Who Fought in the Revolutionary War?

Many countries besides Great Britain and the United States took part in the Revolutionary War during the American Revolution.

Some served as belligerents (a nation or person lawfully engaged in war) while others were allies or mercenaries.

Each side had its own specific reason for joining the war. For some, it was revenge for the Seven Years’ War, which the British had won, while for others it was to overthrow British rule in their own country or colony.

Each side joined the war effort at different times too. Some hesitated and only joined after a number of years into the war, while others were eager to, or even obliged to, get involved early.

The following is a list of belligerents, allies and mercenaries involved in the Revolutionary War:

Great Britain:

In 1763, after issuing a series of new taxes and laws in the colonies to help generate badly needed revenue after the costly French and Indian War (aka the Seven Years’ War), it resulted in protests and riots among the colonists.

Great Britain attempted to stop the revolution by trying to regain control and restore order in the colonies through an increased military presence there but struggled to contain the growing rebellion.

Civil Ensign of Great Britain during the American Revolution

Civil Ensign of Great Britain during the American Revolution

On August 2, 1775, the British government issued the Proclamation of Rebellion, which declared that the American colonies were in an “open and avowed rebellion” and ordered officials of the British Empire to “use their utmost endeavours to withstand and suppress such rebellion.”

On October 27, 1775, the British government expanded on the proclamation with King George’s speech to Parliament in which he indicated that he intended to deal with the rebellion with armed force and asked for “friendly offers of foreign assistance” to suppress the rebellion.

The proclamation furthered damaged relations between the colonists and the British government and made it clear that the king was not interested in finding a way to resolve the dispute peacefully, which prompted the colonists to declare independence from Great Britain.

British North American Colonies:

After the British government began enacting various new taxes in the British North American colonies in the aftermath of the French and Indian War, it was met with a lot of resistance by the colonists because they resented the government for meddling in colonial affairs.

The Gadsden Flag was the first Marine flag and was flown by the Continental navy during the Revolutionary War

The Gadsden Flag was the first Marine flag and was flown by the Continental navy during the Revolutionary War

The colonists began boycotting, protesting and even rioting over these news laws. The government responded by increasing its military presence in the colonies, which only escalated the conflict.

The conflict came to a head in April of 1775 when the colonists and the British troops engaged in the first battles of the Revolutionary War in Lexington and Concord. In response, King George III issued the Proclamation of Rebellion in August.

After the Proclamation of Rebellion was issued and King George vowed to fight the rebellion with force, the colonists decided to cut all political ties with Great Britain.

The Continental Congress officially declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. Shortly after, they sent a group of commissioners, led by Benjamin Franklin, overseas to negotiate an alliance with France.

The Declaration was drafted and passed in order to allow for recognition of the United States by friendly foreign governments, such as France, who refused to consider the possibility of an alliance without it.

France:

France joined the Revolutionary War in 1778. France got involved in the war because it had lost the Seven Years’ War to the British in 1763 and wanted to regain the land it lost in North America.

Royal Standard of the King of France from 1638 to 1790

Royal Standard of the King of France from 1638 to 1790

France had begun considering an alliance with the colonists after they declared their independence in July of 1776 but started to rethink the decision after receiving news of General George Washington’s defeats in New York in August of 1776.

France finally decided in favor of an alliance after receiving news of the British surrender at the Battle of Saratoga in December of 1777.

In 1778, the French joined the Revolutionary War as an ally to the American colonists. On February 6, 1778, the French signed a Treaty of Alliance and a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Benjamin Franklin, pledging their assistance in the war effort.

The treaty also contained a clause forbidding either country from making a separate peace deal with the British and also contained a secret clause that allowed Spain, or other European countries, to enter into the alliance.

The resulting global battles between France and Great Britain later came to be known as the Anglo-French War, which took place between 1778-1783, and was directly linked to the American Revolutionary War, although it took place outside of North America.

Spain:

Spain joined the Revolutionary War in 1779. Spain got involved in the war because it had also lost the Seven Years’ War to Great Britain and hoped to regain the land it lost in North America.

Flag of the House of Bourbon in Spain , 1760-1785

Flag of the House of Bourbon in Spain from 1760 to 1785

Spain joined the Revolutionary War only as an ally to France, not the colonists. The King of Spain, King Charles III, wouldn’t sign a treaty of alliance with the United States, because he viewed encouraging political revolts as unwise, but did sign the Treaty of Aranjuez with France in April of 1779.

The Treaty of Aranjuez stated that France would help Spain capture Gibraltar, the Floridas and the island of Menorca and, in return, Spain would join France in their war against the British.

As a result, on June 21, 1779, Spain declared war on Great Britain, creating a de facto alliance with France and the United States.

Dutch Republic:

Great Britain declared war on the Dutch Republic in 1780 to prevent it from joining an alliance,  known as the League of Armed Neutrality, with other European countries.

Flag of the Netherlands since the 18th century

Flag of the Netherlands since the 18th century

Catherine the Great in Russia formed the League of Armed Neutrality, which was an alliance between European countries that remained neutral in the American Revolutionary War, in 1780.

