The French Alliance: Key to Winning the American Revolution with Dr. Richard Bell

The French Alliance: Key to Winning the American Revolution with Dr. Richard Bell


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The climactic battle of the American Revolution, the Siege of Yorktown in October 1781 was a decisive win for George Washington’s Continental Army. Yet it was also a triumph for the unlikely wartime alliance forged between patriot revolutionaries and the French King Louis XVI. Together, a massive Franco-American force succeeded in vanquishing British and Hessian troops, led by Lord Cornwallis. The result was a victory so lopsided that peace talks to end the entire revolutionary war began in earnest soon afterward. 

This conversation explores the inside story of this essential alliance as it evolved from small-scale privateering and gun-running to formal recognition of the United States following the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. It examines Benjamin Franklin’s pivotal role in persuading the French court to wade into this civil war between Britain and its rebel colonies; it explains how the scope and global reach of the war changed when France joined the fight; and it reconstructs the experiences of ordinary French soldiers and sailors as they pitched in alongside the patriots. 

At Yorktown, there would be almost as many French soldiers on the field as Continentals—along with 29 French warships under the Comte de Rochambeau filling the Chesapeake Bay. French seapower, firepower, and manpower were critical to Cornwallis’ capitulation. After the British surrender, French forces also provided Washington the troop strength he needed to round up and re-enslave thousands of Black Virginians who had taken the British King’s side during this long, tumultuous freedom war. 

Dr. Richard Bell is Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He holds a PhD from Harvard University and has won more than a dozen teaching awards, including the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, the Library of Congress and is the recipient of the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship and the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar Award. Professor Bell is author of the new book "Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home," which was shortlisted for the George Washington Prize and the Harriet Tubman Prize.

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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