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The American Revolution - A World War

Updated on July 11, 2018
Chuck profile image

Chuck is a former Vietnam-era air navigator with degrees in History and Economics. Areas of interest include aviation and military history.

Foreign Allies Aided America in our War for Independence

The 4th of July is an American holiday celebrating the declaring of America's independence from Great Britain. But the gaining of that independence was an international effort.

In fact if it were not for foreign assistance, the United States would still probably be a part of the British Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth II as our Queen and the occupant of the White House as our Prime Minister, just as Queen Elizabeth is the Queen of Canada (and about 15 other nations) with a Prime Minister heading the government.

George Washington Leader of America's War for Independence

Portrait of Gilbert Stewart and Rembrandt Peale  (Public Domain photo courtesy of )
Portrait of Gilbert Stewart and Rembrandt Peale (Public Domain photo courtesy of ) | Source

The American Revolution Could Have Become a Guerrilla War That Ended in Stalemate

Both George Washington and King George III saw the possibility of the American Revolution turning into a long and protracted guerrilla war in which Britain with its navy could control the coastal areas and some major population centers but lacked a large enough army to effectively control the interior.

However, King George III planned to rely on alliances with Indian tribes to have them fight for him in the interior which would keep the interior in sufficient turmoil to prevent it from breaking completely from British control.

While realizing the need for guerrilla tactics on the frontier, George Washington successfully argued that we would have to have a traditional army and engage the British forces head on if we were ever to succeed.

American Diplomats Won Friends and Support Abroad

Unfortunately, the Continental Army lacked the arms and ammunition necessary to engage and defeat the British Army and we had no navy to combat the British navy. We did, however, have some excellent diplomats - Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Jay, Silas Deane and John Jay to name a few - who worked tirelessly in the capitals of Europe seeking official and private support for the American cause.

Anyone who has studied American history knows the American victory at Yorktown, Virginia, which all but ended the war for us, was due in large part to assistance from France.

French ground troops joined George Washington's troops in blocking General Lord Cornwallis and his army from escaping by land. But there was still the sea and, if it hadn't been for the French navy, General Cornwallis and his army could have escaped and the war could have continued.

In normal circumstances, the British navy, which was the largest and strongest in the world, could have defeated the French navy and rescued their army trapped at Yorktown.

American Revolution Ends With Washington's Defeat of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia

"Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown" by John Trumble
"Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown" by John Trumble | Source

British Navy Not Available to Rescue Lord Cornwallis and His Army at Yorktown

There was a reason why the British Navy was not at Yorktown to rescue Lord General Cornwallis. The British Navy was not a Yorktown because all of its ships were deployed all over the world at that moment.

Some were stationed off the coast of England ready to repel a rumored attack by Spanish and French forces

The rest of the British Navy were deployed in the Caribbean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and other places where they were kept busy defending British colonies in those areas against attack and capture by Spain, France, Holland and other nations aligned against England.

These other nations had taken advantage of Britain's problems with her American colonies to settle some old scores from the not so distant Seven Years War (French and Indian War to Americans) from which Britain had emerged triumphant.

The War in the West Indies Forced Britain to Divide its Forces between the 13 Colonies and the West Indies

During the colonial period there was a close relationship between the British West Indian island possessions and the Britain's 13 American colonies through regular trade as well as family relationships formed through intermarriage between residents of the North American colonies and the island colonies in the West Indies.

Initially, the revolutionary fervor in the islands was as strong as in the American colonies and many of these islands probably would have joined with the American colonies in revolting had not the British Navy cut them off from the conflict.

The vast wealth generated by the sugar plantations on these made them very valuable and Britain was not about to lose them.

However, while the islands ceased to be a part of the efforts by their American cousins to break away from Britain early in the war, they did play an important role in the Americana's gaining independence once France and Spain joined in the war, as Britain had to redouble its naval defenses in that area to prevent these two nations from capturing the British controlled islands for themselves.

"Battle of the Santes" by Thomas Whitcombe depicting sea battle between British and French fleets near West Indian Island of Dominica.  (Public Domain Photo courtesy of,_Battle_of_the_Saints.
"Battle of the Santes" by Thomas Whitcombe depicting sea battle between British and French fleets near West Indian Island of Dominica. (Public Domain Photo courtesy of,_Battle_of_the_Saints.

