American Heroes of the Revolution (who were foreigners)

Happy Independence Day, America! Oh, okay… so I’m a day late. I was kind of busy yesterday.

In any case, even though I’m a little late, I still wanted to do something on the theme of the American Revolution. So, I decided to honor the people who risked their lives for the independence of a country… that wasn’t even theirs.

John Paul Jones

Widely regarded as the first hero of the U.S. Navy, he had a reputation for bravery (or bravado) that surpassed anything the far-superior Royal Navy could throw at him. On his very first mission, he raided a key British base in the Bahamas to get supplies for the Continental Army. Then, he was sent to France, where Jones began a series of raids against British shipping off European waters.

Jones not only took on some of the finest British warships – and won – but he also invaded England itself. He and his crew assaulted the British town of Whitehaven, destroying its cannons and attempting (unsuccessfully) to set the British fleet there ablaze. To a Britain that had been reassured by its government that the rebellion was on the ropes and would fall soon, this was a psychological disaster.

His actual nationality: Scottish.

Jones was born in Scotland and spent most of his early career sailing in British merchant ships, including one named the King George. He came to the New World to escape a court-martial after killing a mutineer (in self-defense, he claimed).

Thomas Paine

When the American revolution first broke out, there was some confusion as to what, exactly, the Continental Army was fighting for. Was this just a dispute over taxes? Were they fighting to get laws they disliked repealed? To get their rights as Englishmen? Or was there something more they were after?

In those early days, the Continentals fought using a flag that included the Union Jack, and the officers would often toast King George III, even though they were fighting his army.

Thomas Paine stepped in with his famous pamphlet, Common Sense. In it, he pointed out that the American colonies were actually at war with Britain (kind of a “duh”), and that the only logical course of action was to seek independence. This book was extremely popular, and became the most published and read book in the United States during the war. It inspired the decision to have a Declaration of Independence, and became the manifesto of the Revolution.

His actual nationality: English.

Paine didn’t even come to America until 1774, as the Revolution was about to get underway. Although no one knows for sure why he supported the independence movement, it has been known that he was not very successful in Britain, having gone bankrupt,¬†separated¬†from his wife and sold all of his possessions to get out of debt. He came to America feeling that Britain had nothing more to offer him, so maybe that played a part in his willingness to support the creation of a new country.

Marquis de Lafayette

It could be said that there would be no America without the Marquis de Lafayette. Offering his services to the Continental Army for free, he became a distinguished general who saved the Continental Army from being wiped out by the British at the Battle of Brandywine, stopped an attempted mutiny against George Washington, prevented the Continental Congress from sending the Army on a suicidal mission into Canada, enlisted the Oneida Indians to the cause of independence, and through quick thinking secured American victory at the Battle of Monmouth. At the Battle of Yorktown, the last major engagement in the Revolution, his forces cut off the British Army’s escape route, giving Washington the ability to force the British surrender.

It is no wonder, then, that so many states have cities and counties named “Lafayette”, “Fayette”, or “Fayetteville”. There are even “Lafayette Streets” in each of New York City’s five boroughs.

His actual nationality: French (in case the name didn’t give it away).

Lafayette was an unapologetic Frenchman, and as soon as the war was over returned to his native country. He is one of the few people who could be called a Founding Father of two countries. He was a major player in the French Revolution, writing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, the document that got that conflict started.

Today, he is buried in France, and at his grave are two flags: one French and one American.

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben

In the dark days of Valley Forge, when the British held the newborn nation’s capital of Philadelphia and the Continental Army was starving to death in the frigid winter without proper clothing or supplies, a strange man appeared out of nowhere and decided he would whip this ragged band of farmers with guns into a fighting force to be feared.

His version of military discipline kept America in the fight and would remain the nation’s standard for decades.

His actual nationality: German.

Von Steuben was a failure in Europe, who was forced to flee his country because he was accused of being a homosexual. He claimed to be a baron, though this was later proven false. He spoke very little English, relying on a translator during those days in Valley Forge. Not that it mattered, because most of what he said the soldiers were curse words.

But Washington didn’t care. The man’s methods worked. The rest was immaterial.

Information from the History Channel series The Revolution and Wikipedia.