J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur

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J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur
Hectorstjohncrevecoeur.jpg
Born December 31, 1735
Normandy, France
Died November 12, 1813
Sarcelles, France
Other names Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur
Occupation Writer
Known for Pro-American writings during the time of the American Revolution
Spouse(s) Mehitable Tippet

Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecœur (December 31, 1735 – November 12, 1813), naturalized in New York as John Hector St. John, was a French-American writer. He was born in Caen, Normandy, France, to the Comte and Comtesse de Crèvecœur (Count and Countess of Crèvecœur).

Biography[edit]

In 1755, he immigrated to New France in North America. There, he served in the French and Indian War as a surveyor in the French Colonial Militia, rising to the rank of lieutenant. Following the British defeat of the French Army in 1759, he moved to New York State, then the Province of New York, where he took out citizenship, adopted the English-American name of John Hector St. John, and in 1770 married an American woman, Mehitable Tippet. He bought a sizable farm in Orange County, New York, where he prospered as a farmer. He started writing about life in the American colonies and the emergence of an American society.2

In 1779, during the American Revolution, St. John tried to leave the country to return to France because of the faltering health of his father. Accompanied by his son, he crossed British-American lines to enter British-occupied New York City, where he was imprisoned as an American spy for three months without a hearing. Eventually, he was able to leave for Britain.

In 1782, in London, he published a volume of narrative essays entitled the Letters from an American Farmer. The book quickly became the first literary success by an American author in Europe and turned Crèvecœur into a celebrated figure. He was the first writer to describe to Europeans – employing many American English terms – the life on the American frontier and to explore the concept of the American Dream, portraying American society as characterized by the principles of equal opportunity and self-determination. His work provided useful information and understanding of the "New World" that helped to create an American identity in the minds of Europeans by describing an entire country rather than another regional colony. The writing celebrated American ingenuity and the uncomplicated lifestyle. It described the acceptance of religious diversity in a society being created from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. His application of the Latin maxim "Ubi panis ibi patria" (Where there is bread, there is my country) to early American settlers also shows an interesting insight. He once praised the middle colonies for "fair cities, substantial villages, extensive fields...decent houses, good roads, orchards, meadows, and bridges, where an hundred years ago all was wild, woody, and uncultivated."

From Britain, he sailed to France, where he was briefly reunited with his father. When the United States had been recognized by Britain following the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Crèvecœur returned to New York City. Anxious to be reunited with his family, he learned that his wife had died, his farm had been destroyed, and his children had been taken in by neighbors. Eventually, he was able to regain custody of his children. For most of the 1780s, Crèvecœur lived in New York City. The success of his book in France had led to his being taken up by an influential circle, and he was appointed the French consul for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

In 1784, he published a two-volume version of his Letters from an American Farmer, enlarged and completely rewritten in French. A three-volume version followed in 1787. Both his English and his French books were translated into several other European languages and widely disseminated throughout Europe. For many years, Crèvecœur was identified by European readers with his fictional narrator, James, the 'American farmer', and held in high esteem by readers and fellow-writers across Europe.

By the time he published another three-volume work in 1801, entitled Voyage dans la Haute-Pensylvanie et dans l'état de New-York, however, his fame had faded and the damages of the French Revolution and its aftermath had made people less interested in the United States. His book was ignored. An abbreviated German translation appeared the following year. An English translation was not published until 1964. Much of de Crevecoeur's best work has been published posthumously, most recently as More Letters from the American Farmer: An edition of the Essays in English Left Unpublished by Crèvecœur, edited by Dennis D. Moore (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1995).

Particularly concerned about the condition of slaves, he joined the Société des Amis des Noirs (Society of the Friends of the Blacks), founded in Paris.

In 1789, during a stay in France, he was trapped by the political upheaval that was quickly turning into the French Revolution. At risk as an aristocrat, he went into hiding, while secretly trying to gain passage to the United States. The necessary papers were finally denied to him by the new American ambassador to France, James Monroe. At the end of his life Crèvecœur returned to France and settled permanently on land he inherited from his father. On November 12, 1813, he died in Sarcelles, Val d'Oise, France.

