François-Jean de Chastellux, the French philosopher, writer and general, travelled to America in 1780 as part of the French expeditionary force in the American Revolution.
He would record his travels in a book published after the war, providing a colorful description of his journey and the conditions he discovered along the way.
Chastellux would become a lifelong friend of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. But one group of men who impressed him were far from the American aristocracy. They were a group of farmers he encountered in Pawling, N.Y., at a tavern run by Col. Andrew Morehouse. At first, Chastellux expected the men to obstruct his journey from Litchfield. But he soon found otherwise, as he reported in his journal.
He learned, with concern, that the little inn where he planned to spend the night was occupied by 13 farmers and 250 oxen coming from New Hampshire. de Chastellux found the oxen the least inconvenient of the company, as they grazed in a nearby meadow. They didn’t even have a dog to guard them, he wrote. But the farmers, their horses and dogs had taken over the inn.
“They were conveying to the army a part of the contingent of provisions furnished by New Hampshire,” he wrote. He called it “sort of a tax divided among the inhabitants.” On some, he wrote, the imposition amounted to 150, on others to 100, or 80 pounds of meet, according to their abilities.
The farmers agreed among themselves to furnish a larger, or smaller sized ox, he wrote. They weighed each animal, and then some farmers and drovers conveyed the livestock to the army. “The farmers are allowed about a dollar a day, and their expenses, as well as those of the cattle, are paid them on their return, according to the receipts they are obliged to produce from the inn-keepers where they have halted, wrote de Chastellux.
Generally, it cost three pence to five pence English per night for each ox, he wrote.
While his people endeavored to find him lodgings, he wrote, he informed himself of those particulars. “But all the rooms, and all the beds were occupied by these farmers, and I was in great distress,” he wrote. Then a tall, fat man — the principal person among them, learned who he was and came to him. He assured de Chastellux, “that neither he, nor his companions would ever suffer a French General Officer to want a bed.” The fat man said they’d rather sleep on the floor. They were used to it, and it “would be attended with no inconvenience.”
de Chastellux replied that as a military man he was as accustomed as they to make the earth his bed. “We had long debates on this part of politesse,” he wrote. They spoke in a rustic manner, “but more cordial and affecting than the best turned compliments.”
But our acquaintance did not end there. “After parting from each other, I to take some repose, they to continue drinking their grog and cider, they came into my room,” he wrote.
They found de Chastellux tracing his route by the map of the country. “This map excited their curiosity,” he wrote. “They saw there with surprise and satisfaction the places they had passed through. They asked me if they were known in Europe, and if it was there I had bought my maps.”
Handshakes All Around
de Chasetllux assured them, “We knew America as well as the countries adjoining to us.”
“They seemed much pleased,” he wrote. But their joy had no bounds when they saw New Hampshire on the map.
They called their companions in the next room, and de Chastellux’ room filled with the “strongest and most robust men I had hitherto seen in America.”
“On my appearing struck with their size and stature, they told me that the inhabitants of New-Hampshire were strong and vigorous,” he wrote. They gave as reasons: excellent air, their only occupations was agriculture, and their blood was unmixed. The country, they told him, was inhabited by ancient families who had emigrated from England.
“We parted good friends, touching, or rather shaking hands in the English fashion, and they assured me that they were very happy to have an opportunity to shake hands with a French General,” he concluded.
This story was updated in 2021.