Key to Victory: Foreign Assistance to America’s Revolutionary War

Critical Thinking

April 12, 2021
by William V. Wenger Also by this Author


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Historians have long appreciated that the colonies could not have won the American Revolutionary War against the most powerful nation in the world without significant foreign aid. What is not coherently presented in the historical record or documented in any meaningful depth is the quantification of that aide by France and her allies, primarily Spain. This article will provide condensed version of the in-depth investigation into the quantification of the direct foreign aid provided to the American Revolution presented in my book entitled The Key to American Independence: Quantifying Foreign Assistance to the American Revolution.

The historical record clearly and accurately summarizes the circumstances of the significant need of foreign aid and assistance to the thirteen-colonies and the countries opposed to Great Britain globally as a result of the many years of warfare among the Europeans prior to the American Revolution, culminating in the Seven Years’ War. Britain’s success in that war, although at great cost, left France and her ally Spain defeated. These primary providers of financial and military aid to the American Revolution ably assisted in supporting the American war effort as revenge and possible leverage, facilitated by the financiers of the Netherlands. In addition, some manpower was provided from Sweden.[1]

It is relatively easy to determine who provided the aid to the American cause, but a number of questions must be addressed to determine the substance of that aid:

What was foreign aid in this historical context?

The aid provided to the Americans included cash, loans, military logistics of weapons, gunpowder, uniforms, tentage, and other equipment. It also included military support, primarily from French Army forces under Marshal Jean-Baptiste, comte de Rochambeau as well as the critical assistance of the French fleets commanded first by Admiral and General comte d’Estaing in 1778, and by Admiral de Grasse in 1780. Also, significant indirect contributions were made to the American war effort by the diversion and drain on British forces and resources to the larger world war that raged during the conflict of which the American Revolution was a relatively small element.[2]

When was that aid provided and by whom?

When was assistance given or loaned before the war, during the war, and after the war? Attribution of the aid by date is relatively easy, but still must be carefully checked because much of the previous documentation was often made in generalities. Some of these generalities did not account for the exact years and amounts of aid; some did not account for the “bleeding over” of specific amounts of aid from one year to the next. Most of the historians did not specify the derivation of the values of which they wrote. It is necessary, therefore, to diligently compare sources, amounts, dates and veracity of the sources.

How was that aid conveyed to the Americans?

Was the money and military stores shipped on French and Spanish naval vessels, on support ships, or by merchant vessels? If on merchant vessels, to whom did those vessels belong, and who paid the cost for that transport? In accounting for these costs, it must be taken into consideration what percentage of the shipping effort was directed and paid specifically to aid the Americans. Conversely, it must be specified, if possible, what portion of the cargos were intended for use only by French and Spanish military forces.

What was the inclusive cost of that aid?

With cash, loans and extensions of credit, it is essential to find the best documentation of the considerable amounts provided by the Europeans, especially in the case of the major contributor, France. This includes the cost of borrowing funds in situations where the Europeans did not have readily disposable cash to donate or to loan. For example, France paid exorbitant interest on the cash borrowed for aid to the Americans. This borrowing included the money needed to build, train and maintain French national military forces as well as their merchant shipping.[3]

For military logistics or materiel supplies, a different approach must be taken. Much of the foreign material aid came from military surplus rather than new manufacture. Notable examples were the French muskets and cannon provided from 1775 through 1777. These weapons, desperately needed by the Americans, were in large measure surplus, outdated and often poor-quality versions. The cost to the French for the actual items was negligible, but the expenses to ship them to the Americans often amounted to more than the original expense for the weapons. Therefore, it must be determined to the maximum extent possible the actual cost of the provision of these weapons by the French.[4]

Care must be taken and judgments rendered accurately in these accountings, computations and informed interpolations. As stated, direct attribution of 100 percent costs of this aid cannot be solely assigned in all cases specifically for the support of the Americans. The French and the Spanish were simultaneously waging a global war in places other than within, or immediately off the coast of, North America. The French were engaged in warfare in the West Indies, Europe, India and other locals while the Spanish fought Portuguese incursion in South America as well as engagements on the North America continent outside the thirteen colonies. Therefore, the allocation of forces, mission direction and time in which the Europeans provided dedicated direct support to the American war must be logically and reasonably estimated in order to derive the true cost of aid provided.

