François-Jean de Chastellux, by Charles Willson Peale, c. 1782. Courtesy Independence National Historic Park.Major General François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux, was a French officer in Lieutenant General Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau's expeditionary force sent to North America during the War of Independence.  He served as one of the principle liaison officers between General George Washington of the Continental Army and Rochambeau. A member of the distinguished Académie française, Chastelux was a man of letters as well as a soldier. Chastellux kept a record of his travels while serving in North America, published in 1786 as Voyages…dans l’Amerique septentrionale dans les annees 1780, 1781, & 1782.

Letter written by George Washington to Chastellux, 1 February 1784. Washington Library at Mount Vernon.Chastellux served during the Seven Years’ War as the Colonel of le Regiment La Marche, and fought in the Battle of Minden against an allied army serving George II, King of Great Britain and Elector of Hanover. By 1762, Chastellux had command of his own brigade operating in western Germany.

Following the Seven Years’ War, Chastellux wrote prodigiously, authoring numerous books and a handful of plays. His works were well received in Enlightenment era Paris, and he became close friends with the academic elite of the city including Voltaire. In 1775, he was inducted in the Académie française.  

In July 1780, he sailed for North America as part of the French expeditionary force under Rochambeau’s command.  Because of his strong knowledge of the English language, he served as an important liaison between Rochambeau and Washington. In this position, he became a close lifelong friend of Washington.

Significance of the Chastellux Letters from Mount Vernon on Vimeo.

Chastellux described meeting Washington for the first time in his Voyages:

M. de la Fayette was in conversation with a tall man … It was the general himself. I was soon off horseback, and near him ... He conducted me to his house, where I found the company still at table, although the dinner had been long over. … A fresh dinner was prepared for me and mine; and the present was prolonged to keep me company. A few glasses of claret and madeira accelerated the acquaintances I had to make, and I soon felt myself at my ease near the greatest and the best of men.1

George Washington's copies of Chastellux's Voyages…dans l’Amerique in the collection of the Washington Library at Mount Vernon.Chastellux chose to stay behind when the French expedition left North America so that he would have a chance to explore the new nation along with its culture and geography.  During his visit, he called on Thomas Jefferson and James Madison among others.  He also received honorary degrees from the College of William and Mary and the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania). Prior to returning home to France, both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the American Philosophical Society made him an honorary member.

In 1786, he published his travel journal of North America, and sent a copy to his friend George Washington. Unable to read French, Washington remarked that he had supplied himself with a “translation of that part in which you say such, & so many Handsome things of me; that (altho’ no sceptic on ordinary occasions) I may perhaps be allowed to doubt whether your friendship & partiality, have not, in this one instance, acquired an ascendency over your cooler judgement.”2

 

Joseph F. Stoltz III
Digital Historian
Fred W. Smith National Library for the
Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon

 

Notes:

1. Chastellux, François Jean marquis de. Travels in North America in the Years 1780-81-82. New York: 1828. 62.

2. George Washington to Chastellux, 18 August 1786, Founders Online, National Archives. 

Bibliography:

Chastellux, François Jean marquis de. Voyages de M. le marquis de Chastellux dans l'Amérique septentrionale dans les années 1780, 1781 & 1782. Paris: Chez Prault, 1786.

Dictionnaire Universel d'Histoire et de Géographie. Paris: L. Hachette, 1867. 396.

Robert, Adolphe. Dictionnaire des Parlementaires Français ... : Depuis le 1er Mai 1789 Jusqu'au 1er Mai 1889. vol. IIParis: Edgar Bourloton, 1889. 640.

Whitridge, Arnold. Rochambeau: America’s Neglected Founding Father. New York: MacMillan Company, 1965.

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