Other Americans and the American Revolution

Carolyn Latshaw, National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution–Chicago Chapter 2014 Newberry Teacher Fellow

Who identified as “American” during the Revolution? To what extent did the American Revolution serve the interests of all inhabitants of the emerging nation?

Introduction

When we think of the Americans during the Revolutionary War, we think George Washington, John Adams, Paul Revere—the Patriots. The American Revolution as told in school textbooks follows this pattern of telling the war according to how Patriots viewed it. The evil British King George III and the British Government infringed on the rights of the colonists, the colonists justifiably rebelled against British rule and, after almost a decade of war (in which the colonists were horribly outnumbered, with little experience, training, and equipment), the brave but rag-tag Continental Army defeated the best army in the world. Of course, this first American Army overcame great obstacles due to the intelligence, bravery, and almost God-like qualities of their leader, General George Washington.

People living in the rebellious colonies included not only the Patriots, but also Loyalists, American Indians, slaves, and others who may have had good reason to oppose independence or who would not be counted as citizens of the newly formed republic.

This is the story of the war that we learn growing up and few of us question it. However, the American Revolution was a much more complex conflict and, in order to develop a more accurate and well-rounded understanding of it, we must look at the different peoples who experienced the war and were affected by it. People living in the rebellious colonies included not only the Patriots, but also Loyalists, American Indians, slaves, and others who may have had good reason to oppose independence or who would not be counted as citizens of the newly formed republic. Even active participants and contributors to the war were a diverse lot: the British army hired Hessian soldiers to join the fighting against the Patriots and the French helped the Americans financially and militarily. Looking at these perspectives gives us a larger context from which we can study the war, and determine the outcomes for all Americans.

The following collection of documents serves to illustrate these various perspectives on the causes and effects of the American Revolution. The goal of this collection is to give a small sampling of the wealth of information that is available on the many different stories of the American Revolution, not just the Patriot story familiar to us. While the patriot view is represented, it is these other perspectives that serve to guide us to a better understanding of the various interests different groups of people had in the war, and the war’s affect not only on the newly independent United States of America, but on people around the world.

Essential Questions

• How did the American Revolution affect different groups of people?

• What are the various arguments put forth as to the cause of and reasons for the American Revolution? How do the arguments reflect the group that made them?

• What are the different interests of each group? What stake do they have in the war?

• Think about a definition of the word Americans. What groups of people are considered Americans at this time? Who is considered American today?

The Patriots

Though the most well-known perspective of the American Revolution, at least for Americans, it is important to understand the Patriot view of the Revolution in order to provide context for the other perspectives of peoples living in America and those other groups involved with the war. The causes of the American Revolution (according to the Patriots), were long in coming, starting with the French and Indian War, and including the acts passed by Parliament on the colonies to raise money to help pay for that war (including the Stamp Act, and the ‘Intolerable Acts’). As subjects of the British crown and taxpayers, the colonists believed they had a right to representation in Parliament. Boston was hit the hardest by these taxes and therefore minor revolts broke out there, which led to further British involvement, including more military personnel and harsher laws, which led to further revolt and ultimately the discussion among the colonies to create a unifying force (the Continental Congress) to try to get Parliament to ease the pressure off of the colonies.

We know what happens next. The colonists start to prepare for battle, calling out the militia and stockpiling weapons, the British attempt to seize these stores of weapons, and the battles of Lexington and Concord ensue. Both sides refused to yield and the war escalated from there. The war finally ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and America finally became an independent country.

The following documents span from before the war until almost the end of the war and they represent some of the ideals for which the Patriots stood. As you read these documents think about how the American Revolution might have served the interests of this group.

Questions to Consider

  1. How do the Patriots define themselves as Americans?
  2. What are some of the ideals and principles of the Patriots? What do they hope to achieve? Do their goals change over time?
  3. What was the importance of the Stamp Act and its repeal?
  4. According to John Adams, what should be the United States’ priorities once it gains independence? Why? How are these priorities connected to the ideals represented in the other documents?

A Discourse on the Good News from a Far Country: A Day of Thanks-Giving to Almighty God on Occasion of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act

Charles Chauncy. July 24, 1766.

Image of A Discourse on the Good News from a Far Country: A Day of Thanks-Giving to Almighty God on Occasion of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act

A sermon given in Boston after the British repealed the stamp act. This clearly outlines many of the grievances the colonists had with British rule.

Image of A Discourse on the Good News from a Far Country: A Day of Thanks-Giving to Almighty God on Occasion of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act

A sermon given in Boston after the British repealed the stamp act. This clearly outlines many of the grievances the colonists had with British rule.

