Rochambeau in Rhode Island July 1780-June 1781

Share this Page

Dr. Robert Selig

On 8 May 1776, James Warren, though convinced of the need for French assistance in the struggle for independence, apprised John Adams of a dilemma he shared with many of his fellow Americans: “I am not fond of English or French tyranny, tho’ if I must have one, I should prefer the last. I don’t want a French army here, but I want to have one employed against Britain.”[1] Four years later, the very army neither Warren nor Adams had wanted to set foot on American soil was on its way to Rhode Island, where it debarked in mid-July 1780. Its Rhode Island hosts were apprehensive of the long-time enemy who had become an ally but two years earlier. The eleven months which the little army of Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, spent in Rhode Island progressed through a long, multi-layered process of “getting to know each other” that addressed, and rectified, many of the misconceptions bred and nurtured in decades of warfare against the northern neighbor. The long Rhode Island winter of 1780/81 posed challenges for Rochambeau’s army as boredom and ennui strained the endurance of officers and men alike. By the time French forces marched out of Rhode Island, apprehension had blossomed into friendship. Come June 1781, the very people who had feared the arrival of the French were saddened to see them leave.[2]

The arrival of Rochambeau’s forces constitutes the culmination of French support for the American rebels that had begun in April 1776 with the creation of the trading company Roderigue Hortalez & Cie. by the playwright Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais as a front to channel aid across the Atlantic.[3] By December 1777, Beaumarchais had dispatched clothing for 30,000 men, 4,000 tents, 30,000 muskets with bayonets, more than 100 tons of gunpowder, 194 4-pound cannons and gun carriages, 27 mortars, almost 13,000 shells and 50,000 round shot to the Continental Army.[4]

In February 1778, France went one step further and signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce and a secret Treaty of Military Alliance with the young United States. As Warren had hoped, France was deploying her armies against Great Britain around the globe – in Europe, in the West Indies, in India, and short term also in the United States. Her efforts improved the military situation but little as the sieges of Newport in 1778 and Savannah in 1779 ended in failure. The possibility of sending ground forces for stationing on the American mainland had been discussed early in the war but rejected in view of existing historical and cultural obstacles. Yet by the Fall of 1779, France needed a new strategy to stave off the collapse of the American ally. Discussions in Versailles in January 1780 resulted in a plan to dispatch ground forces as the cornerstone of the new strategy. On 2 February 1780, King Louis XVI approved a proposal code-named expédition particulière. It foresaw the deployment across the Atlantic of a force large enough to determine a favorable outcome of the war. Naval forces in the Caribbean would be strengthened and provide support to the expeditionary force.

In early February, the King appointed 57-year-old Charles Louis d’Arsac, chevalier de Ternay, a chef d’escadre with 40 years of experience, to command the fleet that was to take the expédition particulière to America. Land forces were placed under the command of the comte de Rochambeau, a 55-year-old soldier with 37 years of service. Promoted to lieutenant general on 1 March 1780, Rochambeau assembled a force of four regiments of infantry – the Bourbonnois, Soissonnois, Saintonge and the German-speaking Royal Deux-Ponts – around 1,000 men each, the re-enforced 2nd battalion of the Auxonne Regiment of Artillery, some 500 men strong, a few dozen engineers and mineurs[6] , and 300 men infantry and 300 hussars from the Légion de Lauzun.[7] A Quartermaster staff under Pierre François de Béville, a medical department under Jean-François Coste[8] , a commissary department under Claude Blanchard[9] , a provost department headed by Pierre Barthélémy Revoux de Ronchamp, and hundreds of domestiques, formed the expédition particulière.

Charles Louis d'Arsac, chevalier de Ternay commanded the squadron which brought French troops to Rhode Island. He died in Newport 5 months later.
Charles Louis d'Arsac, chevalier de Ternay commanded the squadron which brought French troops to Rhode Island. He died in Newport 5 months later.
Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau commanded the French army sent to support Washington’s Continental Army
Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau commanded the French army sent to support Washington’s Continental Army

By 6 April, the troops were embarked; Rochambeau boarded the Duc de Bourgogne, one of five 80-gun vessels in the French navy, on 17 April. On 2 May, Ternay’s convoy of 32 transports and cargo ships protected by seven ships of the line, four frigates, four flutes, a cutter, and a schooner cast off from Brest. Arrival was anxiously awaited on board the crowded vessels. Joy was universal when after a crossing of 70 days the fleet dropped anchor in Narragansett Bay on 11 July.

Rochambeau’s American hosts had mixed emotions about their new-found allies riding at anchor off their coast. From Queen Anne’s War to The French and Indian War, Ministers from Maine to Massachusetts had encouraged repatriated colonists to record their experiences and read them from their pulpits. These accounts were invariably anti-French and anti-Catholic, and “confirmed the longstanding Protestant tradition that linked the Catholic Church with violence, tyranny, immorality, and theological error.”[10] More recently these animosities had been re-enforced by the Québec Act of 22 June 1774.[11] From 2 October 1774 to 20 March 1775, every single issue of the Newport Mercury contained “at least one invidious reference to the Catholic religion of the Canadians.”[12] 5 November, Anti-Pope Day, a holiday derived from Guy Fawkes Day when a Catholic who had tried to assassinate King James I in 1605, saw not one but two popes burned in effigy in Newport.

In A Sermon Preached before the General Assembly of the State of Connecticut at Hartford on the Day of the Anniversary Election, May 13, 1779, James Dana, pastor of the First Church of Wallingford, reminded the legislators that “the preservation of our religion depends on the continuance of a free government. Let our allies have their eyes open on the blessings of such a government, and they will at once renounce their superstition. On the other hand, should we lose our freedom this will prepare the way to the introduction of popery.”[13] While Dana feared the presence of the French, General Jedediah Huntington wrote to his fellow Connecticutian Jeremiah Wadsworth on 5 May 1780, of his fears that the French might not stay. “I assure you I have apprehensions that our good Allies will stay long enou’ to cast upon us a look of chagrin and pity and turn upon their heels.”[14]

The “good Allies” stayed until victory at Yorktown, Virginia but it was a long and difficult road the two armies marched together. If Rochambeau’s American hosts knew little about their new allies, Rochambeau and his officers too knew little about their hosts.[15] They too only knew Americans as enemies, and fifteen years of uneasy friendship before the alliance of 1778 had not been long enough to wipe out memories of the past. Visions of America as a continent inhabited by noble savages and virtuous patriots in the unspoiled wilderness found in the writings of philosophes quickly turned out to be highly unrealistic. Like the notion of the frog-eating Frenchman marching ahead of a horde of Jesuit priests carrying pails of holy water, the mirage of the virtuous Patriot disinterestedly devoted to noble ideals was about to fail the test of reality in Revolutionary Rhode Island.[16]

