French Encampment at Windham, 20 – 24 June 1781
From Plainfield to Windham the troops marched past the birthplace of Samuel Huntington, a National Historic Landmark. (Samuel Huntington, Governor of Connecticut from 1786 to 1796, was no longer living in the house when the French marched past in 1781), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and on to Scotland, “a small emerging place where nature is still quite wild.” Shortly before Windham the troops passed the Frog Pond, scene of the Battle of the Frogs of June 1754. Local lore has it that French soldiers, perhaps tired of poultry and beef, “hunted for frogs as soon as they had pitched their tents, and according to the stories we heard it would seem as if the army lived on little else.”
Windham was reached around 10 a.m., since “the roads were better.” Baron Closen found Windham” a charming market town, where, incidentally, there were many pretty women at whose homes we passed the afternoon very agreeably. … As we are still far from the enemy we occupy camps only for convenience, and the distribution of forage, bread, meat, and wood ordinarily is made in front of the camp.” Others too found the situation of the little town” of 100 to 150 homes “most agreeable. A mile away is a beautiful river (the Shetucket) with a fine wooden bridge. We camped on its banks very comfortably, though hardly militarily.” About “an hour after our arrival, a fire broke out in the woods on the left of the camp. We employed three hundred men, in trying to put it out, but did not succeed.” This accident,” wrote William de Deux-Ponts of the Royal Deux-Ponts, “appalling in every other country, caused no excitement among the Americans, whose country is full of forests. Sometimes they are even glad, because it saves them the trouble of cutting down the trees to clear the land.”
Driving Instructions: From the encampment site drive west on Cemetery Road which becomes Canterbury Road (CT-SR 14) through Westminster and Scotland. Continue due west on CT-SR 14 until you reach Windham Center where CT-SR 14 turns north-west. Go straight onto Plains Road to the Shetucket River. The camp is on the east side of the river.
The sign has the identical text on both sides: || ROCHAMBEAU ROUTE 1781-1782 || IN THIS VICINITY || FRENCH TROOPS UNDER || ROCHAMBEAU || ENROUTE TO YORKTOWN || ENCAMPED DURING JUNE 1781 || ERECTED BY THE STATE || AND || WINDHAM LIBRARY || ASSOCIATION || COOPERATING ||
The marker is one of 27 markers erected along Rochambeau’s route through the state in 1957 by the State Highway Commissioner in cooperation with an “Interstate Rochambeau Commission” and “local historical societies or fraternal community groups.”
It is a little over 1.5 miles from here to the campsite on the Shetucket River.
On 20 June, the same day that the Bourbonnois Regiment departed from its camp at Windham, Lauzun’s Legion departed from Lebanon, Connecticut going east on CT-SR 16 to its first camp of the 1781 Campaign 11 miles away on the banks of the Salmon River.
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
Robert A. Selig, 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)
Historical Commission, 1999) available at https://w3r-us.org/history-by-state/
For an extensive bibliography of English-, French- and German-language titles about France and the American War of Independence click here: Bibliography