The expenses to man, equip, train and employ the European armed forces fighting for the American cause must be accounted for as well. Unfortunately, current accounting of this data is conflicting, confusing and limited. Some reference materials, such as Jonathan Dull’s The Age of the Ship of the Line, capture the annual cost of a major European service (in this case the French navy).This information can be compared with other sources that record recruiting, manning, training and equipping costs incurred by other European countries including the British; it is relatively accurate and appropriate for the purposes of this paper. Still, it is necessary to interpolate the documented costs of the British forces and then to compare those numbers for army and naval forces of France and Spain where that direct quantifiable information is unavailable. Some of this interpretation can be derived from the limited accounts of French, Spanish and even British contemporary military costs.[5]

The final cost element involves the expenses incurred for use of port facilities—the fees for transport of aid to the ports, the costs of dockage, customs fees, tariffs and labor in the ports of France, Spain, the Netherlands and other intermediate ports such as the West Indies. These costs should be included because a number of aid shipments for the Americans were transshipped to other ports both in Europe and in the Western Hemisphere to help disguise their purpose and intent. This subterfuge was especially common in the early years of European aid (prior to fall 1777) when France and Spain did not want the British to have knowledge of their support to the Americans.[6]

What is the approximate value of that aid in U. S. dollars of today?

When this accounting has been completed, the next step for enhanced perspective and relevance is to determine the value of that aid in today’s U. S. dollars. Considerations must be made for the fluctuation of conversion numbers during the Revolutionary War time period. Daily fluctuations of the current international market require an establishment of a reasonable range of acceptable values. For the Revolutionary War period, the most accurate differences and fluctuations of currency values will be considered and noted. For conversion from currencies of the Revolutionary War period to twenty-first century United States dollar values, the range will be approximately the last twenty years.[7]

What impact did this aid have on the nations who provided assistance for the American Revolutionary War?

Once these costs have been determined from the sources consulted and cross-checked for validity, they will be presented by year, type, who provided that aid, the cost in contemporary currencies, and any associated indirect costs for that specific aid, along with any qualifying notes. The determination of the relative impact of the foreign aid to the Americans by the Europeans must then be calculated, if possible, in relation to the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of the contributing countries. It is a given that GDP is a twentieth century concept, but there are notable efforts to develop retrospective historical projections of these now well-recognized statistics of national economic consequence. By these calculations and results, it will be possible to understand the respective national financial impact of this foreign aid on the economies of the contributing countries.[8]

Last, it must be determined what historical impact this aid had on the contributing European countries and the American Revolutionary War. This will include the results of this foreign aid on the period briefly following the American Revolution (from 1783 and the Treaty of Paris to approximately the year 1800).

The findings using the above parameters were addressed and recorded chronologically from the eight years preceding the American Revolution up to and including the partial resolution of the repayment of the outstanding loans by the new United States to the foreign nations who provided those obligated funds. Below is the summary of the findings of this study:

Summary of Foreign Aid to the American Revolution by Country. *The Netherlands contributed indirectly during many of the years prior to, during and after the American Revolution by loans to France, Spain and directly to the Americans. The specifics of the loan arrangements by the Netherlands have limited documentation in English. Netherlands loan arrangements only to Americans are better documented in English sources than are those to France and Spain. Friedrich Edler, The Dutch Republic, Vol. 29 (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, 1911),70-73, and E. James Ferguson, The Power of the Purse, A History of American Public Finance, 1776–1790 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1961),42-44, and 260-261.