That process began the moment Rochambeau’s forces arrived off the coast.[17] Late in life Count Mathieu Dumas, one of Rochambeau’s aides-de-camp, reflected that “We had at length reached the country which we so ardently desired to see, where the bare appearance of the French flag would revive the hopes of the defenders of liberty.”[18] Commissary Claude Blanchard reported that upon arrival “What we saw with great satisfaction was a French flag placed upon each of the two shores which were in front of us. This signal, doubtless agreed upon with the M. de La Fayette, who had preceded our squadron, informed us that the English were not masters of Rhode Island (today Aquidneck I.), and that we would be well received there”[19]

In the morning of 11 July, the fleet anchored between Conanicut, Rose and Goat Islands. Rochambeau stepped ashore to an ambiguous welcome reflecting New Englanders’ unease. Colonel en second William de Deux-Ponts complained that he had “not met with that reception on landing which we expected and which we ought to have had. A coldness and reserve appear to me characteristic of the American nation.”[20] Artillery Lieutenant comte de Clermont-Crèvecœur believed that “the local people, little disposed in our favor, would have preferred, at that moment, I think, to see their enemies arrive rather than their allies.” He thought the British were to blame. They “had made the French seem odious to the Americans … saying that we were dwarfs, pale, ugly, specimens who lived exclusively on frogs and snails.”[21] Long-standing anti-French prejudice dating to the 1690s played its part, but Rochambeau also brought French cultural baggage with him. Sous-lieutenant Nicolas François Denis Brisout de Barneville admitted that the negative image of the French had at least partly been formed “by numerous French refugees,” descendants of Huguenots who had settled in America.[22] Other observers remembered their arrival in Newport differently. Baron Ludwig von Closen refrained from commenting “since my stay among them has not yet been long enough to know their customs, character, commerce etc.”[23] Wilhelm von Schwerin of the Royal Deux-Ponts informed his uncle Graf Reingard zu Wied on 1 August 1780 that “the Americans were thrilled to see us arrive to assist them; they gave us a welcome that could not have been better.”[24] André Amblard, an enlisted man in the Soissonnois Regiment, reported that on 12 July “everyone was in the streets who by their dancing and their acclamations of joy created a very happy spectacle.”[25]

Conversely, Royal Flint wrote to Wadsworth from Newport on 21 July 1780, that “The French Officers are the most civilized men I ever met. They are temperate, prudent & extremely attentive to duty. I did not expect they would have so few vices.”[26] Similarly William Channing informed Yale President Ezra Stiles on 6 August that “The French Troops are a fine body of men & appear to be well officered. Neither Officers nor men are the effeminite Beings we were heretofore taught to believe them. They are as large & as likely men as can be produced by any nation.”[27]

Setting up camp was the first task facing Rochambeau and his staff. By the end of July, the tents for Rochambeau’s men stretched “from east to west from present-day Spring Street, where at the west end it overlooked a marsh and the squadron anchorage. On the east end, it overlooked Easton’s Beach.”[28] The infantry regiments camped on the east side, the artillery “on the camp’s west end close to Spring Street. The area across Spring Street and stretching down to Thames Street was laid out as the French Army’s artillery park.”[29] Lauzun’s Legion took up positions at Castle Hill. Concurrently the City Council tackled the task of assigning lodging for the superior officers and staff of the army and navy. As Rochambeau established his headquarters in the William Vernon House, his officers, 91 men and their servants in all, moved into their assigned quarters as well.[30]

“Large & as likely” as that of any nation they may have been, but the soldiers debarking in July 1780 were hardly ready to face the British force that was appearing off the coast. Some 800 soldiers and 1,500 sailors were afflicted with scurvy and needed medical attention. Ethis de Corny, Rochambeau’s Commissary General of War, had arrived in America with Lafayette on the frigate l’Hermione on 28 April and spent the next six weeks establishing, sometimes against the opposition of the locals, hospitals between Newport and Providence. On 18 July, Claude Blanchard “visited, in company with M. de Rochambeau, an Anabaptist temple, where we established a hospital,” i.e., in the First Baptist Church on 30 Spring Street. The next day, 19 July, he reported 280 sick troops in Papisquash, and on 23 July he counted 400 more sick in Newport.[31] Their numbers decreased slowly but steadily. On 12 September he cared for 200 in Newport and 340 sick in Providence; by 20 October there were “not more than 300” sick. Besides the “Anabaptist temple”, the Friends Meeting House on 30 Marlborough Street, and Ezra Stiles’ Second Congregational Church on 13-15 Clarke Street were used as hospitals for the land forces.[32] The French navy used the Presbyterian Church on Broadway as well as the home of Loyalist Jahleel Brenton on Thames Street until late October, when the building was converted into barracks.[33] The Colony House too saw service as a military hospital.[34] 

French soldiers were not inoculated against smallpox. Fear of contagious diseases had been the primary force behind the opposition to the establishment of hospitals. On 22 July 1780, the Newport Mercury assured the populace that it had nothing to fear:

"WHEREAS fears have arisen in the minds of some inhabitants of this town, that EPEDIMICAL or CONTAGIOUS Diseases would be spread, in consequence of the Baptist meeting houses being occupied as hospitals for the sick of our amicable and generous Allies: We are authorized to assure said Inhabitants (by a physician well acquainted with infectious diseases, and who has inspected their sick) that no Small Pox, Yellow Fever, or other contagious Diseases appears among them; that their chief complaint is the Scurvy, of which they are fast recovering."

Those nevertheless suspected of carrying infectious diseases were sent to Coaster Harbor Island in Newport. It had served as a quarantine station since 1716. Some 400 men were transferred to a house on Conanicut Island that served as a quarantine hospital.[35]

Sick and healthy arrivals needed to be fed. A review of 1 September 1780 shows that Rochambeau had sailed out of Brest with 4,460 NCOs and enlisted men. Thirty-four men had died on the passage, another 53 had died in America. That left 4,373 effectives, 387 of them still in hospitals.[36] Once Rochambeau’s 459 officers and the 426 servants who had made the crossing (another ten officers, among them Brigadier Claude Gabriel de Choisy, the two Berthier brothers and Captain Jean François de Thuillière of the Royal Deux-Ponts, joined on 27 September 1780 when the frigate La Gentille arrived from Martinique) and around 30 women and children are added, the total number of persons arriving on Ternay’s fleet totals about 5,900 persons.[37] Yet they constituted less than half of the arrivals: the crews of Ternay’s warships numbered around 5,650 naval personnel, to which the crew of la Fantasque, a 64 gun-ship re-fitted as a hospital ship (“en flûte”[38]) and the crews of transport vessels need to be added. Ship garrisons added another 21 officers and 782 men drawn from line infantry regiments doing duty as marines on the vessels for a total of around 7,000 personnel on Ternay’s fleet.[39]

