French Encampment in Farmington, 25 – 28 June 1781
Following their rest days in East Hartford, the first division crossed the ferry into Hartford. The Hartford ferries consisted of two large flat-bottomed boats, capable of carrying two wagons and several horses at a time, and two smaller boats that could carry nine to ten horses at a time, propelled by oars.
Once across the river the troops marched on to Farmington via West Hartford, where a field hospital had been established by Claude Blanchard. Blanchard had arrived in Hartford on June 18; “on the 19th, I was particularly busy with a hospital which we were establishing at Hartford,” near the Second Meeting House. There is a stone monument in Old Main Cemetery at 26 North Main Street in West Hartford commemorating French soldiers who died in West Hartford, erected in 1923. West Hartford is described as consisting of “a few houses (which) form this place, the quality of its soil and its agriculture make it remarkable.”
Georg Daniel Flohr recorded in his journal: “On the 27th we broke camp from there again and marched 12 miles to Farmington, a little town. As soon as we had set up our camp there and the Turkish Music could be heard playing prettily, such a large number of inhabitants assembled there that one was surprised and had to wonder where all these people were coming from since we had encountered very few houses along our way during the daytime. This coming together of inhabitants continued to happen every day. As soon as we reached another camp we were immediately surrounded by Americans. Among them one saw very few male persons however but only women folk: if one saw a man among them it was unfailingly an old man or a cripple because all men folk from their 14th until their 60th year had to join the colors. Because of this there was a great dearth of men there. Almost everyone there nearly perished since the English treated them very badly at the time.
But there was no lack of women folk, which is why they oftentimes came into our camp to buy out soldiers from among us which was denied them however very curtly so that they had to go home again with empty hands.
French officers found the road to Farmington and the seventh camp was “fine enough”; Artillery lieutenant the comte de Clermont-Crèvecœur described Farmington as “a very sizeable village, […] tucked into the bottom of a pleasant valley, very pretty” where “much woolen cloth is manufactured.” Rochambeau and some of his officers boarded at Phinehas Lewis’ Elm Tree Inn (there is a plaque on 791 Main Street opposite the Elm Tree Inn, corner of State Route 4 and Route 10, erected in 1926, commemorating Camp 7, 1781), others stayed at Peter Curtis’ Tavern, while the troops camped on the plains south of Farmington along the road to Asa Barnes’ Tavern, their next destination.
From the encampment on Silver Lane continue west and turn right/north onto Main Street and left/west to Pitkin Street, turn right/north East River Drive and right on Darlin Street. Take the ramp onto Founders Bridge and cross the Connecticut River. You are now on State Street. Turn right on Main Street and immediately left onto Asylum Street. You will pass under I-84, turn left onto Farmington Avenue and continue on Farmington Avenue, which becomes CT-SR 4, to Main Street, where you turn left/south at the former Elm Tree Inn, past the First Congregational Church, built in 1771/72, to the campsite just south of Scott Swamp Road on the right-hand side of Farmington Avenue/Main Street.
French Encampment in Farmington,
28 – 29 October 1782
On the return march from Virginia the French camp lay more toward the center of the village as compared to the site the previous year. “A large number of visitors came to see us, and we danced in front of the camp.”
A word on the French Maps of the Marches of
Rochambeau’s Army through Connecticut, 1781/1782
Moving large numbers of troops and materiél over long distances required, and still requires, careful planning. The planning process almost inevitably begins with the selection of maps showing the roads and waterways which the men and their ox- or horse-drawn wagons and artillery pieces could use to reach their destinations. This task is performed by officers in the General Staff. Once the routes and camp sites have been selected, the officers in charge of provisioning, i.e. the Quartermaster Staff, begin the next phase of the planning process, that of arranging the provisioning of forces at the specified dates and places. The mature European militaries of mid-eighteenth century had a large body of cartographic material available to them as well as a corps of specialist officers trained in performing the tasks associated with the deployment of forces.
In France an ordonnance of 26 February 1777 organized these specialized officers of the General Staff, or état major, into the Corps Royal du Génie, i.e. the Royal Corps of Engineers, which dealt primarily with fortifications, bridges, and similar aspects of military works, and the Ingénieurs géographes des Camps et Armées du Roi, the topographical engineers. If no road maps were available it was the task of the Ingénieurs géographes to produce these maps based on visual observation, on-site reconnaissance and surveying in a process described in great detail in Dupain de Montesson’s L’art de lever les Plans, first published in Paris in 1763 and re-published in a second edition in 1775.
In the middle of the century, French cartography under Jean Baptiste Berthier as chief topographer was among the very best in Europe, and when Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau arrived in Newport in July 1780, his staff included not only eight officers of the Corps Royal du Génie but a few officers who were skilled draftsmen as well, e.g. his aides-de-camp Mathieu Dumas and Baron Ludwig von Closen. A few months later, in October 1780, the two best-known French topographers, Louis Alexandre de Berthier and his younger brother Charles Louis, arrived in Newport. Sons of Jean Baptiste, they were trained topographers, and Rochambeau at once transferred them to the staff of maréchal général des logis Pierre François de Béville, where they served as aides maréchal général des logis. Here a note on terminology may in order. Béville’s position is usually translated as “quarter-master general” and Berthier’s as “assistant quarter-master general”, but Béville performed the duties of what we call “Chief of Staff” in charge of engineers and topographers &c. Berthier was a General Staff officer, not a ”quarter-master” as the office is defined in the English-speaking military. An American “quarter-master” is a supply officer whose functions in the French military were performed by the quartier-maître, an officer of the intendance militaire, while the commissaire de guerre was a member of the état major in charge of military administration.