After Failing to Convince Canadians to Join the Revolution, The American Colonies Invaded Canada

Then there was Canada, which England had recently acquired as a result of its victory in the Seven Years War (French and Indian War) a few years earlier.

The majority of the Canadian population at the time were French in Quebec and the Americans assumed that they would want to join us in throwing off British rule. Charles Carroll along with his cousin John Carroll, who was a Jesuit Priest, joined Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase on a mission in the winter of 1776 to Quebec on behalf of the Continental Congress to attempt to get them to join our cause. Earlier, in 1775,

American Generals Montgomery and Arnold (Benedict Arnold) invaded Quebec and attempted to drive the British out and win Canada for the American side.

Benedict Arnold - General who led, with Gen Richard Montgomery, unsuccessful attack on Quebec.  (Public Domain photo courtesy of
Benedict Arnold - General who led, with Gen Richard Montgomery, unsuccessful attack on Quebec. (Public Domain photo courtesy of

In both of these cases American colonists believed that the predominantly French population of Canada would join them while Britain felt the same way and feared that they would join with the colonists in their war against Britain..

For various reasons the French Canadians choose not to join the Americans. However, these efforts, plus ongoing efforts by agents dispatched to Quebec and the Maritime provinces by George Washington, kept pressure on the British to transfer resources to Canada in order to ensure it remained in British hands.

Following the American Revolution, thousands of Loyalists, Americans who had not only remained loyal to King George III but also fought with the British Army against their neighbors, fled the United States and went to Canada where they became the core of what was to become English speaking Canada.

Today, the descendants of these refugees from the American Revolution, proudly celebrate their heritage with membership in the United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada just as many of the descendants of those who fought against the British in the American Revolution celebrate their heritage with membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).

America's European Allies Fought Britain in Europs

"Siege of Gibraltar" by John Singleton Copley.  (Public Domain Picture courtesy of
"Siege of Gibraltar" by John Singleton Copley. (Public Domain Picture courtesy of | Source

War Spreads to Europe

In addition to North America and the West Indies, England also had, and still has, colonial possessions in Europe two of which, Gibraltar and the island of Minorca, both in the Mediterranean, had been taken from Spain in 1708 during the War of the Spanish Succession (one of the series four wars known in general in America as the French and Indian Wars and this one in particular also known in America as Queen Anne's War).

Spain had tried and failed to regain these two former possessions in the two succeeding wars that made up what American history books refer to as the French and Indian Wars.

King Carlos III of Spain (b 1716 - d 1788)

King Carlos III of Spain by A.R.Mengs (Public Domain picture courtesy of 2009-05-31
King Carlos III of Spain by A.R.Mengs (Public Domain picture courtesy of 2009-05-31 | Source

With the American Revolution Spain saw another opportunity to retake these two lost possessions. With the help of the French, Spain launched an attack on both and, after a long struggle captured Minorca but failed, despite a three year siege, to retake Gibraltar.

In a way, losing the American colonies was part of the price Great Britain paid for keeping Gibraltar since many of the Royal Navy ships that would have been deployed to North America to help General Cornwallis and his army escape Yorktown and fight another day, were busy in Europe trying to relieve the siege of Gibraltar.

Across the North Sea, Britain's neighbor, the Netherlands, was not only sympathetic to the American cause but also saw the American Revolution as an opportunity to open trade with the colonies (the British mercantile system forbid the colonies from trading directly with any nation but Great Britain).

Since the Dutch economy relied on trade, they naturally saw opportunity in the American Revolution. However, when the British, in 1780, discovered that, in addition to aiding the colonies with public and private financial aid, the Netherlands was also secretly engaged negotiating a trade treaty with the Americans they declared war on the Netherlands and launched a naval blockade of Dutch ports.

The War in India

Britain's war with the Dutch plus their war with France, another American ally, resulted in the theater of war expanding to India where both the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company had established enclaves in India.

In addition the French had a military and commercial alliance with the Indian Kingdom of Mysore which controlled a sizable area in the southwestern part of the Indian sub-continent.