The arrivals needed meat, flour, vegetables, vinegar, rum, straw, firewood, and wagons to transport them to camp. Meeting these needs went well beyond the resources of Newport and Rhode Island. British occupation had wreaked havoc with the city, impoverished the inhabitants, and destroyed its economy.[40] Then the arrival of French forces in July 1780 doubled Newport’s inhabitants. A census in 1774 counted 7,917 white inhabitants, 46 Indians and 1,246 free and enslaved blacks for a total of 9,208 inhabitants.[41] By the summer of 1782, 4,914 Whites were living in Newport. Once the 17 Indians, 51 mulattos, and 549 free and enslaved African Americans were added, the total population of Newport numbered 5,531 men, women, and children.[42] Concurrently the total population of the state stood at around 50,000 in 1780.[43] 

A week before their arrival, Royal Flint informed Wadsworth from Providence on 4 July 1780 that “Two hundred & forty beeves & three hundred sheep must be at this place immediately and kept ready for the army – also sixty beeves & one hundred sheep at Newport for the same purpose. We shall need two hundred beeves that will average four hundred pounds of meat each & two hundred sheep weekly.[44] To procure these supplies Wadsworth’s purchasing agents fanned out across New England. Once Lafayette had brought news of the arrival of Rochambeau, New Englanders began scrambling for contracts to supply the army and navy. Rochambeau was paying in specie, a most welcome commodity in the cash-starved United States, raising well-founded fears that his treasury would fall prey to greedy Yankees. On 14 July, Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull wrote to Governor William Greene of Rhode Island of his fear that Rochambeau was at risk of “being imposed and extorted upon by extravagant prices by individuals.” To organize supplies, Trumbull asked for a meeting of delegates from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire “as early next week as possible.”[45] It was already too late. Ethis de Corny, charged with organizing the supply system, had entered into contracts with multiple suppliers, many of whom would not be able to meet their obligations.

Let’s examine just two examples. On 12 August, General William Heath informed Governor Greene that “I find the French Troops in great want of Straw, an article absolutely necessary for the preservation of the health of the Soldiers, and about which the General and Officers are extremely anxious.” Holding out for higher prices, the farmers would not thresh their grain. Rochambeau offered to “send out some of his own People to assist in threshing, if the straw cannot be otherwise obtained.”[46] When procuring firewood proved equally difficult, Rochambeau on 26 July ordered his men to do the work with the stipulation that every man on work detail was to be paid an extra livre per day. Supply issues were settled in midSeptember when Rochambeau offered Wadsworth, former Commissary General of the Continental Army, the position of sole supplier to his forces. Wadsworth accepted the offer on 8 October and remained in that position until December 1782. 

Rochambeau's policy of negotiated costs and payment in hard currency helped turn public sentiment in the favor of the French
Rochambeau's policy of negotiated costs and payment in hard currency helped turn public sentiment in the favor of the French.

In the haggling for money died the cherished myth of the virtuous American. Axel von Fersen wrote deeply disillusioned in January 1781 that “the spirit of patriotism only exists in the chief and principal men in the country, who are making very great sacrifices; the rest who make up the great mass think only of their personal interests. Money is the controlling idea in all their actions.” They “overcharge us mercilessly … Their greed is unequalled, money is their God; virtue, honor, all count for nothing to them compared with the precious metal.”[47] Brisout de Barneville however took the prices in stride and declared that “The merchants sell to us just as dearly as ours did to the Spanish when they were in Brest last year.”[48] Much as Fersen may have complained, their gold and silver made the French welcome guests. In the 1840s John Howland of Newport still remembered how in 1782, paper money “ceased to pass, as the French Army under Count Rochambo paid all their expenses which were of a vast amount in specie, or in Bills on France, and that supplyed the Circulation.”[49] The words John Jeffrey wrote to Jeffrey Whiting from Hartford on 31 December 1781 applied to Newport as well: “Money is very scarce among the People in General, their daily Prayers are that the French Army may return soon to their part of the World that Money may again circulate amongst them.”[50] Or, as John Trevett so aptly put it after conversing with French sailors in November 1780: “Money will speak all languages.”[51] 

Just as Rochambeau was setting up his camp a British fleet under Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot appeared off the coast on 21 July but soon sailed off without attacking Rochambeau’s forces. Though Royal Navy ships would continue to appear off the coast throughout August and into September 1780, by early August Rochambeau had weathered the most dangerous phase of French arrival in Newport.[52]

The five-day visit by Native Americans to Newport on 29 August brought excitement to the French camp. During a council in Schenectady on 16 August, General Philip Schuyler had informed the Indians of Rochambeau’s arrival and invited the Oneida, Tuscarora, and Cayuga to send a delegation to Newport in the hope that re-establishing Franco-Indian ties might strengthen the American position among the natives along the New York frontier.[53] Less than two weeks later a delegation of 19 (or 20?) Indians – thirteen Oneida and Tuscarora, one or two Cayuga as well as five Caghnawaga offered their assistance to Rochambeau. A few weeks later, a group of Abenaki and Micmac Indians also offered to join the war on the side of the French. Rochambeau gave them presents but sent both delegations home with assurances of the friendship of his king. Rochambeau’s focus was not the frontier. New York City, headquarters of Sir Henry Clinton and center of British political and military power in North America, constituted the prime target of any allied Franco-American campaign.

Americans had anxiously awaited the arrival of French forces in the hope for a campaign against New York City still in 1780. On 15 July, Washington suggested to Rochambeau a joint attack sometime in August and sent a detailed plan to Lafayette with the request to submit it to Rochambeau.[54] Lafayette kept pressing Rochambeau until the comte admonished the 22-year-old marquis as “an old father … to a son who is very dear to him” that “I do not need to be spurred into action.” Having “brought to your attention, as gently as possible, the things that displeased me in your last letter,” Rochambeau put the marquis gently, but firmly, into his place. Yet the need for a face-to-face meeting with Washington remained. [55] 

That meeting took place in Hartford, Connecticut, on Thursday, 21 September, in the home of Jeremiah Wadsworth with Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton serving as interpreters. Washington had brought an eight-page outline drafted by Hamilton for an operation against New York City in the hope that he could convince Rochambeau and Ternay to cooperate in such an attack before the onset of winter.[56] Rochambeau declined and both generals returned to their headquarters. Washington wrote to James Duane on 4 October 1780 that “the interview at Hartford produced nothing conclusive because neither side knew with certainty what was to be expected. We could only combine possible plans on the supposition of possible events and engage mutually to do everything in our powers again against the next campaign.”[57] Yet the meeting had served an important purpose: The two generals had met for the first time face-to-face and had taken an instinctive liking to each other, a precondition for any future successful cooperation.

