What role did Spain, France, and the Netherlands play during American Revolution?

The American Revolution was one of the most potent uprisings in the 18th century. This uprising was the revolt and overthrow of the British colonial rule in the Thirteen Colonies and the foundation of the world’s first federal republic. 

An act of the Parliament of Great Britain imposed a direct tax on the Thirteen British Colonies in 1765 AD giving rise to the revolution that ultimately led to the American Revolutionary War. 

The passage of the Townshend Acts in 1767 and the Tea Act in 1773 enacted an aggressive change in the state of the relatively peaceful revolution.

The formation of the Continental Congress, followed by the newly assembled Continental Army, happened swiftly.   

The revolution period was significantly elongated and lasted from March 22, 1765, to January 14, 1784.

The colonies’ populations were divided among the Patriots, who were against the impositions of Great Britain, and Loyalists, who remained faithful to King George III of Great Britain. 

Along with the citizens and leaders being involved in this revolution and the war that followed, some nations played a significant role as principal belligerents or co-belligerents in the war. 

The roles executed by three key nations during the American Revolution are discussed hereunder:

Who supported Britain during the American Revolution? 

The British were supported by the Loyalists and the Hessians majorly. The Loyalists were the American colonists siding with the British Crown, and the Hessians were German soldiers serving as auxiliaries to the British Army. 

Almost one-third of the colonial population constituted Loyalists, and a significant portion of the German military serving during the Revolutionary War were Hessians.

Why were the Hessians important in the Revolutionary War?

The Hessians were a vital chunk of the British forces during the Revolutionary War. They served in most battles against the powerful rebels and their allies.

German troops added much-needed human resources to the British army and sustained the British war effort.

How many American casualties took place during the American Revolution?

Although the data on mortality during the revolution is debatable, an estimated 70,000 American Patriots lost their lives during this period. 

Approximately 6,800 were killed in battle, and at least 17,000 died due to disease. The rest is assumed to be the number of soldiers who died as prisoners of war.


Bernardo de Gálvez at the siege of Pensacola, by Augusto Ferrer Dalmau, Anglo-Spanish War
Bernardo de Gálvez at the siege of Pensacola, by Augusto Ferrer Dalmau, Anglo-Spanish War

Spain played a vital role in the American Revolution as a secondary ally of the Thirteen American Colonies. After siding with France and the newly formed America against its former rival and declaring war on Britain, Spain became directly involved in the conflict. 

During the initial period of the revolution, Spain was occupied by the Spanish-Portuguese War and could not directly assist its ally by entering another war.

Regardless of this priority area, the Spanish were among the first countries to supply the American colonies with arms and ammunition. 

With the initiation of the war, the British blockade of New England began, which meant Spanish ports such as New Orleans and Havana became a vital supply route for the colonists. 

Between 1776 to 1778, Spain provided many military supplies and loans to the colonials through various routes. 

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Illegal smuggling of weapons from New Orleans also began in 1776, and with the appointment of Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez, as the governor of the city in 1777, the supply was expanded. 

With the end of the war that the nation was already engaged in, Spain started preparing for entry into the American Revolutionary War more effectively. 

On the 12th of April, 1779, Spain signed the Aranjuez treaty, under whose terms the nation provided military support for France during the war in return for French support in the repossession of Gibraltar, Minorca, and East and West Florida.

Spain assisted the principal belligerents in the war until the 21st of June, 1779, when the nation officially declared war against Great Britain, entering the American Revolutionary War as a combatant. 

Along with generous military support, the Spanish troops hosted several successful sieges and recaptured territories held by Great Britain from former engagements. 

The Great Siege of Gibraltar was one of the first significant battles that the Spanish forces fought during this war, considering that occupying Gibraltar was a key motive for the nation.

This engagement went on from June 24, 1779, to February 7, 1783, and despite the large Franco-Spanish troops, the siege was unsuccessful, and the British managed to hold their grounds.

Another major operation that Spain was involved in was the Franco-Spanish reconquest of Minorca. This conquest was another critical objective of the Spanish forces to achieve their aim in this alliance, and the battle went on from August 19, 1781, to February 5, 1782. 

This battle proved fruitful, and Minorca was captured and even devolved to Spain in 1763.

The Spanish military assisted the successful sieges in the Mississippi Valley and the region of Gulf Coast region, where they secured the Mississippi valley in favor of the Americans. 

In May 1781, Spanish governor, Gálvez devised efficient tactics and strategies for the military troops at the Pensacola Siege and gained a victory against the British.

And subsequently took over West Florida, attaining a significant objective per the Aranjuez Treaty.

The San Juan Expedition launched by Britain against Spanish Nicaragua failed due to extensive tropical diseases among the British troops.

The failure saved Spanish forces from defensive combat to protect prime locations of Granada and León. 

Spain provided significant financial and military support to the colonists in their American Midwest campaigns. A Spanish garrison also took part in capturing Fort St. Joseph in Michigan. 

The assistance in this expedition later gave the nation some claim in the new Northwest Territory, which was formed from the initially unorganized western territory of the United States. 

Critical monetary support in the final and one of the most crucial battles of the American Revolution, the Yorktown Siege, was furnished by Spain. Through conjoint efforts, Spanish and French officers raised over 500,000 silver pesos within 24 hours. 

Spain’s role in the Revolutionary War was significant. The assistance that the nation provided the colonists in every necessary aspect eased their path to victory. 

Despite being involved in the war without direct association with the Americans, Spanish military forces jointly took part in numerous campaigns with the Continental army that proved victorious. 

