Washington-Rochambeau Route—A Revolutionary Road

French support during the War of Independence of the United States was, according to many scholars, one of the key elements that led to the success of the American Revolution.  Many French generals such as Rochambeau and Lafayette helped the revolutionaries win important battles against the British during the war.  The Comte de Rochambeau commanded all the French forces in America.  The troops —450 officers and 5,300 men—who joined General Washington’s forces in New York also participated in the decisive assault on Yorktown, Virginia in 1781 which was the last major battle of the Revolutionary War.

The turmoil that eventually led to the American Revolution began with the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765.  The conflict between the Americans and the British escalated as a result of the Boston massacre in 1770, the burning of the Gaspee in 1772, the Boston Tea Party and the meetings of the First Continental Congress.  As tensions built in the thirteen colonies, the French were quick to give their support to the revolutionaries.  As early as 1775, the French secretly began shipping supplies to the Continental Army.  In 1778, they renewed their support with the signing of the Treaty of Alliance, or Franco-American Treaty, that strengthened the relationship between the two nations, led to the formal recognition of the new country and resulted in the provision of money and military materiel.  France’s involvement in the American conflict also encouraged the Spanish Empire and the Dutch Republic to provide needed assistance.

After France’s loss of New France in the French and Indian War (the Seven Years’ War), they wanted revenge against the British.  Siding with the American revolutionaries presented the French with an opportunity to cause the British to lose power and influence.

By 1776, France planned to send military officers to aid the Americans.  In 1777, the Marquis de Lafayette sailed to America and met General Washington.  In 1777 and 1778, he became a member of Washington’s staff.  In 1779, he returned to France to urge an invasion of Britain.  While this plan was not implemented, Lafayette was successful in securing nearly 6,000 French troops who were dispatched to America under the command of the Comte de Rochambeau.