Immediately upon his return to Newport, Rochambeau sent his son to Versailles to ask for more aid and the second division of forces, without which he felt there was no chance of success against New York City. Until the return of the young Rochambeau, the French would have to bide their time and wait for the news he would bring. It was time to enter winter quarters. Between mid-September and the end of October, dozens of houses in Newport were repaired at a cost of more than 120,000 livres. The British occupation possibly destroyed as many as 500 of the more 1,100 pre-war homes in Newport.[58] When a storm overturned the tents pitched on the hills around Newport on 18 October, the infantry and artillery in Newport were anxious to get out of the cold. When Providence refused to provide quarters for the hussars of Lauzun’s Legion, Wadsworth suggested Lebanon in Connecticut and Governor Trumbull agreed to quarter the hussars there. On Monday, 20 November, Lauzun rode into Lebanon, which the duke in his memoirs compared with “Siberia [, which] alone can furnish any idea of Lebanon, which consists of a few huts scattered among vast forests.”[59]

Officers who had the means embarked on travels as soon as the troops were settled. Chastellux together with his aides traveled through Providence on their way to Philadelphia on 12 November. The comte de Charlus, colonel en second of the Saintonge Regiment, Rochambeau’s aide the comte de Dumas, and Robert Dillon, colonel en second of Lauzun’s Legion, arrived at Washington’s headquarters in Newburgh on 19 December.[60] On 18 November, Anne Alexandre, marquis de Montmorency-Laval, colonel of the Bourbonnois Regiment, the Adam Philippe, comte de Custine, colonel of the Saintonge and Christian de Deux-Ponts, colonel of the Royal Deux-Ponts, also passed through Providence on their way to see some more of the United States. Company-grade officers had to stay in Newport, spending their time learning English, gambling in an attachment to the Vernon House Rochambeau had constructed for that purpose, attending balls, and hunting. 

Winter in Newport could be long and cold, “gloomy” just like the inhabitants, some French officers probably argued. The comte de Lauberdière, another of Rochambeau’s aides-decamp, provides examples of the cultural differences between the two nations. “When we only know our own country, the neighboring people, we are surprised to find different customs, different practices which don’t resemble each other.” Americans constantly shake hands, “saying to each other ‘how do you do” but they “never embrace.” Frenchmen do. On New Years’ Day 1781, the officers made their obligatory visits to the general officers and their colonels. “How astonished were the inhabitants of Newport when, on January first, they saw most of the soldiers of all the regiments mingled, embrace each other in the streets and resume each other embracing again. Many officers did the same as a sign of friendship, interest. Men, women, children came to the windows to be joyful witnesses of this new and unusual spectacle for them.”[61]

A more somber event was the burial of Admiral Ternay. Ternay had retired in 1772 but reentered active service in 1779. Upon arrival in Newport, Ternay took his quarters in the Wanton House. His chief administrative officer Liberge de Grandchain, and Grandchain’s chief assistant the comte de Capellis, also lodged in the house, which served as the Naval Office to the French fleet. Ternay died of typhus early in the morning of 15 December after eight days’ illness. A cannon was fired every half-hour for the rest of the day and flags were at half-mast from his flagship. The next morning a procession wound its way through the streets of Newport from the Hunter House to the cemetery at Trinity Church. As Newport residents lined the streets to watch Catholic proceedings seen never before in the city, sailors lowered Ternay’s coffin into the ground at the Anglican Church. Rochambeau, who was in Boston when Ternay died, arrived in Newport too late to attend the funeral. Following the death of Ternay, the chevalier Destouches assumed temporary command of the fleet in Newport until the arrival of the comte de Barras on 8 May 1781.[62]

On 6 March General Washington arrived in Newport for consultations with Rochambeau. Washington stayed for a week and watched the departure on 8 March of the French fleet for the Chesapeake under Destouches with 1,500 French troops under the baron de Vioménil. Vioménil was to join forces with Lafayette in an attempt to capture the traitor Benedict Arnold, but the plan failed and Destouches returned to Newport on 26 March.

Following consultations with Rochambeau over plans for the 1781 campaign, Washington departed again on 13 March and by 22 March was back in Newburgh, New York. His visit had brought few if any results. The high hopes raised by the arrival of Rochambeau had yet to materialize. While America’s allies lay encamped in Newport, Lord Cornwallis was marching almost at will across the southern states. The Continental Army had spent a difficult winter around Morristown and in the Hudson Highlands. On 1 January 1781, the Pennsylvania Line had mutinied in Morristown. Their demands were met, but when about 200 men of the New Jersey Line mutinied in Pompton on 20 January, the rebellion was put down by force. Almost despairingly Washington wrote to John Laurens on 9 April 1781: “We are at the end of our tether, and … now or never our deliverance must come.”[63] On 10 May 1781, Rochambeau’s son returned with much-needed cash but also with the news that the second division would not be coming after all. Rochambeau was advised to draw up plans for the campaign, possibly in cooperation with Admiral de Grasse, who had left Brest for the Caribbean in April, and who might be able to provide naval support.

Washington suggested a meeting in the quiet village of Wethersfield a few miles south of Hartford, Connecticut. On Saturday, 19 May 1781, Rochambeau and the chevalier de Chastellux set out for Wethersfield where they arrived on Monday, 21 May. The next day the two delegations met at the Webb House. Washington’s diary tells us in his customary terse language: “22d (Tuesday). Fixed with Count de Rochambeau upon plan of Campaign.”[64] The “plan of Campaign” was for the allies to join their forces in Greenburgh in Westchester County north of New York City. There they would await the arrival of a French fleet for a joint attack on New York City. Preparations for the march began as soon as Rochambeau returned to Newport. Aides-de-camp and supply officers scouted routes and established supply depots across Rhode Island and Connecticut into New York. Once these preparations were complete, the troops received orders on 10 June to get ready to embark in two divisions on dozens of vessels that would take them to Providence.

As he prepared to leave the city, Louis Alexandre Berthier summed up his experiences during the eleven month stay in Newport thus:

"The whole army had spent a delightful winter in Newport, and as each man got the word and prepared to leave, the pleasures ceased and gave way to regrets in which the whole town joined, especially the women."