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French (left) and British ships (right) at the Battle of the Chesapeake off Yorktown in 1781
French (left) and British ships (right) during the Chesapeake Battle off Yorktown in 1781

France was America’s first and most important ally in the Revolutionary War. The nation became involved in the war through early engagements in 1776 and formally entered it after Britain declared war on it in 1778. 

The long-standing rivalry between France and Britain influenced the inclination of the French towards the colonists.

With the vision to recapture the territory lost due to defeat in the Seven Years’ War and impressed by the ideology behind the revolution, the nation stepped into the war. 

Initially, France assisted the rebels through a massive supply of arms and ammunition. Due to reluctance and fear of the damaging consequences of war, the nation did not make a formal involvement in the war at the beginning. 

After completing the rebuilding of the French navy and serious reconsideration, the nation signed the Treaty of Alliance with America on February 6, 1778. 

Following the treaty of defensive alliance between the two nations, Britain declared war on France on March 17, 1778. With the American victory in the Battle of Saratoga, spirits were high in the newly formed Franco-American alliance. 

The French navy began its vital part in the war opposite the massive British naval force. Various plots to weaken the British channel fleet, which significantly outnumbered the French fleet, were implemented from the beginning of France’s entry into the war. 

The first significant naval Anglo-French engagement of the Revolutionary War was the Battle of Ushant on July 27, 1778, whose result was not in favor of any of the two nations. 

France’s naval army hence took part in many vital engagements globally. The successful Invasion of Dominica in the British West Indies was a French initiative on September 7, 1778. 

The Capture of Saint Vincent from June 16 to 18, 1779, was a swift French take-over of the British-controlled part of the island in the West Indies. 

Other successful French operations in the war included the Battle of Grenada and the Invasion of Tobago. Along with its naval support, France also started participating in land operations of the war with the Great Siege of Gibraltar. 

This Franco-Spanish operation, which could not succeed, started with the objective of capturing Gibraltar from the British and lasted from June 24, 1779, to February 7, 1783. 

The reconquest of Minorca was a critical operation conducted by the Franco-Spanish forces from August 19, 1781, to February 5, 1982. France assisted its ally Spain in capturing the island Menorca, a key objective of Spain’s entry into the war.      

France remained comparatively inactive and limited to maritime in North American operations initially. 

The Battle of Rhode Island failure due to unsuccessful cooperation led the French to decide their approach in the operations in North America to bring decisive results. With active discussions, the Americans and French plotted the final strike to end the war. 

The siege of Yorktown was a terminal engagement between the Franco-American troops and the British forces from September 28, 1781, to October 19, 1781. 

The rebels’ attack on Yorktown, Virginia, proved relatively successful and led to the British surrender after almost eight years of combat. 

France did not regain most of its previously lost territory with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. 

The nation suffered a massive debt due to the extensive war supplies consumed and significant monetary assistance provided to the Continental Army. 

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The ideas behind the American Revolution inspired the French Revolution only a few years later.

Although the nation gained a prestigious position globally with success in the war, its position in the American Revolution caused evident turbulence in its economy and internal affairs. 

The French role in the revolution was decisive and essential as its involvement facilitated the victory of the relatively new nation warring against a mighty empire.  

The Netherlands

The Battle of the Dogger Bank 5 August 1781
The Battle of the Dogger Bank 5 August 1781

The Netherlands remained neutral during most of the Revolutionary War. After maintaining neutrality in the Seven Years’ War, the nation had secured a safe position globally. 

The republic’s maintenance of this spot was considered primary, and the nation’s participation in this period was primarily informal and secretive. 

The Dutch merchants maintained pronounced relationships with their American colleagues for decades. This decades-long relationship resulted in the Dutch supplying arms and ammunition to America in 1774.

The Dutch government could not afford to assist the rebels, but the merchants certainly could, and they began the trade as soon as the preparations for the war began. 

The supply of military aid continued, and the British reacted to this information aggressively. The British searched and seized Dutch ships, with the Dutch denying any such trade. 

After the Netherlands joined the Russian-sponsored League of Armed Neutrality, Britain declared war on the nation in December 1780. 

The much-needed support and supply that the nation furnished the Americans did contribute to the notable performance of the colonists in the war. 

When the declaration by Britain unwillingly dragged the nation into the war, it faced significant damage due to the outrageous British show of power. Destructive consequences followed the formal end to the nation’s neutrality. 

The fourth Anglo-Dutch War began and continued even after the Revolutionary War was over until 1784. Dutch ships were captured or seized, causing a pause in the nation’s overseas trade. 

The British took over Dutch-owned ports in India and Ceylon and many colonies in Guiana.

After the Dutch at St. Eustatius Island surrendered, the British naval force’s confiscation of cash, ships, and other important property was undoubtedly the most damaging engagement.  

Although the Netherlands faced detrimental results due to its involvement in the Revolutionary War, the nation provided great aid to the rebels throughout the period.

The support was not limited to monetary and military supplies but extended to political and moral levels. 

The Netherlands was the second nation to officially recognize the United States of America as a federal republic in 1782. Good diplomatic relations between the two countries continued even after the revolutionary engagement. 


Every nation part of this revolutionary movement impacted the war’s outcome. The profuse support and assistance that the American Colonies received influenced the successful completion of their pursuit of independence. 

The Franco-Spanish forces led several operations that proved victorious, contributing to the American upper hand in the war.

Britain faced a bitter loss with several European powers assisting the rebellious colonies, and the nation had almost negligible support during the Revolutionary War. 

The American Revolution was a crucial step toward introducing liberty and equality in society and gave rise to several vital movements in the following times. It is regarded as the global beginning of the ‘Age of Revolution.’ 

Being the first successful movement that overthrew monarchial colonial rule and established a federal republic, the revolution did leave an impact on the world. 

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