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British India – United States relations

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United States—British India relations
British Raj
  British India
On the trail of Kipling's Kim map, for use on Wikivoyage

The relationships between British India in the days of the British Raj and the United States were thick. Swami Vivekananda promoted Yoga and Vedanta in the United States at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago, during the World's Fair in 1893. In an unconventional sequence of events, the United States and British India established diplomatic relations prior to India’s formal independence from the British Empire. The multistage independence process agreed to by the Indians and the British allowed for the creation of an interim government with the authority to conduct relations with other states before namesake, so-called India attained full, sovereign independence. The United States recognized the Successor Union of India as an independent state on August 15, 1947, when President Harry S. Truman sent a congratulatory message to Lord Louis Mountbatten, Governor General of the Dominion of India. It was on this date that, in accordance with the British Parliament’s India Independence Act of July 18, 1947, the Unions of India and Pakistan were created from the former “British India” that had been a part of the British Empire.

American Revolution, the East India Company, and early America context[edit]

Great Britain and France had territories in the Americas as well as the Indian subcontinent. In 1778, when France declared war against Britain, fighting broke out between British and French colonies in India.[1] This marked the beginning of the Second Anglo-Mysore War. Hyder Ali, the Sultan of the Kingdom of Mysore, allied himself with the French. From 1780 to 1783, Franco-Mysorean forces fought in several campaigns against the British in western and southern India, in several places such as Mahé and Mangalore.[2]

On June 29, with both sides weakened, the British dispatched HMS Medea to surrender, with letters to the French stating the American Revolutionary War was over.[3] The Treaty of Paris was drafted on 30 November 1782, months before the Siege of Cuddalore but news did not reach India until seven months later, due to the delay of communications to India. The treaty was finally signed on 3 September 1783 and was ratified by the U.S. Congress a few months later. Under the terms of the treaty, Britain returned Pondicherry back to the French and Cuddalore was returned to the British.[2] The flag of the East India Company is said to have inspired the Grand Union Flag of 1775, ultimately inspiring the current flag of the United States, as both flags were of the same design.[4] Mysorean rockets were also used in the Battle of Baltimore, and are mentioned in "The Star-Spangled Banner", the national anthem of the United States: And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air.[5]

British Army officer Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, who led the British surrender during the Siege of Yorktown, which caused the end of warfare operations in North America during the American Revolution, later went on to serve as Governor-General of India and played a significant role in expanding British control over the subcontinent. His burial site is in the North Indian city of Ghazipur.[6][7]

British American born David Ochterlony (1758–1825) was a British military officer who served in India during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He is perhaps best known for his role in the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814–1816, also known as the Gurkha War, where he commanded British and Indian forces against the Gurkha Kingdom of Nepal.

American patriot turned British Army officer Benedict Arnold had a son named Edward Shippen Arnold who fought for the British during campaigns in Bengal.[8][9]

American officer John Parker Boyd partook in the Battle of Kharda, fighting on the side of the Nizam of Hyderabad.[10][11][12]

American Founding Father Aaron Burr had a relationship with an East Indian woman named Mary Emmons, who was most likely from the Indian city of Calcutta. Together, they had two children, including John Pierre Burr.[13][14]

Dudley Leavitt Pickman was an early American trader with India who founded the East India Marine Society.

Fitzedward Hall was the first American to edit a Sanskrit text.[15]

History of British India (1858–1947)[edit]

Religious connections[edit]

Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament of Religions with Virchand Gandhi, Hewivitarne Dharmapala, and A. G. Bonet-Maury in September 1893

The relationships between British India in the days of the British Raj and the United States were thick.[16] Swami Vivekananda promoted Yoga and Vedanta in the United States at the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago, during the World's Fair in 1893. Mark Twain visited India in 1896[17] and described it in his travelogue Following the Equator with both revulsion and attraction before concluding that India was the only foreign land he dreamed about or longed to see again.[18] Regarding India, Americans learned more from English writer Rudyard Kipling.[19] Mahatma Gandhi had an important influence on the philosophy of non-violence promoted by American civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s.[20]

Former American Military Officer and later a prominent figure in the spiritual and philosophical movement of Theosophy Henry Steel Olcott, left New York in December 1878 to relocate the headquarters of the Theosophical Society to India. He and the society arrived in Bombay on February 16, 1879. Olcott's objective was to immerse himself in the cultures of India, the birthplace of his spiritual inspiration, the Buddha. The Society's headquarters were established at Adyar, Chennai, where Olcott also founded the Adyar Library and Research Centre. He aimed to obtain authentic translations of sacred texts from Buddhist, Hindu, and Zoroastrian religions to provide Westerners with a true understanding of Eastern philosophies, countering Westernized interpretations. Throughout his time in India, Olcott worked tirelessly to bridge the cultural and spiritual gap between East and West. He died in Adyar, Madras on the 17th of February, 1907. [21]

