Date 1798-1801
Place French Louisiana, the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean
Result American-British Victory
Territorial changes Treaty of London
  • Spain cedes Louisiana to the United States.
  • France cedes Saint-Domingue to Great Britain.
  • End of French privateer attacks on American shipping.
US flag 15 stars United States of America

Flag of Great Britain (1707-1800) Great Britain

Flag of France French Republic

Flag of Spain Spain

Commanders and leaders
US flag 15 starsJohn Adams

US flag 15 starsGeorge Washington
US flag 15 starsAlexander Hamilton
US flag 15 starsBenjamin Stoddert
US flag 15 starsTimothy Pickering
Flag of Great Britain (1707-1800)Frederick Watkins

Flag of FrancePaul Barras

Flag of FranceNapoleon Bonaparte
Flag of SpainManuel Gayoso de Lemos
Flag of SpainFerdinand VII

A fleet of 54 including:

18 Frigates
Four Sloops
Two Brigs
Three Schooners
5700 Sailors and
Marine infantry
365 privateers
7000 American Regulars
7000 Militia


The Quasi-War (also referred to as the Franco-American war) (French: Quasi-guerre) was a military conflict fought between the United States of America, the Batavian Republic, and Great Britain against the French Republic and Spain from 1798 to 1801.

Viwed in the United States as an independent conflict, the Franco-American War is frequently perceived in Europe as a theater of the French Revolutionary Wars. The United States declared war on June 18, 1799 for several reasons, including trade restrictions brought about by the British war with France, and the XYZ affair, provoked by French Foreign Minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord. Until the infamous Fort Hartford massacre of American civilians near the Louisiana border in 1799 by raiding Franco-Spanish soldiers, the war remained undeclared. Following the declaration, British and American forces coordinated a war against the French and their Spanish allies, although the United States retained a de jure policy of unilateralism. The war drew to a close after the successful American invasion of Louisiana and the British invasion of Hispaniola.


In 1797, United States had already declared neutrality in the conflict between Great Britain and revolutionary France, but American legislation was being processed for a trade deal with Britain. Coupled with the U.S. refusal to continue repaying its debt to France on the grounds that the debt had been owed to the Bourbon monarchy, and not to republican France, the French outrage at the U.S. led to a series of punitive responses. French privateers seized American merchant ships en route to Britain, and the French government refused to receive the new U.S. minister Charles Cotesworth Pinckney when he arrived in Paris in December 1796. In his annual message to Congress at the close of 1797, President John Adams reported on France's refusal to negotiate and spoke of the need "to place our country in a suitable posture of defense." In April 1798, President Adams informed Congress of the "XYZ Affair ", in which French agents had demanded a large bribe for the restoration of diplomatic relations with the U.S.

The French Navy inflicted substantial losses on American shipping. Secretary of State Timothy Pickering reported to Congress on 21 June 1797 that the French had seized 316 American merchant ships in the previous eleven months. Furthermore, French marauders cruised the length of the U.S. Atlantic seaboard virtually unopposed. The administration had no warships to combat them; the last had been sold in 1785. The U.S. possessed only a flotilla of small revenue cutters and some neglected coastal forts.

Increased depredations by privateers from France required the rebirth of the United States Navy to protect the expanding American merchant shipping. Congress authorized the president to acquire, arm, and man not more than 12 vessels, each with up to 22 guns each. Several vessels were immediately purchased and converted into ships of war, and construction of the frigates Congress had authorized resumed.

Congress rescinded treaties with France on 7 July 1798, which is the the date that is historically considered the beginning of the Quasi-War. The revocations was followed two days later with the passage of the Congressional authorization to attack French warships.

