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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Annapolis: Its Colonial and Naval Story

Walter B. Norris

published by
Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 12
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p177  Chapter XI

Lafayette and Rochambeau in Annapolis, 1781

As a part of a State in which no real battle was fought during the Revolution — in this Maryland and New Hampshire were alone — Annapolis does not appear in any of the military annals of the war. The mouth of the Severn was fortified, a battery was placed on Windmill Point, several companies of troops were recruited in the town and sailed away for the head of Chesapeake Bay in time to take part in the Brandywine campaign, British warships passed up and down the Chesapeake at intervals, causing fears of an attack which never came, and distinguished generals like Greene and von Steuben passed through the town enchanting the hearts of young men and maidens with their brilliant uniforms and dashing aides-de‑camp — but that was all.

The real heyday of military activity in Annapolis did not come until the French troops  p178 appeared in 1781. Then regiments of Americans under Lafayette and French soldiers of Rochambeau occupied the town on several occasions, and Washington's own troops from the Northern Army passed down the bay on their way to Yorktown.

First came Lafayette in March, 1781, on his way to Virginia to reinforce the Americans there fighting Benedict Arnold. At the same time a French fleet had sailed from Newport for the Chesapeake to assist the Continental forces, prevent reinforcements reaching Arnold or Cornwallis, and perhaps to accomplish the actual capture of Arnold, the hated traitor and renegade. Lafayette marched his men by land from Washington's headquarters near New York till he reached the Head of Elk on the 9th of March. Here, at the upper end of the Chesapeake, he was supposed to wait till the arrival of the French ships in the Chesapeake guaranteed him safe passage by water to Virginia.

But Lafayette soon saw that the French would be unlikely to render him much assistance, and as he had a little fleet of Continental ships under Commodore Nicholson he moved his men  p179 on to Annapolis by water, effectively protected by his own ships. But from there down he was unwilling to risk attack and accordingly left his forces in the town while he proceeded down the bay in a small boat to find the French fleet and secure convoy.

When, however, Lafayette arrived in Virginia he found no signs of the French and soon learned that the squadron had been followed back to Newport by a British attack. He accordingly followed the instructions he had received from Washington, returned to Annapolis, and re‑embarked his men for the Head of Elk for a return north. But when he was ready to leave he found himself blockaded by two British vessels, the Hope, of twenty guns, and the Monk, of eighteen. The people of Annapolis urged him to hold his troops in their town to safeguard the place, but Lafayette was anxious to be on his way and he did not relish marching by land and crossing the many rivers and inlets between the Severn and the Elk.

What he finally did was to fit out two merchantmen with a few cannon and several hundred volunteers and sail boldly out to meet the  p180 enemy. Thereupon the British blockaders moved off and Lafayette brought his troops up the bay without molestation.

By the summer of 1781 the campaign of Yorktown was making Annapolis an important base for troops and supplies. At the end of August and the beginning of September two regiments of Marylanders were organized here and marched off for Virginia. By the first week of the latter month the French fleet under De Grasse had arrived at the entrance of the Chesapeake and closed the bay to British expeditions. French ships of war passed up and down the bay, anchored in the mouth of the Severn, and embarked troops at Annapolis. About the 12th the vanguard of the Franco-American army from the north arrived on its way to Yorktown. On the 18th, 4,000 French troops arrived by land to take ship for the same place. Their stay in the town, encamped on the banks of Dorsey's, or College, Creek, is commemorated by two monuments, one a simple marker in the Naval Academy grounds, the other a beautiful bronze relief on the bluff behind St. John's College, erected to mark the spot where a number who  p181 died were buried. As Ambassador Jusserand said in dedicating the monument, this was the first of the memorials to "unknown soldiers" of wars in which the two nations took part.

No place in the Colonies was perhaps better adapted to give the French officers a sympathetic reception. Annapolis was in America what Paris was in France, the center of fashion, refinement and luxury. As the Abbé Robin, a chaplain in the French army, said after visiting it at this time:

"That very inconsiderable town . . . out of the few buildings it contains, has at least three-fourths such as may be styled elegant and grand. Female luxury here exceeds what is known in the provinces of France; a French hairdresser is a man of importance among them, and it is said a certain dame here hires one of that craft at a thousand crowns a year salary. The State House is a very beautiful building, I think the most so of any I have seen in America. The peristyle is set off with pillars, and the edifice is topped with a dome."​1

It is not strange, therefore, that the French  p182 were delighted with Annapolis, or that the townspeople reciprocated the feeling. On June 25, 1781, the birth of an heir to the French throne had been celebrated with a public dinner of many toasts, a salute of five hundred cannon, and a splendid ball.