The most obvious and somewhat common knowledge of the foreign aid to the American Revolution includes the usually-generalized and brief references by historians to the contributions of France in direct military assistance of land and naval forces, loans and gifts of funds, and military logistics supplies without which the Americans simply could not have continued to prosecute the war. Less known are the significant contributions of Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Results of Foreign Aid to the American Revolution

The American Revolutionary War of eight years, four months and fifteen days ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783 and the American ratification of that treaty in January 1784. A new and tottering American nation emerged, but as large as the problems were for the former colonies, the enormous debt incurred by the Europeans in assisting the Americans in realizing their dream of independence began a series of difficulties for many Europeans and a nightmare for France.[9]

France did not achieve her goals of recovering much of her colonial lands lost to Britain during the Seven Years’ War. The hope France had of replacing Britain as the primary trading partner with the former American colonies did not materialize, and commerce with American merchants fell sharply from a high in 1781. France was driven further into debt by her wartime expenditures, not only those that contributed to the success of the American Revolution, but by her expenditures for the larger world war of which the American conflict was only a part. Britain remained in control of most all her territories gained in the Seven Years’ War as well as superiority on the seas. The alliance with France and America faded quickly as noted by U.S. Congressman James McHenry of Maryland who stated: “the alliance is therefore completed and terminated, without leaving . . . any permanent connection between them.” France, aligned with Spain, did emerge as again a major force on the continent of Europe but remained wary of Catherine the Great’s Russia threatening France and her Ottoman Empire ally.[10]

As a result of Spain’s considerable contributions to the American war effort, King Carlos III gained navigation rights along the Mississippi River (south of Natchez and east to Florida), control of East and West Florida, and lucrative North American trade. The Spanish, due to their access to New World gold and silver, actually added to their treasury during the American Revolution. This addition was also facilitated by their more conservative fiscal policies contrasted to those of the French. The Spanish were therefore not as severely damaged and imperiled by their support for the Americans as were their Bourbon cousins to the north. In the next two to three decades, both Spain and France were strategically neutered by the French Revolution and the ultimate results of the Napoleonic Wars. Both nations’ colonial capabilities were considerably damaged by the success of Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson against the French and Spanish Fleets.[11]

The significant Spanish monetary and other substantive contributions to the American Revolution were invoiced by Basque banker Diego Maria de Gardoqui—representing the Spanish government—to John Jay in 1794 and paid in full by Alexander Hamilton.[12] According to historian E. James Ferguson, the Spanish loans that were ostensibly repaid by the Americans following the war totaled 370,000 livres. This repayment certainly did not cover all the expenses of the Spanish for their direct aid to the Americans.

For France, the aid they gave the American Revolution certainly exacerbated the dire financial conditions of that nation left in the wake of the Seven Years’ War. France compounded their considerable unpaid debt with an inept administration of a poor revenue producing structure. Those ill-founded financial administrative processes inflected adverse actions against the French populous, who rebelled. All this social and economic negative confluence doomed France to the French Revolution and the destruction of their monarchy. It is also believed that the success of the American Revolution as a realization of the ideals of the Enlightenment, and the direct experience of a considerable number of French soldiers and sailors in that American success, contributed to the French rebellion.

Spain, initially damaged by their involvement in the American Revolution as evidenced by their brief financial depression of 1784, emerged during the 1780s much less negatively impacted by the war than did France. Overall Spain, under King Carlos III and Minister Floridablanca’s administration, flourished following the American Revolution. The negative impact for the Spanish was less than that of France due to their more conservative financial practices and their ability to replenish their treasury from their New World colonies in gold and primarily silver. Spain did suffer, however, from the American Revolutionary success and the realization of Enlightenment ideals. The emergence of the new Republic in America lead to movements of independence by Spanish colonies. Eventually, the Spanish—like their French cousins—succumbed to the power of the British Royal Navy; causing both to lose much of their control and access to their financially critical colonial possessions. Ultimately, the Spanish monarchy survived while that of France was eliminated. The Spanish contributions, despite the sacrifices and expenditures of their significant direct and indirect assistance to the American Revolution and independence, are little known today by the citizens of the United States.[13]