Early Naval Engagements

The U.S. Navy operated with a battle fleet of about 25 vessels. These patrolled the southern coast of the United States and throughout the Caribbean, seeking French privateers. Captain Thomas Truxtun's insistence on the highest standards of crew training paid dividends as the frigate Constellation captured L'Insurgente and severely damaged La Vengeance. French privateers usually resisted, as did La Croyable, which was captured on 7 July 1798 by Delaware outside of Egg Harbor, New Jersey. Enterprise captured eight privateers and freed 11 American merchant ships from captivity. Experiment captured the French privateers Deux Amis and Diane. Numerous American merchantmen were recaptured by Experiment. Boston forced Le Berceau into submission. Silas Talbot engineered an expedition to Puerto Plata harbor in the Colony of Santo Domingo, a possession of France's ally Spain, on 11 May 1800; sailors and Marines from Constitution under Lieutenant Isaac Hull captured the French privateer Sandwich in the harbor and spiked the guns of the Spanish fort.

Only one U.S Navy vessel was captured by French forces, Retaliation, which was later re-captured. She was the commandeered privateer La Croyable, recently purchased by the U.S. Navy. Retaliation departed Norfolk on 28 October 1798, with Montezuma and Norfolk, and cruised in the West Indies protecting American commerce. On 20 November 1798, the French frigates L’Insurgente and Volontaire overtook Retaliation while her consorts were away and forced commanding officer Lieutenant William Bainbridge to surrender the out-gunned schooner. Montezuma and Norfolk escaped after Bainbridge convinced the senior French commander that those American warships were too powerful for his frigates and persuaded him to abandon the chase. Renamed Magicienne by the French, the schooner again came into American hands on 28 June, when a broadside from Merrimack forced her to haul down her colors.

Revenue cutters in the service of the United States Revenue-Marine, the predecessor to the United States Coast Guard, also took part in the conflict. The cutter USRC Pickering, commanded by Edward Preble, made two cruises to the West Indies and captured 10 prizes. Preble turned command of Pickering over to Benjamin Hillar, and he captured the much larger and more heavily armed French privateer l '​Egypte Conquise after a nine-hour battle. In September 1800, Hillar, Pickering, and her entire crew were lost at sea in a storm. Preble commanded the frigate Essex, which he sailed around Cape Horn into the Pacific to protect American merchantmen in the East Indies; he recaptured several ships that had been seized by French privateers.

Although they were fighting the same enemy, the Royal Navy and the United States Navy did not co-operate operationally, nor did they share operational plans or come to mutual understandings about deployment of their forces. The British did sell the American government naval stores and munitions. In addition, the two navies shared a system of signals by which each could recognize the other's warships at sea, and allowed merchantmen of their respective nations to join each other's convoys.

Fort Hartford Massacre

By 1799, it was apparent that Anglo-American raiding had wrecked French commercial efforts in Northern America. The Directory, influenced by Talleyrand, was convinced that the conflict was draining the treasury, and thus thwarting French efforts to win the continental war. Paul François Jean Nicolas de Barras, the most senior member on the Directory, endorsed severe action against the Americans, even perhaps, by forcing Spanish intervention. Spain controlled all of former French Louisiana, and feared that American colonists would rapidly expand westward. Incidents of territorial encroachments were common — Manuel Luis Gayoso de Lemos Amorín y Magallanes, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, delivered constant complaints of American migratory motions to Ferdinand in Madrid. Barras and Manuel quickly became acquainted correspondents, sending upwards of a dozen letters within six months. Manuel received permission from Ferdinand in April 1799 to conduct a campaign against the Americans, which was endorsed by the Directorate and the French commissioner in Saint-Domingue.

Although the campaign remained unofficial, the French Directory continued with its plans to soften the Anglo-American grip on the Caribbean. A French war fleet of undetermined size sailed to Guadaloupe with 4,000 soldiers and docked at the island undetected. By mid-summer, the fleet had transported the Continental soldiers to New Orleans, where General Francis Thomas Galbaud Fort, a former governor of Saint-Domingue, joined his forces and marched north. Meanwhile, Spanish defensive forts solidified their grip on Louisiana through placation deals with native drives, most notably, the Miamis. On command from Magallenes, the French and the Miami contingencies marched along the Mississippi river basin. The expedition was aimed at the Ohio river, a divergent fresh source that stretches from the Mississippi river all across to south-western New York. In striking at the Ohio River, the French would cripple early commercial ventures and threaten local towns that were developing alongside the river territory.

