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Jan 26, 2009 6:54 pm

Baron de Steuben?

Art Lefkowitz has volunteered to clear up a puzzling point raised In Paul Lockhart’s new book, The Drillmaster of Valley Forge, The Baron De Steuben and the Making of the American Army. The author identified his subject as Baron De Steuben. Lockhart explained in the text that Steuben wrote his name throughout his service in the American Revolution as Baron de Steuben. De is the French counterpart of the German von, meaning of.

Art consulted several credible historians on the subject. They pointed out that German officers, including German auxiliaries fighting alongside the British, wrote in French. The language was widely used in European military circles at the time of the Revolutionary War. Even Frederick the Great was "a linguistic Francophile." Steuben was no exception. He spoke fluent French and used the language for much of his correspondence. When necessary, it was translated into English by his French speaking aides-de-camp.

The definitive observation came from Philander D. Chase, Editor Emeritus of The Papers of George Washington. He told Art they used Baron von Steuben in their biographical footnote. Mr. Chase agreed that Steuben wrote in French nearly all of the time and Washington referred to him in his correspondence as Baron de Steuben. But Mr. Chase says that since Steuben was a German, Baron von Steuben is the correct usage. Art agrees with this conclusion.

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