Although Newport is largely inhabited by Tories, and the English had such a low opinion of the French that on our arrival its residents had closed their doors to us, there was now a universal sigh of regret. Everyone’s feelings had changed so much that each officer was like a member of his host’s family.[65]

Around 5:00 a.m. in the morning of 11 June, the first Brigade of French forces began to embark on the small vessels waiting for them in the harbor of Newport. The comte de Clermont-Crèvecœur reported that “several of them ran aground most of the troops spent the night aboard these little craft, many without food. It was only the next day [12 June] with the help of the tide that the boats got up the river. All the troops disembarked on the 12th and camped beyond the town of Providence, where the army spent several days. Providence is rather a pretty town. Its environs are charming because of the varied landscape. This town seems almost deserted; there is little commercial activity. All the houses here as well as in Newport are built of wood; the streets are not paved. The air is pure and healthy, though the town is surrounded by woodlands. One sees nothing interesting here except the magnificent hospital, which has a fine location.”[66]

Many boats reached Providence too late in the evening to set up camp and spent the night in the Market House, others bivouacked in the Old Workhouse on the west bank of the Moshassuk River just north of Smith Street. From there they marched the next morning to their campsite about a mile and a half out of town on either side of Cranston between Westminster Avenue, Plane and Broad Streets. Here they awaited the arrival of 660 reinforcements for his infantry regiments and Lauzun’s Legion that had arrived in Boston on 11 June. Upon arrival in Providence on 16 June, about 250 of the arrivals joined their units, around 200 were ordered to hospitals in Newport. The rest had been too sick to march to Providence and remained behind in Boston.

Many boats reached Providence too late in the evening to set up camp and spent the night in the Market House, others bivouacked in the Old Workhouse on the west bank of the Moshassuk River just north of Smith Street. From there they marched the next morning to their campsite about a mile and a half out of town on either side of Cranston between Westminster Avenue, Plane and Broad Streets. Here they awaited the arrival of 660 reinforcements for his infantry regiments and Lauzun’s Legion that had arrived in Boston on 11 June. Upon arrival in Providence on 16 June, about 250 of the arrivals joined their units, around 200 were ordered to hospitals in Newport. The rest had been too sick to march to Providence and remained behind in Boston.

While in America Rochambeau and some of his fellow officers tried to acquire one of the most important status symbols of the eighteenth century: a black servant. Baron Closen hired a black man named Peter, “born of free parents in Connecticut,” who accompanied him to Europe in 1783.[67] The last opportunity to acquire a black man – or woman – before the departure from Rhode Island came on 13 June 1781. On 9 June 1781, the Newport Mercury ran an advertisement that on Wednesday, 13 June, “at 10 o’clock in the morning, at Captain Caleb Gardner’s wharf, A number of Negro Men, Women and Boys, lately captured by his Most Christian Majesty’s fleet” would be sold to the highest bidder. Destouches had not returned empty-handed from Virginia and in what may have been a pre-public sale, Rochambeau on 5 June 1781 acquired an unnamed African-American slave “taken prisoner in the capture of the ‘Molli’” on 19 February 1781.[68] Robert Dillon, colonel en second of Lauzun’s Legion, purchased a woman and (presumably) her child, Rochambeau’s chief medical officer Jean-François Coste purchased a slave as well, but the young man ran away at the encampment in White Plains on16 July 1781.[69] 

The First Division of French forces marched out of Providence on Monday, 18 June, for Waterman’s Tavern. Three days later, Lauzun’s Legion, around 600 men strong, including close to 300 mounted hussars, left its winter quarters in Lebanon. They followed a route some 10 to 15 miles to the south-east of the infantry, protecting its flank. Rochambeau, who rode in the First Division, had established this order for the march:

• the regiment Bourbonnois under the vicomte de Rochambeau, to leave on June 18

• the regiment Royal Deux-Ponts under the baron de Vioménil, to leave on June 19

• the regiment Soissonnois under the comte de Vioménil, to leave on June 20

• the regiment Saintonge under the comte de Custine, to leave on June 21.

Rochambeau’s little army marching out of Providence was quite small by European standards. A review of 10 July 1781, following arrival in White Plains, showed barely 4,400 NCOs and enlisted men under his immediate command. If we subtract the men of Lauzun’s Legion, who had traveled on a separate route, the columns that departed from Providence numbered only around 450 officers and 3,800 NCOs and enlisted men.[70] But the column was much larger than that. Rochambeau’s c. 425 officers may have employed as many as 1,000 servants, the wagon train employed c. 350 waggoners and cooks, and around 30 women and children accompanied their husbands and fathers, adding close to 1,800 men, women and children to the army.[71]

On July 2, the duc de Lauzun and his legion joined Rochambeau’s infantry on its march across the New York line toward Greenburgh. Here the French met up with George Washington’s 4,000-man Continental Army on July 6, 1781. For the next six weeks an increasingly anxious Washington waited for news from Admiral François Joseph Paul, comte de Grasse. That news arrived on 14 August in a letter in which the admiral informed the two generals that he was sailing to the Chesapeake Bay, thus forcing Washington and Rochambeau to re-deploy their forces there as well. Concurrently Rochambeau asked the comte de Barras, who had remained behind in Newport with the fleet, to sail his squadron to the Chesapeake, where Admiral de Grasse would be waiting for him. Four days of feverish activity ensued: 480 infantrymen, 130 artillerists, and the French siege artillery were loaded onto Barras ships. Their mission was critical: the allied armies needed these guns to break down Cornwallis’ defenses at Yorktown. On 21 August Barras slipped out of Newport with his flagship the ducde-Bourgogne in the lead, followed by eight more vessels. Following a course that took him far out into the Atlantic, he reached the entrance of the bay on 10 September. Four days later. Washington and Rochambeau entered Williamsburg, followed by their armies. On 28 September they laid siege to Yorktown and forced Lord Cornwallis’ surrender on 19 October.

Following winter quarters in and around Williamsburg as Lauzun’s Legion wintered in Charlotte Court House, Rochambeau’s infantry marched out of Williamsburg on 1 July 1782. Following a camp on 9/10 November at Waterman’s Tavern, the First French Brigade reached Providence on 10 November and encamped on the same site it had camped 15 months earlier. The Second Brigade joined the First Brigade on the 11th. Two days later the regiments moved to a new campsite on the property of Jeremiah Dexter off North Main Street. One company of fusiliers from each of the four regiments, which were to embark on the Fantasque, were sent to quarters in Pawtucket on 13 November. Baron Closen liked Providence because “the army is being very hospitably received here. The residents form a kind, good-natured and gay society, and all who want to cultivate their acquaintances or to make new ones, can only praise the way in which they are treated everywhere.”[72]

Rochambeau made his farewell visit to Newport on 22 November. Anticipating his departure, the General Assembly on 27 November 1782, expressed its thanks to Rochambeau for his contributions to the American cause:

"Nothing can equal our admiration at the manner in which you have participated with the Army of the United States in the fatigues, the toils, and the glory that have attended the allied Arms, but the magnanimity of the Father of his People, and the Protector of the rights of mankind.[73] "

In the euphoria of victory, the representative of Warren’s “French tyranny” had become “the Protector of the rights of mankind.”

