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 revolution, providing a colorful description of his journey and 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 New York at a tavern run by Col. Andrew Morehouse. At first, Chastellux expected the men to be a barrier on his journey from Litchfield. But he soon found otherwise, as he reported in his journal:
I … soon learnt, with concern, that the little inn where I proposed to pass that night, was occupied by thirteen farmers, and two hundred and fifty oxen coming from New-Hampshire. The oxen were the least inconvenient part of the company, as they were left to graze in a meadow hard by, without even a dog to guard them; but the farmers, their horses, and dogs, were in possession of the inn. They were conveying to the army a part of the contingent of provisions furnished by New Hampshire.
This contingent is a sort of tax divided among all the inhabitants, on some of whom the imposition amounts to one hundred and fifty, on others to one hundred, or eighty pounds of meat, according to their abilities; so that they agree among themselves to furnish a larger, or smaller sized ox, no matter which, as each animal is weighed. Their conveyance to the army is then entrusted to some farmers, and drovers. 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. The usual price is from three-pence to five-pence English per night for each ox, and in proportion at noon.
I informed myself of these particulars whilst my people were endeavoring to find me lodgings; but all the rooms, and all the beds were occupied by these farmers, and I was in the greatest distress, when a tall, fat man, the principal person among them, being informed who I was, came to me, and assured me, that neither he, nor his companions would ever suffer a French General Officer to want a bed, and that they would rather sleep on the floor ; adding, that they were accustomed to it, and that it would be attended with no inconvenience.
In reply, I told them I was a military man, and as much accustomed as themselves to make the earth my bed. We had long debates on this point of politesse; theirs was rustic, but more cordial and affecting than the best turned compliments. The result was, that I had a two-bedded room for myself and my aids-de-camp. But our acquaintance did not terminate there: after parting from each other, I to take some repose, they to continue drinking their grog and cider, they came into my room. I was then employed in tracing my route by the map of the country; this map excited their curiosity. 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.
On my assuring them that we knew America as well as the countries adjoining to us, they seemed much pleased; but their joy was without bounds, when they saw New-Hampshire, their country, on the map. They called their companions who were in the next room; and mine was soon 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, for which there were many reasons; that the air was excellent, their sole occupation was agriculture, and above all that their blood was unmixed : this country being 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.
Chastellux’s Travels in America is available online here.