If you ask what contribution France made to our Revolutionary War nearly all people know that answer: LaFayette.
But perhaps even more important to this country’s victory was the Count de Rochambeau, Lieutenant General and commanding officer of the French troops sent to the American theater following the French-American alliance.
On Monday, May 14, at 7:30 pm, Newtown Historical Society will host a program by Jini Jones Vail, based on her book, Rochambeau: Washington’s Ideal Lieutenant (A French General’s Role in the American Revolution). The book is, according to Ms Vail, the first in nearly 50 years devoted entirely to Rochambeau.
Following the American success at the Battle of Saratoga, France agreed to more overtly help the American cause. At that time Louis XVI appointed Jean-Baptiste Danatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau, a professional soldier with a long record of success, to be commander of a 7,000-strong French force to be sent to aid the new nation. Landing in Newport in July 1780, with this force — which he considered small but which outnumbered Washington’s troops — Rochambeau was held there for a year in support of the French fleet which had been blockaded in Narragansett Bay. Finally, in July 1781, he was able to leave the island and begin his famous march to meet Washington at the Hudson.
Passing roughly along the path of what is now Route 6, the General chose to camp in Newtown, with his main concentration in the area of today’s St Rose Church. Meeting with Washington at Mt Kisco, the two generals were able to combine their forces for the march to Virginia and the eventual siege of Lord Cornwallis and the British forces at Yorktown. With the French navy preventing British reinforcement, the combined army was able to force the British surrender, thus virtually ending the war.
Jini Jones Vail graduated from Sweet Briar College as a French Literature major, and spent some years in public relations, working for Air France and the French Embassy in New York. When her children were grown, she returned to school and became a French teacher, spending her summers in France. On one of those trips she was invited to meet the current Count and Countess de Rochambeau at the family Chateau, and thus began her passion for studying the General.
Ms Vail served on former Governor Jodi Rell’s Advisory Commission on American and Francophone Cultural Affairs, and was instrumental in establishing the Washington-Rochambeau route as a National Historic Trail. She has written three books and a play in addition to her Rochambeau biography, and will have copies available for purchase and signing at the presentation.
The program will be offered in the lower meeting room of C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street.
All Newtown Historical Society programs are free and open to the public. A short business meeting will take place before the presentation for the election of officers and trustees. Refreshments will be served following the program.
For further information, call 203-426-5937 or visit www.newtownhistory.org.