On 1 December 1782, Rochambeau, accompanied by his son, by the comte de Vauban and the comte de Lauberdière, said farewell to his troops in Providence and in a heavy snowfall set out for Newburgh to say his farewell to Washington.

Before leaving Rhode Island and the United States for good, many of the officers were determined to make one last visit to Newport as well. On 27 October 1782, Fersen told Wadsworth that he wanted to visit Newport but since he feared that Rochambeau might not grant him permission for the excursion, he warned Wadsworth not to “mention any thing of this to the General or anybody else.”[74] He was not the only officer determined to visit Newport one last time. He was joined by Lauberdière, Broglie, Ségur, Chabannes, DeuxPonts, Vauban, and others who pooled their resources for one last ball on 12 November 1782. The months in Newport had forged friendships that lasted for decades. The months in Newport had forged friendships that lasted for decades. Louis – Marie, vicomte de Noailles, second colonel of the Soissonnois Regiment of Infantry, had spent the winter in the home of the Quaker Thomas Robinson on 64 Washington Street. In June 1781, Noailles’ wife sent the Robinson family a Sèvres tea service from France in gratitude for the hospitality shown to her husband. It is still preserved in the house. Fleeing the ravages of the French Revolution, Noailles returned to the United States in 1793 and renewed his friendship with the Robinson family.[75]

French forces remained in Providence until the early days of December when they set out for Boston where a fleet under Admiral Vaudreuil was waiting to take them to the West Indies. By 7 December Rochambeau’s infantry was embarked; in the morning of the 25th, Christmas Day, the French fleet raised anchor in Boston.[76] Though neither Rochambeau nor his troops knew it, Preliminaries of Peace had been signed in Paris on 30 November 1782.

Shortly before noon on 25 April 1783, Ephraim Bowen, Sheriff of Newport County, proclaimed the peace from the steps of the State House in which “His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States … to be free Sovereign and independent States.” The expédition particulière had achieved its military goal: with the crucial assistance of French land forces under the comte de Rochambeau and a French fleet under the comte de Grasse, the capture of Lord Cornwallis on 19 October 1781 had ensured that the United States of America had become a free and independent nation. More importantly, it had laid the foundations for a friendship that has endured over two centuries. Clermont-Crèvecœur was among the many officers who left Newport with fond memories. “It is perhaps the town in all America where the French received the greatest tokens of friendship from the Americans. I confess that I left Newport with regret.”[77] Thirty months earlier, that same comte de Clermont-Crèvecœur had written into his journal his belief that “the local people, little disposed in our favor, would have preferred, at that moment, I think, to see their enemies arrive rather than their allies.” He had blamed the British. They “had made the French seem odious to the Americans … saying that we were dwarfs, pale, ugly, specimens who lived exclusively on frogs and snails.”[78]

All’s well that ends well.


[1] Warren-Adams Letters, Being chiefly a correspondence among John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Warren 2 vols., (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1917), vol. 1: 1743-1777 p. 241.

[2] A detailed overview of the stay of Rochambeau’s forces in Rhode Island can be found in Robert A. Selig, The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route in the Commonwealth of Rhode Island, 1781 – 1783. An Historical and Architectural Survey. (Providence, Rhode Island: Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, 2015). 

[3] For financial assistance see Robert D. Harris, “French Finances and the American War, 1777-1783” Journal of Modern History vol. 48, (June 1976), pp. 233-258. On materiel sent to America see Brian N. Morton and Donald C. Spinelli, Beaumarchais and the American Revolution (Lexington Books, 2003), for arms and artillery see Robert A. Selig, “The Politics of Arming America or: Why are there still dozens of Vallière 4-lb Cannon à la suédoise in the United States but only four in all of Europe?” in: New Perspectives on the “Last Argument of Kings”. (Ticonderoga, New York: Fort Ticonderoga Press, 2018), pp. 30-51. 

[4] Neil L. York, “Clandestine Aid and the American Revolutionary War Effort: A Re-Examination.” Military Affairs vol. 43 no. 1 (February 1979), pp. 26-30

[5] A recent overview can be found in The American Revolution: A World War David K. Allison and Larrie D. Ferreiro, eds., (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2018).

[6] The engineers were commanded by Colonel Jean Nicolas Desandrouins; see Charles Nicholas, Le Maréchal de Camp Desandrouins (Verdun, 1887), pp. 341-368. The mineurs stood under Joseph Dieudonné de Chazelles. See Ambassade de France, French Engineers and the American War of Independence (New York, 1975).

[7] On Lauzun’s Legion see Hussars in Lebanon! A Connecticut Town and Lauzun’s Legion during the American Revolution, 1780-1781. (Lebanon, CT: Lebanon Historical Society, 2004).

[8] See Raymond Bolzinger, “A propos du bicentenaire de la guerre de l’Indépendance des États-Unis 1775-1783: Le service de santé de l’armée Rochambeau et ses participants messins” Mémoires de l’Académie Nationale de Metz vol. 4/5, (1979), pp. 259-284.

[9] Besides The Journal of Claude Blanchard, Commissary of the French Auxiliary Army sent to the United States during the American Revolution Thomas Balch, ed., (Albany: J. Munsell, 1876) see also Jean des Cilleuls, “Le service de l’intendance à l’armée de Rochambeau” Revue historique de l’Armée no. 2, (1957), pp. 43-61.

[10] Gayle K. Brown, “‘Into the Hands of Papists’: New England Captives in French Canada and the English AntiCatholic Tradition, 1689-1763” Maryland Historian vol. 21, (1990), pp. 1-11, p. 9.

[11] In A SERMON, PREACHED BEFORE THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE COLONY OF CONNECTICUT, AT HARTFORD, ON THE DAY OF THEIR ANNIVERSARY ELECTION, May 11, 1775, Joseph Perry, Pastor of the First Church of Christ in East Windsor, warned of the danger of “absolute despotism, … cruel tyranny, and the total slavery of all America” posed by “an act of a late parliament, commonly known among us by the name of the Quebec Bill.”

[12] Charles H. Metzger, Catholics and the American Revolution: A Study in Religious Climate (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1962), p. 33.

