J. Hector St. John de Crevoecoeur

J. Hector St. John de Crevoecoeur

John Hector St. John de Crevoecoeur (1735 - 1813) is considered one of the most celebrated American authors in Europe during the 18th century for his influential collection of essays, Letters From an American Farmer, "Describing Certain Provincial Situations, Manners, and Customs Not Generally Known, and Conveying Some Ideas of the Late and Present Interior Circumstances of the British Colonies in North America" (1782). Crevoecoeur became a celebrated figure for his ability to describe to Europeans what made Americans distinct; including the "American dream," the American frontier, and the concepts of equal opportunity and self-determination. Interestingly, Crevoecoeur was neither an American (born in Normandy, France, naturalized in New York), nor a traditional farmer (though he did own a sizable farm in New York).

Crevoecoeur emigrated to New France, North America in 1755, served as a French Colonial Militia surveyor during the French and Indian Wars, and naturalized as a citizen in New York in 1759. During the American Revolutionary War, St. John tried to return to France to see his sick father, but when he crossed British-American lines to enter British-occupied New York City, he was imprisoned as an American spy for three months without a hearing. Eventually, he was able to leave for Britain. So, though he self-identified as "a farmer from Pennsylvania" in the credits for his book, it's his unique multi-cultural perspective and experiences that enriched both American and European understanding of what it meant to be "American."

In 1782, the author described himself (using his French name, Jean de Crevecoeur, rather than his American one):

"What then is the American, this new man? He is either an European, or the descendant of an 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. He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds.

He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world."

facebook share button twitter share button reddit share button share on pinterest pinterest

© 2022 AmericanLiterature.com