How to look for records of... American Revolution
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
1. Why use this guide?
Use this guide to find out how to access The National Archives’ records relating to the American revolution, including:
- the final period of the British administration of America (1770-1773)
- the American Revolutionary War, also known as the American war of Independence (1775-1783)
- the British government’s relationship with the independent United States of America (1783 onwards)
For details of Royal Navy operations, ships’ logs and journals please see our guide to Royal Navy operation and correspondence 1660-1914.
2. What kinds of records does The National Archives hold?
The National Archives holds the records of British government departments. The records of the Colonial Office are the most important if you are studying the American Revolution. You can also find relevant records amongst the papers of other departments, including the War Office, the Admiralty and the Treasury.
Unless documents have been digitised you will need to visit The National Archives at Kew to see the content.
3. How do I search the records?
Search the descriptions of our documents in Discovery, our catalogue using keywords such as:
- American Revolution
- personal names
- names of battles
- place names
Refine your search by date and by government department, for example CO (Colonial Office) or WO (War Office).
These searches will only pick up documents where our catalogue description contains relevant words – they will miss documents that may be useful but which have very limited descriptions.
4. Key records at The National Archives
4.1 Key sources
Colonial Office correspondence in CO 5 deals with issues up to the end of the American War of Independence in 1783. Foreign Office correspondence in FO 4 and FO 5 deals with the period following the end of the war.
State Papers Online contains digitised documents dating from 1574-1739 (£)
British Army correspondence and miscellaneous papers in WO1 to WO 5 cover the period of the American Revolution. These records have only basic descriptions in Discovery, but better descriptions are in Alphabetical Guide to War Office and other Military Records, available in The National Archives’ library.
Maps and plans relating to the American Revolution can be found using keyword searches of Discovery. Useful descriptions may also be found in Maps and Plans in the Public Record Office, America and West Indies, available in The National Archives’ library.
4.2 Private papers
The following collections of private papers contain relevant material
- Chatham Papers (Pitt the Elder and Pitt the Younger) in PRO 30/8
- Carleton Papers (British Army headquarters in America, 1775-1783) in PRO 30/55 – calendared in Stevens and Brown’s Report on American Manuscripts in the Royal Institution of Great Britain, available in The National Archives’ library
- Cornwallis Papers (Charles Cornwallis) in PRO 30/11 – transcriptions are in Ross’s Correspondence of Charles, First Marquis Cornwallis, available in The National Archives’ library
4.3 American loyalists’ compensation claims
Records of the Claims Commission in AO 12 and AO 13 and the Treasury in T 50, T 77 and T 79 contain details of the compensation claims of American loyalists who had suffered hardship as a result of their loyalty to the Crown during the war.
You can find indexes to claimants’ names in the List of Records of the Treasury, Paymaster-General’s Office, Exchequer and Audit Department and Board of Trade and other useful material in A Bibliography of Loyalist source material in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Both items are available in The National Archives’ library.
5. Records in other archives
Many collections of documents concerning the history of individual states have been edited for state governments and historical societies in the USA.
The Library of Congress holds microfilms and transcripts of certain documents.
The Marburg School of Archives in Germany has produced a name index of Hessian troops who served in the war, available in The National Archives’ Library.
Library and Archives Canada has muster rolls for loyalist regiments (provincial troops) 1777-1783.
6. Further reading
Finding the right book could give you all the information you need and save you making a trip to The National Archives. Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list.
A selection of secondary sources may be found at British History online