Image of A Discourse on the Good News from a Far Country: A Day of Thanks-Giving to Almighty God on Occasion of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act

A sermon given in Boston after the British repealed the stamp act. This clearly outlines many of the grievances the colonists had with British rule.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title A Discourse on the Good News from a Far Country: A Day of Thanks-Giving to Almighty God on Occasion of the Repeal of the Stamp-Act
Short Title A Discourse on the Good News, 1766
Place of Publication Boston
Publisher Printed by Kneeland and Adams, for T. Leverett
Creator Charles Chauncy
Publication Date July 24, 1766
Number of Pages pp. 14-15, 23
Call Number Case J 5831 .164
Location Special Collections 4th floor

“A Poem Containing Some Remarks on the Present War, Etc...”

From Poems Upon Several Occasions, 1779.

Image of A Poem Containing Some Remarks on the Present War, Etc...

Taken from a book containing multiple poems and thoughts on the war, this poem describes the beginning of the war and the initial battles, along with the reasons why the colonists are fighting.

Image of A Poem Containing Some Remarks on the Present War, Etc...

Taken from a book containing multiple poems and thoughts on the war, this poem describes the beginning of the war and the initial battles, along with the reasons why the colonists are fighting.

Image of A Poem Containing Some Remarks on the Present War, Etc...

Taken from a book containing multiple poems and thoughts on the war, this poem describes the beginning of the war and the initial battles, along with the reasons why the colonists are fighting.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title A Poem Containing Some Remarks on the Present War, Etc...
Publication Title Poems Upon Several Occasions
Short Title On the Present War, 1779
Book Title Poems Upon Several Occasions
Place of Publication Boston
Publication Date 1779
Pages pp. 3-7
Call Number Y 272 .7
Location General Collections 2nd floor

John Adams to Eldridge Gerry

John Adams. 1782.

Image of John Adams to Eldridge Gerry

Written by John Adams towards the end of the war, while he was in Europe as an ambassador of the United States. Adams contemplates the concerns and necessities that the United States must address when it wins independence.

See third image to view the full transcription.

Image of John Adams to Eldridge Gerry

Written by John Adams towards the end of the war, while he was in Europe as an ambassador of the United States. Adams contemplates the concerns and necessities that the United States must address when it wins independence.

Image of John Adams to Eldridge Gerry

Written by John Adams towards the end of the war, while he was in Europe as an ambassador of the United States. Adams contemplates the concerns and necessities that the United States must address when it wins independence.

Metadata Details
Item Type Letter
Title John Adams to Eldridge Gerry
Short Title Adams to Gerry, 1782
Creator John Adams
Publication Date 1782
Call Number VAULT Case MS 6A 81 (#8)
Archive Herbert R. Strauss Collection of Adams Family Letters
Location Special Collections 4th floor

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The Loyalists

The Loyalists are another group of Americans whose perspective must be considered for a better understanding of the American Revolution. While most revolutionaries came from the middle class, most Loyalists were the very rich (who had prospered under British rule) and the very poor, who had no interest in the ideals of liberty when they were just struggling to survive. The British Army believed that between two-thirds and three-fourths of the American population was loyal to the crown. Their military strategy was intended to empower this presumed majority and to take control of American affairs away from the Revolutionaries.

Many Loyalists however, had a very difficult time throughout the Revolution. The Patriots confiscated Loyalist property and even threatened many Loyalists themselves. This caused many Loyalists to flee the colonies and return to the safety of Britain (as is the case with Ms. Wells in the document below). Other Loyalists remained and attempted to help the British by acting as spies and guides for the British army. Others gave their own property for the use of the British army and still others welcomed British soldiers into their homes. Naturally, many Loyalists looked to the British army for protection and often fled their homes and traveled to British-held cities where they would be safe. However, the British army often mistreated Loyalists as well, taking their property without paying, and the British-held cities became so cramped because of the large number of Loyalist refugees that the army could not house and feed them all and dangers of disease and fire spread.

Questions to Consider

  1. How were Ms. Wells and her group treated by the British? What happened to them?
  2. How was Mr. Macknight treated by the British? What happened to all his property in America?
  3. Did the American Revolution serve the interests of Loyalists living in America? Why or why not?
  4. What do these documents tell us about the experiences of Loyalists during the American Revolution?

The Journal of a Voyage from Charlestown, S.C., to London: Undertaken During the American Revolution by a Daughter of an Eminent American Loyalist in the Year 1778, and Written from Memory Only in 1779

Louisa Susannah Wells. 1906.

Image of The Journal of a Voyage from Charlestown, S.C., to London: Undertaken During the American Revolution by a Daughter of an Eminent American Loyalist in the Year 1778, and Written from Memory Only in 1779

This excerpt describes the experiences of Louisa Wells as she traveled with Loyalists friends, leaving Charleston, SC, and their voyage to London, which gets interrupted by the British army.

