By Christopher Kelly

As we prepare to celebrate the anniversary of our nation's independence, it seems appropriate to consider the vital role played by the American military in the birth of the nation.

Even long before the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Americans were fighting in foreign lands on behalf of their countrymen.

In 1741, during the War of Jenkins' Ear, about 3,600 American colonial troops were supporting a British assault on Cartagena in what is now Colombia. Adm. Edward Vernon of the Royal Navy, nicknamed "Old Grog," was the commanding officer of this expedition. Among the troops was Lawrence Washington, the older half-brother of George. The assault was not a success, but Lawrence must have spoken highly of his commanding officer to his brother. George would later name his home in Virginia in honor of the English admiral - Mount Vernon.

American troops also helped their mother country invade French Canada during the Seven Years' War (or French and Indian War, 1754-63). George Washington gained his first military experience fighting in the Ohio Valley in this conflict. At the Battle of Quebec, on Sept. 13, 1759, British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe defeated France's Marquis de Montcalm, with six companies of American rangers participating in the battle. The French lost Canada to the British.

During the Revolutionary era, the U.S. Marine Corps was famously founded on Nov. 10, 1775, at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. The first American Navy was founded on June 12, 1775, by Rhode Island. In addition, about 1,700 letters of marque were issued by the Continental Congress from 1776 on to authorize American merchant ships to capture British ships.

The American Revolution is often portrayed in rosy-hued colors due to its remoteness and patriotic outcome. It was, in fact, a horrendously bloody and costly conflict. Recent scholarship has placed the total number of Americans killed at around 25,000; the population of the 13 colonies in 1775 was 2.4 million. Thus, more than 1 percent of the population was killed during more than eight years of conflict. Many of those Americans died as prisoners of war on English prison hulks.

While significant battles were fought on American soil at places such as Saratoga, Trenton, and Yorktown, American patriots also felt compelled to adopt more aggressive offensive measures. Britain was, after all, the global superpower of the day, with far greater naval, economic, and military resources than the colonies could muster. American leaders sought to dramatize the cost of the war to Britain by taking the conflict to its shores and possessions.

In 1775, American forces invaded British Canada, besieging Quebec. On March 3, 1776, Commodore Esek Hopkins, in the first amphibious assault in U.S. military history, landed marines and sailors on New Providence Island in the Bahamas and managed to seize Fort Nassau.

In 1778, Capt. John Paul Jones, later acclaimed as the founder of the American Navy, led a raid on the mother country itself. American sailors and marines of the sloop Ranger disembarked to launch a raid on Whitehaven in Cumbria. No one was killed or even injured, but a coal ship was burned. The British press was outraged that the rebel Americans would dare attack England, and insurance rates on shipping soon doubled.

In 1999, the town of Whitehaven officially pardoned John Paul Jones and launched its annual Whitehaven Festival.

Thanks to the courage and sacrifice of those American patriots and many others who served in our military, we are able to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Christopher Kelly is a coauthor of "America Invades: How We've Invaded or Been Militarily Involved With Almost Every Country on Earth." Contact him via