The National Archives Logo
Guide reference: Overseas Records Information 52
Last updated: 28 June 2004

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)

If you are looking for information on prisoners of war please see our guides to Prisoners of war in British hands and British prisoners of war.

For details of Royal Navy operations, ships logs and journals please see our guide to Royal Navy operations.

 

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 (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.)

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.

Muster rolls and paylists for individuals who served with the British Army in North America are in WO 10, WO 12 and WO 13

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

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.

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.

A selection of secondary sources may be found at British History online

Guide reference: Overseas Records Information 52

Our catalogue

Search descriptions of 20 million documents from the UK central government, law courts and other national bodies.

  • Download this guide as a PDF