French Encampment at Westminster, 7 – 8 November 1782
The First Brigade, now commanded by baron de Vioménil, broke camp in Windham on 7 November and marched through Scotland to its next camp, camp 48, just west of Canterbury. By now it was early November, and winter was upon New England. Clermont-Crèvecœur could not “express how uncomfortable we were while camping in a country where the cold was already very intense. We were frozen in our tents. And the tents were frozen so stiff that, after the pegs and poles were removed to take them down, they stood alone. So you can judge how cold it was.”
Here Colonel Charles Nicholas Desandrouins, commanding officer of Rochambeau’s engineers, fell victim to a robbery during the night of 7/8 November. “A trunk from which he had the habit of getting money, imprudently, every day in the presence of his wagoners” was stolen and pried open and 7,195 livres were stolen, incl. 101 livres that belonged to his servant Charles. Fortunately, his papers were later recovered, together with a little bag of some 50 louis d’or, over 1,200 livres, which the robbers had overlooked. Desandrouins suspected his American wagoner, who disappeared at the same time, to have been the thief.
Prior to the arrival of Rochambeau’s forces in 1780, few Americans had had any personal contact with Frenchmen. Their views had been formed through decades of warfare, British propaganda and religious anti-Catholicism. Traveling across Connecticut by himself in the summer of 1781, the comte de Lauberdiere provides a telling example of how inter-personal contact changed long-held pre-conceived notions and prejudices. Coming from Providence, Lauberdière arrived in Canterbury in the evening of 24 June 1781.
“There are eight or 10 houses [illeg.] at Canterbury and I passed a fairly pleasant evening with a country squire who came to this place to see the French army. How great would his surprise have been if he had arrived in time? I can only judge by his appearance when he saw me. He had a preconceived idea of the French which [illeg.] assured many times that I was, he didn’t want to believe me, telling me that I could only be Scottish, that I was [too] white for a Frenchman, that the people of this [town] were not usually so polite, so well behaved as I seem to be….. I responded that my freshness was not surprising because I was only 20 years old and that all my compatriots had the same kind manners for everyone, even for the English when they were their prisoners. He told me that it would be very easy, when he returned home, to deceive his neighbors about what they thought of us, that he was he was happy to give us justice and that he always wanted to forget the false notions he had of us. We left very good friends.”
Campsite Marker for Camp 48 on the north side of CT-SR 14 at Westminster Congregational Church, Canterbury, CT.
The sign has identical text on both sides:
ROCHAMBEAU ROUTE 1781-1782 || IN THIS VICINITY || FRENCH TROOPS UNDER || ROCHAMBEAU || ENROUTE FROM YORKTOWN || ENCAMPED DURING NOVEMBER 1782 || ERECTED BY THE STATE || AND || Deborah Avery Putnam || Chap., D.A.R. || cooperating ||
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
Historical Commission, 1999) available at http://w3r-us.org/history-by-state/
Selig, Robert A., 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)
For an extensive bibliography of English-, French- and German-language titles about France and the American War of Independence click here: Bibliography