Wherever I Go, There’s Rochambeau

Recurring Characters in Historical Travels

Recalling Rochambeau in Mount Kisco, N.Y. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Recalling Rochambeau in Mount Kisco, N.Y.
Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Revered as a hero in the American Revolution, the Comte de Rochambeau’s efforts helping the new country ward off the British are commemorated along the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail—almost 700 miles extending from Massachusetts and Rhode Island south to Virginia. Plaques mark his presence at various points along his historic march in aid of George Washington and his troops.

Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, was a French military man sent to the States in 1780 by Louis XVI (Marie-Antoinette’s Louis) to help the Americans win their own revolution. Rochambeau landed in Rhode Island, headed toward White Plains, N.Y., and continued his march to Virginia, where, it seems, he dallied.

Reading a book about life on southern plantations in the pre-Civil-War era, I am surprised to see the Rochambeau name turn up in a chapter on sex scandals in times long past. During a layover near Williamsburg, Va., French troops apparently became friendly with the locals. In The Plantation Mistress, author Catherine Clinton reports that “Rachel Warrenton” had an illegitimate son after a dalliance with Vicomte de Rochambeau. The vicomte, Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, it is reported elsewhere, was an aide-de-camp to his father. Rochambeau fils later resisted efforts by Rachel’s family to acknowledge her son. Other reports indicate that paternity was not entirely clear and that a Rochambeau nephew may have sired the boy. The illegitimate child, identified as Louis Warrenton in Clinton’s book but who was also known as Lewis Warrington, grew up to become a naval officer who earned a congressional medal. His mother, however, later married and had other children, but she was quite poor.

As for Rochambeau père, he was back in France during its own revolution, was arrested during the Reign of Terror, but survived.

—Lori Tripoli

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