Image of The Journal of a Voyage from Charlestown, S.C., to London: Undertaken During the American Revolution by a Daughter of an Eminent American Loyalist in the Year 1778, and Written from Memory Only in 1779

This excerpt describes the experiences of Louisa Wells as she traveled with Loyalists friends, leaving Charleston, SC, and their voyage to London, which gets interrupted by the British army.

Image of The Journal of a Voyage from Charlestown, S.C., to London: Undertaken During the American Revolution by a Daughter of an Eminent American Loyalist in the Year 1778, and Written from Memory Only in 1779

This excerpt describes the experiences of Louisa Wells as she traveled with Loyalists friends, leaving Charleston, SC, and their voyage to London, which gets interrupted by the British army.

Image of The Journal of a Voyage from Charlestown, S.C., to London: Undertaken During the American Revolution by a Daughter of an Eminent American Loyalist in the Year 1778, and Written from Memory Only in 1779

This excerpt describes the experiences of Louisa Wells as she traveled with Loyalists friends, leaving Charleston, SC, and their voyage to London, which gets interrupted by the British army.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title The Journal of a Voyage from Charlestown, S.C., to London: Undertaken During the American Revolution by a Daughter of an Eminent American Loyalist in the Year 1778, and Written from Memory Only in 1779
Short Title Journal of a Voyage from Charlestown, S.C., to London, 1906
Place of Publication New York
Publisher Printed for the New York Historical Society
Creator Louisa Susannah Wells
Publication Date 1906
Number of Pages pp. 4, 6-8
Call Number G 455 .03
Location General Collections 2nd floor

Testimonies of Mr. Macknight's Case, Contained in Letters from the Governor of North Carolina, the Earl of Dunmore, Sir Grey Cooper, the Earl of Dartmouth, Lord Sackville, Lord North

Thomas Macknight. Circa 1780.

Image of Testimonies of Mr. Macknight's Case, Contained in Letters from the Governor of North Carolina, the Earl of Dunmore, Sir Grey Cooper, the Earl of Dartmouth, Lord Sackville, Lord North

This excerpt is part of a presentation to the British Claims Commission in support of the claim of Thomas Macknight, Loyalist, for compensation for property losses sustained in the American Revolution.

Image of Testimonies of Mr. Macknight's Case, Contained in Letters from the Governor of North Carolina, the Earl of Dunmore, Sir Grey Cooper, the Earl of Dartmouth, Lord Sackville, Lord North

This excerpt is part of a presentation to the British Claims Commission in support of the claim of Thomas Macknight, Loyalist, for compensation for property losses sustained in the American Revolution.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Testimonies of Mr. Macknight's Case, Contained in Letters from the Governor of North Carolina, the Earl of Dunmore, Sir Grey Cooper, the Earl of Dartmouth, Lord Sackville, Lord North
Short Title Testimonies of Mr. Macknight's Case, 178-?
Place of Publication [London?]
Creator Thomas Macknight
Publication Date Circa 1780
Number of Pages pp. 21-22
Call Number Case folio J 58329 .54
Location Special Collections 4th floor

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The American Indians

Summarizing the American Indian perspective is difficult, more so than the other groups represented in this collection, because it is not just one group, but rather many various tribes, each with its own languages, customs, and loyalties. American Indians fought on both sides of the Revolution, as they had in the French and Indian War (1754–1763). Initially, most tribes wanted to remain neutral and treaties were drawn up between the Revolutionaries and various tribes to that effect. Based on the evidence, American Indians wanted to be left alone.

As the Revolution continued, however, Indians could not maintain neutrality and eventually joined in the fight. The Oneida Peoples, a collection of six different tribes in New England (including the Mohawk) initially maintained neutrality but eventually joined the British. On the other hand, the Micmac, in eastern Canada, fought for the Revolutionaries. Ultimately, Indian tribes fought for the side they believed would be the best for their own interests and would allow them to continue in peace on their own lands. As a response to American Indians allying with the British, part of the Declaration of Independence accuses the British crown of “…excit[ing] domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” At the conclusion of the war, the tribes that had fought for the British had to find a way to negotiate peace with the Americans.

Questions to Consider

  1. Are American Indians considered to be part of the Americans [specify by whom]? Why or why not?
  2. Based on the speeches by the Oneida people (the first and third documents in this section), what did they want before the war and what did they want after the war? What changed, if anything?
  3. Why would the British make American Indians sign an oath of loyalty?
  4. What can these documents tell us about the experiences, goals, and interests of American Indians during the American Revolution?

