French Encampment in Providence (13 November – 4 December 1782)
Sub-lieutenant Jean-Baptiste Antoine de Verger of the Royal Deux-Ponts recorded that he only “remained two days in camp near the city, and on the third we left town to move into barracks in a wood. A heavy snowfall made us appreciate the barracks, especially since most of our tents were worn out.” The “barracks in a wood” were the new campsite on the property of Jeremiah Dexter off of North Main Street. Here they stayed until departure for Boston again in brigades with the Bourbonnois and Royal Deux-Ponts on 4 December and the Soissonnois and Saintonge the next day. The stay in Providence had been necessitated because the vessels of Admiral Vaudreuil which had arrived in Boston harbor from the West Indies on August were not yet ready to receive them for the journey to St. Domingue, modern-day Haiti.
The relocation of the French camp onto the property of Jeremiah Dexter on 13 November was caused, according to Baron Closen because the owner of the campsite refused to let the French cut wood on his property. 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.” He was fortunate that in preparation for departure he could sell his horses to a fellow officer who would remain in America “at cost”; others were not so fortunate. Verger and many of his fellow officers “disposed of our horses at a very low price.” Because of the large amount of matériel to be embarked the artillery departed from Providence on 16 November, barely a week after arrival, and reached Boston three later, where “the troops were lodged in vacant houses, the officers also.”
Since Rochambeau was scheduled to return to France he handed the command over to the baron de Vioménil, his second in command. Accompanied by his son, by the comte de Vauban and the comte de Lauberdière, Rochambeau said farewell to his troops in Providence and on 1 December 1782 set out for Newburgh, New York, in a heavy snowfall to say his farewell to George Washington. Traveling via Angel’s Tavern the group spent the first night at Dorrance’ Tavern just across the state line in Connecticut. Canterbury, Windham, Bolton, Hartford, Farmington, Litchfield, a community of 70 or 80 homes, were the next stops along the route until Moorhouse Tavern in Dutchess County in New York was reached on 6 December. From there it was but a day’s journey to Newburgh and Washington’ headquarters.
When the first French forces broke camp on 2 December 1782 they marched down Rochambeau Avenue to North Main Street (US-1) which they followed north into Massachusetts.
The Jeremiah Dexter Farmhouse (1754) at 957 North Main Street (corner of North Main Street and Rochambeau Avenue) is the only eighteenth-century structure still standing in this area. The house is on the edge of the encampment of the infantry regiments of Rochambeau’s army in November/December 1782, which was on the hill toward Summit Avenue and Brewster Street. Since 2014 it serves as headquarters for Preserve Rhode Island. See http://www.preserveri.org/dexter-house
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. The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route in the State of Rhode
Island, 1780-1783. An Architectural and Historical Site Survey and Resource Inventory
(2006/2015) available at W3R History by State
For an extensive bibliography of English-, French- and German-language titles about France and the American War of Independence click here