America’s First Ally: France in the Revolutionary War


February 3, 2020
by Kim Burdick Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

Norman Desmarais, professor emeritus at Providence College, is one of America’s most important scholars of French involvement in the American Revolution. Desmarais has long researched and written extensively on the topic. His translation of the Gazette Françoise, the French-language newspaper published in Rhode Island by the French fleet that brought Rochambeau and his troops to America in 1780, brought one of most interesting primary documents of that time period to life.

America’s First Ally, Norm’s newest book, is a useful reference tool showing just how important French aid was to the American colonies. Information about French aid coming as early as 1775, long before their official entry into the war, is a crucial part of the book. Details about the French outfitters, merchants and naval assistance bring forward some new information.

Casemate is a leading publisher in the fields of military history, defense studies, and military science, and Norm’s careful research for this book forms an important resource for present and future generations. As such, fans of Norm’s lively and well-written articles for JAR may be surprised by my suggestion to read his new book backwards.

I would have opened America’s First Ally with the current Epilogue which is beautifully written and captures the essence of what the book really is about, and then presented Chapter 5. As it is currently laid out, the book has no “hook.” The current introduction focuses on the contributions of the French Enlightenment thinkers to the American and French revolutions, and Chapters 1 and 2 function as lists and inventories, featuring detailed scholarly accounts of what each ship carrying goods from France contained. This is useful information for scholars and researchers, but better suited for an appendix.

America’s First Ally focuses on details of French aid in the Revolutionary War, contributing greatly to our understanding of the war as an international conflict, and strengthening our appreciation of that country’s role in America’s independence. If you need a reference book detailing what French investors, the French navy and soldiers did for the American Revolution, this is a good place to begin.

(As an Amazon Associate, JAR earns from qualifying purchases. This helps toward providing our content free of charge.)


  • While I have no problem with the book, it’s always been my understanding that America’s first ally in the war was the Oneida nation. I realize we don’t give much credit at times to the contribution of our Native American allies but they really should be recognized for all they did on our behalf; especially in light of what happened to them after the war and since. Just saying…

  • Coming from upstate New York and living near Syracuse as a child, I agree with you! I remember being shocked when I first moved to Plymouth Meeting, PA area to hear that the Oneida’s were active participants in Valley Forge/Barren Hill area!

  • I purchased the book and turned to Chapter 5 based on Kim’s comments. I was dismayed to read (page 180) that the assault on Stony Point was placed under the Brandywine heading and dated 1777 instead of 1779 when that assault occurred. I suspect the book contains much valuable information but that somewhat reduced my enthusiasm for it.

  • I’m just wondering. Did any other country send in troops or war ships to serve along side us in the Revolution? Holland? Spain?

  • German soldiers were important players–both on the French/American side and on the British side of the War. Many, in fact, stayed in America after the war. As there were already Pennsylvania settlements, it was an easy transition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *