De Crevecoeur, Hector St. John

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De Crevecoeur, Hector St. John (1735-1813): Franco-American Writer.

With the publication of his Letters from an American Farmer (1782), Hector St. John de Crevecoeur became one of the eighteenth-century’s most influential commentators on American life and manners. While not born in America, Crevecoeur traded his French citizenship for an American one in 1765, taking up residence in New York. He had traveled throughout New England and its coastal region before claiming his new identity, however, and before seriously embarking upon his life as a farmer in Orange County, New York, in 1778, Crevecoeur traveled extensively inland through the Ohio Valley and on to the banks of the Mississippi.

Drawing upon his travel experiences and his life as a farmer, Crevecoeur was the first to seriously attempt a definition of American character with his Letters. The key word for Crevecoeur was “new,” which separated and distinguished Americans from things European. In Letters, Crevecoeur thus blended his collection of facts and observations into a fictional portrait of an industrious farmer, one whose natural response to the land became identified with the general character of a new American people. Yet while Crevecoeur echoed Jefferson, Thomas’s agrarian ideals, his letters also acknowledged the realities of frontier savagery and southern slavery. After taking a post as a French consul in 1783, Crevecoeur published little in English, though he did publish a French revision of Letters (1787) and a final book on his American experiences: Voyage dans la Haute Pensylvanie et dans l’état de New-York (1801).

Further reading:

Gay Wilson Allen & Roger Asselineau, St. John De Crevecoeur: The Life of an American Farmer, 1987.

Jason Horn

Gordon College