The South Coast Chapter Sons of the American Revolution commemorates the lives and deeds of those valiant men and women who secured our independence with great sacrifices. But it is also fitting to remember their pleasures as well! In this spirit please enjoy the following account of a celebration.
Literally the French term means “fire of joy.” One dictionary translates it to “bonfire.” But here is an eyewitness account of how it was conducted during the Revolution.
Recollections of Capt. Eben Williams
In the summer of 1782, a celebration took place at West Point in honor of the birth of the Dauphin of France, at which festival Capt. Williams was present, and which, from memory, he thus describes. A large bower was erected about eighty or one hundred rods from the river, covered with evergreens and beautifully festooned at the ends. Many natural flowers, interwoven with flower-de-lis cut from tissue paper, decorated the sides and ends. Long poles for the bower were brought on the shoulders of the soldiers, who on casting them down were sometimes heard, the one to exclaim with earnestness, “God bless the Dauphin!” while his comrade at the other end, with equal zeal would add, “God D–n the Dauphin!”
An ox roasted whole for the occasion was eaten within the bower, and after his bones had been removed, and a few bumpers of wine drank, Gen. Washington, who appeared in unusually good spirits, said to his officers, “Let us have a dance!” Selecting a partner among the officers, the great commander led the dance, in a “gander hop,” or “stag dance,” as called in modern times, when no ladies are present, to the favorite old tune, Soldier’s Joy, played by a military band. Washington was a very graceful dancer, and presented a fine figure among his officers.
The numerous regiments of troops there convened were paraded towards evening along the mountain back of Fort Putnam, and upon the high grounds on the east side of the river, to fire a salute. The regiments were under the command of quarter master sergeants, and the companies commanded by orderly sergeants: not a single commissioned officer holding any command among the thousands thus conspicuously paraded. As may be supposed the non-commissioned commanders were justly proud of the confidence reposed in their integrity.
At a given signal, a running fire began at the south end of the line and extended along the west side of the river to the north end, when the feu-de-joie was caught by the troops on the opposite side of the river and carried south. Thus did the rattle of musketry three times make its distant circuit along the Hudson, in honor of an event which gave a prospective heir to the crown of France, then the efficient ally of our republic, –after which, the troops, in the twilight of a lovely evening, returned to the Point. On the day of this festival, an extra one day’s ration was served to the soldiers, and all seemed equally to enjoy the holiday, which passed off without an accident to mar its pleasantry.
Poem on the Celebration
The following is one verse of a song believed to have been written either for or on account of the celebration at West Point, for which I am indebted to the memory of my friend J. H. T.
“Hark, hark, a feu-de-joie — makes trembling ether ring”
Whilst shouting armies hail, a Prince, a future King,
On whom may Heaven with liberal hand
Her choicest gifts bestow:
May peace and wisdom bless his reign
And laurels deck his brow:
A Dauphin’s born, let cannon loud
Bid echo rend the sky.
Chorus.–Long life to Gallia’s King,
Columbia’s great ally.”
Source: Recollections of Capt. Eben Williams recorded by Jeptha R. Simms in The History of Schoharie County and Border Wars, 1845, pages 535 and 536.
Flag of the French Alliance
In 1781 and 1782, in honor of the end of the American Revolutionary War and the help of France in that conflict, a special U.S. Flag appeared. It consisted of 13 red and white stripes with a very long (11 stripes long) canton bearing either 12 or 13 white stars and a gold fleur-di-lis. The stars are shown in contemporary illustrations either as 5 pointed or as 6 pointed in rows of three (with a single star below if there are 13) and the fleur at the top.
Dave Martucci, 14 July 1998
From The Flags of The World website, with permission