In 1782, after the surrender of Cornwallis, French troops were quartered in many places in Maryland, and Annapolis saw much of the young aristocratic Frenchmen who were on the staffs of Rochambeau and his subordinate commanders. Baron de Closen, one of these, a youth of only twenty when he wrote in 1782, records in his journal, now among the Rochambeau Papers in the Library of Congress, how he accompanied Rochambeau to Annapolis in July. At that time Lafayette was in the city with a body of troops waiting transportation to France.

"Before the war," he writes, "Annapolis was very strong commercially, and the richest people of the State made it their home, which brought it about that here society was charming and boasted some very pretty women, very well brought up, quite wealthy, and fond of social life. Madame Lloyd [wife of Richard Bennett  p183 Lloyd], is surely one of the most beautiful women I have seen in America. She was born in London. Her husband is a rich native of Maryland, who, having been in England studying, begged her in marriage of her parents, and obtained her only on condition that he should spend two years in England while she remained in France. He agreed to this, and it is her stay in France which has given her so many graces and so many of the charming French manners that are hers to such perfection. In her home everything is French, and she dresses with a taste and a distinction which have fascinated us. She also speaks French and Italian perfectly. In a word, she is reputed to be the American beauty."​2

Testimony from the other side is furnished by a letter written by a sprightly Annapolis chatelaine, Mrs. Benjamin Ogle, daughter of a rich Marylander and partly a Tory, but wife of the son of Governor Ogle of the 1730's and 40's and himself to be Governor from 1789 to 1801.  p184 Writing in March, 1781, she says to a friend of her own sex:

"The town is so dull it would be intolerable were it not for the officers. I sometimes see them, but am not acquainted with many. I scarcely ever see or hear the name of a gentleman of our former acquaintance. 'Tis all marquises,º counts, etc. One very clever French colonel I have seen. I like the French better every hour. The divine Marquis de la Fayette is in town, and is quite the thing. We abound in French officers, and some of them are very clever, particularly the colonel before mentioned. But the marquis — so diffident, so polite, in short everything that is clever. I have seen one tolerable American among them, a Major Macpherson, one of the marquis's family; perhaps that has polished him. The British ships are still here, and a great number of boats, with troops on board, are gone out to‑day, and I expect every moment to hear the cannon. Everybody seems quite anxious to know the fate of this day."​3

A similar impression is made on her cousin, Ann Dulany, in Baltimore and Annapolis during  p185 these years. She writes in December, 1781, that:

"A few days ago I had the pleasure of three French gentlemen (real gentlemen) to drink tea with me. One of them was a Count Somebody with a hard name; a very elegant man of fashion, one might see it at once. He holds his commission under the French King, and not under King Con."​4

And in April, 1782, Ann Dulany writes in a similar strain:

"Several Frenchman visit me, and I find them agreeable. They are all easy and polite, and ready to oblige. He says the Tories are the people of fashion at least and they love and pity them for all their sufferings. This is French flattery, some may think. But I beg leave to differ with all such. Because, when we reflect on their great loyalty and attachment to their king (and love for all kings in general), and their very great contempt for the rulers of this land, I believe them sincere."

It is interesting to note that the latter lady in the year that followed married a Frenchman  p186 and left America never to return. A witness of the scenes of the French Revolution, she and her husband were compelled to flee to England, where she spent her last days. And even in 1784, when Congress was in session in Annapolis, her cousin, Mrs. Benjamin Ogle, is still charmed with the French. She writes to her friend in Bladensburg, to whom all the letters are directed, as follows:

"I assure you the town is very agreeable. The minister (probably the French minister) has been here two weeks, and two agreeable men with him, and a gay French officer, General Armand, with whom I danced last night at a ball where there were sixty ladies. Our friend (probably Governor Eden) was there in scarlet and gold, and looked like himself. You know I always thought him superior to most. We supped with him two nights ago, a snug party. Generally dine once a week with the president (probably General Mifflin, President of Congress, and a connection by marriage of the Dulanys). The last time was day before yesterday with forty. I must now lay down my pen for some time, as I am told the prettiest fellow in  p187 the world is below, to whom I hope soon to introduce you."​5