Speech Delivered to the Oneidas, by Skenodoa and Petrus, to His Excellency General Schuyler

Six Nations, Chief Skenandoah, Chief Petrus. July 21, 1783.

Image of Speech Delivered to the Oneidas, by Skenodoa and Petrus, to His Excellency General Schuyler

This speech by the Oneida people was made after the end of the war, and outlines their hopes of reconciling with the victorious Americans that they fought against.

Image of Speech Delivered to the Oneidas, by Skenodoa and Petrus, to His Excellency General Schuyler

This speech by the Oneida people was made after the end of the war, and outlines their hopes of reconciling with the victorious Americans that they fought against.

Image of Speech Delivered to the Oneidas, by Skenodoa and Petrus, to His Excellency General Schuyler

This speech by the Oneida people was made after the end of the war, and outlines their hopes of reconciling with the victorious Americans that they fought against.

Metadata Details
Item Type Manuscript
Title Speech Delivered to the Oneidas, by Skenodoa and Petrus, to His Excellency General Schuyler
Short Title [Speech to the Oneidas], 1783
Place of Publication Oneida, NY
Creator Six Nations, Chief Skenandoah, Chief Petrus
Publication Date July 21, 1783
Call Number VAULT box Ayer MS 803
Location Special Collections 4th floor

A Speech of the Mohawks to the Majestrates and Committee of the Town of Schenectady and Major Corporation and Committee of the City of Albany &c

Abraham, Samuel Kirkland, Miss[ionar]y. 1775.

Image of A Speech of the Mohawks to the Majestrates and Committee of the Town of Schenectady and Major Corporation and Committee of the City of Albany &c

A speech by the Mohawk (one of the tribes of the Oneida people) given to the people of Schenectady in upstate New York, asking for more information on the development of the war, that their neutrality not be infringed upon, and ultimately threatening war

Image of A Speech of the Mohawks to the Majestrates and Committee of the Town of Schenectady and Major Corporation and Committee of the City of Albany &c

A speech by the Mohawk (one of the tribes of the Oneida people) given to the people of Schenectady in upstate New York, asking for more information on the development of the war, that their neutrality not be infringed upon, and ultimately threatening war

Image of A Speech of the Mohawks to the Majestrates and Committee of the Town of Schenectady and Major Corporation and Committee of the City of Albany &c

A speech by the Mohawk (one of the tribes of the Oneida people) given to the people of Schenectady in upstate New York, asking for more information on the development of the war, that their neutrality not be infringed upon, and ultimately threatening war

Metadata Details
Item Type Manuscript
Title A Speech of the Mohawks to the Majestrates and Committee of the Town of Schenectady and Major Corporation and Committee of the City of Albany &c
Short Title Speech of the Mohawks, 1775
Creator Abraham, Samuel Kirkland, Miss[ionar]y
Publication Date 1775
Call Number VAULT box Ayer MS 6
Location Special Collections 4th floor

I Do Promise to Bear Faith and True Allegiance to His Majesty King George the Third

Micmac tribe. September 24, 1778.

Image of I Do Promise to Bear Faith and True Allegiance to His Majesty King George the Third

Most of the Micmac tribe fought on the side of the Revolutionaries; therefore, this oath of loyalty was signed by members of the tribe after they were captured by the British and paroled. This was normal as the British released prisoners with their pledge

Image of I Do Promise to Bear Faith and True Allegiance to His Majesty King George the Third

Most of the Micmac tribe fought on the side of the Revolutionaries; therefore, this oath of loyalty was signed by members of the tribe after they were captured by the British and paroled. This was normal as the British released prisoners with their pledge

Image of I Do Promise to Bear Faith and True Allegiance to His Majesty King George the Third

Most of the Micmac tribe fought on the side of the Revolutionaries; therefore, this oath of loyalty was signed by members of the tribe after they were captured by the British and paroled. This was normal as the British released prisoners with their pledge

Metadata Details
Item Type Manuscript
Title I Do Promise to Bear Faith and True Allegiance to His Majesty King George the Third
Short Title [Micmac oath], 1778
Place of Publication Mengouèche near Fort Howe (now Saint John, N.B.)
Creator Micmac tribe
Publication Date September 24, 1778
Call Number VAULT box Ayer MS 3134
Location Special Collections 4th floor

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The Slaves and Free Blacks

Slaves and free blacks in the colonies fought on both sides of the Revolution. For slaves, fighting meant the potential of freedom. Many slaves took the place of their masters in the Continental army with the agreement that they would be freed upon their return. Other slaves ran away and joined the British army, which offered emancipation to any slave that fought on their side. Other slaves accompanied their masters in the army and performed the function of servant, cooking and cleaning at camp. Even General George Washington had a slave with him during the war, William Lee, who acted as servant, military aid, and companion. The following sources come from a book of stories about individuals that served in the Continental army and then later attempted to draw a pension for their service from Congress.

