The American Revolution was a global event. Although it started and was largely fought on the North American continent, combatants included those from around the world. In particular, the French contributed a vast amount of time, money, and blood to help win American independence as well as to humiliate their traditional adversaries. As part of their contribution to the American alliance, King Louis XVI’s government dispatched a force under the Comte de Rochambeau to assist George Washington’s Continental Army.
An aide de camp of Rochambeau, Louis-François-Bertrand du Pont d’Aubevoye, comte de Lauberdière, recorded his travels and tribulations in America in a journal now published in English as The Road to Yorktown: The French Campaigns in the American Revolution, 1780-1783. Historian Norman Desmarais has translated Lauberdière’s journal, providing an excellent resource that takes the reader into the daily activities of the French army. Additionally, Lauberdière gives his thoughts as an aristocratic French officer on the differences between France and the newly created United States. He comments extensively on the contrasts in society and culture between each of the new states in which the French army travels. Although the Americans, and in particular the Continental Army do not impress Lauberdière at first, over time he increasingly respects both the Continental soldiers as well as the everyday Americans he encounters as he helps them win their independence.
Read an excerpt in which Lauberdière describes a festive ball, complete with dancing and a feast, that he attended while in Philadelphia.
Dig Deeper: The Museum’s First Oval Office Project, a recreation of General George Washington’s sleeping and office tent and furniture that served as his mobile headquarters while on campaign, stops at the Newport Historical Society in Rhode Island on July 14–15 for The French in 1780 Newport Weekend.
Excerpt from The Road to Yorktown
The Chevalier de la Luzerne lives in a noble and grand manner in Philadelphia. For the Dauphin’s birthday, he gave a splendid and very brilliant feast for which he had built a very large hall of a very noble interior architecture which he continued to use to give balls during the winter. From 150 to 200 women were present at this ball and there were a very large number of very beautiful and very lovely ones among them. Among the first, a Mrs. Bingham seemed to win the prize. Only English contra dances were danced! However, almost everywhere where the French army halted for some time, only French contra dances or French cotillions were danced. Since the war and the arrival of the French army, there are many balls given by subscription at Philadelphia. Thus, this city, once inhabited by Quakers whose austere morality is far removed from every pleasure and every kind of popular entertainment, is now the most merry city in America. Many of the entertainment teachers, most of them French, have introduced themselves and established themselves there! For the moment, those of the French language and dance enroll the most students. I had the curiosity to go visit some of the schools. In one of them, one day, I saw the comic operetta Annette and Lubin performed by some young girls 8 to 15 years old who did not do too badly.