Instinct says: Go With the Know-How…Who Fought the American Revolutionary War? Part IV

Back by popular demand–I have had so many requests to continue with my Know-How Series that I decided to add a bunch more posts to the series.

Since I am still preparing for presentations at the Family History Expos October Research Retreat at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City–these next posts will focus on the American Revolutionary War.

Who Fought the American Revolutionary War?

American troop strength–those recruited to fight and those who actually fought–is not precise.  The numbers depend upon who reported the figures.  So here is what you get:

  •     New England–132,000
  •     Middle Colonies–136,000
  •     The South–166,000

Each colony reported their own troop strength–sometimes in estimates.  The total number of American men was 434,000.  Although Washington fielded no more than 25,000 men at any one time.

  •     Names on the Continental muster rolls–231,771 men
  •     Specific names on state militia rolls–164,087 men
  •     Pension rolls number  80,000, naming 95,000 men or their wives and heirs
  •     18.2% desertion rate, even though punishments were corporal and harsh
  •     Those who served with pay (from muster rolls)–80% of total militia strength
  •     Those who served without pay (from muster rolls)–58% of total militia strength–

General George Washington refused regular pay, took expenses only of  L16,000.

Soldiers were offered bounties–money bonuses when they signed up for a regular tour and bounty lands in specific acreages (which varied state by state) after they had served the time of service they had agreed upon.  Claims for bounty lands had to include proof of service.  Many troops served without specific pay.

American troop strength was bolstered by mercenary troops and soldiers of fortune from allied armies:

Canadian Regiments–2 Quebec volunteer regiments served under Colonel James Livingston and Moses Hazen. See Moses Hazen and the Canadian Refugees in the American Revolution by Allan S. Everest (Syracuse NY:  Syracuse University Press, 1976).  Appendix documents where the Canadian regiments served.

Native Americans and Blacks–Men of ethnic background who served in American military units.  See Forgotten Patriots:  African American and American Indian patriots of the Revolutionary War:  A Guide to Service by Eric Grundset, editor and project manager.  These 854+ pages document, state-by-state, names and service.  Every name is sourced.  This is a very thorough, carefully cited, work with many appendixes including names as clues to finding forgotten patriots (the name CATO is used exclusively in New England with one instance in Pennsylvania); the number of minority participants, glossary of term used in records to identify forgotten patriots.  And the bibliography of sources and studies covers almost 100 pages of small type!  All-Black units served from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Haiti (serving with French troops).  Units from Oneida and Tuscarora tribes excelled.

The British fielded about 13,000 Native Americans with about 1,500 serving from the Iroquois Confederacy.  Some can be documented.  See the Hazel Groves Hansrote
Collection available on microfilm through the Family History Library–16 rolls of microfilm based on local sources and interviews from persons residing in VA, West VA, PA, and MD.

French Troops–Troop numbers come from 2 websites:     and

  • 1st French Expeditionary Force–15,000 total.  4,000 soldiers, 7,500 sailors under Marquis deLafayette,  General deGrasse, and Baron deKolb.
  • 2nd French Expeditionary Force–7,000 total.  4,500 soldiers, 1,000 support men, in 1780 under General Comte deRochambeau.   It is also estimated that 24 Ships of the Line and an additional 3,000 men from the Caribbean ports served.  There were 9 Ships of the Line and 1/4 of the whole French Navy present at Yorktown.
  • American privateers operated out of French Channel ports

Spanish Troops–8,000 estimated.  These included prisoners captured at Baton Rouge, Natchez, Pensacola, and Mobile who had aided the British.  And men serving under Bernardo deGalvez, Governor of Louisiana.  Spanish troops were fielded in Arizona and California as well.

Polish Troops–Volunteers who served under Thaddeus Kosciusko and Casimir Pulaski.  Both of these had relatives (perhaps even grandparents) who were residents of Virginia and later Kentucky, who also served in the war.  Total strength unknown.

Prussian Troops–Volunteers who came to America to serve under and with Baron Friedrich Wilhelm vonSteuben.  When he arrived, the manifest stated :  “and one German Baron…”

Special Forces–Drawn from troop strength listed above–often bolstered along the route by local volunteers who joined the marching armies.

  • Sullivan’s Army, whose mission was to break the Iroquois hold on New York.  Almost 8,000 men strong.  See Albert Hazen Wright, The Sullivan Expedition, 1779:  The Regimental Rosters of Men.  Studies in History, #34, 1965.  A fully documented copy of the original manuscript is on file in archives and libraries who contributed sources to identify the men.
  • George Rogers Clark Expedition to the Illinois Country, with a mission to destroy the Indian-British hold on the Ohio Valley and westward.  There is evidence that this army was expanded by deserters from the Hessian troops paroled across the colonies.
  • The German Regiment of Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Recruited to strengthen Washington’s Army and serve as a protection to him personally.  See The German Regiment, 1776-1781, in the Continental Army by Henry J. Retzer. (Westminster MD:  Family Line Publications, 1991.)  Documents service at Trenton and Princeton, NJ and in the Sullivan Expedition.  Includes name lists.  See also Don Heinrich Tolzmann,”The German Contribution to the American Revolution,” The Palatine Immigrant XXXV (Mar 2010): 25-29.  Read the notes carefully–very important translation.
  • The Commander-in-Chief’s Guard:  Revolutionary War by Carlos E. Godfrey.  (Baltimore:  Genealogical Publishing  Co., 1972 and subsequent printings).  Also available on microfilm FHL #1425103, it. 14.   More than 350 officers and men formed the personal guard of General Washington.  Includes service records and official rosters, 11 Mar 1776-20 Dec 1783.
  • Catholic  Military and Naval Chaplains, 1776-1917 by Don Aidan Henry Germain.  Doctoral Dissertation, Catholic University of America, 1929.  (Westminster MD:  Willow Bend Books, 2002.)
  • Rhode Island Arms Makers and Gunsmiths, 1643-1883 by William O. Achtermier, 1980.  Available Man At Arms, 222 W. Exchange St., Providence RI 02903. For the part played by gunmakers, professional and volunteer, during the American Revolution, check your research libraries for similar books for every colony.  General Washington negotiated directly in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, and North Carolina for donations of cannon and shot.  Where these were not forthcoming, he seized iron mines and forges, using slave labor to produce what he needed.  He simply lacked the budget to purchase these military stores.

Consult Lois Horowitz.  Military Name Lists from Pre-1675 to 1900:  A Guide to Genealogical Sources.  Metuchen NJ:  The Scarecrow Press, 1990. This important reference work will give you entre to periodical studies of significance to document the service of your Revolutionary War ancestors.  You will find this title in most genealogy libraries of any size.

Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  Stay tuned for Part V–those segments of Revolutionary War participants covered in other blog posts.  And check for updated or corrected information in these posts, since they were written.

PSS  Remember:  Reason says, go with the well-known.  Instinct says, go with the know-how.











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