I’ll drive down to Newport, Rhode Island for any occasion, and Bastille Day seemed like a good one as French expeditionary forces landed there in 1780 as part of their formal and personal commitment to the American Revolution, a commitment that is honored today by the “French in Newport” festivities on the second weekend of July. From the Rhode Island perspective, the French “occupation” of Newport is the beginning of the end, the road to Yorktown and independence started there. A friend had lent me the Newport Historical Society’s Winter/Spring 2023 issue of its journal, Newport History, which is entirely focused on the French in Newport, so I was well prepared by articles on “The Washington Rochambeau Revolutional Route National Historic Trail,” (from Newport to Yorktown of course), “Forging the French Alliance in Newport,” and “A New Look at how Rochambeau Quartered his Army in Newport.” I arrived just in time for the comte de Rochambeaut’s proclamation, wandered about checking in on my favorite Newport houses and others in which the French were quartered, and then returned to Washington Square to hear the Marquis de Lafayette give an amazing little talk on how he was inspired to cross the Atlantic and join the American ranks. I was quite taken with the Marquis, and as he was speaking an extremely precocious boy yelled out of the window of a passing car “Lafayette, you are here!”
Print depicting the arrivl of Rochaembeau’s troops in Newport in July 1780, Daniel Chodowiecki, The Society of the Cincinnati, Washington, DC.
Rochambeau and General Washington got on very well, and had lots of planning to do during that fateful year, so Washington was in Newport too for a bit, staying, I believe, at the Count’s headquarters at the William Vernon House. George Washington 2023 was not in Newport, but a replica of his field tent was, as part of the Museum of the American Revolution’s “First Oval Office” initiative. It was rather intimate to go in there—I’ve really got to go and see the real thing, the ultimate “relic” of the Revolution—in Philadelphia. While the French rank and file seemed to be on duty, the officers were relaxed and conversational, underneath their own tent on in the Colony House nearby, wearing light floral banyans when not in uniform. I had not been in the Colony House for a while and had forgotten how grand it is. Certainly worthy of Newport.
A cool (actually very hot) bakehouse on site with an enormous clay (???) oven in back from which you could buy a toasted slice of bread with salt pork butter………
The Colony House, a private home on Spring Street where Francois-Jean de Chastellux, the liasion officer between Washington’s and Rochambeau’s armies, lived while in Newport, one of my favorite Newport houses which must go into every Newport post, and the tricolore.