The Marquis offers a lifelike view
By Charles W. Brewster
Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.
The year 1782 was noted locally as
that in which the French fleet laid in our harbor. We have already
in previous rambles given a record of some of the events which occurred,
and now present a few more sketches, mainly gathered from the account the
Marquis de Chastellux gave of his visit to Portsmouth while the fleet was
lying in our harbor. The Marquis was a Major-General in the French
army, serving under the Count de Rochambeau, with whom he came from France
to this country in 1780. In 1782, in November, having some leisure,
he left Hartford on a visit to assachusetts and New Hampshire. His
route brought him through Andover, Haverhill and Exeter. He speaks
"We stopped at a very handsome inn kept by Mr.
Ruspert, which we quitted at half past two; and though we rode very fast,
night was coming on when we reached Portsmouth. The road from Exeter
is very hilly. We passed through
"In the morning of the 10th of Nov. I went to pay a visit to Mr. Albert de Rioms, captain of the Pluto, who had a house on shore, where he resided for his health; he invited me to dinner, which he advised me to accept, as the Comte de Vaudreuil was in great confusion on board his ship, the mizzen-mast of which had been struck by lightning five days before, and which penetrated to his first battery; but he offered me his boat to carry me on board the Auguste.
In returning for my cloak, I happened to pass by the meeting,
precisely at the time of
service, and had the curiosity to enter, where I remained above half an
hour, that I might not interrupt the preacher, and to show my respect for
the assembly; the audience were not numerous on account
It was near twelve when I embarked in Mr. Albert's boat, and saw on the
left, near the little Island of Rising Castle, the America, (the ship
given by Congress to the King of France
,) which had been just launched, and
appeared to me a fine ship. I left on the right the Isle of
Washington, on which stands a fort of that name. It is built in the
form of a star, the parapets of which are supported by stakes, and was not
I found Mr. Vaudreuil on board, who presented me to the officers of his ship, and afterwards to those of the detachment of the army, among whom were three officers of my former regiment of Guienne, at present called Viennois. He then took me to see the ravages made by the lightning, of which M. de Bire, who then commanded the ship, M.de Vaudreuil having slept on shore, gave me the following account: At half past two in the morning, in the midst of a very violent rain, a dreadful explosion was heard suddenly, and the sentinel, who was in the gallery, came in a panic into the council chamber, where he met with M. Bire, who had leaped to the foot of his bed, and they were both struck with a strong sulphureous smell. The bell was immediately rung, and the ship examined, when it was found that the mizzen-mast was cut short in two, four feet from the forecastle; that it had been lifted in the air, and fallen perpendicularly on the quarter-deck, through which it had penetrated, as well as the second battery. Two sailors were crushed by its fall, two others, who never could be found, had doubtless been thrown into the sea by the commotion, and several were wounded.
"At one o'clock we returned on shore to dine with
M. Albert de Rioms, and our fellow guests were M. de Bire, who acted as
flag captain, though but a lieutenant; M. de Mortegues, who formerly
commanded the Magnifique (lost at the same period at Lovel's Island in
Boston harbor) and was destined to the command of the America; M. de
Siber, lieutenant en pied of the Pluto; M. d'Hizeures, captain of the
regiment of the Viennois, &c. After dinner we went to drink tea
with Mr. Langdon
. He is a handsome man, and of noble
"On leaving Mr. Langdon's, we went to pay a visit
to Col. Wentworth, who is respected in this country, not only from his
being of the same family with Lord Rockingham, but from his general
acknowledged character for probity and
"I proposed, on the morning of the 11th, to make a
tour among the islands in the harbor; but some snow having fallen, and the
weather being by no means inviting, I contented myself with paying visits
to some officers of the navy, and among others to the Count de Vaudreuil,
who had slept on shore the preceding night; after which we again met at
dinner at Mr. Albert's, a point of union which was always agreeable.
After dinner, we again drank tea at Mr.
"The 12th I set out, after taking leave of M. de Vaudreuil, whom I met as he was coming to call on me, and it was certainly with the greatest sincerity that I testified to him my sense of the polite manner in which I had been received by him, and by the officers under his command.
"The following are the ideas which I had an
opportunity of acquiring relative to the town of Portsmouth. It was
in a pretty flourishing state before the war, and carried on the trade of
ship-timber, and salt fish. It is easy to conceive that this
commerce must have greatly suffered since the commencement of the
troubles, but notwithstanding, Portsmouth is, perhaps, of all the American
towns, that which will gain the most by the present war. There is
every appearance of its becoming to New-England, what the other Portsmouth
is to the Old: that is to say, that this place will be made choice of as
the depot of the continental marine. The access to the harbor is
easy, the road immense, and there are seven fathoms water as far up as two
miles above the
"When I was at Portsmouth the necessaries of life
were very dear, owing to the great drought of the preceding summer.
Wheat cost two dollars a bushel, (of sixty pounds weight) oats almost as
much, and Indian corn was extremely
"The road from Portsmouth to Newbury passes through a barren country. Hampton is the only township you meet with, and there are not such handsome houses there as at Greenland."
Col. Wm. Brewster at that time kept the Bell
Tavern. Here the Marquis lodged. Mr. Albert's abode was
probably at Mrs. Richard Shortridge's boarding house, where some of the
officers of the fleet, among them Vaudreuil, boarded. This
boarding-house was in Deer street: the house,
It is said by those who have a knowledge of the fact, that the officers of high grade of the French fleet were industrious, and had their knitting-work ready to take in hand when in their boarding-houses. They knit silk gloves, which were bestowed as presents on the ladies.
In Ramble No. 50,
an account was given of the
murder of a Frenchman which gave name to "Frenchman's Lane." Since
that was written we find a minute entered in a manuscript Register kept at
the time by Dr. Brackett, (who is
"John Dushan, a French-Man, was found murdered at the creek, hav'g his throat cutt, & robed, by night."
By this it appears that the murder of the Frenchman was four years previous to the visit of the French fleet--the recollection of the old gentleman who gave the account being thus much at fault.
Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by SeacoastNH.com
Design © 2001 SeacoastNH.com
[ New | Site Map | Talk | Store | Mail ]
[ Brewster's Rambles | About Brewster | Theme Sites ]
[ Contact Era | Colonial Era | Revolution Era ]