[13] Quoted in William C. Stinchcombe, The American Revolution and the French Alliance (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1969), Chapter VII: Pulpit and Alliance, p. 96.

[14] The Huntington Papers. Connecticut Historical Society Collections vol. 20 (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1923), p. 150.

[15] The expériences of Rochambeau’s officiers are expertly analysed in Gilbert Bodinier, Les officiers de l’Armée royale: Combattants de la Guerre d’indépendance des Etats-Unis, de Yorktown à l’an II (Château de Vincennes: Service historique de l’Armé e de terre, 1983) and Dictionnaire des officiers de l’armée royale qui ont combattu aux États-Unis pendant la guerre d’Indépendance 1776-1783 3rd edition, (Chailland, 2001).

[16] Durand Echeverria, “Mirage in the West: French Philosophes rediscover America” in: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité: The American Revolution and the European Response Charles W. Toth, ed., (Troy: Whitston Publishing Company, 1989), pp. 35-47 and Jean-Jacques Fiechter, “L’aventure américaine des officiers de Rochambeau vue à travers leurs journaux” in: Images of America in Revolutionary France Michèle R. Morris, ed., (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990), pp. 65-82.

[17] See Robert A. Selig, “Old World Meets New: Franco-American Encounters and the expédition particulière, 1780-1782.” The Brigade Dispatch. Journal Of The Brigade Of The American Revolution vol. 37, no. 1, (Spring 2007), pp. 2-11. 

[18 ] Mathieu Dumas, Memoirs of his Own Time 2 vols., (Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1839), vol. 1, p. 29. 

[19] Journal of Claude Blanchard, p. 38.

[20] William de Deux-Ponts, My Campaigns in America Samuel Abbot Green, ed., (Boston: J. K. Wiggin & W. P. Lunt, 1868), p. 91.

[21] Howard C. Rice and Anne S.K. Brown, eds., The American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s Army, 1780–1783. 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), vol. 1, p. 21.

[22] “Journal de Guerre de Brissout de Barneville. Mai 1780-Octobre 1781” The French-American Review Vol. 3, No. 4, (October 1950), pp. 217-278, p. 242. In 1678, 12 Huguenot families established New Paltz in Ulster County, NY; in October 1686, Huguenot refugees established Frenchtown, 10 miles inland from Narragansett Bay, but there were Huguenot settlements all along the coast from Oxford, MA to New Rochelle, NY, ManakinTown, VA and Jamestown, SC.

[23], Evelyn Acomb, ed., The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780-1783 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1958), p. 30.

[24] Schwerin to his uncle, 1 August 1780. Schwerin’s original correspondence is privately owned. Unless otherwise indicated all translations are mine.

[25] Histoire des campagnes de l’Armée de Rochambaud (sic) en Amérique. Archives Départementales de l’Ardèche, Privas, France. The experiences of enlisted men are covered in Samuel F. Scott, From Yorktown to Valmy: The Transformation of the French Army in an Age of Revolution (Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1998).

[26] Wadsworth Correspondence, April–November 1780 Box 130a, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT.

[27] The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles. Franklin Bowditch Dexter, ed., 3 vols., (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902) vol. 2, p. 459.

[28] John B. Hattendorf, Newport, the French Navy, and American Independence (Newport: The Redwood Press, 2005), p. 62.

[29] Ibid.

[30] See the LIST OF QUARTERS OCCUPIED IN THE TOWN OF NEWPORT BY THE ARMY UNDER THE COMMAND OF THE COMTE DE ROCHAMBEAU, DURING THE WINTER QUARTERS OF 1780-81 published by Alan and Mary M. Simpson, “A New Look at How Rochambeau quartered his Army in Newport (1780-1781).” Newport History (Spring 1983), pp. 30-67. The buildings are identified in Selig, Washington-Rochambeau in Rhode Island, pp. 338-362. 

[31] The hospital in Papisquash was closed in early August and the sick were transferred to Providence.

[32] At the request of Governor Greene, the French vacated the Meeting House. Elaine Forman Crane, A Dependent People. Newport, Rhode Island in the Revolutionary Era (New York: Fordham University Press, 1992), p. 163.

[33] “Petitions to the General Assembly” vol. 18, p. 73, Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence, RI.

[34] While visiting Newport in October 1780 Stiles wrote in his diary: “My Meeting-house and three others taken up for Hospitals.” Literary Diary vol. 2, p. 473.

[35] Hattendorf, Newport, the French Navy, p. 62. Historian Samuel F. Scott counts 325 enlisted men of Rochambeau’s forces who died between July 1780 and May 1781. That number includes the men killed during the expedition to the Chesapeake and seven executions. That leaves over 300 enlisted men, most of whom died in the weeks following arrival. Their graves in Newport as well as those for the naval dead have not yet been located. Samuel F. Scott’s From Yorktown to Valmy. The Transformation of the French Army in an Age of Revolution (University Press of Colorado, Niwot: 1998), p. 50. The soldiers who died in Providence were buried in the North Burial Ground, soldiers who died in the hospital in Poppasquash were presumably buried there. See also Norman Desmarais, “The French Soldiers Who Died at Newport During the Revolutionary War.” Online Journal of Rhode Island History. March 4, 2016. and “The French Soldiers Commemorated at the North Burial Ground in Providence.” Online Journal of Rhode Island History. Oct. 15, 2015. . Desmarais identifies 25 dead in Providence and 149 French soldiers and 24 sailors who died at Newport between 1780 and 1783. 

[36] Papers of Antoine Charles du Houx, baron de Vioménil. Fonds Vioménil, LB 0074, Académie François Bourdon, Le Creusot, France. Vioménil was Rochambeau’s second in command. Lauzun Legion, which administratively was part of the navy, is not listed in this review but a review of 1 October 1780 showed a strength of 603 NCOs and rank and file (Archives Nationales, Paris, D2c32) which brings the total strength of Rochambeau’s forces in September to not quite 5,000 men. The losses of Lauzun’s Legion amounted to five men during the crossing and 11 while in Rhode Island. Samuel F. Scott’s From Yorktown to Valmy. The Transformation of the French Army in an Age of Revolution (University Press of Colorado, Niwot: 1998), p. 18 et passim.

[37] About three dozen officers joined Rochambeau’s forces between July 1780 and November 1783, but there were also some who departed for Europe, esp. after the siege of Yorktown, who did not return.

[38] “en flute” designates a ship of the line or a frigate without a full complement of artillery to create cargo space for used as a transport, hospital ship &c.

[39] Ship crews, infantry garrisons and number of servants are taken from De Benneville Randolph Keim, Rochambeau: A Commemoration by the Congress of the United States of America (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1907), p. 230.