Questions to Consider

  1. Do slaves and free blacks count as Americans? Why or why not?
  2. Why did these men enlist in the Continental army? How is this different than the reasons white men enlisted?
  3. What did these men receive as compensation for their service in the Continental army?
  4. What do these documents tell us about the experiences of black soldiers and how they differed from those of white soldiers?

“The Story of Jack Anthony”

From Black Soldiers of the American Revolutionary War, by Mrs. Frank Ross Stewart. 1978.

Image of The Story of Jack Anthony

The petition of Jack Anthony to receive a pension for his service in the Continental army.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title The Story of Jack Anthony
Publication Title Black Soldiers of the American Revolutionary War
Short Title Story of Jack Anthony, 1978
Book Title Black Soldiers of the American Revolutionary War
Place of Publication Centre, AL
Publisher Stewart University Press
Publication Creator Mrs. Frank Ross Stewart
Publication Date 1978
Volume 1
Number of Volumes 2
Pages p. 12
Call Number folio E 269.N3 S74
Location General Collections 2nd floor

“Anthony Gilman, Sold into Slavery While Wearing the Uniform of the United States”

From Black Soldiers of the American Revolutionary War, by Mrs. Frank Ross Stewart. 1978.

Image of Anthony Gilman, Sold into Slavery While Wearing the Uniform of the United States

The petition of Anthony Gilman to receive a pension for his service in the Continental army.

Image of Anthony Gilman, Sold into Slavery While Wearing the Uniform of the United States

The petition of Anthony Gilman to receive a pension for his service in the Continental army.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Anthony Gilman, Sold into Slavery While Wearing the Uniform of the United States
Publication Title Black Soldiers of the American Revolutionary War
Short Title Anthony Gilman, 1978
Book Title Black Soldiers of the American Revolutionary War
Place of Publication Centre, AL
Publisher Stewart University Press
Publication Creator Mrs. Frank Ross Stewart
Publication Date 1978
Volume 1
Number of Volumes 2
Pages pp. 30-31
Call Number folio E 269.N3 S74
Location General Collections 2nd floor

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The British

The British were in a tight spot regarding their American colonies. On the one hand, most British felt that, as the mother country, Britain had the right to impose any laws or rules it wanted on its colonies. On the other hand, a war in and with the colonies would potentially damage the economic and commercial prosperity that the British relied upon. The refusal of the Continental Congress to comply with Britain’s requests resulted in Britain taking ever more militant steps, leading to the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, and the colonies’ declaring independence in July 1776. The British also had to consider the French interests in this affair, as the French still felt humiliated after their defeat in the French and Indian War and were looking for revenge at the best moment.

The British army during the American Revolution was composed of British regulars and Hessian soldiers. The British had one of the greatest armies in the world at that time and its regulars were well trained and disciplined. The Hessian mercenaries were German soldiers hired by Britain and were a highly disciplined and well-trained group. In addition to a professional and well-trained army, the British also had the most-powerful navy in the world.

Looking at the Revolution from the British perspective can help students of the war gain a better understanding of the (mainly economic) reasons why the British fought to keep the colonies, the relationship between the colonists and its enemies, and also the often-overlooked relationship between Britain and France, and how that tense relationship affected the American Revolution

Questions to Consider

  1. What demands did the British make to the Continental Congress? What reasons did Britain give as to why the colonies should comply?
  2. Who are the two Hessians who wrote these journal entries? What can you infer about their treatment based on their rank or position within the army?
  3. How did the Americans treat the Hessian prisoners similarly or differently than they treated the British prisoners? What reasons do the Hessian authors give for their treatment?
  4. What does the third document state about the relationship between Britain and France? How does the Revolution come into play?
  5. What does the third document state about the relationship between France and America? What would this relationship imply for America?

The History of the American Revolution

Bernard Hubley. 1805.

Image of The History of the American Revolution

This book was published in America [check] after the end of the war and contains copies of many original documents from the Continental Congress, including letters, correspondences, and official documents between Britain and the Congress. This excerpt is

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title The History of the American Revolution
Short Title The History of the American Revolution, 1805
Place of Publication Northumberland, PA
Publisher Andrew Kennedy
Creator Bernard Hubley
Publication Date 1805
Number of Pages pp. 168-169
Call Number Case F 832 .44
Location Special Collections 4th floor

Political Memoirs; or, a View of Some of the First Operations of the War, After the French Notification, as They Were Regarded by Foreigners, Particularly by Frenchmen

1783.