While the British succeeded in defeating the small Dutch force in India and taking over Dutch possessions on the Indian subcontinent, the conflict with the French and Kingdom of Mysore occupied their forces in this theater of war and prevented the British from taking the conflict further east and conquering the larger Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia).

Castillo San Marcos - a Spanish colonial Fort in St. Augustine, Florida.  .
Castillo San Marcos - a Spanish colonial Fort in St. Augustine, Florida. . | Source

Spain Finances the War With Money, Weapons and Supplies

This brings us back to North America.

Not the east coast where the battles were being fought, but the west coast that was the Spanish colony of New Spain. The Vice-Royalty of New Spain extended northward from present day Costa Rica in Central America north to much of what is now the U.S. states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas as well as the Spanish controlled islands in the Caribbean (including Cuba and Puerto Rico) and the Philippine Islands in the western Pacific.

Spanish lands in South America were governed by Spain as a separate Vice-Royalty.

Following the end of the Seven Years War (French and Indian War) Spain gained control of New Orleans and the Mississippi Valley - the huge, formally French controlled, block of land in the center of the continent that stretched from what is now the Canadian border to New Orleans on the Gulf of Mexico (this area was later purchased by the United States in what was known as the Louisiana Purchase). This addition of the Louisiana Territory extended the North American border of New Spain to the Mississippi River.

Spanish Government was Conflicted When it Came to Support for American Independence

The Spanish monarchy and government was conflicted when it came to the American's war for independence.

While no supporter of American independence and fearing, rightly so, that success by the Americans could give rise to similar rebellions in her own colonies, Spain was not anxious to be too open a supporter of the American colonies in their fight with Great Britain.

However, Spain was not happy having to share a border in the New World with her enemy, Great Britain and also wanted to regain Florida which she had lost in the Seven Years War to Britain.

In the end, Spain decided to grab the opportunity to weaken Britain and attempt to regain Florida, Gibraltar and Minorca while leaving until later her worries about her own colonies copying the British colonies and revolting.

Recent research in government archives in Spain, as well by historians and genealogists in the American southwest, has revealed that Spanish support, especially financial support, was as great or greater than that of France.

In fact many believe that the financial support provided by Spain, much of it funneled through France which made it appear to have come from France, rather than the open military support from France, was the real key to America's success in the Revolution.

The King of France, Louis XVI, and the King of Spain, Carlos III, were cousins which helped facilitate their working together.

Spanish General Bernado de Galvez

General Bernado de Galvez
General Bernado de Galvez | Source

Spanish General & Governor of Louisiana Territory Bernardo Galvez Was a Strong Supporter of the American Cause

In addition to direct financial support and some direct military support of the American cause, Spain also provided financial support to France to help defray the costs of assisting the Americans.

Finally, before going to Yorktown, some of the ships of the French fleet that participated in the Battle of Yorktown, joined a Spanish force under General Bernardo Galvez in the battle of Pensacola which was critical in the capture of Florida by Spain.

Following his victory, General Galvez rewarded his French allies with 500,000 pesos which the French then used to resupply the vessels before joining the rest of the French fleet at Yorktown.

While the Spanish Army and Naval units did not fight side by side with the Continental Army under George Washington like the French forces, but Spanish colonial and militia forces did engage the British in the wilderness area between the Appalachian Mountains and Mississippi River both alone and in partnership with American irregular units in these areas.

General Bernardo de Galvez, Spanish Governor of Louisiana, was an early supporter of the Americans but much of his aid was covert.

He smuggled money and supplies from New Orleans to Washington's Army. He refused to allow the British to enter the Mississippi River at New Orleans but allowed the Americans to travel on the Mississippi.

Since the Mississippi River was the boundary between British territory and Spanish territory both could sail up and down the Mississippi River. However, access from the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic was blocked as this last part of the river passed through New Orleans which was Spanish territory.

Statute of George Rogers Clark overlooking Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky.

