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The American Revolution and the Battle for India: A Forgotten Connection

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, March 28, 2024 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2310
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Engraving from the 1790s of Haider Ali

The last battle of the American Revolutionary War wasn’t fought at Saratoga or Yorktown or anywhere in the emergent United States. It took place on the other side of the globe, as British and French naval forces met at Cuddalore on the Bay of Bengal off the coast of modern-day India. The conflict raged all day on June 20, 1783, and only ended when a British ship appeared on the horizon flying a white flag. It brought news that King George had agreed to a provisional peace treaty with the American Patriots in Paris fully six months earlier.

University of Maryland historian Richard Bell explores the causes, course, and consequences of this last great battle of the war to examine India’s connection to the American Revolutionary War.

The subcontinent had been the target of relentless British land grabs for decades, and the Crown’s adversaries in the region had hoped to use the distraction of American independence to push Britain out of India entirely. 

Bell explores this forgotten theater of the most famous war in American history through the campaigns of Haidar Ali—the ruler of Mysore, a highly militarized nation-state the size of Kansas. When France announced its alliance with the Patriots and declared war on Britain in 1778, Ali swung into action.

In July of 1780, he invaded the Carnatic, India’s southeastern tip, sweeping down from the hills outside Madras to lay siege to British forts. In September, he triumphed at Pollilur, reducing a thousands-strong redcoat army to just a few hundred captive survivors and proving himself as tenacious an opponent of imperial authority as George Washington. 

Back in America, Patriots were anxiously watching these developments. The humiliations of the 1773 Tea Act had turned many colonists into fierce supporters of Indian freedom fighters like Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, his son and successor. In solidarity with them, Patriot privateers spent the war attacking East India Company cargo ships around the world. In 1782, the Pennsylvania Assembly even christened one of its ships the Hyder-Ally in homage to its Mysorean brother in arms.

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