Image of Political Memoirs; or, a View of Some of the First Operations of the War, After the French Notification, as They Were Regarded by Foreigners, Particularly by Frenchmen

This excerpt was written by a British subject to Parliament on the course of the War. This excerpt specifically concerns itself with how the relationship between Britain and France affects their roles in the American Revolution.

Image of Political Memoirs; or, a View of Some of the First Operations of the War, After the French Notification, as They Were Regarded by Foreigners, Particularly by Frenchmen

This excerpt was written by a British subject to Parliament on the course of the War. This excerpt specifically concerns itself with how the relationship between Britain and France affects their roles in the American Revolution.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book
Title Political Memoirs; or, a View of Some of the First Operations of the War, After the French Notification, as They Were Regarded by Foreigners, Particularly by Frenchmen
Short Title Political Memoirs, 1783
Place of Publication London
Publisher J. Stockdale
Publication Date 1783
Edition 3rd
Number of Pages title page, p. vii
Call Number Case J 54555 .7
Location Special Collections 4th floor

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The French

While many believe that the French helped the American cause in the Revolution because of their shared love of liberty, the reasons why the French got involved in the war, and their interests in the war were much more complex. The French deliberated heavily before agreeing to first help finance the American effort and allow the use of their ports and then ultimately to help by providing ships, military supplies, and soldiers for the Americans.

The French had lost the Seven Years War (French and Indian War), and were still trying to recover from that defeat economically and politically. In addition, the idea of a rebellion in a country’s colony went against the monarchical idea of complete power over colonies, including the fear that such rebellious attitudes would spread to their own colonies in the Americas. In order to understand why the French willingly spent millions to help the Americans break away from the English, we must look back to the intense competition between the French and the English. Both countries took any opportunity to hurt the other. In fact, the French were close to getting Spain to join the war effort as well, though ultimately Spain remained neutral.

Based on the European perspective, students of the American Revolution start to get a sense of the worldwide implications of the Revolution, and the importance it had, not just whether the colonies would be independent or not, but how international diplomacy would be affected.

Questions to Consider

  1. In the first letter, what does King Louis XVI want his navy to do? Why? What does this have to do with the American Revolution?
  2. What is the French perspective on the American Revolution? What is the ultimate reason why the French participate in the war?
  3. What do these documents tell us about the French perspective and experience in the American Revolution?
  4. How can this French perspective be used to help answer the original question?

Lettre du roi à M. l'amiral, pour faire délivrer des commissions en course [Letter from the King to Monseigneur the Admiral, Delivering a Commission]

Louis XVI of France. July 10, 1778.

Image of Lettre du roi à M. l'amiral, pour faire délivrer des commissions en course [Letter from the King to Monseigneur the Admiral, Delivering a Commission]

This letter is from Louis XVI to the admiral of the French Navy. It describes the hostilities between the French and the British and the action France will take.

Lettre du Roi à M. L’Amiral, Pour faire dèlivrer des Commissions en Course. Du 10 Juillet 1778

Mon Cousin, l’insulte faire à mon Pavillon par une frégate du Roi d’Angleterre envers ma frigate la Belle-poule; la faisie faite par une Escadre angloise, au mépris du droit des gens, de mes frégates la Licorne & la Pallas, & de mon lougre le Coureur; la faisie en mer & la confiscation des navires appartenans à mes sujets, faites par l’Angleterre; contre la foi des Traités; le trouble continuel & le dommage que cette Puissance apporte au commerce maritime de mon Royaume & de mes Colonies de l’Amérique, soit par ses bàtimens de guerre, soit par les Corsaires, dont elle autorise & excite les depredations: tous ces procédés injurieux, & principalement l’insulte faite à mon Pavillon, m’ont forcé de mettre un terme à la moderation que je m’étois propose, & ne me permettent pas de suspendre plus long-temps les effets de mon ressentiment: la dignité de ma Couronne, & la protection que je dois à mes sujets, exigent que j’use enfin de représailles, que j’agisse hostilement contre l’Angleterre, & que mes Vaisseaux attaquent & tàchent de s’emparer ou de détruire tous les vaisseaux, frégates ou autres bâtiments appartenans au Roi d’Angleterre; & qu’ils arrêtent & se faisissent pareillement de tous navires Marchands Anglois, dont ils pourront avoir occasion de s’emparer. Je vous fais donc cette Lettre pour vous dire, qu’ayant ordonné en conséquence aux Commandans de mes Escadres & de mes Ports, de prescrire aux Capitaines de mes vaisseaux, de courre sus à ceux du Roi d’Angleterre, ainsi qu’aux Navires appartenans à ses sujets, de s’en emparer & de les conduire dans les Ports de mon Royaume: Mon intention est qu’en représailles des prises faites sur mes sujets par les Corsaires & Armateurs Anglois, vous fassiez délivrer des Commissions en course à ceux de mesdits sujets qui en demanderont, & qui seront dans le cas d’en obtenir, en proposant d’armer des Navires en guerre, avec des forces assez considérable pour ne pas compromettre les Equipqages qui seront employés sur ces Bâtimens. Je suis assuré de trouver dans la justice de ma cause, dans la valeur de mes Officiers & des Equipages de mes Vaisseaux, dans l’amour de mes sujets les ressources que j’ai toujours éprouvé de leur part, & je compte principalement sur la protection du Dieu des Armées: & la présente n’étant à autre fin, je prie Dieu qu’il vous ait, mon Cousin, en sa sainte & digne garde. Ecrit à Versailles le dix de Juillet mil sept cent soixante-dix-huit. Signé LOUIS. Et plus bas, DE SARTINE

