French Encampment at Newtown, 28 June – 1 July 1781
After a few hours rest, Clermont-Crèvecœur and his artillery marched on to Newtown via Woodbury and Southbury. They crossed the Housatonic River, called the “Stratford” or “Little Stratford” river by the French, “on a bridge which is rather remarkably constructed, in that all the timber-work is supported, without pillars, by the thrusts of 3 intersecting arches.” The bridge was presumably built in late 1778 when “his Excellency Genl Washington sent a part of his army and Built a Bridge across the great river between sd Towns (i.e. Woodbury and Newtown) at Hinman’s Ferry for the benefit of the army on their March.” The bridge called “Carleton’s Bridge,” sat on piers made of framed boxes filled with pebbles.
Upon arrival in Newtown, the staff officers boarded in Caleb Baldwin’s Tavern, while the tents of the soldiers stretched all the way back to today’s Church Hill Road. Jeremiah Wadsworth and his agents had waiting for them in Newtown 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.
A cord is defined as a volume of wood 8 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet and measuring 128 cubic feet. A tree with a usable height of 40 feet and an average circumference of 75 inches contains about one cord of wood.
Newtown was “full of Tories.” The “troops suffered much hardship there, since they camped in a very stony field infested with snakes and adders. One soldier was bitten on the right arm and disabled by it. For the first time the soldiers “saw much poverty there among the inhabitants as well as ruined fields and houses. This is the capital of the Tory country, and as you may well imagine, we took great precautions to protect ourselves from their acts of cruelty. They usually strike by night, when they go out in bands, attack a post, then retire to the woods where they bury their arms. … These people are very difficult to identify, since an honest man and a scoundrel can look alike.”
The first division had rested at Newtown from the 28th through the 30th of June; Flohr and the second division arrived on the 29th and rested on the 30th. The Americans had already opened the campaigns, and Washington asked Rochambeau on the 30th “to put your first Brigade under march tomorrow Morning, the remaining Troops to follow as quick as possible, and endeavor to reach Bedford by the evening of the 2d. of July.” As the French army was getting close to New York, Rochambeau re-organized his troops into brigades, the Bourbonnois and Royal Deux-Ponts forming the first brigade, the Soissonnois and Saintonge forming the second, before setting out from Newtown with the first brigade for Ridgebury via Danbury, a community of maybe 80 houses on 1 July, Rochambeau’s 56th birthday. In the evening, he received Washington’s letter of June 30 and redirected his troops to North Castle the following day. The order to form brigades reached the 4th division around 10:00 p.m on July 1, 1781, as it was resting in Newtown. “Without stopping here to rest, my (i.e., the 4th) division joined that of the comte de Vioménil (i.e., the 3rd) to form a brigade commanded by the latter and led by M. Collot. Our dances ceased and our camps became more military.” (Berthier) The next day, July 2, 1781, “the Second Brigade left Newtown and marched 15 miles to Ridgebury, where it arrived at eleven o’clock.”
The drawing of the bridge is taken from Louis François Bertrand Dupont d’Aubevoye, comte de Lauberdière, Journal de l’Armée aux ordres de Monsieur de Comte de Rochambeau pendant les campagnes de 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783 dans l’Amérique septentrionale Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, Nouvelle Acquisitions Françaises, 17691.
The 21-year-old comte de Lauberdière was one of Rochambeau’s nephews with a commission of captain in the Saintonge Regiment of Infantry but served as one Rochambeau’s aides-de-camp.
From the camp on Breakneck Hill Road continue west on Breakneck Hill Road and straight onto Charcoal Avenue to the intersection with Tranquility Road. Follow Tranquility Road to Middlebury Road where you turn right. You are now south of Lake Quassapaug, Turn left/south onto Old Sherman Hill Road. Follow the road to its intersection with Sherman Hill Road, the left and after about 1000 feet left/south again on Main Street to Southbury. Continue on Main Street (I-84 will be on your left) until you pass underneath I-84 to Fish Rock Road and straight onto River Road which takes you to the bridge across the Housatonic River on Glen Road. Glen Road will take you to Sandy Hook where you turn right onto Church Hill Road/CT-SR 816 to CT-SR 6 to Main Street in Newtown.
French Encampment at Newtown, 24 – 26 October 1782
Following their encampment in Danbury the troops marched on to Newtown, where they occupied the same campsite as the previous year. Lieutenant Verger of the Royal Deux-Ponts noted that at Newtown “we repaired the army wagons, which were by then in very bad condition.” Those officers who could renewed acquaintances from the previous year: Colonel Jean Nicolas Desandrouins who commanded Rochambeau’s engineers, lodged with a man named John “Trobrige, a very good man but poor.” At Newtown he too staid with a family he had lodged with the previous year. The family insisted on providing lodging and showed him gratitude and “toutes sortes d’amitiés,” a clear sign of grass-roots friendship that had developed via personal contact the previous year. On the 25th, the Second Brigade joined the first brigade at Newtown, which crossed the Stratford River on “Carleton’s Bridge” on the 26th and marched on through Woodbury.
French forces camped on the same site in 1782 they had camped on in 1781; no separate map for this campsite exists.
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