By early October, the French and Indian army had cut through southern Kentucky and were nearing the Ohio river. They were halted however, when they arrived at Fort Hartford, a small fortified town in north-western Kentucky. Positioned alongside the Rough River, Fort Hartford blocked the path between the French and the Ohio River. Early attempts at avoiding the town failed, especially when the town's few settlers opened fire from a single cannon position near the settlement center. Francis, undaunted by this first contact, ordered a division of 550 men to quell the town while the rest of the army circulated around Fort Hartford and towards the river basin. The invading force, nearly half of them Miami Indians, struck the town on October 9th and infiltrated the fortifications the same evening. In the following hours, nearly forty houses were set alight and over 100 were killed in the ensuing assault. This number is relative to those killed during the invasion of Ohio Country, Kentucky; the entire region suffered losses as the invasion force inflicted damages across the territory.  

Declaration of War

By the time that General Francis had moved his armies along the Ohio River, messengers were rushing across to Washington to inform Congress of the attack. The message of attack, which was delivered in just under a week, stirred the local populations into utter panic. Arthur St Clair, the Governor of the North Western Territory, requested assistance from the Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania state militias. But before the states could respond, the House of Representatives convened in secret to judge their course of action. Despite deep reluctance to break Washington's "Proclamation of Neutrality," the nation had come under attack by land and decisive action was needed. On the martial advise of Alexander Hamilton and a muted endorsement from General Washington, the Federalist Congress passed the resolutions for war. Washington would later respond to the declaration in a letter to John Jay: "I did hope that our Union would avoid Europe. But it appears that Europe has found us." 

President Adams delayed no time to respond to the declaration of war. With the Jeffersonian Democrats in shock, Adams requested that Washington, now aged 67, amass an army. Washington requested that the Regular Army and the nearby states provide him with the forces necessary to win the war. Democrat-Republicans, acting under the Imperial request of Washington, joined the Federalists in approving the levying of the American militia. In total, Washington commanded around 15,000 men — half were members of the young "Regular Army," while the other half were militia brigades from all the states. 

Florida War

James McHenry, the Secretary of War, drafted a financial outline that would need to be fulfilled to fight the war. But with American trade threatened by a now unified Franco-Spanish Alliance, matters of commerce became a priority for the administration. Especially in danger was the Southern economy, which faced blockade from a combined Spanish-French fleet. Only the fearful presence of the Royal Navy near the Caribbean softened the Spanish aim of revenue strangling. Positioned off St Augustine, the Spanish fleet depended on the naval port for supplies, and intended to use the port as a possible base for land operations.

On Adam's request, Washington delegated command of a second army to Alexander Hamilton, who was tasked with protecting the cotton states from invasion. Commanding nearly 4,000 soldiers (1,000 regulars and 3,000 militia soldiers), Hamilton stormed to Georgia alongside Senator Abraham Baldwin, a political opponent and Democratic-Republican. Baldwin was present to quell any animosity towards their General  an occupation that Washington had given to Hamilton in honor of his service to the nation during the Revolutionary War.

Hamilton aided in all areas of the army's development, and officially served as the Senior Officer of the United States Army as a Major General from December 14, 1799, to June 15, 1801. The army was to guard against invasion from Spain. But Hamilton saw political opportunity in the battle for Florida — he planned to reverse the deep unpopularity of the Federalist Party in the South by advancing territorial ambitions in Florida. Before winter began in December, Hamilton marched his army into Spanish Florida and gathered his forces at Fort Scott in November 1799, accompanied by 800 U.S. Army regulars, 1,000 Tennessee volunteers, 1,000 Georgia militia, and 1,400 amicable Lower Creek warriors. The rest of his army remained in reserve in Georgia, protecting against any incursion forces that the Europeans might have sent during the invasion.