[40] When the city council tried to establish a list of men able and willing to defend the city, a list compiled on 27 July contained but 68 names, including 79-year-old Pardon Tillinghast. Twelve men refused to sign the list, another six asked for more time to consider. Between them they had 11 muskets. On the other hand, 50 men on the list “should be Immediately Sent of this Island as Inimical to the United States.” The rest, which included the Quakers living in Newport, simply ignored the order. Newport Historical Society Vault A, Box 36. In September 1781, the town voted to buy 25 muskets with bayonets and accoutrements but had to return them on 2 October to Henry Dayton, “there not being any Money, at Present, for the payment thereof.”

[41] The 1774 census is here .

[42] The charts are published in Records of the Colony of Rhode Island vol. 9, p. 653. In 1774, the slave population of Rhode Island was 6.3%, nearly twice as high as any other New England colony.


[44] Wadsworth Papers, Box 144, Folder December 1782, CTHS. In February 1781, Barneville estimated the weekly need at 50 head of live cattle. Brissout de Barneville, “Journal de Guerre de Brissout de Barneville. Mai 1780-Octobre 1781” The French-American Review vol. 3 no. 4 (October 1950), pp. 217-278, p. 254.

[45] The letter was received on 17 July 1780. Trumbull to Greene, Letterbooks, Letters to Gov. William Greene, vol. 15, 19 June to 10 November 1780. Rhode Island State Archives, Providence, RI.

[46] The correspondence can be followed in the Proceedings of the Council of War and the Letterbooks of Governor Greene in RISA, Providence.

[47] Fersen, Letters, p. 371.

[48] Barneville, “Journal,” p. 241.

[49] John Howland Collection, Mss 499 page 86, RIHS.

[50] Wadsworth Papers, CTHS, Box 132.

[51] John Trevett Diary, November 1780, Newport Historical Society.

[52] The defensive activities in July and August are described in Hattendorf, Newport, the French Navy, pp. 62-67.

[53] Maryly Penrose, Indian Affairs Papers, American Revolution (Franklin Park, N.J.: Liberty Bell Associates, 1981), p. 262 et passim.

[54] Washington’s “Memorandum for Concerting a Plan of Operations” is printed in John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office), vol. 19, (1937), pp. 174-176.

[55] Rochambeau’s letter of 27 August 1780 in Stanley J. Idzerda, ed., Lafayette In The Age Of The American Revolution Selected Letters And Papers, 1776 – 1790 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980), vol. 3, pp. 155/56.

[56] Washington, Writings, vol. 19, p. 423, note 68.

[57] Washington, Writings, vol. 20, p. 118.

[58] Kenneth Walsh, The Evolution of Newport’s Economy from the Colonial Era to Beyond the War of 1812, (PhD Diss: Salve Regina University, 2013), p.107.

[59] Mémoires de Armand-Louis de Gontaut, duc de Lauzun, E. Jules Méras, transl. (New York: Sturgis and Walton Company, 1912), p. 194. On winter quarters in Lebanon see also Selig, Hussars in Lebanon.

[60] As late as 1 March 1781 Dillon and Charlus were still in Philadelphia from where they asked Washington for permission to join Lafayette as volunteers in the Continental Army.

[61] The Road to Yorktown. The French Campaigns in the American Revolution, 1780-1783 by Louis-FrançoisBertrand du Pont d’Aubevoye, comte de Lauberdière. Norman Desmarais, transl. and ed., (El Dorado Hills: Savas Beatie, 2021), p. 60.

[62] The most detailed account of Ternay’s funeral in Hattendorf, Newport, the French Navy, pp. 73/75

[63] Washington, Writings, vol. 21, p. 439.

[64] The original minutes of the conference survive in the Rochambeau Papers in the Paul Mellon Collection at the University of Virginia. An abbreviated version is published in Washington, Writings, vol. 22, pp. 105/06.

[65] Berthier in Rice and Brown, American Campaigns, vol. 1, p. 245.

[66] Clermont-Crèvecœur in Rice and Brown, American Campaigns, vol. 1, p. 27.

[67] Acomb, Closen, p. 187.

[68] Musée de Rennes, Les Français dans la Guerre d’Indépendance Américaine (Rennes, 1976), p. 83. I have not seen this “Acte du vente d’un negre au Compte de Rochambeau, Newport 5 June 1781”, which in 1976 was owned by the marquis de Rochambeau.

[69] The details in Selig, W3R in Rhode Island, pp. 225-233.

[70] Military Service Records, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783. M246, Roll 136: Returns of the French Army Under Count Rochambeau, 1781-82 (six returns). National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC. Almost 1,000 men had remained behind in Newport, were detached to other locations or sick in hospitals along the route.

[71] KennethScott, “Rochambeau’s American Wagoners, 1780-1783” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register Vol. 143 (July 1989), pp. 256-262.

[72] Acomb, Closen, p. 269.

[73] Letterbooks Governor Greene, vol. 4, Letters from the Governor, 19 January 1780 to February 1807. RISA.

[74] Jeremiah Wadsworth Papers, Box 134, Folder 21-31 October 1782, CTHS.

[75] Noailles’ correspondence with the Robinson Family was published by Anna Wharton Wood, “The Robinson Family and their Correspondence with the vicomte and vicomtesse de Noailles.” Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society no. 42 (October 1922), pp. 1-35.

[76] Lauzun’s Legion wintered in Wilmington, Delaware. It sailed back to France in May 1783.

[77] Clermont-Crèvecœur in Rice and Brown, American Campaigns, vol. 1, p. 81.

[78] Clermont-Crèvecœur in Rice and Brown, American Campaigns, vol. 1, p. 21.

About the Author

Robert A. Selig is a historical consultant who received his Ph.D. in history from the Universität Würzburg in Germany in 1988. He published a number of books on the American War of Independence such as Hussars in Lebanon! A Connecticut Town and Lauzun’s Legion during the American Revolution, 1780-1781 (Lebanon, 2004) and a translation of A Treatise on Partisan Warfare by Johann von Ewald. Introduction and Annotation by Robert A. Selig and David Curtis Skaggs (Westport, 1991).

He is a specialist on the role of French forces under the comte de Rochambeau during the American War of Independence and serves as project historian to the National Park Service for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail Project. For this project he researched and wrote surveys and resource inventories for the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia through which American and French forces marched in 1781 and 1782. These reports are available on the internet at

On 7 February 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron signed a decree nominating him a chevalier de l’ Ordre national du Mérite. The National Order of Merit is the highest medal awarded to foreigners, since the Legion of Honor, with which it has a common Chancellor and Chancery, is generally awarded to French citizens only.

Related Posts