Details of the Dutch involvement are not generally found in the histories that mentioned European aid to the American Revolution. This author found previously-obscure information regarding the involvement of the Dutch financiers who facilitated a number of loans to both the French and directly to the Americans.[14] Despite this relative blind spot in most historical accounts, it is known that the Netherlands made substantial contributions in the form of direct loans to the Americans, loans to the French and the extensive but secretive use of its merchant ships and domestic and foreign ports for shipment and transshipment of critical military cargos. These contributions were important to the success of the American Revolutionary War. The Dutch were—in large part—eventually repaid for most of their loans, and they retained much of their neutrality and general goodwill of Britain despite their aid to the Americans and their European allies. Therefore, the aid by the Dutch is not a significant element in the consideration of the total quantifiable European support to the Americans. This is not to say that the Dutch did not pay a price for their alliance with France and Spain in supporting the Americans. As a result of the larger world war of the period and their support of the Americans, the Dutch—in a separate peace treaty with Britain—lost some of their key colonies and became heavily dependent on the British for commerce (although they did retain freedom of navigation). Eventually, as a result of the success of the Revolutionary War and the establishment the American Republic, the Dutch suffered an internal revolution that resulted in the dissolution of the United Provinces.[15]

There is little acknowledgement in general histories on the Revolution of the foreign aid to America by the Swedes. Sweden did not provide cash or material aid, but it did send—at its own expense—a significant number of military officers and soldiers to assist the Americans, aid and political support that made a modest contribution American success.[16] Sweden sent approximately seventy experienced, qualified officers and soldiers who volunteered to fight for the American cause. The motivation for this aid was for those soldiers to gain valuable combat experience. Swedish foreign aid, therefore, does not factor into the quantitative European monetary or supply aid to the American War of Independence.[17]

Summary and Conclusions

The effort to gather, analyze, properly attribute and compute related contemporary cash and currency values, total them and further render those totals into current dollars represents a considerable challenge. This task is fraught with complications and historical variables, limiting accuracy. Considering the time needed to assemble this data, compute totals and compute relative values, it is not surprising that few historians, even those as thorough as Larrie D. Ferreiro and E. James Ferguson, took the time to perform these exercises and explain, at least partially, their methodology. Neither Ferreiro nor Ferguson provided detailed assumptions and calculations.[18]

The challenges of calculating the value of currencies in the mid-to-late-eighteenth century have been well explained by a number of historians and economists. Colonial Americans were largely self-employed, agrarian, bartered for most goods or bought on credit, use little of any form of cash and subsisted on much less than modern Americans. In addition, each colony used British pounds sterling to varying degrees. Many colonies produced their own currency before the war, and all issued paper money as the Revolution progressed. The Continental Congress, when the Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781, had limited financial capabilities but did produce its own currency. British pounds, French livres, Spanish reales, New World pesos, Dutch guilders, all thirteen colonies’ currency and Continental currency inflated and deflated over the period of consideration.[19] Those currencies were constantly changing in value relative to each other. The only constant was the hard currency of gold and silver, of which there was precious little in colonial and revolutionary America. All these variables contribute to the difficulty of determining contemporary relative values over time and converting revolutionary-era currencies to current U.S. dollars.[20]

John J. McCusker struggled with these questions for years and wrote of them in his well-researched, erudite and highly detailed 1991 book, How Much is that in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economic History of the United States. This work and McCusker’s subsequent studies produced a system to calculate approximations of value. “The result,” he said, “while far from perfect—and increasingly less perfect the further back in time we go—provides us with a reasonable approximation of the modern-day worth of a sum of money from some past time.”[21] Historian Thomas L. Purvis wrote in the “Almanac of American Life; Colonial America to 1763” that the raw data available from the colonial era is incomplete “for any subject concerning the production, consumption and distribution of early American wealth, for the reasons that . . . neither British nor colonial officials compiled statistics that square with modern economic concepts like gross national product or per-capita earnings.”[22]

Even more dramatically, Ronald Michener, author of several books on American colonial economics and related monetary conversions, stated, “The differences between today and then are too great to make a comparison. Viewed from the twenty-first century, life in colonial America was like living on a different planet.”[23] Nevertheless, it is essential for this paper that an attempt be made to reasonably determine relative values of contemporary currencies and then logically convert them to current dollars in order to document, understand and appreciate the magnitude of the European contributions to American independence.