Letter from the King (Louis XVI) to Monseigneur the Admiral (of the French Navy) Delivering a Commission July 10, 1778

My cousin, the insult made to my royal person by a frigate of the King of England to my frigate the Belle-poule, committed by the English fleet in defiance of international law and my frigates the Licorne and the Pallas, and another ship the Coureur; committed at sea and the confiscation of ships belonging to my people, done by the English against the faith of treaties. The continuous trouble and damage this power [the English] brings to the maritime commerce of my kingdom and of my American colonies, either by their war ships or by their corsairs, to whom it is authorized to incite plundering. All these injurious methods, and principally the insult made to my person, has forced me to limit the moderation that I had intended, and does not allow me to suspend the effects of my resentment any longer. The dignity of my crown, and the protection that I owe my people, require that I finally retaliate, that I act hostilely against England, and that my ships attack and strive to capture or destroy all vessels, frigates, or other ships belonging to the King of England. And that they [French ships] stop and do the same to all English merchant ships that they have the opportunity to seize. I am writing this letter to tell you that having ordered all the commanders of my fleets and of my ports, to order the captains of my vessels that, in addition to seizing and bringing to the ports of my kingdom the hounds [warships] of the King of England, they should seize ships belonging to his subjects as well. My intention is retaliation for the offenses made to my people by the English corsairs and ship owners, you will deliver these orders to the aforementioned people who require it, and those who are able to obtain them by proposing to arm their ships for war, with forces large enough so as not to compromise the crews which are employed on these vessels. I am assured of finding the justice in my cause, in the courage of my officers and of the crews of my vessel, in the love of my subjects that I always have always felt from them, and I rely principally on the protection of God, and this letter having no other purpose, I hope, cousin, that God keeps you in health and His holy care. Written at Versailles, July 10, 1778. Signed, Louis, and underneath, De Sartine.

Image of Lettre du roi à M. l'amiral, pour faire délivrer des commissions en course [Letter from the King to Monseigneur the Admiral, Delivering a Commission]

This letter is from Louis XVI to the admiral of the French Navy. It describes the hostilities between the French and the British and the action France will take.

Lettre du Roi à M. L’Amiral, Pour faire dèlivrer des Commissions en Course. Du 10 Juillet 1778

Mon Cousin, l’insulte faire à mon Pavillon par une frégate du Roi d’Angleterre envers ma frigate la Belle-poule; la faisie faite par une Escadre angloise, au mépris du droit des gens, de mes frégates la Licorne & la Pallas, & de mon lougre le Coureur; la faisie en mer & la confiscation des navires appartenans à mes sujets, faites par l’Angleterre; contre la foi des Traités; le trouble continuel & le dommage que cette Puissance apporte au commerce maritime de mon Royaume & de mes Colonies de l’Amérique, soit par ses bàtimens de guerre, soit par les Corsaires, dont elle autorise & excite les depredations: tous ces procédés injurieux, & principalement l’insulte faite à mon Pavillon, m’ont forcé de mettre un terme à la moderation que je m’étois propose, & ne me permettent pas de suspendre plus long-temps les effets de mon ressentiment: la dignité de ma Couronne, & la protection que je dois à mes sujets, exigent que j’use enfin de représailles, que j’agisse hostilement contre l’Angleterre, & que mes Vaisseaux attaquent & tàchent de s’emparer ou de détruire tous les vaisseaux, frégates ou autres bâtiments appartenans au Roi d’Angleterre; & qu’ils arrêtent & se faisissent pareillement de tous navires Marchands Anglois, dont ils pourront avoir occasion de s’emparer. Je vous fais donc cette Lettre pour vous dire, qu’ayant ordonné en conséquence aux Commandans de mes Escadres & de mes Ports, de prescrire aux Capitaines de mes vaisseaux, de courre sus à ceux du Roi d’Angleterre, ainsi qu’aux Navires appartenans à ses sujets, de s’en emparer & de les conduire dans les Ports de mon Royaume: Mon intention est qu’en représailles des prises faites sur mes sujets par les Corsaires & Armateurs Anglois, vous fassiez délivrer des Commissions en course à ceux de mesdits sujets qui en demanderont, & qui seront dans le cas d’en obtenir, en proposant d’armer des Navires en guerre, avec des forces assez considérable pour ne pas compromettre les Equipqages qui seront employés sur ces Bâtimens. Je suis assuré de trouver dans la justice de ma cause, dans la valeur de mes Officiers & des Equipages de mes Vaisseaux, dans l’amour de mes sujets les ressources que j’ai toujours éprouvé de leur part, & je compte principalement sur la protection du Dieu des Armées: & la présente n’étant à autre fin, je prie Dieu qu’il vous ait, mon Cousin, en sa sainte & digne garde. Ecrit à Versailles le dix de Juillet mil sept cent soixante-dix-huit. Signé LOUIS. Et plus bas, DE SARTINE

