NOTES on ARCHIVAL SOURCES
Most documents contemporary with the French military and naval involvement in the American Revolution are found in the archives listed below. A considerable amount of this archival material remains unpublished.
- Archives du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères (AE), Paris.
- Archives de la Guerre (AG), Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre (SHAT),
- Château de Vincennes [located just outside the eastern edge of Paris].
- Archives de la Marine (AM), deposited in the Archives Nationales, Paris.
- Bibliothèque Historique de la Marine (BM), Château de Vincennes.
- Bibliothèque Nationale (BN), Département des Manuscrits, Paris.
- Library of Congress (LC), Manuscripts Division, Washington, DC.
- [In particular the collections of 'Rochambeau Papers' and of 'George Washington Papers'.]
Château de Vincennes.
Letters and some unpublished journals of participants are held by several other institutions not at national levels. Some private libraries include collections pertaining to the French participation in the American Revolution. One of the largest collections in the US is at the Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (General Collection of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Rochambeau Papers and Rochambeau Family Cartographic Archive). [The often cited 'Paul Mellon collection at Upperville, Virginia', is believed to have been moved to the Yale/Beinecke and/or the University of Virginia libaries.] Another large collection in the US is the Anne S.K. Brown collection at the Brown University Library, Rhode Island. To some extent, copies of the originals in private collections are in the LC collections. Some documents are held by regional [Department level] archives in France. Again, copies of these are generally found at the national level holdings at Paris.
Lee Kennett's The French Forces in America 1780-1783 (Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1977) contains a final section, 'Sources', that provides a fine overview discussion on research into modern archives relating to the topic. However, since Kennett's work, Samuel F. Scott has provided a more detailed listing and guide to archival sources in the 'Bibliography' of his From Yorktown to Valmy (University of Colorado, Niwot, 1998). Scott's references identify many sub national archives in France and the US, and lists specific record folder identifications [control numbers and lot locations] for the contrôles records of Rochambeau's units and their successor regiments.
Frequently inquiries to the Expédition Particulière website have sought information as to particular names of members in the French expeditionary army and associated naval squadrons that came to American during the American Revolution. A few published works provide relatively complete identification of the officers. Gilbert Bodinier's works cited in the Expédition Particulière webpage bibliography is the best and latest effort on the officers. A work that expanded the coverage to some, but not all, non-officers is Les combattants français de la Guerre Américaine, 1778-1783 (French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1903) and reprinted with an index as a Senate Document No. 77, 58th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington, DC, 1905; and later re-printed in 1969 by the Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore). This document attempts to list all the French army and seman who fought in 'American waters' and on 'American soil'. It includes forces other than just the 1780-83 expedition under Rochambeau. However, it does not include French military and naval actions in other theaters of the war that contributed to the American War for Independence. Even for the American theater, Les combattants français .... 1778-1783 is not as complete a listing of individuals as is the contrôles des troupes, from which it was drawn.
The contrôles des troupes, or the original roll rosters, are the most complete lists available of individuals in the French expeditionary army to North America in 1780-83. Many entries include some personal information. The contrôles, consist of a series of folders, divided by battalion and company within the battalion, beginning with the grenadiers in the first battalion and chasseurs in the second. The non commissioned officers are listed according to seniority and enlisted men listed according to enlistment date. This latter system of simply adding new names at the end of the company list was easiest for the company scribes at the time, but makes it difficult for a modern researcher who must examine the entire documents name by name.
The original contrôles are held by l'Archives de la Guerre. The French military historian, Andre Corvisier wrote a guide to these: Les contrôles de troupes de l'ancien régime (4 vols, Paris, 1970). The contrôles for Lauzun's Legion are not in the printed work just cited, and are held in the Archives Nationales. Some researchers have microfilmed copies of the these records.
The foregoing explaination has been kindly provided by Dr. Robert A. Selig, author of many articles and studies on the American Revolution. His extensive work is listed at Dr. Selig's web page.
Dr. Selig has also provided the following background information:
"The Rochambeau Papers and Rochambeau Family Cartographic Archive at Yale University is divided into two parts, the Rochambeau Papers, and the Cartographic Archive. The Rochambeau Papers consist of the correspondence and other documents of the comte de Rochambeau that document his role as commander of the French expeditionary force in the American Revolution. The papers also include the manuscript draft of his memoir, Memoires Militaires, Historiques et Politiques. The Cartographic Archive consists of atlases and maps collected by three generations of the Rochambeau family, from the reign of Louis XIV through the wars of the French Revolution and the Empire. It includes maps acquired by the comte de Rochambeau before he departed for America, and which he used in the field during the American campaign.
The archive remained with the family at the château de Rochambeau until 1952, when it was purchased by the New York book dealer H.P. Kraus. Paul Mellon, Yale 1929, acquired the collection from Kraus in 1958 and gave it to Yale in 1992."
Information about the French Government Defense Historic Studies and Archives at Château de Vincennes can be found at their website:|
Ministère de la Défense - Mémoire Histoire et Patrimoine.
Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre (SHAT) and the historic agencies for the other French armed services are explained at this site, which is in French. There is no e-mail, but the mailing address is:
Service Historique de l'Armée de Terre
Château de Vincennes