1768-1777: Covert Aid from France at the Start
of the American Revolution 

Latest Changes: 2013-02-08: fix French ranks / 2013-03-21: go to timeline format / 2013-05-16: add Wikipedia link /

Sources and further information may be found in the sources listed at the end of this page.

Greg Ritchie's radio interview of Dr. Robert A. Selig provides a fine overview of the
International Aspects of the American War for Independence.


1768 Jan to Apr: French Capt. Johan Kalb visited the U.S. in civilian attire to make a secret assessment of the American colonists' feelings toward Great Britiain. Kalb later became an American General and died in the battle of Camden SC in 1781.


1775 May: One of the first acts of the Continental Congress was to form a Committee for Secret Correspondence to plan and direct negotiations with foreign governments. The committee members were John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Harrison, John Hay, and Robert Morris.

1775 Dec: A French diplomat, the Chevalier Julien Alexander Acard de Bonvouloir, was sent to Philadelphia see if the Americans might be actively considering independence after the battles at Lexington and Concord, Ticonderoga, and Bunker Hill. Bonvouloir contacted Francis Daymon -- a librarian at the free library in Carpenters Hall, whom he had met on an earlier trip to America -- and through him asked Benjamin Franklin (the founder of the free library) to set up a meeting to discuss the evolving situation. Franklin brought John Jay to the meeting (held in Carpenters Hall) at which Daymon acted as interpreter. Bonvouloir was not fluent in English, and Franklin and Jay were not fluent in French. This and other channels of communication soon led France to donate large quantities of military stores to the United States through various unofficial paths. [Ref. Blueprint for a Revolution, by Charles and Nancy Cook (Carpenters Hall, Philadelphia PA, 1996)]


1776 April: Silas Deane (one of Connecticut's delegates to the Continental Congress) went to Paris as U.S. Commssioner. He was on a secret mission to meet with French Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, the Comte de Vergennes. The Committee for Secret Correspondence had instructed him to stress that the colonies were moving toward "total separation" from Great Britain and would then need large amounts of arms and ammunition. Deane was promised unofficial assistance: military supplies and recommendations of experienced officers (military engineers and infantry commanders) who would offer their service as officers in the Continental Army.

1776 June: A somewhat clandestine method for securing and delivering military supplies to the rebel forces in America was conceived and implemented.

During the disastrous campaign in New York and New Jersey in the last half of 1776 many of the state regiments had returned home, taking the muskets that had been provided to them by the Congress. Many enlistments expired at the end of the 1776, and many of these soldiers simply take the musket home and would not re-enlist. There were now inadequate guns available for new recruits.

1776 Aug: Thaddeus Kosciuszko -- a Polish officer who had been trained in artillery and military engineering at the Meèziéres in France -- arrived in Philadelphia, having borrowed money for the voyage. Given the rank of Colonel of Engineers he designed effective fortifications for Philadelphia, served at Ticonderoga and Saratoga in 1777, then planned and built fortifications at the West Point NY complex until 1780 June. As a close friend of Gen. Gates he went south in 1781, arriving after Gates' defeat at Camden SC. He was then put in charge of transportation for Gen. Greene's fighting retreat across the Carolinas.

1776 Oct: French aid begins to flow toward the U.S.

By October, Deane was able to send clothing for twenty thousand men, muskets for thirty thousand, gunpowder, cannon, shot, and shell in large quantities. French aid to America was, perhaps, never more effective than during the two years [1776-78] when she was ostensibly at peace with England. All the necessities of war, even to the gold to pay the soldiers, were sent to America through the agency of a new mercantile house with the fictitious name of Roderigue Hortalez et Cie.
from p 213 of The American Revolution, 1776-1783, by Claude Halstead Van Tyne (Harper & Brothers, 1905) -- available as page images and text at books.google.com. See also Conception and History of Roderigue Hortalez et Cie

The plan was for the French to send arms and ammunition to the Dutch-controlled island of St. Eustacius in the West Indies. The U.S. could pretend to buy the arms there, and U.S. vessels would then transport them to the U.S. Unfortunately one of Dean's colleagues was a British spy, so Great Britain was fully aware of the scheme, even learning many of the ports and sailing dates for the transports, which they then captured.

