In 1921 the American Historical Review published the journal of a “French traveller” describing his trip to Britain's North American colonies in 1765. From the West Indies, the traveler sailed north to the North Carolina coast and journeyed overland to New York. Over those nine months he broke bread and drank wine with a cross-section of the colonies’ wealthiest and most powerful men. The journal is unusual in two ways. First, it was written in English and yet found in a French naval archive. With its detailed descriptions of colonial port cities and their defenses, the journal was apparently written by a spy for Britain's greatest rival. Second, it contains the only extant eyewitness account of the debates in Virginia's House of Burgesses over the Stamp Act. These debates and the set of resolves that emerged served as a spark for resistance to the Stamp Act throughout Britain's North American colonies — and yet we know little about the drama played out in the Capitol that day. The traveler never revealed his identity within the pages of the journal. Neither the editor of the AHR copy nor later historians could connect the journal to a known historical figure. This paper, then, will reveal the identity of the “French Traveller,” reevaluate what the journal tells us in light of the author's identity, and examine the implications on our understanding of how the Virginia House of Burgesses and their resolves ignited colonial resistance to the Stamp Act.
Beatty, Joshua F. “The ‘French Traveller,’ Patrick Henry, and the Contagion of Liberty.” Paper presented at the Virginia Forum, Lexington, Va., March 26, 2011.