French Encampment at Waterman’s Tavern (18-22 June 1781)
On 16 June, French Commissary General Claude Blanchard, traveling with two servants ahead of the army, “set out in the morning for General Washington’s camp … stopping at the different places where our troops were to be stationed, in order to examine if anything was needed.” Initially he was also traveling with Quartermaster General de Béville, whose task it was “to go before to mark the Camp” for the approaching troops. That same day, 16 June, the replacements that had arrived from France earlier that month had been integrated into their units as well. The French army was ready to embark on its journey.
The French encampment at Waterman’s Tavern is the second camp since their departure from Newport. Rochambeau had decided to march his troops as single regiments, one regiment at a time, beginning with the Bourbonnois Regiment. On Monday, 18 June 1781, the First Division set out for Waterman’s Tavern: “the Regiment of Bourbonnois marches on 3 O’Clock on Monday morning,” John Carter wrote to Jeremiah Wadsworth from Waterman’s Tavern on 16 June 1781. It was to arrive at Waterman’s “by 9 or 10”. Here supplies were waiting for the men – firewood, straw, bread and beef. On 8 June 1781, Rochambeau in his Livre d’ordre set food rations for the march: “Distribution of bread tomorrow morning for four days. The ration will be for the future 1 ½ pounds of bread, one ounce of rice, and one pound of fresh meat.” One pound of fresh meat per man and day adds up to around 4,500 lbs per day. In the 1780s the average weight of cattle in New England was around 600 lbs to 650 lbs but could go as high as 1,000 lbs. Once hide, blood, bones, horns, hoof, tallow, intestines and casings, fat and organs such as the tongue, heart, kidney and liver, collectively known as the “Fifth Quarter”, are deducted around 400 lbs each of meat beef remained, about half the weight of a head of cattle today. In other words, Rochambeau’s army consumed 10 to 12 heads of cattle on every campsite.
Following their one-day camp at Waterman’s Tavern, the Bourbonnois in the early morning of 19 June1781 crossed into Connecticut “one of the most productive in cattle, wheat, and every kind of commodity,” wrote artillery lieutenant the comte de Clermont-Crèvecœur. Later that day the Soissonnois Regiment took its place at Waterman’s Tavern.
French March Route from Providence to Monkeytown (“Among town”), today’s Knightsville
March route from the campsite in Providence to Waterman’s Tavern (detail)
French March Route from the Pawtuxet River to Waterman’s Tavern (detail)
French campsite at Waterman’s Tavern
Grenadier of the Bourbonnois Regiment of Infantry.
Biscuit Hill Road DOES NOT continue to Route 14 The closest approximation to the French route would be to go north on Victory Highway (Route 102) to the intersection with Plainfield Pike (Route 14) and then to follow the road south-east into Connecticut.
At the intersection of Biscuit Hill Rd with Old Plainfield Pike (Route 14) French forces took Route 14 into Connecticut. Just across the State Line they continued on Old Plainfield Pike, now Route 14A, to their next camp in Plainfield, CT.
French Encampment at Waterman’s Tavern, 9-11 November 1782
Retracing their steps of the previous June, the men of the Auxonne Regiment of Artillery which preceded the infantry, spent the night of 8/9 November at Waterman’s Tavern and reached Providence on 9 November. Over the next two days, the infantry brigades followed the artillery into Rhode Island. Following a camp on 9/10 November at Waterman’s Tavern, the First French Brigade reached Providence on 10 November and encamped on the same site it had camped 15 months earlier. The Second Brigade joined the First Brigade on the 11th. They did not stay long. Lieutenant Jean Baptiste Antoine de Verger, a Swiss officer in 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.”
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