphia, delegates begin arriving for a Constitutional Convention.
- May 22 – In Britain, Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp found the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade with support from John Wesley, Josiah Wedgwood and others.
- May 25 – In Philadelphia, delegates begin to convene the Constitutional Convention intended to amend the Articles of Confederation. However, a new United States Constitution is eventually produced. George Washington presides over the Convention.
- May – Orangist troops attack Vreeswijk, Harmelen and Maarssen: civil war starts in the Dutch Republic.
- May 31 – The original Lord's Cricket Ground in London holds its first cricket match; Marylebone Cricket Club founded.
- June 6 – Franklin College, named for Benjamin Franklin, opens in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It later merges with Marshall College to become Franklin & Marshall College.
- June 20 – Oliver Ellsworth moves at the Federal Convention that the government be called the United States.
- June 28 – Princess Wilhelmina of Orange, sister of King Frederick William II of Prussia, is captured by Dutch Republican patriots, taken to Goejanverwellesluis and not allowed to travel to The Hague.
- July 13 – The Congress of the United States enacts the Northwest Ordinance establishing governing rules for the Northwest Territory. It also establishes procedures for the admission of new states and limits the expansion of slavery.
- August 27 – Launching a 45-foot (14 m) steam powered craft on the Delaware River, John Fitch demonstrates the first U.S. patent for his design.
- September 13 – Prussian troops enter the Dutch Republic. Within a few weeks 40,000 Patriots (out of a population of 2,000,000) go into exile in France (and learn from observation the ideals of the French Revolution).
- September 17 – The United States Constitution is adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
- September 24 – Washington Academy (later Washington & Jefferson College) is chartered by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
- October 1 – Russo-Turkish War (1787–92) – Battle of Kinburn: Alexander Suvorov, though sustaining a wound, routs the Turks.
- October 27 – The first of The Federalist Papers, a series of essays calling for ratification of the U.S. Constitution, is published in The Independent Journal, a New York newspaper.
- October 29 – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera Don Giovanni (libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte) premieres in the Estates Theatre in Prague.
- December 3 – James Rumsey demonstrates his water-jet propelled boat on the Potomac River.
- December 7 – Delaware ratifies the Constitution and becomes the first U.S. state.
- December 8 – La Purisima Mission is founded by Padre Fermín Lasuén as the eleventh of the Spanish missions in California.
- December 12 – Pennsylvania becomes the second U.S. state.
- December 18 – New Jersey becomes the third U.S. state.
- December 23 – Captain William Bligh sets sail from England for Tahiti in HMS Bounty.
- Caroline Herschel is granted an annual salary of £50 by King George III of Great Britain for acting as assistant to her brother William in astronomy.
- The North Carolina General Assembly incorporates Waynesborough, and designates it the county seat for Wayne County, North Carolina.
- Antoine Lavoisier is the first to suggest that silica is an oxide of a hitherto unknown metallic chemical element, later isolated and named silicon.
- Freed slave Ottobah Cugoano publishes Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species in England.
- January 1 – The first edition of The Times, previously The Daily Universal Register, is published in London.
- January 2 – Georgia ratifies the United States Constitution and becomes the fourth U.S. state under the new government.
- January 9 – Connecticut ratifies the United States Constitution and becomes the fifth U.S. state.
- January 18 – The leading ship (armed tender HMS Supply) in Captain Arthur Phillip's First Fleet arrives at Botany Bay to colonise Australia.
- January – Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès publishes the pamphlet What Is the Third Estate? (Qu'est-ce que le tiers-état?), influential on the French Revolution.
- January 7 – United States presidential election, 1788–89 and House of Representatives elections are held.
- January 21 – The first American novel, The Power of Sympathy or the Triumph of Nature Founded in Truth, is printed in Boston, Massachusetts. The anonymous author is William Hill Brown.
- January 23 – Georgetown University is founded in Washington, D.C., the first Roman Catholic college in the United States.
- February – King Gustav III of Sweden enforces the Union and Security Act, delivering the coup de grace to Sweden's 70-year old parliamentarian system in favor of absolute monarchy.
- February 4 – George Washington is unanimously elected the first President of the United States by the United States Electoral College.
- March – First version of a graphic description of a slave ship (the Brookes) issued on behalf of the English Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
- March 4 – At Federal Hall in New York City, the 1st United States Congress meets and declares the new United States Constitution to be in effect. The bicameral United States Congress replaces the unicameral Congress of the Confederation as the legislature of the federal government of the United States.
- April 1 – At Federal Hall, the United States House of Representatives attains its first quorum and elects congressman Frederick Muhlenberg as the first Speaker of the House.
- April 6 – At Federal Hall, the United States Senate attains its first quorum and elects John Langdon of Pennsylvania as its first President pro tempore. Later that day, the Senate and the House of Representatives meet in joint session for the first time, and the electoral votes of the first U.S. Presidential election are counted. General George Washington is certified as President-elect and John Adams is certified as Vice-President elect.
