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Documents relating to the French participation in the American Revolution

Call Number: GEN MSS 308

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of letters and documents related to France's participation in the American Revolution, French military efforts during this period, and the French presence in the Americas after the war. The collection is organized into four series. Materials are in French unless otherwise noted in the box and folder list.

Series I, Papers Relating to Du Coudray (1768-1778), contains letters and documents written by and about Philippe Charles Jean Baptiste Tronson du Coudray. These document the developing situation in the Americas, and generally concern the preparation of artillery, orders given to his men, and plans for Du Coudray's arrival in the Americas. Most of the letters are addressed to one or the other of Du Coudray's two close friends and adjutants, Mssrs. de Goy and [Bellecour?] Le Brun. Le Brun, like Du Coudray, was greatly interested in military engineering and had been a professor at the École des Mines at Verdun. After Du Coudray's death, he took it upon himself to petition Congress for payment to the family. One letter to an unidentified recipient, dated Oct. 6, [1774] (Box 1, folder 5), mentions an association with the duc de Chartres, later Louis Philippe Joseph, duc d'Orléans, the future Philippe Égalité.

Two letters from Du Coudray's brother, Tronson du Jardin, refer to his efforts to obtain the money due his late brother by the United States Congress. Le Brun was unable to achieve this because he was not a legal representative of Du Coudray. Another document, dated Oct. 29, 1778, summarizes the state of affairs following Du Coudray's death. Also included is one document from Congress detailing the status of compensation for French soldiers.

Series II, Mobilization of the French Fleet (1779-1782), illustrates the effort to prepare and strengthen French naval forces destined for America and the Caribbean. The letters and documents in this series discuss the gathering of naval forces in that area, French policy as regards those forces in the Americas, and contain orders from French officials to those in command of the naval forces. Several of the documents are written by or about the Chevalier de Monteil.

Series III, France in the Caribbean (1780-1793), consists of materials relating to the Franco-Spanish campaign in the West Indies, and to the French rule of the island of Santo Domingo after the Treaty of Paris. Documents include intelligence reports regarding naval activities in the West Indies, and other documents regarding the alliance between the French and Spanish fleets. Materials related to the establishment of French rule in Santo Domingo include documents regarding economic, political and social concerns, including discussion of the treatment of enslaved peoples.

Series IV, Other Papers (1781-1793), consists of material related to other aspects of French military, political and economic efforts during this period. Included are accounts of two naval confrontations between French and British forces outside the Caribbean area, as well as orders issued to the quartermaster of Rochambeau's army for his passage through France to raise supplies for the army. Also included are materials regarding the termination of hostilities, and evaluating France's gains and losses, as well as those of Spain and America. Twenty ship manifests document the repatriation of troops from three French regiments (Armagnac, Dillon and Auxerrois) from various points in the French West Indies to Lorient, France in 1783. Also included are materials illustrating the development of Franco-American commerce, including the establishment of a system of "paquebots" or packet-boats between France and the newly independent states.


  • 1768-1793

Language of Materials

Materials chiefly in French, some documents in Spanish and English.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile Papers contains fragile originals, which may only be seen with the permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies have been substituted in the main files for the originals.

Conditions Governing Use

Documents Relating to the French Participation in the American Revolution are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased in 1990 from the William Reese Company on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund. Many of the documents are stamped "Archives du Mal. [Maréchal] de Castries" on the back.


0.4 Linear Feet ((1 box) + 1 portfolio)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Collection consists of documents relating to France's secret and open role on behalf of the American Revolution. Includes letters and documents related to Philippe Charles Jean Baptiste Tronson du Coudray; material on the mobilization of the French fleet, including letters and reports from Pierre-Louis, Chevalier de Monteil, Antoine de Sartine, comte d'Alby, Charles Eugène Gabriel de la Croix, Marquis de Castries, and Bernardo de Gálvez; papers related to France's role in the Caribbean and its alliance with the Spanish forces, including several reports by Diego José Navarro; French rule of Santo Domingo after the Treaty of Paris; and other materials including documents related to naval confrontations between the French and British fleets, the supplying of Rochambeau's army, the termination of hostilities, including an assessment of France's gains and losses, the repatriation of French troops, and Franco-American commerce after the revolution.

Biographical / Historical

This collection contains papers which relate to a number of individuals important to France's involvement in the American Revolution. Brief biographical sketches of three of the most prominently represented individuals, Philippe Charles Jean Baptiste Tronson du Coudray, Pierre-Louis, Chevalier de Monteil, and Diego José Navarro, are provided below.


Born in Reims, France, in 1738, Philippe Charles Jean Baptiste Tronson du Coudray was originally trained as a mining engineer. He became a lieutenant of artillery in 1760, and his success in the Corsican Campaign of 1768-69 brought him to the attention of the general and military theoretician Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval. When France began converting its artillery to the new Gribeauval system, Du Coudray was assigned to screen the nation's stockpiles for supplies which could be sent to the Americans to aid in their revolutionary efforts. Although he did not hold a high-ranking position, prior to being sent to the Americas he was given the lofty title of "General of Artillery and Ordnance", and was given command of the Corps of Artillery and Engineers. This incurred the resentment of American generals, who refused to serve under the command of such an inexperienced officer. To resolve this conflict, the American Congress proposed to strip Du Coudray of much of his authority, but offered him the fabricated title of "Inspector General of Ordnance and Military Manufacturies". He declined the title, stating that he would serve the American efforts in any capacity they saw fit to give him, and was given a regular captain's commission. In 1777, his rather checkered career was ended when the horse he was riding onto a boat bolted into the Schuylkill River, drowning Du Coudray. During his military service, Du Coudray worked with such figures as Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, Silas Deane, and Benjamin Franklin, and he succeeded in bringing to American shores some of the first ships from France to participate in the Revolution. After his death, Congress reinstated his original high-ranking title, and gave him a burial with full honors of war.


Pierre Louis, Chevalier de Monteil, began his naval service in 1741. He entered the Sous-Gardes de la Marine in 1746, and was later named Major d'Escadre du Roi. He assisted in France's efforts against the British in Newfoundland in 1762, and during the 1770's served in the Russo-Turkish War. In 1776 he began service in the waters off of Santo Domingo in the West Indies. During the American Revolution, Monteil had command of Le Conquérant along with several other ships in the West Indies, and assisted in the taking of Pensacola and St. Christophe (Saint Kitts). In 1781, while in command of Le Neptune, Monteil became ill and returned to France. Afterwards, he used his extensive military experience to write several tracts or memoranda of use to the French Navy. DIEGO JOSÉ NAVARRO

Diego José Navarro, a native of Spain, was an administrator and military officer in the Spanish colonies, and commander of the Spanish fleet in Havana. He served as Captain General of Cuba from 1777-1782, and in that capacity he was the regional military commander of the Spanish territories of Cuba, Louisiana and the Caribbean Islands. As such, he furnished much of the military aid which Spain made available to America.

Guide to the Documents Relating to the French Participation in the American Revolution
by Kathryn Rawdon
March 1998
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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