February 23 marks an interesting anniversary – the arrival of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. His mission was to make amateur and unprepared American troops ready for battle in 1778.
Before working on a Question of the Week about him, the shortened version of his name, Baron von Steuben, rang a very vague bell in the back corners of my mind. I only knew that he was a foreign-born military leader who became part of the American army during the Revolutionary War. Googling Stueben brings up a multitude of sites that contain plenty of facts about his life and career (he was born in Prussia, met Benjamin Franklin in Paris, was instrumental in preparing American troops at Valley Forge, wrote the famed Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States (1779), etc…). But I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he is both directly and indirectly represented in our collections.
In one rather unassuming volume simply titled “Baron Steuben” (#630) are a few of his letters among copies of essays and memoirs (including excerpts published in a newspaper) on Steuben and his contributions during the Revolutionary War. Some of Steuben's letters can also be found in our autograph collections, such as the one pictured below from the Simon Gratz autograph collection (#250A).
HSP also has two significant collections from a man who served as his aide, Peter Stephen Du Ponceau (#181 and #1761). Du Ponceau was a Philadelphia lawyer who arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, from France in 1777. He achieved early prominence as an aide to Steuben, and as secretary to Robert Livingston, Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the Congress in 1781. In addition to Du Ponceau’s other interests, his papers document the work he did for Steuben through memoirs and correspondence. Our library also contains an 1807 edition of Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, as well as other published works on Steuben.
Neither the Steuben papers nor the DuPonceau papers (either collection) have finding aids, but they are documented in our online catalog Discover and in our card catalog and are readily available for research.