- April 7 – Selim III (1789–1807) succeeds Abdul Hamid I (1773–1789) as Ottoman Sultan.
- April 21 – John Adams takes office as the first Vice President of the United States and begins presiding over the United States Senate.
- April 28 – Mutiny on the Bounty: Fletcher Christian leads the mutiny on the British Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty against Captain William Bligh in the Pacific Ocean.
- April 30 – George Washington is inaugurated at Federal Hall in New York City, beginning his term as the first President of the United States.
- May 5 – In France, the Estates-General convenes for the first time in 175 years.
- June 14 – Survivors of the mutiny on the Bounty, including Captain William Bligh and 18 others, reach Timor after a nearly 4,000-mile (6,400 km) journey in an open boat.
- June 17 – In France, representatives of the Third Estate at the Estates-General declare themselves the National Assembly.
- June 20 – Tennis Court Oath is made in Versailles.
- June 23 – Louis XVI of France makes a conciliatory speech urging reforms to a joint session and orders the three estates to meet together.
- July – An estimated 150,000 of Paris's 600,000 people are without work.
- July 1 – The comic ballet La fille mal gardée choreographed by Jean Dauberval is first presented under the title Le ballet de la paille at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux, in Bordeaux, France.
- July 9
- July 10 – Alexander Mackenzie reaches Mackenzie River Delta.
- July 11 – Louis XVI of France dismisses popular Chief Minister Jacques Necker.
- July 12 – An angry Parisian crowd, inflamed by a speech from journalist Camille Desmoulins, demonstrates against the King’s decision to dismiss Minister Necker.
- July 13 – The people begin to seize arms for the defense of Paris.
- July 14 – The French Revolution (1789–1799) begins with the Storming of the Bastille: Citizens of Paris storm the fortress of the Bastille and free the only seven prisoners held. In rural areas, peasants attack manors of the nobility.
- July 27 – The first agency of the Federal government of the United States under the new Constitution, the Department of Foreign Affairs (from September 15 renamed the Department of State), is established.
- August 4 – In France, members of the Constituent Assembly take an oath to end feudalism and abandon their privileges.
- August 7 – The United States Department of War is established.
- August 18 – The Liège Revolution breaks out in the Prince-Bishopric of Liège.
- August 21 – A proposal for a Bill of Rights is adopted by the United States House of Representatives.
- August 26 – The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is proclaimed in France by the Constituent Assembly.
- August 28 – William Herschel discovers Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons.
- September 2 – The United States Department of the Treasury is founded.
- September 22 – Russo-Turkish War (1787–92) – Battle of Rymnik: Alexander Suvorov roundly defeats 100,000 Turks.
- September 24 – The Judiciary Act of 1789 establishes the federal judiciary and the United States Marshals Service.
- September 25 – The United States Congress proposes a set of 12 amendments for ratification by the states. Ratification for 10 of these proposals is completed on December 5, 1791, creating the United States Bill of Rights.
- September 29 – The U.S. Department of War establishes the nation's first regular army, with a strength of several hundred men.
- October 5 – Women's March on Versailles: Some 7,000 women march 12 miles (19 km) from Paris to the royal Palace of Versailles to demand action over high bread prices.
- October 10 – Physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposes to the French National Assembly the adoption of more humane and egalitarian forms of capital punishment, including use of the guillotine.
- October 24 – Brabant revolutionaries cross the border from the Dutch Republic into the Austrian Netherlands as the first act of the Brabant Revolution; first public reading of the Manifesto of the People of Brabant declaring the independence of the Austrian Netherlands.
- October 27 – Austrian army beaten by Brabant revolutionaries at the Battle of Turnhout
- November 6 – Pope Pius VI appoints John Carroll the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States.
- November 20 – New Jersey ratifies the United States Bill of Rights, the first state to do so.
- November 21 – North Carolina ratifies the United States Constitution and becomes the 12th U.S. state.
- November 26 – A national Thanksgiving Day is observed in the United States as recommended by President George Washington and approved by Congress.
- December 11 – The University of North Carolina, the oldest public university in the United States, is founded.
- December 23 – A leaflet circulated in France accuses marquis de Favras of plotting to rescue the royal family.
- Traité élémentaire de chimie (Elementary Treatise of Chemistry), an influential chemistry textbook by Antoine Lavoisier, was published in 1789 and translated into English in 1790. It is now considered the first modern chemical textbook.
- German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth discovered the element Uranium while studying the mineral pitchblende.
- The Bengal Presidency first established a penal colony in the Andaman Islands.
- Thomas Jefferson returned from Europe, bringing the first macaroni machine to the United States.
- Influenced by Dr. Benjamin Rush's argument against the excessive use of alcohol, about 200 farmers in a Connecticut community formed a temperance association.
- Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, decreed that all peasant labor obligations be converted into cash payments.
- Fort Washington (Cincinnati, Ohio), was built to protect early U.S. settlements in the Northwest Territory.
- Former slave Olaudah Equiano's autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, one of the earliest published works by a black writer, was published in London.
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