In the New World the skills of the Berthier brothers and their colleagues were sorely needed. Prior to the arrival of French “volunteers” such as Presle DuPortail, the Continental Army, created out of militia men outside Boston in the summer of 1776, had no trained topographers. Or much of a map archive: most of the military maps were in the hands of the British military. The need for accurate maps became urgent in the Spring of 1781. At the Conference in Wethersfield in late May, George Washington and the comte de Rochambeau had agreed to unite their forces outside New York City for an attack on the center of British power in the United States. But preparations for the march had been going on for months already and continued until French forces broke camp in June. As America was a country wholly unknown to the French they began their preparations with a thorough road reconnaissance.
In early April, Béville used a visit to Washington’s headquarters in New Windsor to inspect the roads from Newport across Connecticut to New York. On 14 April, John Carter, who together with Jeremiah Wadsworth was in charge of provisioning Rochambeau’s forces, wrote to Wadsworth: “The Quarter Master General sets off tomorrow to mark the Line of March, as soon as that is fixed the Intendant will describe the different Posts where he will want Forage, Wood, Cattle &a provided.” In a letter from New Windsor dated 30 April, Washington informed Wadsworth that “General Beville having made the tour from Rhode Island to Camp, and back again on different routes, and having taken every precaution, to obtain an accurate knowledge of the Country and roads; will be able to advise and settle with the Commanding Officer of the french Army, which will be the most convenient route for the March of the Troops.”
Béville had taken notes and drawn sketches of crucial areas, none of which seem to have survived, and upon his return from New Windsor his assistants, which besides the two Berthier brothers also included his two sons Charles and Jacques, began drawing road maps and selecting campsites. Once the routes and camps to White Plains had been selected by late April, the task of the intendance militaire, i.e. that of establishing depots, began. On 25 April, Carter told Wadsworth: “Late last Night the Intendant gave me his Orders respecting the Camps as far as Hartford.”
Six weeks later, on 11 June 1781, Rochambeau’s forces sailed from Newport to Providence; a week later, on Monday, 18 June, the regiment Bourbonnois set out for Waterman’s Tavern in Rhode Island; the other three regiments followed over the next three days. In the early morning of 19 June, it crossed into Connecticut and encamped in Plainfield where the campsite site had been laid out for the men. The aides maréchal général des logis guiding the four French divisions did not have any of the beautifully illustrated maps of the Berthier Collection at Princeton University or of the Rochambeau Map Collection in the Library of Congress available to them. Between Béville’s return from New Windsor in late April and the departure from Newport six weeks late there had been no time to execute the beautifully illustrated version that exist today. At best they had copies of the road descriptions taken by Béville and sketches indicating the locations of campsites. These sketches were meant to be used and most seem to have been discarded afterwards: only a single field sketch drawn by Berthier of the camp in Farmington on 28/29 October 1782, has survived.
Fortunately, at least two of the aides maréchal général des logis, Berthier and the unknown draftsman of the Rochambeau Map Collection, kept their sketches and took them back to France with them in 1783. Here these sketches formed the basis for the road and campsite atlases chronicling the movement of French forces in Connecticut and along the American East Coast. Not only are they beautiful works of art, in many cases they constitute the earliest detailed maps of small geographic areas such as campsites or road sections. And they are extremely accurate as well: a comparison with a modern map confirms not only the location many of the churches and taverns identified in the French maps but many a turn in a road as well. Many of the roads taken by Rochambeau’s forces have become modern roads, others, long abandoned as roads were widened and straightened to accommodate automobile traffic, still exist in small segments off the beaten path.
The road and campsite maps of Connecticut originated in the needs of the French military, had first and foremost utilitarian purpose. They are based on sketches of campsites, drafts of villages and road descriptions that guided Rochambeau’s men across Connecticut in 1781 and 1782. Even if only the sketches had survived they would constitute an invaluable resource for the history of Connecticut during the War of Independence. But once French forces had returned home, these utilitarian sketches became the foundation for a visual record of the American campaigns of Rochambeau’s army. They became works of art, masterpieces of French cartography of the late eighteenth century both in their accuracy as well as their artistry. As such they constitute the most beautiful reminders of the crucial role played by France in America’s struggle for independence.
Only surviving –incomplete – sketch of a campsite by Louis Alexandre de Berthier, showing the 28-29 October 1782 campsite of the artillery only. A comparison with the finished map below confirms the accuracy of the draft and shows the location of the infantry as well. Berthier, or any other the staff officer who reconnoitered the roads and compiled the itinerary, usually traveled but a single day ahead of the army/wagon train. In the evening he would write up his observations and leave them at the Inn or wherever he had spent the night for the army/wagon train to find the next day.
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 https://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