It was in this coming week, in 1780, that General Rochambeau arrived in Newport with around 6,000 French soldiers under his command, signaling to many the beginning of the end of the Revolutionary War. He remained at Newport through 1781, when he joined forces with George Washington’s troops at the Battle of Yorktown.
Anonymous cartoon of Rochambeau reviewing his troops during a French parade, 1780
Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau (1725-1807), was a French nobleman and general who supported the American Revolution (1775-1783). He earned the rank of colonel after serving in the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748). He continued to rise through the ranks of the French Army by becoming a brigadier general and inspector of cavalry in 1761, and in 1776 he was named governor of Villefrance-en-Roussillon. In 1780, King Louis XVI of France appointed him to Lieutenant General of the French army, and he was placed in command of around 6,000 soldiers sent to North America to support the American colonists in their struggle for independence from England. Rochambeau and his troops arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, in July 1780. The date is given by many as July 11, 1780.
Arrival at Newport on July 11, 1780 (Source: Wikipedia)
The reception by Newport to the arrival of the French was not positive at first. According to “The Coming of the French Fleet” by George Woodbridge in Newport History, Journal of the Newport Historical Society (vol. 53, Winter 1980 No.177), “[Rochambeau] landed on the 11th of July to an unwelcoming Newport. No one received him; shutters and doors were firmly closed. The French believed they had come to help, but the Americans, apparently did not want them. There were several reasons. Already the comic stage representation of the Frenchman as a sort of dancing master with dandified manners, with a thin little curled black moustache, reeking of perfume, with effeminate manners, was well established.” Yet it was not long before the people of Newport came around, realizing that the French were indeed there to help and that Rochambeau was worthy of their respect. During his time in Newport, Rochambeau was headquartered at the Vernon House on Clarke Street. It was the home of a wealthy merchant, William Vernon, who left Newport for an extended period during the War due to the British occupation. During the week of March 6, 1781, George Washington joined Rochambeau in a series of meetings held at the Vernon House.
Monument to the Comte de Rochambeau in Newport, RI (Source: Wikipedia)
Upon Rochambeau’s return to France in 1783, he was named Governor of Picardy and was appointed the commander of Calais and later of the Alsace district. During the French Revolution (1787-1799), he commanded the Army of the North (1790-1791) and was created a marshal of France in 1791. He was arrested during the Reign of Terror (September 5, 1793-July 27, 1794), but was able to escape the guillotine and was later pensioned by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). He died on May 10, 1807. In our archives, we have one document that was produced by Rochambeau while in Newport. It is a letter for the recommendation that Jean Baptiste de Jaubert to be promoted to Sous-Lieutenant for his role in the battle at Chesapeake Bay during the American Revolution. It is signed March 16, 1781. While small, it is further evidence of his time in Newport, his leadership, and his connection to the history of our country and his own.
Recommendation by the Comte de Rochambeau, 1781
From the Collection of the Redwood Library