The colonists needed help!! Who could they turn to? A couple years into the Revolutionary War, the American Continental Army was suffering. It was not likely that the colonists would defeat the superior British forces. A much needed victory came in October 1777, when British General Burgoyne surrendered to American General Gates at Saratoga, New York.
Ben Franklin had been in France for a couple of years trying to convince the French to help the colonist win their independence from England. France, after losing the French & Indian War, would love to get back at the British but they were not willing to join a losing battle. Many countries felt that the colonists had no chance in winning a war against the greatest army in the world.
When news hit France about the decisive win at Saratoga, France decided to send aid to the American forces. They sent nineteen year old Marquis de Lafayette. He joined the Continental Army in 1777 at Valley Forge where George Washington and his army spent a very brutal winter. The soldiers were suffering with no boots, little food, and disease. Lafayette spent his own money to buy the men supplies. He was also essential in helping train the men for combat.
In July 1780, French General Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau arrived in Newport, Rhode Island with 6,000 French soldiers. Rochambeau was headquartered at the Vernon House. In March 1781, George Washington joined Rochambeau to devise a plan to attack British occupied New York City. That plan never worked out.
Washington and Rochambeau met again in Connecticut in May of 1781. The plan was to move the French forces from Newport to Providence, Rhode Island and eventually meet Washington’s forces outside New York. France also sent Admiral de Grasse to the Caribbean with orders to coordinate his activities with General Washington and General Rochambeau to blockade British General Cornwallis in the Chesapeake Bay outside Yorktown, Virginia. Lafayette was already there keeping an eye on the British.
In August 1781, the march to Yorktown began. The plan worked perfectly as the French fleet and the French & American forces all met together at the end of September 1781 and laid siege to the British forces.
It took three weeks of constant bombardment, but eventually on October 19,1781, the British surrendered to the American forces ultimately ending the Revolutionary War.
France’s role in the Revolutionary War tells a story. A story of a country battered by constant wars and a story of men wanting to retaliate against British abuse. But it also tells a story of inspiration as France will decide to fight for their freedom against monarchical rule in 1789 following America’s example. The fighting French left behind pieces of their story in the monuments erected in their honor for all of us to read and remember. Vive la France!