Spanish local garrisons were light along the coastline, while inland territory was dominated by the powerful Seminole tribe. Hamilton thought it wise to avoid any provocations against the local Indians, and stuck to a coastal march directed at the Spanish naval ports and forts. Thanks to the relative calmness of Florida's coastal geography, the American army reached the capital at St Augustine in under six days. The northern Florida city was already showing signs of defensive decay, and with only a few hundred Spanish soldiers present, Hamilton was quick to assault. But the Spanish artillery and naval support proved too much for the American army, which was poorly equipped to respond to a naval salvo. The American Army detached the assault, and instead, withdrew several miles to a safe encirclement distance. Hamilton prepared to force a winter siege, and with Georgian territory just a few dozen miles north, the issue of supply seemed irrelevant. The only matter for concern was the Spanish Navy, which quickly departed from St Augustine and sailed for Cuba, intent on returning supplies to the city port.


Severe winter weather plagued Hamilton's Army, which faced winter mortality rates as high as twelve-percent. Native Americans, unsurprisingly, survived with little cause for concern as they developed proper winter habitations. When the Creek Indians invited the Americans into their shelters, soldiers would be forced to wager on those who could enter these gifts. By January, Hamilton and his army were relieved by a break in the cold, and with supplies arrving from Georgia, morale was restored. As the Spanish fleet had not returned, the local population agreed to surrender the town and on February 11th, American soldiers entered St Augustine. 

The Spanish Fleet of St Augustine, led by Cayetano Valdés y Flores Bazán, returned to St. Augustine in a sorry condition; British vessels had harrassed the Spanish since their departure. However, Bazán had managed to receive supplies in Havanna for their besieged populace. When Bazán arrived near St Augustine, artillery shells from the city struck the fleet, indicating that the city had been taken by enemy forces. Aspiring for escape,, the small naval force quickly turned and withdrew, but were met by incoming American vessels. Caught between Captain Thomas Truxtun at sea and Hamilton on land, Bazan surrendered his small fleet to Hamilton. 

After his victory at St Augustine, Hamilton sent correspondents to Louisville, the capital of Georgia. He ordered Josiah Harmar, an adjutant general of Pennsylvania, to strike the Spanish in Western Florida with the force Hamilton had left behind. The 2nd Southern Army, composed of 700 regulars and 3,000 militia men (raised from Georgia and South Carolina), sought the valuable city of Pensacola. During the American Revolution, Franco-Spanish forces had taken Pensacola in a massive colonial siege  revolutionary estimates predicted that the Spanish had nearly 5,000 soldiers (regulars and militia) available for deployment in the area. Aware that the Spanish would take their local army to rescue St Augustine after wintertime, Hamilton devised a plan to pin the famous Army of Pensacola between Harmer and his own forces. 

As Hamilton expected, the Spanish army marched hastily east towards St Marks. A noted fort, St Marks provided the perfect location for the two armies to converge; Hamilton left a token force at St Augustine and marched towards St Marks. Meanwhile, Harmer took his own army and stormed to Pensacola, which was now relatively undefended. Although he did not besiege or assault the city, Harper burned the surrounding areas and fired several artillery salvos at the city before swinging east. The 1st Southern Army arrived at St Marks before the Spanish, and moved further west to engage the Spanish. When the Spanish received word that Hamilton was approaching from St Marks, they promptly withdrew and hurried back to Pensacola. But several miles east from the city, Harmar and his men were waiting for the enemy army. They engaged at the Battle of Scratch Ankle, modern day Milton, and were initially defeated by the Spanish. But the following morning, Harmar attacked again upon word that Hamilton was nearing. After the arrival of the 1st Army, and a brief skirmish at the rear of the Spanish lines, the Spaniards surrendered as disaster became inevitable. 