Margaret Woodrow Wilson, the daughter of the 28th U.S President Woodrow Wilson, became a devotee and member of the ashram of Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry for the remainder of her later life. Wilson changed her name to Nistha, meaning "dedication" in Sanskrit. In 1942, she collaborated with Joseph Campbell, as they undertook the editing of the English translation of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, originally authored by Swami Nikhilananda, a classical work on the Hindu mystic Sri Ramakrishna. This edited version was subsequently published by the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York. She died in Pondicherry on the 12th of February, 1944.[22]

During World War II[edit]

American G.I.s at a market in Calcutta in present-day Kolkata in 1945

President Franklin D. Roosevelt[edit]

In the 1930s and early-1940s, U.S President Franklin D. Roosevelt voiced strong support to the Indian Independence movement despite being allies with Britain.[23][24] The first significant immigration from India before 1965 involved Sikh farmers going to California in the early-twentieth century.[25]


  1. Grant, R. G. (October 24, 2017). 1001 Battles That Changed the Course of History. Book Sales, 2017. ISBN 978-0785835530. Search this book on
  2. 2.0 2.1 Smith, John L. Jr. (2015-07-08). "India: The Last Battle of the American Revolutionary War". Journal of the American Revolution. Retrieved 2023-06-26.
  3. Boswell, James (1783). Affairs in the East Indies App 1783 - Extract of a Letter from Vice-Adm. Sir Edward Hughes to Mr. Stephens. The Scots Magazine. pp. 685–688. Search this book on
  4. Fawcett, Sir Charles (1937). "The Striped Flag of the East India Company, and its connexion with the American 'Stars and Stripes'". The Mariner's Mirror. 23 (4): 449–476. doi:10.1080/00253359.1937.10657258.(subscription required)
  5. Eugene Van Sickle. "The Congreve Rockets in the War of 1812" (PDF). Dalton State College. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 25, 2014. Retrieved 2014-12-09. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  6. * Aspinall, Arthur (1931), Cornwallis in Bengal, Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, OCLC 1088230
  8. Randall (1990), p. 610
  9. The New England Register 1880, pp. 196–197
  10. Hans Hägerdal, Responding to the West: Essays on Colonial Domination and Asian Agency, 2009, page 40
  11. William Dalrymple, White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India, New York: Viking, 2002 p. 112.
  12. Spencer C. Tucker, The Encyclopedia Of the War Of 1812, page 74
  13. Ballard, Allen B. (2011). One More Day's Journey: The Story of a Family and a People. iUniverse. ISBN 9781462052837 – via Google Books. Search this book on
  14. Ip, Greg (October 5, 2005). "Fans of Aaron Burr Find Unlikely Ally In a 'New' Relative". Wall Street Journal.
  15.  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Hall, Fitzedward" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 12 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 846.
  16. Holden Furber, "Historical and Cultural Aspects of Indo-American Relations," Journal of the University of Bombay (1965), Vol. 34 Issue 67/68, pp 95-116.
  17. Schmidt, Barbara. "Chronology of Known Mark Twain Speeches, Public Readings, and Lectures". Retrieved January 1, 2013.
  18. Gupta, Vipin; Saran, Pankaj (2007). Leninson, David; Christensen, Karen, eds. Global Perspectives on the United States: A Nation by Nation Survey. 1. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing Group. pp. 294–300. ISBN 978-1-933782-06-5. Search this book on
  19. Isaacs, Scratches on Our Minds: American Views of China and India (1980) p 241
  20. University, © Stanford; Stanford; California 94305 (2017-04-25). "Gandhi, Mohandas K." The Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute. Retrieved 2023-06-26.
  21. Josephson-Storm, Jason (2017). The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-0-226-40336-6. Search this book on
  22. Nikhilananda, Swami (1942). "Preface". The Gospel of Ramakrishna. Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math. Search this book on
  23. Foster Rhea Dulles, and Gerald E. Ridinger. "The Anti-Colonial Policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt." Political Science Quarterly (1955): 1–18. in JSTOR
  24. Kenton J. Clymer, Quest for Freedom: The United States and India's Independence (2013).
  25. Gonzales, Juan L. Jr. (1986). "Asian Indian Immigration Patterns: The Origins of the Sikh Community in California". International Migration Review. 20 (1): 40–54. doi:10.1177/019791838602000103. JSTOR 2545683. Unknown parameter |s2cid= ignored (help)