He is the namesake of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, as suggested by Ethan Allen.

Primary works[edit]

  • Letters from an American Farmer: Describing Certain Provincial Situations, Manners, and Customs, Not Generally Known; and Conveying Some Idea of the Late and Present Interior Circumstances of the British Colonies of North America, 1782.
  • Letters From an American, written to A.W.S. Ecuyer since the year 1770 up 'til 1781.
  • Memoire sur le Commerce Entre la France et les États-Unis D'Amerique, 1784 (manuscript rests in the U.S. Embassy, Paris)
  • Sketches of the Eighteenth Century America: More "Letters From an American Farmer, 1923."
  • Eighteenth-century travels in Pennsylvania & New York, 1801.

Outline of Letters From an American Farmer[edit]

  • Letter I: Introduction- This letter introduces the persona of James, an American Farmer, and his epistolary dialogue with a minister.
  • Letter II: This letter describes the creatures, plants, and activities on and around the farm owned by James. Its main focus is on the "bee's, wasps, hornets, and birds" (Patterson) and illustrates the abundance of life and the dependence on good soil in the American land.
  • Letter III: "What is an American?"- This letter compares people to plants and leads the reader to pursue the idea of whether or not the soil has anything to do with the prosperity of the person living there.
  • Letters IV-VIII: These letters illustrates in detail the utopian (Patterson) society that the European Americans have created and also the land which they inhabit. It also describes the conditions in which they live and the customs of whaling villages of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.[1]
  • Letter IX:This letter gives an account of Charleston, South Carolina. The letter then quickly moves to the notion of slavery in the South. It argues about the destruction that revolves around the slave-master relationships and makes an appeal to the North, in particular, that slavery is a truly evil practice in the midst of the new nation of America.
  • Letter X: This letter talks extensively about a wide variety of snakes and even speaks to the American Indians practices of eating them. It also mentions their habits and stories that have been told in America, warning people about certain ones. At the end of this letter, it speaks about the hummingbirds found around James' land and their habits and varieties as well.
  • Letter XI: This letter is supposedly narrated by a Russian, but is almost indistinguishable from James himself. It describes a visit to the famous Pennsylvanian botanist, Mr. John Bertram. The narrator tells of the new methods of fertilizing and irrigation that Bertram has invented and used on his own plants.
  • Letter XII: "Distresses of a Frontier Man"- This letter describes the coming Revolutionary War and the narrator's stress of being caught between forces beyond his own control. This particular letter is the only one written that has any traces of anti-British ideas and opinions. The letter also includes James' view of the American Indians around him and his idea to run away with his family and live among them until the fighting began.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nathaniel Philbrick (1991). "The Nantucket Sequence in Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer". New England Quarterly 64. JSTOR 366350. 
  • Guy Wilson Allen and Roger Asselineau, An American Farmer: The Life of St. John de Crevecoeur, New York: Viking Penguin, 1987

Selected criticism[edit]

  • Gay W. Allen, An American Farmer, New York: Penguin Books, 1987
  • Thomas Hallock, From the Fallen Tree: Frontier Narratives, Environmental Politics, and the Roots of a National Pastoral, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003
  • David Eisermann: Crèvecoeur oder Die Erfindung Amerikas, Rheinbach-Merzbach: CMZ-Verlag, 1985
  • Daniel Patterson, ed. Early American Writers: A Biographical Encyclopedia, Westport: Greenwood Press, 2008. "J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur." Thomas Patchell. 96–104.
  • Paul P. Reuben. "Chapter 2: Early American Literature: 1700–1800 – St. Jean De Crevecoeur", PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide http://csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap2/creve.html)

Primary sources[edit]

  • de Crevecoeur, J. Hector St. John. Letters From an American Farmer and Other Essays edited by Dennis D. Moore (Harvard University Press; 2012) 372 pages; combines an edition of the famous 1782 work with his other writings

External links[edit]