Most of the diaries (see bibliography) that record the arrival and landing of the French troops at Newport, Rhode Island, describe the mechanics of the landing. None of them indicate where that landing occurred. Claude Blanchard, Commissary of the French Army, wrote that the ships anchored half a league from Newport. Also French maps show the fleet anchored in two lines, one between Brenton Point and Goat Island and the other from Goat Island to Rose Island, forming a sort of crescent around Newport Harbor.
This layout probably led to the commonly-held assumption that Rochambeau’s troops landed near King Park, in the area where the statue of General Rochambeau is located on the western side of Aquidneck Island (called Rhode Island in the eighteenth century). This seems to be the most logical conclusion as the area is close to both Newport harbor and the site of the French camps. But is it correct?
The Destouches Map (more formally, the Plan de la ville, port, et rade de Newport, avec une partie de Rhode-Island occupée par l’armée française aux ordres de Mr. Le comte de Rochambeau, et de l’escadre française commandée par Mr. le Chr. Destouches [probably done in 1781] (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Rochambeau collection, 39, at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3774n.ar101800), identifies a landing site about three-quarters of a mile south-southwest of the Rochambeau statue. It also shows landing sites on the east side of Aquidneck Island, in the Sakonnet River, in the cove north of what is now Sachuest Point and another north of Black Point.
Due to the deep drafts of the large French warships, and the shallow Sakonnet River, the French ships likely did not venture far up the channel and therefore required the troops to be rowed in small boats to their destinations for some distance. Admiral Charles Louis d’Arsac Chevalier de Ternay may have selected these sites on the east side of Aquidneck Island, out of concern that if a British fleet arrived to challenge his landing, he did not want to be bottled up in Newport Harbor and the Main Channel.
Two other maps have the same markings: The Plan de Rhodes-Island, et position de l’armée française a Newport (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Rochambeau collection, 38, at https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3774n.ar101700/), and Plan de la ville, du port, et de la rade de New-port et Rhode Island (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Rochambeau collection, 40, at https://www.loc.gov/item/gm71002158/).
Destouches did not take command of the fleet until after the death of Admiral de Ternay on December 15, 1780, five months after the landing, so these maps were probably made after the landing.
Louis-Alexandre Berthier is generally regarded as the “authority” for locating French sites because he was one of General Rochambeau’s cartographers. While the Plan de la position de l’armée française autour de Newport et du mouillage de l’escadre dans la rade de cette ville (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Rochambeau collection, 41, at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3774n.ar102000), is the most detailed map of 1780 Newport, it does not indicate any landing sites. Some smaller versions of this map have the signature of Colonel Jean Nicolas Desandroüins, the commander of the Royal Corps of Engineers, but the Library of Congress version does not attribute an author to this map. While the map may have been prepared under Desandroüins’s direction, it is likely one of Berthier’s maps because of similarities in style and technique with other known Berthier maps and because Colonel Desandroüins was Berthier’s commanding officer.
This map is a large pen-and-ink and watercolor map measuring 148 x 115 centimeters (about four feet by five feet) on two sheets each 75 by 118 centimeters. It “was intended primarily to indicate field fortifications: new works constructed by the French, old works built by the English during their occupation of the town and now repaired by the French, and abandoned or nearly ruined English works.”
Berthier did not arrive in Newport until the afternoon of September 30, 1780, two-and-a-half months after the landing. The troops were getting bored and restless by this time, so General Rochambeau had them march and build fortifications wherever the British might be expected to land. In a letter dated October 1780, Berthier noted “I have spent all my spare time working on the map of Rhode Island, since all those we had seemed to me very inadequate.”
Rochambeau also had the troops play war games. These games were held on October 8, 11 and 17. Louis-François-Bertrand du Pont d’Aubevoye, Comte de Lauberdière, was General Rochambeau’s cousin and aide-de-camp. He was present at the landing and recorded that these games were held at “Wood Castle, the point of debarkation five miles from camp.” The map at the beginning of his diary specifically identifies Wood Castle at “Seaconet P.te” (Sachuest Point). Interestingly, that map has two landing sites marked: one in the cove on the north side of Sachuest Point, at Third Beach, and another at Black Point, about three and a quarter miles farther north. Revealingly, it does not have a landing site marked on the western side of Aquidneck Island near King Park. Thus, the best evidence indicates that the two landing points for Rochambeau’s forces were at Sachuest Point and Black Point in what is now called the Sakonnet River.
The size of Rochambeau’s army is another point of uncertainty. He was supposed to come with six regiments. However, only enough transport ships could be assembled to bring four. They were supposed to return for the remaining troops after bringing the first division to America, but the troops had been re-assigned or returned to quarters by the time the transports returned.
Most sources say General Rochambeau came to America with between 5,000 and 6,000 officers and men. Some place the number at 5,300 or 5,500. Research indicates the size of the army was about 6,156 officers and men. The problem with the ambiguity of the numbers is that the Ministère des Affaires Étrangères only gives a total of 62 officers for the Royal Deux Ponts Regiment . One must therefore extrapolate the numbers of soldiers to determine the size of the regiment that these 62 officers commanded. In addition, France sent 148 more men to the Royal Deux Ponts in September 1782. They are not counted below in the troops that landed with Rochambeau’s army in July 1780.
Bourbonnais Regiment 1,220
Soissonnais Regiment 1,250
Saintonge Regiment 1,322
Royal Deux Ponts Regiment 1,163
Auxonne (2nd Battallion) 601
Lauzun’s Legion 600 (including 310 dragoons)
By contrast, the Count de Ternay had a much lower total of men and officers debarking from the following eight warships:
Le Duc de Bourgogne 840
Le Jason (Marthonie, May 1779-Jan. 1781) 536
Le Jason (Clochetterie, 1780-1782) 391
La Provence 404
Le Conquérant 731
Le Neptune 626
The discrepancy could be explained in part if Ternay counted only healthy soldiers. On July 15 and 16, after the healthy troops had disembarked, approximately 800 sick soldiers and marines were disembarked and sent to local hospitals in Rhode Island. They had contracted scurvy and other illnesses during the seventy-day Atlantic crossing. [Banner Image: A detail of a map from Comte de Lauberdière’s diary showing Wood Castle of the Sakonnet River in the lower left and the landing sites marked (lower left and right) [see footnote 4 for cite to diary)]
Footnotes Blanchard, Claude, The Journal of Claude Blanchard, Commissary of the French Auxiliary Army sent to the United States during the American Revolution, 39.  Rice, Howard C. and Brown, Anne S.K. (eds.), The American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s Army, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783, Vol. 2, p. 126, maps 5, 6 and 7.  Ibid., vol. 1, 236; Berthier, Louis Alexandre, “Alexandre Berthier’s Journal of the American Campaign: The Rhode Island Sections,” Marshall Morgan (ed.), Rhode Island History 24 (July 1965), 78.  Marshall Morgan (ed.), Rhode Island History 24 (July 1965), 78 and Rice, op. cit., vol. 1, 236.  du Pont d’Aubevoye, Louis-François-Bertrand, comte de Lauberdière, Journal de l’Armée aux orders de Monsieur le comte de Rochambeau pendant les campagnes de 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783 dans l’Amérique septentrionale, Cahier 1, fols. 24 verso-26.  Ministère des Affaires Étrangères, Les Combattants Français de la Guerre Américaine, 1778-1783, Listes éstablies d’après les Documents Authentiques Déposés aux Archives Nationales et aux Archives du Ministère de la Guerre, passim.  See McBurney, Christian, M., Spies in Revolutionary Rhode Island (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014), 84 and n. 206, 135.
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