Best Primary Sources About the American Revolution


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.


      Looking for primary, first-hand sources of information about the American Revolution?

      In this article, we’ve collated nine of the best Revolutionary War primary sources written during the war by those involved, so you can learn what life was like for soldiers and civilians and their leaders in the colonies in the late 1700s.

      1. Paul Revere’s account of the start of the American Revolution

      On the night of April 18-19, 1775, Paul Revere and other Patriots rode on horseback from Boston to Concord, to warn rebel militias about an oncoming British advance.

      The riders’ efforts saved the day for the Patriots, allowing them to prepare in time for the arrival of British troops.

      Today, you can read Revere’s first-hand account of the ride, to find out what happened on that fateful night. He also briefly explains what happened after he was captured by the British on the way to Concord.

      While Revere likely does embellish certain details, and does not provide a complete account of what occurred, his account is certainly interesting to read, and is still very useful for historical study.

      Read Paul Revere’s account.

      2. political cartoons collection

      Here at, we have compiled a range of political cartoons printed during the Revolution, demonstrating how this type of propaganda was used to sway public opinion during the war.

      View the collection.

      3.  James Thatcher’s journals

      James Thatcher was a frontline medic for the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

      His journal entries for each year of the war are available to read, providing fascinating details on what life was like on the frontlines, and the hardships soldiers faced.

      Read James Thatcher’s journals.

      4. American Revolution and Its Era (Map Collection)

      The US Library of Congress has compiled a large collection of maps from the colonial period, showing how America’s borders and areas of British control evolved over time.

      There are also a range of fascinating close-up maps of different American cities and areas of strategic interest, such as Boston Harbor, produced while the war was ongoing.

      View the collection.

      5. Diary of Charles Herbert, American Prisoner of War in Britain

      Charles Herbert was an American sailor who was captured by the British in 1777, and transported to a prisoner of war camp in Plymouth, England.

      His diary entries reveal what life was like in the POW camps, and he even details an attempted escape by the prisoners into the British countryside.

      Read the diary of Charles Herbert.

      6. Spy Letters of the American Revolution

      The William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan has a collection of letters sent and intercepted by spies during the American Revolution, including transcriptions for easier reading.

      These letters and their annotations provide insight into the spying techniques used during the Revolutionary War, and how secret messages between parties were concealed.

      Read the Spy Letters.

      7. Benjamin Franklin Papers

      The United States Library of Congress has compiled a complete collection of Benjamin Franklin’s letters, and other documents detailing his activities during the American Revolution.

      Although the papers are handwritten, making them a bit harder to read, they provide a fascinating insight into his work as a diplomat in London and Paris, and how he worked with other Founding Fathers like Washington and Jefferson throughout the war.

      Read the Benjamin Franklin Papers.

      8. George Washington Papers

      Similar to Benjamin Franklin’s works, mentioned above, the Library of Congress has also collated a huge volume of George Washington’s letters and diary entries, which are available to view online.

      Unfortunately no transcriptions are available, making these papers quite hard to read. However, they are well organized, and offer a glimpse into how Washington ran the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

      Read the George Washington Papers.

      9. 18th Century Domestic Medicine (book, by Dr. William Buchanan)

      Dr. William Buchnan was a surgeon for the Continental Army. In 1772, he published a book explaining how common injuries and diseases were treated in the late 18th century.

      As grisly as the book is, it provides incredible detail into the medical knowledge at the time, and the treatment methods and medicines available to doctors and nurses during the war. It describes treatments such as blood-letting, and using leeches – this book is definitely not for the faint of heart.

      Read 18th Century Domestic Medicine.

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