On This Date in History

Today let’s celebrate with a Vin d’Honneur! It’s time for a special champagne toast to General Rochambeau on his birthday, born July 1st 1725.

Let us fill our Baccarat champagne flutes from the paquebot Liberté with a vin blanc pétillant de Vouvray, and use our commemorative plates created for this occasion by Heather Woodring using the original painting of Rochambeau by my very good friend, Rachel LePine.

In 1781 Rochambeau celebrated his 56th birthday in Ridgebury, CT, en route to join forces with the Continental Army of General George Washington in the Hudson Highlands of New York State.

July 1st 2014

We remember him still, after 289 years of birthdays!

Vive Rochambeau!!

Who knew that ….

1. …. toRochambeau March 15ward the end of the American Revolution George Washington welcomed under his command, a French General (General Rochambeau) who was 7 years his senior and who had 35 years of military experience already under his belt?

2. ….. there were thousands more French soldiers and marines than Americans fighting at the Battle of Yorktown, final turning point of the American Revolution?

3. ……  the pivotal sea battle “Off the Virginia Capes”  which sealed the fate of British commander Cornwallis, successfully blocking his escape by sea, was fought between the British Fleet commanded by Admirals Hood and Graves and the  French Fleet under Admiral de Grasse?

There were no Americans in the battle, yet the Americans profited most from  the outcome. And, this incredibly important sea battle was fought out of sight of land with only a few on shore cognizant that such a significant battle was even taking place.

Rochambeau 1 March 15

Does the word GABION ring a bell?

Following the Rochambeau researcher on the road ~


Gabion Yorktown 2006
Well, here I am standing beside a gabion at the Yorktown VA battlefield. Any guesses as to what it was used for in the final turning point battle of the American Revolution? Do you think I can lift it? Would it make a corral for roaming cats?

I was standing in the cold rain on a tour of the battlefield with my husband, John, when we came upon this odd-looking apparatus. I will leave you to guess or do a search until the next blog on March 1st.

This is a test!

Good Luck! Bonne chance!

The Custom House in Yorktown, Virginia

Its strategic location, long history and how it relates to General Rochambeau and your blogger, Jini Jones Vail
February 1
This sign marks the wonderfully preserved Custom House on the corner of Read and Main Streets in Yorktown VA. This historic structure has observed history pass by its front door for nearly three centuries. It is only a stone’s throw from the battlefield of the last pivotal battle of the American Revolution. It stands very near the site of the startlingly majestic victory monument raised tall to commemorate the Franco-American cooperation that helped to birth our great nation.In the early 1700’s the lot where the Custom House now stands was owned by Capt. Daniel Taylor. Since Taylor did not build on the lot, it was passed on to George Burton in 1706.After that it was decided that a Custom House was necessary for the mouth of the York River as Yorktown Harbor was the deepest, most navigable harbor between Charleston SC and Philadelphia, PA. Wealthy merchant, Richard Ambler, was appointed Collector for the Port of York. In 1720 he purchased 2 lots where the Custom House now stands, and in 1726 he purchased 2 more lots. He built the brick Custom House and he and his family lived in the wooden home that adjoined it.Toward the end of the Revolutionary War, in 1781, the British Army, under General Lord Cornwallis, occupied Yorktown and used the Custom House as barracks for their troops until the surrender of Cornwallis to Washington and Rochambeau on October 19, 1781.

The building was in the midst of war again during the Civil War. In 1865 the wooden residence to the right front of the building was burned to the ground. At one time thereafter, it is said that pigs lived in the ruins of the cellar.

For the next 40 years the Custom House served as a physician’s office, followed by various uses as school, general store, even  as a bank, barber shop, and housing for military personnel during the first World War.

In 1922 Mrs. Emma Leake Chenoweth established the Comte de Grasse Chapter of  the Daughters of the American Revolution in Yorktown. A building fund was created, and the Custom House property was purchased by the DAR from Mrs. Adele M. Blow, member of the Comte de Grasse. Chapter Fundraisers were held, such as bake sales stand a fancy dress ball. Plays were produced to secure the necessary funds to complete the purchase in 1924.

DAR member Mrs. Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans took over the restoration project and assumed the funding of it on her own. Final results included a walled garden, replicas of original dependencies, and basic structure repair. Finally the building was dedicated in November 1930 and has been open to the public on Sunday’s and holidays ever since.

In 1972 The Yorktown Custom House was designated as one of only twelve historic custom houses extant in the United States. This historic building served as protector of American citizens from 1779 to 1945. It is listed in the Virginia Landmark Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

Every year the Comte de Grasse Chapter of the DAR opens the Custom House to the public on October 19th, the anniversary of the winning of the 1781 Battle of Yorktown under the command of General George Washington and General Rochambeau’s combined Franco-American armies.

In the picture below  Jini Jones Vail, author of Rochambeau, Washington’s Ideal Lieutenant, A French General’s Role in the American Revolution, was invited to set up a book table on the Yorktown Day Parade Route in front of the famous Custom House. She was waiting for the parade to begin. It was an exciting time to be there as the Yorktown Day Parade marched by with all the Fife and drums, marching bands and the local Revolutionary War regiments in regimental dress.  Jini and her  husband, John,  had ringside seats for all the action on the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route ( W3R) that day. Jini was grateful for the kindness shown to her, a sister member of the US DAR Trumbull-Porter Chapter of Connecticut.  She hopes in the future to be able to return the favor at a Connecticut  DAR event.
February 1A

Did you know there are two Yorktown’s and that General Rochambeau was connected to both?

