Hector St. John de Crevecoeur: as American Essayist

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      Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, the first prominent American essayist, was born in Normandy. He was educated in France and England. In 1754, he went to Quebec Canada to serve in Montcalm’s army and subsequently traveled around the Great Lakes and Ohio River Valley, New York, Pennsylvania, describing his experience in a travelogue written in French-Voyage Dans la Haute Pennsylvania at Dans letat de New York (1801). He became naturalized as an American colonial citizen in New York in 1764. In 1769, he married and settled in Orange County, New York. He was also described as another Enlightenment figure, whose Letters from an American Farmer (1782) gave the Europeans a glowing idea of opportunities for peace, wealth, and pride in America.

      Crevecoeur, a French aristocrat, owned a plantation outside New York City before the Revolution. He enthusiastically praised the colonies for their industry, tolerance, and growing prosperity in 12 letters that depict America as an agrarian paradise - a vision that would inspire Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and many other writers up to the present. He was the earliest European to develop a consolidated view of America and the new American character. The first to exploit the “melting pot” concept of America, in a famous passage he asks: “What then is the American, this new man? He is either a European, or the descendant of a European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations... Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause changes in the world”. In 1780, the American revolution forced him to leave for Europe where he moved among the fashionable circles and published his important works under the new name “J. Hector St John”. Though he came back in 1783, he found his farm burned, his wife, dead and children, dispersed. He served as French consul and eventually went back to France in 1790. His essays and letters were written during the American period were published in 1925 in Sketches of Eighteenth Century America.

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