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France and Spain Support the American Rebels

Beginning in 1774, France and Spain began to covertly ship weapons and supplies to aid the colonial insurgents preparing for armed conflict against British military forces in North America.

Jeremiah Lee, a successful shipping magnate in Massachusetts, and according to 1771 British tax records, the wealthiest merchant in the Massachusetts colony, had served 25 years in the British militia in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Colonel Jeremiah Lee was also a committed revolutionary patriot. In 1774, Lee colluded with French and Spanish shipping companies through Lee’s shipping agent, Joseph Gardoqui in Bilbao, Spain to import weapons and supplies originating from ports in France, Spain, and Holland to arm colonial rebels in Massachusetts.

Faithful to the cause of American independence, Colonel Lee met frequently with John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and other members of the secret committee that procured weapons and supplies for the colonial insurgents in preparation for war with Great Britain. Their last meeting was at Newell’s Tavern in Menotomy (now Arlington), Massachusetts on April 18, 1775, the day before the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Their next meeting, scheduled for the following morning at the Black Horse Tavern, did not happen, because on that day, April 19, 1775, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, “the shot heard ’round the world”, were fought. The War of American Independence had begun.

In August 1775, Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes, foreign minister of King Louis XVI of France, approved the sending of a secret messenger to the American Continental Congress. Julien-Alexandre Achard de Bonvouloir was chosen for the job. In December 1775, Bonvouloir met three times with the Committee of Secret Correspondence, including Benjamin Franklin, at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. The meetings went extremely well.

In the months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Louis XVI, King of France, funded a secret, private company, Rodrigue Hortalez, to ship weapons and supplies to the American revolutionaries. Using a pseudonym, diplomat and playwright, Pierre-Augustin-Caron Beaumarchais, owned and directed the new trading company, Rodrigue Hortalez.

In May 1776, King Louis XVI authorized the expenditure of 1,000,000 livres to purchase military weapons and equipment to be sent through Rodrigue Hortalez to aid the American insurgents. Following France’s example, King Carlos III of Spain also made an equal contribution of 1,000,000 livres to purchase weapons and equipment for the cause of American independence.

Pierre-Augustin-Caron Beaumarchais, who ran the Rodrigue Hortalez trading company, was well known in France for writing plays, including The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, and was one of the earliest, most committed and persistent French citizens to support the cause of American independence.

On September 7, 1776, Vergennes proposed a major shift in French foreign policy toward the American Revolution, and invited Spain to join France as America’s allies in the war against Great Britain.


It is not easy to manage the behavior of thousands of soldiers. Yet the behavior of the men of the French expeditionary force was exemplary, especially during the long year from July 11, 1780 waiting in Newport, Rhode Island before beginning the long march down the eastern seaboard to fight at Yorktown, Virginia. General Rochambeau manifested the same sense of self discipline in his relationship with General Washington.

Inspired by Lafayette’s brilliant start at Brandywine, Pennsylvania, King Louis XVI made a world changing decision that shocked the old courts of Europe. King Louis XVI of France, 26 years of age, placed his best general under the authority of an American rebel general who had never presented his credentials to the most powerful king in Europe, relying upon the recommendation of a very young, 23 year old soldier named Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.

This extraordinary departure from the 18th century rules concerning the command of armies, worked out rather well, as it turned out, as it was meant to be. In the most crucial situations, when Rochambeau differed profoundly on essential matters relating to the conduct of battles and the pursuit of victory, the French general, Rochambeau, as commanded by his King, always demonstrated his willingness to defer to the judgement of the American rebel general, Washington.

In the last great battle of the American Revolutionary War, it was the decision of King Louis XVI of France, with the full support of the King Carlos III of Spain, that set in motion the brilliant war ending strategy of sending the French fleet of Admiral DeGrasse from the West Indies, to defeat and clear away the British navy from Chesapeake Bay. The British fleet, forced to retreat to New York City, deprived the army of British General Charles Cornwallis any hope of resupply or escape from entrapment at Yorktown, and sealed the fate of certain British defeat. The American and French victory at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781 won for the United States of America its independence from Great Britain, and profoundly changed the immediate and long term future of the entire world.

General Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, was personally selected by the King of France, Louis XVI, to lead the expédition particulière to America. Expédition particulière was the code word for the French special expedition to America (literally, a “special delivery” of an army and supplies) to be the ultimate weapon that won the independence of the United States of America from the crown of Great Britain. Rochambeau arrived in America at Newport, Rhode Island on July 11, 1780 after sailing with a French fleet across the Atlantic Ocean for nearly 10 weeks at sea.

The decision making process between Rochambeau and Washington developed and played out within the 30 months from July 1780 to January 1783. In their working relationship, Washington’s decisions involved a complex process of methodically eliminating and choosing alternatives, with Rochambeau patiently offering insight and wise counsel on behalf of France. The long, thoughtful process of arriving at the ultimately successful command decisions brought out the best of both men, who had been brought together by one king to cast out another king.

In 1780, Rochambeau, the King’s chosen general to lead the French expeditionary force in North America and fight the British for the independence of the United States, was little more than a name to George Washington. Rochambeau was a man born to French warriors of noble descent who learned the art of warfare on the battlefields of Europe. In the summer of 1780, he sailed to America at a desperate time in the American Revolution.

As late as September 1779, Benjamin Franklin had written that he had no hint that Congress had contemplated the introduction of French military forces into the Colonies.

Washington as commander in chief, and Rochambeau as lieutenant, worked together for 2 1/2 years to successfully win independence for the United States of America, and forever change the the lives of the inhabitants of earth.

Rochambeau departed from America in January 1783.