Letter from the King (Louis XVI) to Monseigneur the Admiral (of the French Navy) Delivering a Commission July 10, 1778

My cousin, the insult made to my royal person by a frigate of the King of England to my frigate the Belle-poule, committed by the English fleet in defiance of international law and my frigates the Licorne and the Pallas, and another ship the Coureur; committed at sea and the confiscation of ships belonging to my people, done by the English against the faith of treaties. The continuous trouble and damage this power [the English] brings to the maritime commerce of my kingdom and of my American colonies, either by their war ships or by their corsairs, to whom it is authorized to incite plundering. All these injurious methods, and principally the insult made to my person, has forced me to limit the moderation that I had intended, and does not allow me to suspend the effects of my resentment any longer. The dignity of my crown, and the protection that I owe my people, require that I finally retaliate, that I act hostilely against England, and that my ships attack and strive to capture or destroy all vessels, frigates, or other ships belonging to the King of England. And that they [French ships] stop and do the same to all English merchant ships that they have the opportunity to seize. I am writing this letter to tell you that having ordered all the commanders of my fleets and of my ports, to order the captains of my vessels that, in addition to seizing and bringing to the ports of my kingdom the hounds [warships] of the King of England, they should seize ships belonging to his subjects as well. My intention is retaliation for the offenses made to my people by the English corsairs and ship owners, you will deliver these orders to the aforementioned people who require it, and those who are able to obtain them by proposing to arm their ships for war, with forces large enough so as not to compromise the crews which are employed on these vessels. I am assured of finding the justice in my cause, in the courage of my officers and of the crews of my vessel, in the love of my subjects that I always have always felt from them, and I rely principally on the protection of God, and this letter having no other purpose, I hope, cousin, that God keeps you in health and His holy care. Written at Versailles, July 10, 1778. Signed, Louis, and underneath, De Sartine.

Metadata Details
Item Type Letter
Title Lettre du roi à M. l'amiral, pour faire délivrer des commissions en course [Letter from the King to Monseigneur the Admiral, Delivering a Commission]
Short Title Letter from Louis XVI, 1778
Creator Louis XVI of France
Publication Date July 10, 1778
Call Number Case F 39 .328 no. 100
Location Special Collections 4th floor

“Réflexions [Reflections (excerpt)]”

Charles Gravier, Charlemagne Tower, Jr.. From The Marquis De La Fayette in the American Revolution with Some Account of the Attitude of France Toward the War of Independence, 1895.

Image of Réflexions [Reflections (excerpt)]

This excerpt discusses the reasons why France should help the Revolutionaries in their cause for independence. Written by M. Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, France’s foreign minister under Louis XVI and during the American Revolution.

Metadata Details
Item Type Book Section
Title Réflexions [Reflections (excerpt)]
Short Title Reflections, 1895
Book Title The Marquis De La Fayette in the American Revolution with Some Account of the Attitude of France Toward the War of Independence
Place of Publication Philadelphia
Publisher J.B. Lippincott Co.
Creator Charles Gravier, Charlemagne Tower, Jr.
Publication Date 1895
Volume 1
Number of Volumes 2
Pages p. 93
Call Number E 5 .L13277
ISBN 083695998
Location General Collections 2nd floor

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Selected Sources

David Hackett Fischer. Washington’s Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Charlemagne Tower. La Fayette in the American Revolution with Some Account of the Attitude of France Toward the War of Independence. Vol. I. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1895.

The Declaration of Independence

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Classroom Activities

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This collection was created by Carolyn Latshaw, a high school history teacher in Chicago. Latshaw was a recipient of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution–Chicago Chapter Newberry Teacher Fellowship in 2014.

This collection was last updated