To explain the methodology and issues of documenting the contemporary values of colonial and Revolutionary War-era money and then to convert those values into modern dollars, the most logical distilling process was succinctly explained by Larrie D. Ferreiro in his 2016 history of European aid to the American Revolution, Brothers at Arms. Ferreiro wrote:

This is a more fraught process than it would appear, as the economies of the late eighteenth century were vastly different than those of the early twenty-first century—horses versus cars, for example, and the fact that the relative cost of commodities like foodstuffs was far higher back then than today.[24]

Ferreiro begins his currency comparison using 1775 values because he reasons that the world was more stable than it was during the Revolutionary War (expanded by the much larger world war of the same period). Ferreiro converts currency values for that year as follows: £1 = $5 = 23.5 livres = 6.3 pesos.[25] From that basis, Ferreiro expands the conversion process into a “Real Price Comparator,” which considers the cost of consumer goods and services based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Ferreiro also uses (and prefers) an “Economic Cost Comparator” based on national gross domestic product (GDP) deflators, because he states, “GDP growth has

been much faster than CPI over the past 240 years.”[26] It should be noted that the conversion capability of Ferreiro’s numbers is close to McCusker’s process, but without the latter’s more complex and exhaustive explanations and calculations.[27]

Using primarily Ferreiro’s numbers and process, the cumulative results for the aid provided by the following European nations (computed in 2010 U.S. dollars) are:

Based on Economy Cost Comparator:            $68,745,599,820
Based on Real Price Comparator:                    $835,152,593

Based on Economy Cost Comparator:            $16,633,709,874
Based on Real Price Comparator:                    $167,618,872[28]

Perspective on the impact of the provision by Europeans of this significant foreign aid for the American Revolution is illuminated by additional historical facts and projections. For example, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and its close analytical cousin Gross National Product (GNP), were originally conceptualized in the seventeenth century, but their use as tools for national financial assessment and record keeping did not begin until the 1930s. Few economists have been willing to thoroughly study, assess and then project historical GDP and GNP data into the past. One the most prominent of those who did so was the late Dutch award-winning economist Angus Maddison. Referencing Maddison’s work and derivatives of his studies, it is possible to determine that French annual GDP during the period of the American Revolutionary War was approximately $40.4 billion (current dollars). Spain and the Netherlands for the same period had annual GDPs of approximately $14.5 billion and $ 6.2 billion respectively.[29] Growth rates for the annual GDPs of those nations were: France at 0.9 percent, Spain at 0.63 percent and the Netherlands at 1.13 percent. These historical extrapolated numbers show that the magnitude of the foreign aid provided by these nations in relation to their annual GDP and GNP was indeed significant. As Larry Ferreiro noted, “Together, France and Spain supplied over $80 billion modern equivalent (2010 USD) for the American Cause, worth almost twenty years’ of GDP of the small, fledging Nation.”[30] Maddison wrote general qualifying statements about the economics of the allies of the American Revolution of Western Europe nations of the period. His statements specifically included the three major contributors of aid to the American Revolution. Maddison wrote that despite their significant expenditures to aid the Americans, his analysis showed a long-term continued general rise during the period of study in the national annual GDPs and GNPs of those nations throughout this period, “come hell or high water.”[31]

These calculations and data provide understanding and perspective of the state of the French and Spanish nations relative to the impacts of providing such extraordinary aid to the Americans. Despite a significant depression in 1784, Spain was able to rebound due to its ability to replenish its treasury from New World gold and silver. France, on the other hand, as a result of its support for the American Revolution—while simultaneously prosecuting a larger world war and still burdened by an approximate 10 trillion livres ($5,600 trillion) debt for the Seven Years’ War—went bankrupt.[32] The estimated French total costs for the larger world war of the period, in addition to the aid provided to the Americans, were significantly increased by the high cost of borrowed funds. This enormous compounded debt added substantially to the dire financial conditions contributing to the causes of the French Revolution.[33]

With comprehensive consideration of all the foregoing information, it is therefore logical to conclude that, conservatively, France provided in current (2010) U.S. dollars $69 billion and Spain $16 billion in direct and indirect aid to the American Revolution.

