French Encampment at Bolton, 21 – 25 June 1781

Historical Significance:

Grenadier Royal Deux-Ponts Ms 850, f52 recto. Courtesy Bibliothèque Muncipale Valenciennes, France

From Windham to Bolton,” a very small town,” of maybe ten or twelve houses and a church, “the roads were frightful, with mountains and very steep grades.” Describing the camp in Bolton, Clermont-Crèvecœur adds “that often we have great difficulty finding a level spot on which to pitch a camp.” Baron Closen recorded in his journal that “[w]e reached Bolton with the greatest difficulty, since all the roads were terrible. … Part of [Bolton] is half-way up a hill, at the foot of which we camped.” The officers above company grade who did not camp with the troops stayed either at Oliver “White’s Tavern” across from the campsite at the south-east corner of Brandy Street and Bolton Center Road or at Daniel “White’s Tavern at the sign of the Black Horse” on Hutchinson Road. Rochambeau himself spent the night in the home of the Rev. George Colton, on whose land the troops camped.

Bolton, a community of maybe 10 or 12 houses centered around a Presbyterian church provided by all accounts an exciting campground. On 22 June the 2nd division arrived in Bolton. In the afternoon Colonel Christian de Deux-Ponts ordered the band of his regiment to play as had become customary. For some reason, however, he had failed to ask the permission of baron de Vioménil, the commanding officer of the division. According to Gabriel-Gaspard baron de Gallatin, a sous-lieutenant in the Royal Deux-Ponts, a row between the two officers ensued and Christian ordered the band to cease playing. But as the daily concert had seems to have become a source of revenue for the musicians of the band, Vioménil, who dared not order the band to strike up again, gave the band of the Regiment “a louis” or 24 livres to make up for the lost income. That left each musician with 1 livre 12 sous, almost a week’s wages.

While all this was happening on the campground, Reverend Colton, the “Presbyterian minister, in this town, a large, fleshy man, very prosperous, married, but childless, suggested to the wife of the grenadier, (Adam) Gabel (sic), of the Royal Deux-Ponts, that she leave him one of her daughters. He would adopt the four-year-old as his own child, in return for some 30 louis to ease the campaign for her. The grenadier, a thirty-year-old veteran with eleven years of service and his wife, who were very much attached to this child of four, steadily refused M. Coleban’s (sic) offer, and thus proved their fine character and disinterest. This proposed sale was published in all the gazettes, even in France.” Cromot du Bourg, Closen’s fellow aide-de-camp, remembered the incident as well: “We came to Bolton with the greatest difficulty imaginable, so frightful were the roads. The host of M. de Rochambeau was a minister at least six feet three inches in height. (He was actually 6 feet 8 inches tall) … This man, whose name was Cotton (sic), offered the wife of a grenadier to adopt her child, to secure his fortune and to give her for herself thirty Louis in money. She repeatedly refused.” Traveling through Bolton a few days later, Lauberdière too seems to have encountered the Rev. Colton as well. While describing Bolton he wrote that in Connecticut ministers are “highly considered, highly respected, they are always dressed in black, and in order to give them-selves even more importance, they wear enormous whigs of very frizzy blue hair.”

A year later, in June 1782, the Rev. Colton asked Jeremiah Wadsworth, sole supplier to Rochambeau’s forces, for compensation for damages done by French troops and “the trouble we were at by Day and night to take care of the Genls & their attendants”.

Jeremiah Wadsworth Papers, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford. Reproduced with permission of the Connecticut Historical Society

A “Return of Goods supplied the Army of France at Bolton on their March” lists “8 oxen, 11 sheep, 7 calves, 12 tons straw, 19 tons 18 cwt Hay, 25 cords wood, 94 bushels rye, 105 bushels corn.”  Another 148 bushels rye and 5 bushels corn that had been waiting for French forces at Bolton were shipped to Stanford. Upon arrival in Newtown, Connecticut, Wadsworth had waiting for them 2.520 bushel of corn, 316 1/2 bushels of oats, 62 tons 5 cwt. of hay, 19 tons of straw, 22 1/2 cords of wood, and 20 head of beef cattle.