Louisiana Campaign


General Washington and General Daniel Morgan, led the bulk of the American Regular Army and militia forces westward, intent on driving Major-General Francis Fort back into Spanish territory. Fort's Army was marching along the Ohio river and causing havoc as early trade lines and river settlements were severed by the French invasion. Additionally, Fort had called for Spanish reinforcements from Mexico, and was informed that 8,000 Spanish regulars were marching to join his force, although the travel time through the wilderness would be lengthy. Awaiting his reinforcements, Francis besieged the town of Cincinnati, named after the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization honoring Washington, with the intent to shelter there for the winter. Francis successfully seized the town, and awaited his reinforcements.

Despite his previous experiments with disastrous winter warfare, Washington continued the march towards Francis through early December. His army quartered at Holderby's Landing (Huntington, West Virginia) and met with local Indian tribes. Many of these tribes were remnant nomads of the Northwest Indian War and were intimidated into joining Washington by threats of violence that had been executed during the war. Although Indians were actually comparatively small to the American Army, the tribes comprehensive knowledge of the land and willingness to fight in winter gave Washington a much needed ally. When the days were warmer, small bands of militiamen and Indians would march near Cincinnati and raid the area, Dependent on nearby crops, the French ability to sustain their army quickly dwindled as the winter months carried on; more raids meant less food for the army. 


Finally, in January, General Francis withdrew from Cincinnati and quickly retreated down the river. Washington, concerned that the cold would only intensify, moved his army to Cincinnati and remained there for the duration of the frigid season. When winter ended, the American army was severely weakened. American officers had overestimated the capacity of the land, which was supplying nearly 11,000 soldiers. Starvation ran rampant, even as spring arrived and the frozen crops thawed out. But these losses were nothing compared to those endured by the French, who were caught in the cold during their retreat. Mortality in the 1799 winter due to attrition exceeded the combined casualties of battle throughout the entire war -- nearly 40% of Francis' army perished as they hurried South.  

With fresh American militiamen arriving from the North-East, Morgan and Washington commenced their campaign and marched down the Ohio River and Mississippi. In northern Tennessee, Manuel Amorín y Magallanes counter-attacked Washington's advance. Morgan and Washington were defeated at the Battle of Shelby by 6,000 Spanish regulars, who managed to draw nearly half of the American army into a hopeless engagement. Although Washington withdrew in time to keep the bulk of his army intact, the defeat demoralized the American army; unaided by the presence of their "Imperial Champion." Many militia's, distraught by their defeat, attempted to desert the army as falsified reports of Indian attacks on the colonies intensified. Most of the soldiers, as farmers, worried about their farms in their absence, especially as wartime fears escalated. 

Between March and August, Washington and Manuel battered their respective armies in guerrilla warfare and small skirmishes. Unwilling to commit either forces to the open field, the Spaniards and their few remaining French allies held off American attacks by the hour. Washington's position only worsened when Chickasaw natives attacked the encamped American army at the request of the French. Militia armies were defeated three consecutive times in Tennessee, and four in Kentucky by Francis' remnants. As the numerical advantage began to dwindle, Washington grew desperate and imposed a brutal war-time policy. American soldiers burned down Chickasaw villages and massacred patrolling Franco-Spanish units, before dispersing into dense western forest for cover. 

By fall, Hamilton and Harmer were on the move to open further war-fronts. As the French and Spanish danced with Washington in Kentucky, the Southern Armies stormed westward toward New Orleans. Upon receiving news of the invasion from the South, Francis and Magallanes detached themselves from their northern brawl and scurried down to rescue the vulnerable city. But by November, Hamilton's army had marched into New Orleans unopposed and asserted American dominance over the local region. Meanwhile, Washington was pursuing the Spaniards from Kentucky as Hamilton moved North to trap the Franco-Spanish between the two enclosing armies. 