Quantifying the comprehensive cost of aid to the American Revolution by the Europeans is important due to the understanding and perspective it gives to the sacrifices, loyalty and generosity of the French—and the much less heralded Spanish and Dutch. Quantification, however, does not include the important contributions of personal sacrifice by the French, Spanish and Swedish commanders, particularly by their soldiers and sailors in labor, in blood, and for some in life itself.[34] Americans should understand the cost of the total contributions of European support for their independence and the founding of the United States of America. In a larger sense, Americans should be forever grateful to the French, Spanish, Dutch and Swedes for the full extent of their collective and personal sacrifice.[35]


[1]Larrie D. Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms: American Independence and Men of France and Spain who Saved It(New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016), 12-15; Daniel Marston, The Seven Years’ War(Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2001), 90-91; William C. Stinchcombe,The American Revolution and the French Alliance(Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1969),2-3; A.T. Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1987), reprint of 5th Edition, 1894, (first published 1890), 324-329; H.A. Barton, “Sweden and the War of American Independence.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 3, July 1966, 412.

[2]This perspective on the war and the aid provided to the Americans is well presented in the masterful and readable compilation of scholarly articles edited and clarified in David K. Allison and Larrie D. Ferreiro, eds, The American Revolution: A World War(Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2018), viii-x, and 6-9.

[3]Stephen Bonsal, When the French Were Here(Garden City, NY: Doubleday: Doran and Co., 1945),79-81; Jonathan R. Dull, The Age of the Ship of the Line (Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, Random House, 2009),118-120; and Gordon Wood, ed. The American Revolution, Writings from the Pamphlet Debate, 1764–1772 (New York, NY: Library of America, Reprint Edition, 2015), 755 – 761.

[4]Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms,58-59; Tom Shachtman, How the French Saved America (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2017),48-50; “Arming the American Revolution,” Ammoland Shooting Sports News, September 6, 2010,;and Robert F. Smith, Manufacturing Independence (Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, 2016),ix, xvi-xvii and 132-134.

[5]Dull, The Age of the Ship of the Line,182 -183; Wood, The American Revolution, Writings from the Pamphlet Debate, 1764–1776, excerpt from Charles Ingle’s’ “Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs,” 754-761; Lee Kennett, The French Forces in America,1780–1783(Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1977),64 -69; and Vail, Rochambeau, 276-277.

[6]Stinchcombe, American Revolution and the French Alliance, 8-12; Samuel F. Scott, French Aid to the American Revolution Bulletin 83 (Ann Arbor, MI: William Clements Library, 1976), 4-5; Shachtman, How the French Saved America,45-50; Joel Richard Paul, Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2009), 252-256.

[7]Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 339-340; and “How Much is that in Today’s Money,” Colonial Williamsburg,

[8]Angus Maddison, “Historical Statistics for the World Economy: 1–2003 AD.” (Groningen, Netherlands: University of Groingen,

[9]Ferguson, The Power of the Purse, 41-42; and Munro Price, The Road From Versailles (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995),20 – 24.

[10]Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 292; and Stinchcombe, The American Revolution, 200-201.

[11]Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 320 -322; Edward F. Butler, Gálvez, Spain—Our Forgotten Ally in the American Revolutionary War: A concise Summary of Spain’s Assistance (San Antonio, TX: Southwest Historic Press, 2015),222, and 283-284.

[12]Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 320-322; and Thomas E. Chávez, Spain and the Independence of the United States: An Intrinsic Gift (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2002),15, 85, and 220.

[13]Butler, Gálvez,283-284; Chávez, Spain and the Independence of the United States, 213-217, 221; Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 323.

[14]Ibid., all.

[15]Edler, The Dutch Republic, 233-246; and Ferguson, The Power of the Purse, 260-261.

[16]Adolph B. Benson, Sweden and the American Revolution, (New Haven, CT: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, Co., 1926), 1-10, and 182-197; Ahmed Bloom. “Why was Morocco the first nation  to recognize America’s independence?”, Quora, became the fourth country to formally recognize the new United States in 1783 prior to the Treaty of Paris. The Moroccans were the first to recognize the new American nation in the year 1777; the French second in 1778, and the Dutch third in 1782.

[17]Benson, Sweden and the American Revolution,1-10, and 167-168.

[18]Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 315, 335, and 339-340; and Ferguson, The Power of the Purse, 25-30, and 39-44.

[19]Robert D. Harris, “Finances and the American War, 1777–1983” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 48, No. 2, June 1976 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1976),233-258.

