How to look for records of... American Revolution
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
How many are online?
1. Why use this guide?
Use this guide for advice on what kinds of records are held at The National Archives’ relating to the American Revolution and how to search for them. These are records originally created by British government departments, such as the Colonial Office, the War Office, the Admiralty and the Treasury.
The records cover:
- 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.
Unless documents have been digitised you will need to visit The National Archives at Kew to see the content.
2. How to search for records
Search the descriptions of our documents in Discovery, our catalogue using keywords such as:
- American Revolution
- names of battles
- place names
The bulk of our records on the American Revolution are held within Colonial Office files. You can target your search to specific government departments, such as the Colonial Office, by using the advanced search of the catalogue. To target a department’s records you need to place the department code in the reference boxes. The codes for the departments you are most likely to need are:
- CO for Colonial Office records
- WO for War Office records
- ADM for Admiralty records
- T for Treasury records
Every record we hold is represented in our online catalogue by a title, a reference and a brief description. When you use our catalogue to search for records you are actually searching across these titles and descriptions, rather than the contents of the records themselves. By clicking on any item in catalogue search results you can see what the options are for viewing that record.
3. Key records and record series
Click on the links below to search within specific record series known to contain material relating to the American Revolution. For records covering:
- The colonial history of the English/British in America from 1574-1739 go to State Papers Online (institutional subscription required).
- The period up to the end of the American War of Independence in 1783 search in Colonial Office correspondence in CO 5.
- The American Revolution itself from a military perspective search in British Army correspondence and papers in WO1 to WO 5. For more detailed descriptions of these records than those in our catalogue, consult the Alphabetical Guide to War Office and other Military Records, available in The National Archives’ library.
- The period following the end of the war search in Foreign Office correspondence in FO 4 and FO 5.
3.2 British soldiers
For brief details of individuals who served with the British Army in North America search by regiment name in muster rolls and paylists in WO 10, WO 12 and WO 13.
We hold a significant number of maps relating to the American Revolution and to America as a colony. Search our catalogue using the search terms suggested in section two alongside the word ‘maps’.
For more help finding maps, consult our guide to finding overseas maps and plans and the publication Maps and Plans in the Public Record Office, America and West Indies, available in The National Archives’ library.
3.4 Private papers of politicians and military officials
The following collections of private papers contain material related to the American Revolution:
- 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
3.5 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.
The records of the Claims Commission in AO 12 and AO 13 can be searched and downloaded from Ancestry (£).
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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
The books are all available in The National Archives’ reference library. You may also be able to find them in a local library. You can buy from a wide range of history titles in our bookshop.
British History online contains a selection of secondary sources.
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