RESEARCHING
the
FRENCH CAMPS of 1781 and 1782
at
ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA.
In 1996, M. Jacques Kusseling, a French war veteran living in northern Virginia, approached The Expédition Particulière Commemorative Cantonment Society for help in researching the French army camp in Alexandria. He was responding to a task from a M. Cestac (Col., Fr. Army, Ret.) who headed the French War Veterans in the US and was also a senior officer in US chapter of Le Souvenir Français.
Research began with examining the French Army maps in The American Campaigns of Rochambeau's Army ...., edited by Howeard Rice and Anne S.K. Brown (1972). This was followed with visits to the City of Alexandria Archaeology Museum and consultations with archaeologist, Tim Denée. Mr. Denée provided a more definitive, early map of Alexandria, executed in 1798 by Colonel George Gilpin (USA). The 'Gilpin' and the French Army sketch maps were both scanned into computer images, and then super imposed. This process is illustrated and explained later in this page.
After further study, a tentative conclusion was presented in March 1997 to a group of interested individuals familiar with the history of eighteenth-century Alexandria.
There was full acceptance of the conclusions, and even confirmation with the deduction of the inlet at Oronoco Street in the draft report. Currently, there is an underground stream there.
For the record, a copy of the draft report was submitted to the Loyd House in Alexandria on 8 March 1997. There was never a request for a final version, as the evidence was sufficient to support the project. In October 1998, the state highway historic marker was placed in Alexandria. Text in the sign repeats the conclusion of the report: "The Alexandria camp was roughly a half-mile in area, located north of Oronoco Street and bisected by Washington Street." A driving force behind obtaining the funds and submitting the paperwork for the Alexandria marker was Mme. Anne-Marie Crosnier, President of the Washington, DC, Committee of Souvenir Français. She has been responsible for many of these historic markers commemorating the French in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

This page is dedicated to M. Jacques Kusseling, who died of a heart attack prior to the erection of the historic marker toward which he devoted so much effort to realize.

Following images and text present more details of the research.
French Army 1782 "Berthier" map executed by the French military cartographers during their 1782 march from Virginia back north. The French map has no scale. Its distinctive features are the main roads in the town and the water inlet to the east of the campsite. [Labels shown are not part of the original map.]
Berthier's notes, made as he led the French wagon train south in 1781, suggest that the French wagon train probably camped in the same vicinity in its travel south to Yorktown.
1798 "Gilpin" map of Alexandria, Virginia, showing specific town streets corresponding to those today. However, this map indicates some water 'runs' into the Potomac that are not represented on modern maps. When superimposed upon the French 1782 map [see below], there is evidence to indicate that the French 1782 camp was located just north of Oronoco Street, centered where modern Montgomery and Washington street intersect, covering about a half-mile area. [Labels shown are not part of the original map.]
Here the 'Gilpin' 1798 map (red) is overlaid upon the French 1782 sketch map [gray]. Though neither of these early maps have distance scales, there is enough detail to make a rough overlay alignment. There appears to be a reasonable alignment of the dominant north-south and east-west routes through the town -- these being, respectively, Washington Street and Duke Street today. Significantly, the 'Oronoco' run, or inlet, appears to match up with the inlet bordering to the east of the camp site drawn on the French 1782 map.

EXPANDED DISCUSSION of RESEARCH

The research relied heavily upon the journal Berthier maintained during the wagon train's 1781 march. Berthier made brief notes as to the suitability of areas for the later return march of the whole French army that was conducted in the summer of 1782. It was on that return march north, when there was time to make map sketches of the camp sites in Virginia, such as the one at Alexandria.
Map 124 in the Rice-Brown book depicts the 'Fifteenth camp' of the entire French army's return march north in 1782. It is of the French camp at Alexandria, Virginia, for 17-20 July. It shows the army's camp to be positioned north of the town of Alexandria, to the east, the camp site is bordered by an inlet that connects to the Potomac. Alexandria is depicted as a small community of only a few streets. The camp of the French wagon train, which Berthier indirectly refers to for the 25 and 26 September (during the 1781 march south), can be assumed to have been the same, or near to, the location depicted in the map of the French camp occupied in July 1782.
The map of the French 17-29 July 1782 campsite incorporates a layout of the town of Alexandria. There is no scale to the map. It is really a sketch and it is difficult to discern if the depiction of the town streets and roads were accurately related. A 'best guess' is that the main north-south route depicted is what is now Washington Street. The main west-east route is the current Duke Street. The French map shows two small creek runs off the Potomac. Each of the runs exhibits a definite northward trace, which does not correlate to either of the modern runs in the area: Hunting Creek (to the south) or Four Mile Run (to the north).
The two runs of the French 1782 map, appear to be repeated in a 1798 map that shows a reliable correlation between the city-blocks and streets as they are known today in Alexandria. The 1798 map is not scaled, but significantly it shows the two runs, each with a definite northward trace, inside the town limits of Alexandria. The traces of the southern most run appear to align when overlaying both maps; the run appears to have taken its northward direction along where Royal Street is now.
Matching the northern run is more difficult when overlaying the two maps. In the 1798 map, the northern run appears to be what was mentioned in some contemporary writings as "Oronoco Run" (obviously long since filled in and covered by buildings and paved streets). Attempting to match the two maps on the same scale would place the northern run depicted on the 1798 map to the north of the similar run depicted on the French 1782 map. However, as noted earlier, the French map is likely a rough sketch and relative placements of features may not be dependable. There are also some distinct differences between the traces of the northern run in both maps. These differences could also be explained by the casual construction of the French map and to effects of time upon such a small creek. Regardless of the inconsistency in the traces, the existence of the possible "Oronoco Run" in the 1798 map makes it more likely that it is the northern run depicted in the French 1782 map and not Four Mile Run, much farther north.
A March 1997 study undertaken by Expédition Particulière Mount Vernon Commemorative Cantonment, at the request of M. Jacques Kusseling and on behalf of the local Souvenir Français association. The study concluded with the hypothesis that the two northern runs depicted in both maps are one and the same. If this assumption is correct, the location of the French army camp in 1782 was roughly in a half-mile area, bisected by Washington Street, and to the north of Oronoco Street. A Virginia historic highway marker was placed there in October 1998 to commemorate the French army's 1781 and 1782 presence in the City of Alexandria. It was paid for by funds raised by the Washington, DC committee of the 'Le Souvenir Français', Mme. Anne-Marie Crosnier, Présidente.

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Page created 21 February 2001