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|Centuries:||17th century – 18th century – 19th century|
|Decades:||1750s 1760s 1770s – 1780s – 1790s 1800s 1810s|
|Years:||1778 1779 1780 – 1781 – 1782 1783 1784|
|1781 by topic:|
|Arts and Sciences|
|Archaeology – Architecture – Art – Literature (Poetry) – Music – Science|
|Canada – Great Britain – United States|
|Lists of leaders|
|Colonial governors – State leaders|
|Birth and death categories|
|Births – Deaths|
|Establishments and disestablishments categories|
|Establishments – Disestablishments|
|Ab urbe condita||2534|
|British Regnal year||21 Geo. 3 – 22 Geo. 3|
— to —辛丑年十一月十七日
|- Vikram Samvat||1837–1838|
|- Shaka Samvat||1703–1704|
|- Kali Yuga||4882–4883|
|- Ǹrí Ìgbò||781–782|
|Japanese calendar||An'ei 10Tenmei 1
|Juche calendar||N/A (before 1912)|
|Julian calendar||Gregorian minus 11 days|
|Minguo calendar||131 before ROC
|Thai solar calendar||2324|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: 1781|
- 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 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 execute 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 prederence 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 Bagpipe competition in the Masonic Arms, Falkirk
- 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 Sea 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.
Date unknown 
- 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
- Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor abolishes serfdom.
- January 26 – Achim von Arnim, German writer (d. 1831)
- January 30 – Adelbert von Chamisso, German writer (d. 1838)
- February 17 – Rene Theophile Hyacinthe Laennec, French physician and inventor (d. 1826)
- March 4 – Rebecca Gratz, American educator and philanthropist (d. 1869)
- March 13 – Karl Friedrich Schinkel, German architect and painter (d. 1841)
- April 2 – Bhagwan Swaminarayan, Most recent incarnation of God in Hinduism, had 2 million followers during his time and has millions today. See BAPS. (d. 1830)
- June 9 – George Stephenson, English engineer (Locomotion No. 1 & Rocket) (d. 1848)
- June 21 – Siméon-Denis Poisson, French mathematician and physicist (d. 1840)
- July 6
- July 27 – Mauro Giuliani, Italian composer (d. 1829)
- September 3 – Eugène de Beauharnais, French nobleman, son of Napoleon's wife Josephine (d. 1824)
- September 6 – Anton Diabelli, Austrian music publisher, editor, and composer (d. 1858)
- October 1 – James Lawrence, U.S. Navy officer (d. 1813)
- November 6 – Lucy Aikin, English writer (d. 1864)
- November 20 – Karl Friedrich Eichhorn, German jurist (d. 1854)
- November 29 – Andrés Bello, Venezuelan poet, lawmaker, teacher, philosopher and sociologist (d. 1865)
- November 30 – Alexander Berry, Scottish adventurer and Australian pioneer (d. 1873)
- December 11 – Sir David Brewster, Scottish physicist (d. 1868)
- date unknown
- January 12 – Richard Challoner, English Catholic prelate (b. 1691)
- January 15 – Infanta Mariana Victoria of Spain, queen regent of Portugal (b. 1718)
- February 15 – Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, German author and philosopher (b. 1729)
- February 23 – George Taylor, American signer of the Declaration of Independence
- February 24 – Edward Capell, English critic (b. 1713)
- March 17 – Johannes Ewald, Danish national dramatist and poet (b. 1743)
- March 18 – Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de Laune, French statesman and economist (b. 1727)
- April 23 – James Abercrombie, British general (b. 1706)
- April 28 – Cornelius Harnett, American delegate to the Continental Congress (b. 1723)
- May 8 – Richard Jago, English poet (b. 1715)
- May 18 – Túpac Amaru II, rebel (b. 1742)
- May 27 – Giovanni Battista Beccaria, Italian physicist (b. 1716)
- July 18 – Padre Francisco Garcés, Spanish missionary (killed) (b. 1738)
- July 23 – John Joachim Zubly, Swiss-born Continental Congressman (b. 1724)
- September 12 – Peter Scheemakers, Flemish sculptor (b. 1691)
- September 28 – William Henry Nassau de Zuylestein, 4th Earl of Rochford, British diplomat and statesman (b. 1717)
- October 16 – Edward Hawke, 1st Baron Hawke, British naval officer (b. 1705)
- November 4 – Johann Nikolaus Götz, German poet (b. 1721)
- Williams, Hywel (2005). Cassell's Chronology of World History. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. pp. 333–334. ISBN 0-304-35730-8.
- Penguin Pocket On This Day. Penguin Reference Library. 2006. ISBN 0-14-102715-0.
- "BBC History British History Timeline". Archived from the original on 09 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-03.
- "History & Facts". Washington & Jefferson College. Archived from the original on 2011-07-28.