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J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 722

Scope and Contents

The J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur Papers document aspects of the later life and writings of J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, particularly the expanded French version of his Letters from an American Farmer (1784) and his final work, Voyage dans la haute Pennsylvanie et dans l'Ètat de New York (1801). The collection includes family correspondence, manuscripts, and research materials, mostly focused on social and political conditions in the United States during the first decades of its existence as a nation.


  • 1784-circa 1880
  • Majority of material found within 1784 - 1810


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur Papers is 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

Almost all of the papers were purchased from the 19th Century Shop on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund and the Frederick W. and Carrie S. Beinecke Fund for Western Americana, 2006.

The 1784-1786 letterbook of Crèvecoeur family correspondence was purchased from the William Reese Company on the Henry C. Taylor Fund, 2006.

The corrected proofs of Voyage dans la Haute Pennsylvanie et dans l'Ètat de New-York were purchased from the William Reese Company on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund, 2006.


Organized into three series: I. Correspondence and Family Papers, 1784-1880. II. Writings, 1786-1801. III. Research Materials, 1784-1812.


3.55 Linear Feet (6 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur Papers consist of manuscripts and printed material documenting aspects of the later life and work of the French author, best known for his 1782 Letters from an American Farmer.

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur (1735-1813)

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur was born and educated in Caen, Normandy. In 1755 he became a surveyor in the French Colonial Militia and fought at the battle of Fort George in 1757. Crèvecoeur was wounded at the battle of Quebec, after which he left the army for unknown reasons and sailed to New York in December, 1759. On arrival, he changed his name to J. Hector St. John. For the next decade, Crèvecoeur earned his livelihood as a trader, explorer and surveyor, traveling through all of the British North American colonies. He became a naturalized citizen of New York Colony in 1765.

In 1769 he married Mehitable Tippet, the daughter of a prominent Dutchess County family, and purchased 120 acres of farmland in Orange County. The next several years brought Crèvecoeur three children and increasing prosperity; his farm flourished,and he led a county project to drain arable meadows and reclaim farmland. Crèvecoeur kept a daily journal of observations on his experiences and on his adopted country, which he considered "the most perfect society in the world."

The advent of the American Revolution disrupted this happiness. Crèvecoeur's attempts to remain neutral won him suspicion and hostility from both sides of the conflict. In 1779, he decided to return to France to establish his children's right to inherit the family's lands in Normandy. Arrested by the British in New York City as a suspected enemy collaborator, he was imprisoned for months, but finally sailed for Europe in September of 1780. His ship was wrecked off the coast of Ireland, and he did not reach Normandy until August of 1781.

Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer was published in London early in 1782. It received international praise, appeared in several English and Irish editions, and was translated into German and Dutch. On the verge of America's independence, Crèvecoeur was the first author to provide an answer to the European question of the day: "What then is this American, this new man?"

Crèvecoeur was considered one of the foremost European authorities on the new country, and France appointed him consul to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. He sailed for New York on the ship that carried the first copy of the Treaty of Paris to the United States. When he arrived, he discovered that his wife had died and his children had been taken in by their neighbors; his farm and its buildings had been destroyed by Native American allies of the British.

As Consul, Crèvecoeur worked to increase French-American trade and supported cultural and artistic exchanges. He was also a patron of botanical gardens, experiments with steamships, and the first Roman Catholic church in New York City. His greatly enlarged and reorganized French version of Letters was published in Paris in 1784. His many American friends included Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. St. Johnsbury, Vermont, was named after Crèvecoeur, in 1789 he was made a member of the American Philsophical Society.

Crèvecoeur returned to France in 1790, but the dangers of the French Revolution led him to retire unpensioned in 1792 and to withdraw into his family life. In 1801 he published his Voyage dans la haute Pennsylvanie et dans l'Ètat de New York; the work was not popular, and was not translated into English until 1961. Crèvecoeur spent his final years at his farm in Lesches, France, and visiting his extended family. He died at Sarcelles, near Paris, in 1813.

Custodial History

Christie's New York sale, 2001 October 29.

Guide to the J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur Papers
by Diane J. Ducharme
January 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

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