Statute of George Rogers Clark overlooking Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky.
Statute of George Rogers Clark overlooking Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky. | Source

Residents of New Spain Paid a Tax to Help Fund the American Revolution

Throughout the war General Galvez continued to funnel money and supplies to Washington's Army as well as leading attacks on British forts along the Gulf Coast of the present day states of Mississippi and Alabama as well as attacking and capturing Florida from the British - these were the lands that Spain had lost to Britain following the Seven Years War (French and Indian War) and Spain retained these lands after the war.

In addition to capturing Florida from Britain and returning it to Spanish control, Galvez also assisted with attacks on British outposts in the Northwest (present day Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana) including helping to George Rogers Clark with both men and supplies during Clark's campaign that secured the Northwest for the United States.

In addition to the efforts of General Galvez and funding from Madrid, Spain's efforts also included additional funding in the form of a voluntary, one time, tax on the residents of New Spain.

In 1780 King Carlos III issued a proclamation asking all Spanish residents of New Spain to contribute 2 pesos and Indian residents 1 peso to a fund to aid the American Revolution.

The request in the proclamation included soldiers manning the garrisons in New Spain. While most of these soldiers, other than some in Texas and Louisiana who participated in General Galvez's operations, did not fight the British they were prepared for such engagements which, as I pointed out in my Hub on the founding of Tucson, was a concern for Spanish military planners due to their sharing an eastern border with Britain's American colonies and the fear that the British might attempt to expand their northern territory in Western Canada south toward New Spain.

Because they were prepared to fight the British if necessary and because they contributed financially toward America's victory, both the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution have recently opened membership to descendants of Spanish soldiers who were both stationed in what is now the southwestern part of the United States and responded to King Carlos III's call for a 2 peso contribution to help the American cause.

Spanish Troops attacking Ft. George in Pensacola, Florida during Revolution

Spanish Troops attacking Ft. George in Pensacola, Florida during Revolution
Spanish Troops attacking Ft. George in Pensacola, Florida during Revolution | Source

American Victory in Revolutionary War was an International Effort

While the 4th of July is an American holiday celebrating America's birth as an independent nation it should not be forgotten that our independence was won with the help of others and that,while the major battles were fought on American soil, the war was global in nature.

There is no question that our forefathers bravely went head-to-head with the most powerful nation on earth at that time. However, courage alone could not have brought down such an adversary. It was cash, arms and other supplies provided, mainly by Spain but also France and to a lesser extent Holland and other countries, that provided the firepower to go with our soldier's courage. This, plus the diversion of British attention to other parts of the world, is what allowed us to win our independence.

Of course we never would have received the aid from abroad that was so critical to our winning the war, had it not been for the military leadership of George Washington and the diplomatic efforts of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Silas Deane, John Adams, John Jay and others.

"Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown" by John Trumble (Public Domain photo courtesy of
"Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown" by John Trumble (Public Domain photo courtesy of | Source

George Washington's Leadership Was a Vital Factor in the International War Effort

George Washington foiled King George's plan to simply hold the coast with his navy while his Indian allies harassed our frontier - King George was willing and able to do this for decades until we finally gave up.

However, General Washington put a real army together and engaged King George's forces head on and won enough conventional victories to get Britain's enemies to support us in a conventional war rather than simply providing a life line to keep a guerrilla war going forever.

It probably would have suited France and definitely Spain to tie Britain down in a never ending guerrilla war in which neither side won - Britain would be bogged down militarily without America setting an example for colonies of other nations to follow.

Washington also set up and ran a large network of spies and agents stretching from Canada to New Orleans which provided him with a steady stream of information as well as a network for smuggling arms and supplies to his army.

Meanwhile, our diplomats in Europe worked tirelessly to promote and build support for the American cause among influential private citizens as well as among government officials.

Many liberal thinkers in Europe sided with us and made private donations as well as helping to influence their governments to support us. Some government officials, like General Bernardo Galvez, took action on their own to secretly lend government support before their superiors came around to supporting our cause.

Finally, our diplomats were adept at playing on the foreign rulers' fears and hatreds of Britain as well as their desire to recapture territory lost to Britain in previous wars. It didn't matter whether they liked us or not or whether they believed in our cause or not, they knew that any actions, regardless of motivation, against Britain could only help us.

It's a HubMob!
It's a HubMob! | Source

© 2009 Chuck Nugent


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