1776 Dec: Benjamin Franklin arrived in France to lead the diplomatic efforts there. Arthur Lee arrived soon thereafter and was asked to see if he could secure aid from Spain. He arrived there in 1777 Feb and arranged through intermediaries for substantial aid, but he was not allowed to travel to the capitol city of Madrid.


1777 Feb: French engineering officer du Portail arrived in the United States. The French government had secretly (a year before the treaty recognizing the United States as an independent nation) sent him with three other officers (Gouvion, Radière, and Laumoy) to provide experienced military engineers for the Continental Army.

1777 March: One shipment of French military supplies purchased by the U.S. arrived at Portsmouth NH. It consisted of 1,000 barrels of powder, 12,000 Charleville muskets, thousands of blankets, and other military items

Many thousands of militia and Continental Army soldiers used the Charleville musket. (or "fusil") , a flintlock musket produced at the Charleville-Mèziéres armory in France. France sold or gave tens of thousands of the 1763 and the lighter 1766 models of the Charleville musket to the United States. Rochambeau's troops used the 1766 and the 1777 models. [Ref Wikipedia web article on the Charleville musket]

1777 March: A second shipment of French military supplies purchased by the U.S. arrived at Philadelphia PA. It consisted of 6,000 Charleville muskets for the new Continental Army and 5,000 for state use. Now every soldier the Continental Army could have a modern firearm and bayonet -- the latter being crucial for battles with the British Army.

1777 April: Lafayette and Kalb set sail from France with contracts form Silas Deane to become major Generals in the Continental Army. After an initially chilly reception by the Continental Congress they were appointed officers in the Continental Army.

1777 May: Arthur Lee traveled to Berlin (in the Germanic state of Brandenburg) to seek aid, but was unsuccessful.

1777 Sep: By this time Hortalez et Cie had already shipped 5 million livres worth of cargo to America. In this month Arthur Lee returned to Paris, where he remained until 1779 Sept, when he was recalled to the U.S. At the battle of Brandywine (PA) Lafayette. was wounded leading a rear-guard action to keep British forces from encircling the Continental Army.

1777 Oct: The American victory at the Battle of Saratoga convinced the French that the U.S. could field forces that (with the aid of French armaments) could defeat significant British forces. The French would now publicly support the United States through a formal alliance that would help the U.S. cause
Ref. [*] the Battle of Rhode Island [Wikipedia] by diverting a significant portion of Great Britain's military effort toward strengthening its homeland defense force against a possible attack by France.

1777 Dec: Lafayette was sent to Albany to lead a second invasion of Canada. The required troops and supplies were not provided, and the plans were dropped in 1778 March.

Sources of Further Information 

Web Resources

[*] The France Society SAR provides extensive information about the contributions of France to U.S. victory in the American Revolution:
. . . [*] Contributions of France (in English)
. . . [*] Guerre d'Amérique: Sommaire (en franais)

The [Expédition Particuliére Society has these and additional timeline items at [*] xenophongroup.com/mcjoynt/worldwar.htm

[*] list of RW Battles with details of many battles, including those involving French forces. Simply get the date of the battle from the history pages on this website and look up that date on the Wikipedia site linked above.

Ethnic Heritage - The French [The SAR Magazine for Fall 2001], by A. Mims Wilkinson, Jr. (Georgia Society SAR) [no longer posted on the Web]

[*] France in the Revolution, by James Breck Perkins [americanrevolution.org]

Print Resources

For books on French aid during the American Revolution see the bibliography entries for Dull, Dupuy, Idzerda, Perkins, Scott, Stone, and Villanueva

Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, by Mark Boatner, has brief summaries of many of the key events involving France.

The extent and importance of French assistance in the American Revolution is shown in the Expédition Particuliére Society's
[*] list of reference books

EDITOR'S NOTE: In preparing this listing my personal understanding of the history of the W3R has benefitted greatly from considerable private correspondence and discussions since 1999 with Dr. Robert Selig, Jacques de Trentinian (FRSSAR), and Albert D. McJoynt (EPCCS) -- Ralph Nelson

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