The abbreviations “lb” and “lbs” used in eighteenth-century documents stand for the Latin librum or pound. Similarly, the abbreviation “cwt” stands for “centum weight” or “hundredweight”, centum being Latin for one hundred. Weights and measures in use in the U.S. are still those of eighteenth-century Britain. Up to, and including the pound, the American and British systems (weights and measures in use in the U.K. were redefined in a series of laws in 1824 and 1835/36) are the same, but the hundredweight in England is 112 pounds while in the U.S. the hundredweight is 100 lbs. There are 20 cwt to the ton, which makes a ton in the U.S. weigh 2,000 lbs (a short ton), and 2,240 lbs (a long ton) in the U.K.

16 drams = 1 ounce = 437.5 grains (1 grain = 0.0648 gram)

16 ounces = 1 pound = 7,000 grains

25 pounds = 1 quarter

4 quarters = 100 pounds = 1 hundredweight (= 45.36 kg but 112 lbs or 50.80 kg in the U.K.)

20 hundredweights = 1 ton = 2,000 pounds.

Driving Instructions: From the encampment site in Windham drive north-west on Plains Road onto Windham Road (CT-SR 32) onto Pleasant Street with the Willimantic River on your right. Continue on Pleasant Street which turns south to Kingsley Road to Baker Hill Road then right onto Cards Mill Road, left on Old Willimantic Road, right on Cherry Valley Road, across Middletown Road onto Edgarton Road to Willimantic Road where you merge left/west onto CT-SR 6. Turn off to the right onto Hutchinson Road. Hutchinson Road merges back onto CT-SR 6. You will see Bailey Road on your left. That is the old road but it ends. You need to follow CT-SR 6 to Steeles Crossing Road where you turn left. That will take you to Bolton Center Road and the camp on the Rose Farm property. This is the closest routing today that keep the Willimantic River to your right as the French road map and route descriptions show the route to Bolton.

March of the French Army from Providence to Virginia, March 1781 – October 1781 / Figuré de la Route et des differents Camps que l’Armée Françoise a occupé depuis Providence jusqu’à la réunion des deux Armées au Camp de Philips-burg / 17. Quatrieme Journée. Le 21, 22, 23, 24 de Windham à Bolton, 16 milles. Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Library

The eighteenth-century road is still discernible in the woods. It ends behind the Bolton High School.

31. Camp à Bolton, le 21 Juin, 16 miles de Windham; undated; Louis-Alexandre Berthier Collection, Portfolio IX, Packet 21-5; Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Library

Marker for Campsite 5 at 261 Bolton Center Road, Bolton, CT. The Rose Farm can be seen on top of the hill.

Inscription: East Side: || ROCHAMBEAU ROUTE 1781-1782 || IN THIS VICINITY || FRENCH TROOPS UNDER || ROCHAMBEAU || ENROUTE TO YORKTOWN || ENCAMPED DURING JUNE 1781 || ERECTED BY THE STATE || AND || Oxford Parish || Chapter, D.A.R. || COOPERATING ||

West Side: identical

Historical significance: The marker is one of 27 erected along Rochambeau’s route throughout the state in 1957 by the State Highway Commissioner in cooperation with an “Interstate Rochambeau Commission” and “local historical societies or fraternal community groups.”

 Suggestions for further readings:

Kennett, Lee. The French Forces in America, 1780-1783 (Westport, 1977)

Rice, Howard C. Jr., and Anne S.K. Brown, eds., The American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s

         Army 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783 2 vols., (Princeton and Providence, 1972)

Scott, Samuel F. From Yorktown to Valmy: The Transformation of the French Army in an

         Age of Revolution (Niwot, CO, 1998)

Selig, Robert A. Rochambeau in Connecticut: Tracing his Journey. Historic and

         Architectural Survey Connecticut Historical Commission (Hartford: Connecticut

Robert A. Selig, Mary M. Donohue, Bruce Clouette and Mary Harper, ‘En Avant’  With Our

         French Allies:  Sites, Markers, and Monuments in Connecticut Commemorating the

         Contributions of French Troops under the comte de Rochambeau to the Achievement

         of American Independence, 1780 to 1782 (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Commission, 2004)

Historical Commission, 1999) available at http://w3r-us.org/history-by-state/

For an extensive bibliography of English-, French- and German-language titles about France and the American War of Independence click here: Bibliography

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