The alliance was intended to protect neutral shipping against the British navy’s policy of searching neutral ships for French contraband.

Britain feared that the Dutch Republic would join the league, and that any British attempts to confiscate Dutch ships, which traded in the British North American colonies, would bring Britain into war with all members of the league, which at the time included Denmark, Sweden and Russia.

The Dutch Republic had planned to join the league in January of 1781, but Great Britain found out about it ahead of time and declared war on the Dutch Republic on December 20, 1780, thus making them ineligible to join.

The Dutch then signed a Treaty of of Amity and Commerce with the United States on October 8, 1782.

Mysore:

The Kingdom of Mysore joined the Revolutionary War in 1780. Mysore was a military state in India, located on the southwest coast of the Indian subcontinent, that was ruled by Muslim rulers Nawab Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan, who opposed British expansion into India.

Hyder Ali had an alliance with the French in India due to their shared common enemy: the British. When the French declared war on the British in 1778, the British tried to overthrow the French in India.

As a result, in 1780, the Kingdom of Mysore declared war on Britain, which later came to be known as the Second Anglo-Mysore war.

Hanover:

Hanover, was a territory in the Holy Roman Empire, in what is now modern day Germany, and was ruled by King George III.

Hanover provided troops to Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, offering five battalions, which were sent to Gibraltar to replace English soldiers that had been sent to North America.

Hesse-Kassel:

Hesse-Kassel was a state in the Holy Roman Empire, in what is now modern day Germany. The ruler of Hesse-Kassel, Frederick II, leased 22,000 Hessian soldiers to his nephew, British monarch King George III, for use in the Revolutionary War, after George wrote to Frederick and offered a subsidy for his troops as well as a treaty of alliance and protection. The treaty was signed on January 15, 1776.

Hesse-Kassel offered a total of 12,500 troops, which included 15 regiments, each with five companies, four Grenadier Battalions, two Yager companies and some artillery units.

King George III promised only to employ these hessian soldiers in North America, not in the West Indies, which was considered undignified.

Hesse-Hanau:

The county of Hanau was a territory in the Holy Roman Empire, in what is now modern day Germany. Hesse-Hanau signed a treaty with Great Britain on February 5, 1776 and offered 900 troops, which included one infantry regiment and some artillery.

Waldeck:

Waldeck was a state in the Holy Roman Empire, in what is now modern day Germany. Waldeck signed a treaty with Great Britain on April 25, 1775 and offered 700 troops, equaling one regiment.

Brunswick:

Brunswick was a duchy (a territory ruled by a duke or duchess) in the Holy Roman Empire, in what is now modern day Germany.

King George wrote to the Duke of Brunswick, Charles William Ferdinand, whose wife was Princess Augusta of Great Britain, and offered a subsidy for his troops as well as a treaty of alliance and protection.

Brunswick was the first German-speaking state to sign a treaty supporting Great Britain, which was signed on January 9, 1776.

Brunswick offered 4,000 soldiers, which included four infantry regiments, one grenadier battalion, one dragoon regiment and one light infantry battalion and required that all troops take an oath of service to King George III.

King George III promised only to employ Brunswick’s soldiers in North America, not in the West Indies, which was considered undignified.

Ansbach-Bayreuth:

Ansbach-Bayreuth was a principality of the Holy Roman Empire, in what is now modern day Bavaria, that supplied 2,353 troops to the Revolutionary War.

Anhalt-Zerbst:

Anhalt-Zerbst was a principality of the Holy Roman Empire, in what is now modern day Germany. The Prince of Anhalth-Zerbst, Frederick Augustus, signed a treaty to provide Great Britain with 1,160 men in 1777.

Sources:
Elking, Max Von. German Allied Troops in the North American War of Independence 1776-1783. Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1893
Harding, Nick. Hanover and the British Empire, 1700-1837. The Boydell Press, 2007.
VasantAgnihotri. “Muslim Support for American Independence During the Revolutionary War.” Muslim Academy, 23 Dec. 2012, muslim-academy.com/muslim-support-for-american-independence-during-the-revolutionary-war
Procknow, Gene. “How the British Won the American Revolutionary War.” Journal of the American Revolution, 27 July. 2015, allthingsliberty.com/2015/07/how-the-british-won-the-american-revolutionary-war/
Edler, Friedrich. The Dutch Republic and the American Revolution. John Hopkins Press, 1911.
“The Declaration of Independence, 1776.” Office of the Historian, United States Department of State, history.state.gov/milestones/1776-1783/declaration
“French Alliance, French Assistance, and European Diplomacy during the American Revolution, 1778-1782.” Office of the Historian, United States Department of State, history.state.gov/milestones/1776-1783/french-alliance
Conway, Stephen. “10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the American War of Independence.” History Extra, 4 July. 2017, www.historyextra.com/article/international-history/10-things-you-need-know-about-american-war-independence

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the writer and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance writer and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site’s About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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