Probably the gayety due to the French officers was highest during 1782‑3, for on January 4, 1783, Count Rochambeau spent a night in Annapolis and the next morning embarked on board the L'Emeraude on his return to France. But many French remained, for on the 2d of April we hear of "an infinity of French beaux" from a letter written by the widow of Walter Dulany, who was then a woman with married sons and daughters, to her son Walter, who had sought refuge in England from the wrath of the patriots and had not yet returned. She writes from Annapolis in part as follows:

". . . Thursday our races begin and Kitty (her daughter) has just gone off in a superb phaeton-and‑four with a very flaming beau to the ground. I don't know his name. Yesterday was his first appearance with our infinity of French beaux, all of whom are very gallant. . . .

"We have a dismal set of players too, who will act every night of this joyous week.

 p188  "To‑morrow we celebrate Peace (the signing of the treaty of peace between England and the United States). I hear there is to be a grand dinner on Squire Carroll's Point, a whole ox to be roasted, and I can't tell how many sheep and calves, besides a world of other things. Liquor in proportion. The whole to conclude with illuminations and squibbs, etc. I had like to have forgot to mention the ball, which I think had better be postponed. I am horribly afraid our gentlemen will have lighter heads than heels. I think to keep myself snug at home and pray no mischief may happen and for Kitt's safe return from the Ball. . . .

". . . The shoes, etc., came very opportunely for Kitty, just two days before our gaiety commences. They are very pretty. You must accept her thanks thro' me, as she is entirely taken up at present and will be for several days. Be pleased to accept my thanks for the very pretty handkerchief. I'll wear it and think of you.

"I am, my dear Wat, Y'r affect. Mother,

M. Dulany."​6

 p189  Though Lafayette had returned to France after the Revolution he came back to the United States in 1784, and on November 28th reached Annapolis in the company of Washington himself. The two Houses of the Legislature being then in session, both presented him with addresses of welcome, and Lafayette returned the following answer:

"Gentlemen: On this opportunity so pleasantly anticipated, of my respectful congratulations to your General Assembly, I meet such precious marks of your partiality, as most happily complete my satisfaction.

"Amidst the enjoyments of allied successes, affection conspires with interest to cherish a mutual intercourse; and in France you will ever find that sympathizing good will, which leaves no great room for private exertions. With the ardor of a most zealous heart, I earnestly hope this State, ever mindful of the public spirit she has conspicuously displayed, will to the fullest extent improve her natural advantages, and in the Federal Union so necessary to all, attain the highest degree of particular happiness and prosperity.

 p190  "While you are pleased, gentlemen, to consider my life as being devoted to the service of humanity, I feel not less gratified by so flattering an observation than by your friendly wishes for its welfare, and the pleasure I now experience in presenting you with the tribute of my attachment and gratitude.

La Fayette."

Anxious to do him further honor, the Assembly by legislative enactment made Lafayette and his male heirs forever natural-born citizens of the State and entitled, upon their conforming to the Constitution and the laws, to all the privileges of native-born citizens. This was pleasantly recalled when Lafayette visited Annapolis in 1824 accompanied by his son, George Washington Lafayette, and also when a later descendant, the Marquis de Chambrun, a French commander who won fame at Verdun, was in the United States at the close of the World War.

The Author's Notes:

1 C. C. Robin, "New Travels Through America," Letter IX.

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2 Translated from the Maryland Historical Magazine, September, 1910, pp233‑4. Mrs. Lloyd's beauty is well attested by her portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and representing her as Shakespeare's Rosalind. Also by a remark at the end of De Closen's letter, where he refers to her husband as "M. her dear husband, who is jealousy personified."

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3 Atlantic Monthly, November, 1890, p651 ff.

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4 Atlantic Monthly, November, 1890, p651 ff.

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5 Atlantic Monthly, November, 1890, p651 ff.

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6 E. H. Murray, "One Hundred Years Ago," pp67‑8 (Letters of the Dulany and Addison Families).

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Page updated: 13 Oct 21