The more famous Yorktown is the small town on the bluff overlooking the mouth of the York River in Virginia. It was there that British General Lord Cornwallis made his final stand against the Continental rebels and the French Army under Rochambeau. This battle, overwhelmingly won by the Frenco-American allies, determined the outcome of the American Revolution and the birth of the United States of America.

The lesser-known Yorktown is in New York state.  It is located in northern portion of Westchester County. According to Rice and Brown, Verger’s journal, Rochambeau and his French Army camped in Crompound,  a community within in the the town of Yorktown, New York. They remained there for a month (September 24 – October 21, 1782) near George Washington’s Newburgh Headquarters.

Rochambeau, having aided Washington in the successful  siege against Cornwallis at the battle of Yorktown, Virginia, was retracing his route north for a final farewell to the American general. Rochambeau’s army would continue on to Boston for their embarkation from America on December 24, 1782. whereas Rochambeau, himself, returned to Annapolis, Maryland, from whence he sailed, (January 29, 1783).

Rochambeau did not quit the area, now allied French Hill, without incident, however. According to Jean-Baptiste-Antoine de Verger, on the night before leaving Yorktown, New York, the French general was in his room when an American asked to speak with him.  It was a sheriff (or perhaps the mayor; more likely a New York militiaman.)  who put his hand on Rochambeau’s shoulder saying that he was sorry, but he must arrest him for an unpaid bill owed to the locals. The general, “more surprised than angered by the sheriff’s insolence, advised him to make himself scarce very quickly if he did not want to become a prisoner himself, which advice the latter deemed expedient to follow.” No wonder, since Rochambeau was surrounded by thousands of his troops. No match for the sheriff!

There are several accounts of this story with differing outcomes. Verger continued that  Rochambeau wrote Washington telling him of the incident and that Washington sent his dragoons to arrest the man and send him to prison in Philadelphia. Again, always the diplomat, Rochambeau asked for him to be freed.

In Rochambeau’s journal he remembered the incident in this way. A captain in the American militia demanded payment of 15,000 francs for wood used for fuel by the Soissonnais regiment. He wrote that the matter was referred to Villemanzy, the commissary named to settle this affair, who finally gave it over to arbitration with the locals. They in turn reminded the arbiters of the aid that the French had rendered to America. In the end, the cost was reduced to 2,000 francs and “cast the plaintiff in the whole of the costs.” (taken from Rochambeau’s journal).

January 15th 2014
Arrest of Rochambeau, October 1782 Yorktown, NY
Painting by David R. Wagner
Arrest of Rochambeau

On This Date in History:

On this day in history, December 15, 1780, Charles-Louis d’Arsac, Chevalier de Ternay passed away in Newport, Rhode Island. He commanded the fleet of French ships that carried General Rochambeau ;and his army of 5,500 soldiers to America. Admiral de Ternay had been ill on the crossing, but managed to muster to the occasion even so far as to accompany Rochambeau and his aids to the first meeting with George Washington.  This meeting was held in Hartford, CT in September, 1780.

This is the burial place of Admiral de Ternay at Trinity Church, Newport, R.I.

This is the burial place of Admiral de Ternay at Trinity Church, Newport, R.I.

Below is an excerpt account  of Admiral de Ternay death as found in my book: Rochambeau, Washington’s Ideal Lieutenant, A French General’s Role in the American Revolution.

“Admiral de Ternay remained ill after returning from the Hartford Conference, but Rochambeau did not notice that he was any worse and was not alarmed when, in December, Ternay was confined by a fever. Washington received “the afflicting intelligence of the death of the Chevalier de Ternay. The French corps will do him the justice to say that it was impossible to conduct a convoy to its destination with greater skill and vigilance than he did the one confided to his charge.”56

French Commissary Claude Blanchard commented, “On the 14th [of December 1780], [t]he cold was very severe. M. the Chevalier de Ternay…had been sick for several days and had just been taken on shore. M. Corte, our chief physician, had been sent for, who told us that he found him very ill.”57 He fell victim to his disease; they said it was a putrid fever. He died December 15, 1780, at the Hunter House, 54 Washington Street in Newport, and was buried the next day in the Trinity churchyard “on the 16th in fine weather with great pomp. All the land forces were under arms.”

A view of Trinity Church and Trinity Churchyard, where Ternay is buried.

A view of Trinity Church and Trinity Churchyard, where Ternay is buried.

To learn more about the bizarre circumstances of the funeral and burial of the French Admiral, read the detailed description of how the Newporters accommodated his religious preferences in my book mentioned above.

With regard to General Rochambeau: Who Knew that….


Who knew that ~

Who knew that ~

… Rochambeau was originally in training to be a priest?

… Rochambeau was wounded in the leg and near his eye in 1747 as a young soldier at the Battle of Laufeldt, War of Austrian Succession.

… Rochambeau took  another bullet in his thigh in 1760 at the Battle of Clostercamp, Seven Years’ War.

… Rochambeau suffered most of his life from those wounds, even at the Battle of  Yorktown, VA.

… Rochambeau rode countless miles on horseback in spite of his leg wounds.

… Rochambeau nearly died of small pox?

… Rochambeau expected his soldiers to attend church services whenever possible, and he marched with a priest in his company.