[20]John Ferling, A Leap in the Dark, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003), 182, 220-226; and Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause (New York NY: University of Oxford Press, 1982),585.

[21]“How Much is that in Today’s Money,” Colonial Williamsburg, last updated Summer 2002. Accessed October 30, 2016,; John J. McCusker, How Much is that in Real Money?(Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 2001),33-37.

[22]Zachary Garceau, “Making Sense of Money in Colonial America,” Vita Brevia,


[24]Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 339-340.

[25]Ibid. 340; and Robert A. Selig, “Conversions between Eighteenth Century Currencies,” Extracted from Appendix 2 of The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route in the State of Delaware, 1781–1783—An Historical And Architectural Survey(Dover, DE: State of Delaware, 2003), 1-4.

[26]Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 339-340. Ferreiro’s conversion basis was compared to similar, but limited, information by other historians to include Chávez, Butler, Harris, Selig and others and found to be relatively consistent. The details of this Ferreiro-derived process and the resulting calculations used to develop the findings of this paper are provided in William V. Wenger, The Key to American Independence: Quantifying Foreign Assistance to the American Revolution(Seattle, WA: Amazon Publishing, 2021), 136-138.

[27]John J. McCusker, Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600-1775, A Handbook. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1978),13-60; Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 339-340.

 [28]Despite the earnest efforts of the author, the calculations and numbers used for this article may have a two to three percent error rate. Also, due to the consistently conservative approach used to calculate the numbers presented, the totals may be understated. The author’s belief, without specific substantiation, but only significant familiarity with the facts as they exist, is that the totals presented here may be as much as thirty percent understated. These numbers of U.S. Dollars are in 2010 dollars. If adjusted for 2021 USD, the French aid total is $ 82 B; the Spanish total is $20 B.

[29]“Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject.” Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor,; and Angus Maddison, The World Economy, 379-381. U.S. Dollars computed to 2010 values.

[30]Ferreiro, November 10, 2020, email message to author.

[31]“Growth of World Population, DGP and GDP Per Capita before 1820,” Appendix B, Maddison-Project Website,

[32]Christopher Hodson and Brett Rushforth, “Bridging the Continental Divide: Colonial America’s ‘French Quarter,’” Organization of American History, Magazine of History, 19-24; Paul, Unlikely Allies, 42; McCusker, Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600–1775.

[33]Munro Price, The Road from Versailles, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the Fall of the French Monarchy(New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2002), 20-22; and Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms, 297, 316-318.

[34]Richard M. Ketchum, Victory at Yorktown, The Campaign That Won the Revolution (New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co., 2004), 246-247.

[35]Ibid. For the Siege of Yorktown alone the French suffered 35 percent more casualties than the Americans (389 to 289).


  • Several books about the battles of Saratoga and Trumbull’s famous painting of Burgoyne’ Surrender make reference to the presence of French Artillery at both Saratoga battles. This material had been supplied and shipped by the French under a deal negotiated between Silas Deane and the polymath and theater/opera impresario Beaumarchais in 1777 under Vergennes direction. These were delivered in two New England ports and their passage by land across lower New England and the Hudson river generated significant new patriot volunteers to these pivotal battles
    These were covert deals and were to be paid via barter of Virginia tobacco, but I thought this should be brought to your attention.

    1. Kim:

      Let me know how I can help you? Contact me at wv******@ya***.com or 310 413-3104.

      FYI: I will be conducting a PodCast on the subject to include my book on Amazon (paperback and digital) with JSR to be recorded this Sunday. Not sure when it will be posted?

      You can also get more information on my book, see some content, scholarly reviews, and find information about me on the Amazon site.

      Thanks for the kind words.

  • Kim: To Mr Wenger’s prodigious effort, I may have something small to add re: Continental Congress’ efforts in June 1776 to develop protocols for forming a confederation of United Colonies empowered to negotiate treaties with foreign powers to aid what would become the United States. Difference of opinion over such foreign outreach caused an awkward breach between Adams of Mass delegation and E. Rutledge of SC delegation, both boarding at Mrs Yard’s inn in Philadelphia at that point in time.
    Happy to help if interested!
    All best,

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