General Francis conceded New Orleans to Hamilton in desperation, and instead sought relief by turning their army against the weary northern force. General Washington, once again privileged with numerical superiority, sought to meet his opponents in open field and refuse them escape. At the Battle of Baton Rouge, the largest in the war, Washington and Morgan crushed his exhausted opponent in a two-day battle alongside the Mississippi river. With the Louisiana front all but won, Hamilton swept North and captured the last remaining army, including the mortally wounded General Francis. Baton Rouge would end the land engagements of the war, although the Spanish and French attempted an invasion through the South in 1801.

Later Naval Engagements

The Royal Navy, by 1799, had managed to shatter French transatlantic trade with the indirect assistance of the U.S Navy. Captain Thomas Truxtun, the most famous naval officer, worked closely with John Barry (The "Father of the American Navy") to ensure that the regional French fleet did not have the capabilities to transport troops from one colony to another. Although the naval war was fierce throughout 1799, the American fleet still retained 20 vessels while the British inflicted severe defeats on the French around the island of Hispaniola. As the European war intensified, France elevated its budget on privateers, and by summer, naval conflicts were at a peak. Dozens of private ships were captured by the American navy, but the privateers inflicted severe commercial damage on international American trade. 

The USS United States, commanded by Barry, became one of the most successful American frigates during the war. The ship was often accompanied by Truxtun's USS Insurgent and the USS George Washington. In 1801, after Hamilton's capture of New Orleans, Napoleon commissioned further naval support to supplement a naval invasion of the United States. Carrying nearly 12,000 French soldiers, the French fleet sailed unopposed to the western hemisphere, where it skirmished with British ships. When the American fleet struck the overextended French lines, the fleet withdrew to Saint-Dominique and called off their planned invasion. In the following months, the Royal Navy bombarded the French colony into ruins and destroyed the docked fleet with a continued embargo. Rumors of slave rebellion in the colony prompted the local aristocrats to overthrow the French colonial government and force surrender to the British. English soldiers occupied Port-au-Prince in the last martial action of the war. 

Treaty of London

Although the war seemed to end decisively for the Americans, colonial commerce had been decimated by the conflict and domestic agitation was growing against Adams. With the elections delayed until December of 1801 (following threats of invasion), Jefferson had recuperated his momentum against the incumbent. The Vice President's campaign was strongly populist; Jefferson believed that the war had been fought for the urban elite and had done nothing but spill the blood of the common republican farmer. Jefferson clammered for the annexation of the French colonies, full aware that the extension in territory would boost Democratic-Republican chances of capturing congress. Adams and Hamilton were extremely reluctant to expand westward for the same reason, but compromised on the grounds that the newly expanded territories would be prohibited from becoming states for at least 20 years. 

Timothy Pickering, the Secretary of State, was unwilling to make peace with France and demanded that the invasion be extended to New Spain. His quarrel ended in an unofficial cabinet dismissal, and the appointment of Charles Lee, the Attorney General, to the position. Lee reappointed Pinckney as his ambassador to France, and ordered that a suitable peace agreement be developed. Pinckney, Mangourit (French ambassador to the U.S), and Prime Minister William Pitt convened in London, where Napoleon had permitted a peace to be devised in the west.

French Louisiana was ceded to the United States for the feeble price of five million dollars; Pinckney threatened to simply annex the territory if the price was elevated to any other quantity. Meanwhile, Pitt and Mangourit quarreled at great lengths until no further deal could be made. France essentially acknowledged British administration over Saint-Dominique but refused to sign any definitive peace deal. The French and British would continue to wage war until 1820. Nonetheless, the United States and France signed their respective peace in July of 1801, ending the Quasi-War. French signatories included: Joseph Bonaparte, Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, and Pierre Louis Roederer.