September 24, 2004
Our goal is the creation and stewardship of the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, National Historic Trail that passes through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and the elevation to a higher level the quality of heritage preservation all along the route. This newsletter tries to represent the point of view of the patriots who respected Washington and Rochambeau, the ones who, if alive, would be working with us to honor them.
Words of Worship and War
Every great achievement is due to sacrifice, and those who are most conscious of what their heritage has cost are the most likely to value it. One of the greatest challenges for the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail (W3R NHT) is to be effective in the presentation of our history so that it is clear and vivid, it touches people who come in contact with it, and it reveals an understanding of human motives and character.
Modern anti-heroic historians do not believe that Rochambeau was either intelligent enough or motivated enough to speak English. Similarly they don’t believe Washington could communicate with the French except through translators. Some apparently do not know that Latin, as well as some French and English, were commonly spoken in the 18th century. Some might not know that even the barbarian Attila the Hun was fluent in Latin. In the twentieth century the salute of the Roman army (Hale!) was adopted by the Nazis (Heil!) and the tactics of the Roman Army were used by General Patton to confound and defeat the Nazi Panzer divisions in the deserts of northern Africa.
In the eighteenth century, during the American Revolution, Latin was very much the language of worship and war, of church and cannon. Yale and Harvard were created to be schools of divinity to train the colonial clergy. The minister’s master’s degree was typically an oral examination done entirely in Latin. General Washington had studied Latin and had cannons engraved with suitable Latin phrases.
The Comte de Rochambeau was at the time a French noble in his mid fifties who had fought against England earlier in the Seven Years’ War, and had at that time been opposed by the very same officers, Clinton, and Cornwallis. Just as George Washington’s survival depended on communicating with the French and the Cherokee Indians during the Seven Years War (NL No 52), Rochambeau too had to understand the English officers. Rochambeau had fought at the second battle of Minden, where La Fayette’s father had fallen. Rochambeau, like Lafayette, shared the heritage of a charming land of chateaus and silver trout streams. He also shared an amiable father figure role similar to that of General Washington’s with the impulsive and spirited Lafayette. And before he came to America Rochambeau made the pointed comment about his task, “Nothing without naval supremacy.” About the same time Washington was of the same opinion and wrote to La Fayette that decisive naval supremacy was needed. They clearly thought alike and shared good judgment in military matters.
In the following letter available electronically from the Library of Congress, George Washington reveals his own knowledge of French and Latin when he advises against the foreign travel of a Mr. Custis, who Washington finds lacking in depth of understanding foreign languages. From:George Washington to Jonathan Boucher, July 9, 1771,http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/mgw:@field(DOCID+@lit(gw030043))
“At present, however well versed he (Mr. Custis) may be in the principles of the Latin language, he is unacquainted with several of their classical authors, which might be useful to him to read. He is ignorant of Greek, (the advantages of learning which I do not pretend to judge of), knows nothing of French, which is absolutely necessary to him as a traveler”
French General Closen writes of how quickly the French learned English just a few months after the French army lands in Newport,
“Beginning to know something of the language (English), our officers risk paying visits and go to teas and dinners.” “It is good behavior each time people meet to accost each other, mutually offering the hand and shaking it, English fashion.”
“But, above all, the object of my compatriots’ curiosity was the great man, the one of whom they had heard so much on the other side, the personification of the new-born ideas of liberty and popular government, George Washington. All wanted to see him, and as soon as permission to travel was granted several managed to reach his camp. For all of them, different as they might be in rank and character, the impression was the same and fulfilled expectation, beginning with Rochambeau, who saw him for the first time at the Hartford conferences, in September, 1780, when they tried to draw a first plan for a combined action. A friendship then commenced between the two that was long to survive those eventful years.”
Rochambeau wrote in his memoirs of how he understood and enjoyed Washington’s letters:
“From the moment we began to correspond with one another, I never ceased to enjoy the soundness of his judgment and the amenity of his style in a very long correspondence, which is likely not to end before the death of one of us.”
George M. Wrong, in his book, George Washington and His Comrades in Arms, CHAPTER X “France to the Rescue”, writes,
“Sometimes the talk was in Latin, pronounced by an American scholar as not too bad. A French officer writing in Latin to an American friend announces his intention to learn English: “Inglicam linguam noscere conabor.” He made the effort and he and his fellow officers learned a quaint English speech. When Rochambeau and Washington first met they conversed through La Fayette, as interpreter, but in time the older man did very well in the language of his American comrade in arms.”
On November 4, 1782, Yale president Ezra Stiles wrote in his diary of how he visited with General Rochambeau at the home of Reverend George Colton the site of Rochambeau’s 5th encampment, the Rose Farm in Bolton. They conversed in Latin that entire evening.
It is the belief that Washington and Rochambeau were not astute enough to directly communicate that has led some recent historians to err and claim that Washington and Rochambeau were unable to secretly plan to attack the British in the south when they met in the Webb House at Wethersfield, Connecticut in May of 1781.
It is clear however that Washington and Rochambeau absolutely dwarf– in erudition, integrity, intelligence, eloquence, and common sense — all the historians who disparage their intelligence in our modern era. The National Park Service has done an outstanding job keeping the W3R literature free of those historical errors that can destroy more heritage than do bulldozers. Congressman John Larson represents Wethersfield and chose the Webb house as the site to announce the W3R legislation in 2000. That is why I have spent so much time in these newsletters refuting the errors some historians have tried to introduce.
From The Office of Congressman John B. Larson
Brian Mahar from Congressman John B. Larson’s D.C. office called August 31 to let us know that Jonathan Renfrew of the DC office will be handling the Congressman’s 2005 Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route (W3R) National Historic Trail legislation. In 2000, Holly Canevari shepherded the W3R legislation for Congressman Larson and created a portfolio of support for the national trail. The NPS later told me that it usually takes two or three years to accomplish what Congressman Larson did that year when he was a freshman in Congress. We are very grateful for his interest and abilities in championing the W3R.
Holly Canevari now works in the Washington office of United Technologies (UTX). David Loda who obtained the UTX grant that put the 5th French encampment and the center of Bolton CT. on the National Register of Historic Places is a UTX engineer. And of course I have been employed by UTX as an engineer as I worked to coordinate our efforts to preserve the W3R and to purchase the 5th French encampment site. The Hartford and East Hartford Campuses of UTX border the Washington Rochambeau Route.
Heritage Day October 2, 2004 in Bolton CT
Visit General Israel Putnam Branch #4 of the Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (CTSSAR) from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. on the gazebo green. They portray the 11th Regiment of the Connecticut Militia during the years 1775 through 1783. The color guard dresses in the correct period attire of hunting frocks as specified by General George Washington during the 1776 campaign. We thank the CTSSAR for all the time and energy they give in remembrance of the patriots who roamed our hills and still fill our minds with adventures.
Visit Captain Sal Tarantino and the Second Dragoons (11AM to 3PM), resplendent with uniformed cavalry officers and horses. They will lead us in following Rochambeau’s march from Bailey Road to the Town Green. An exhibition of Revolutionary War cavalry maneuvers will be held on the town green shortly after the march. This event is sponsored by the Connecticut Society of the Cincinnati. See our W3R NHT display in the town hall. Heritage Day is a taste of the social and cultural activities that will be ignited up and down this future national historic trail.
From The Desk of George Washington
“A government is like fire, a handy servant, but a dangerous master. Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force. The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered … deeply, finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”