@ 2011 New-York Historical Society logo

Guide to the Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben Papers
1778-1851 (bulk 1779-1781)
  MS 591

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

@ 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Celia Hartmann

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 04, 2011
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Papers of Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben
Dates: 1778-1851 (bulk 1779-1781)
Abstract: The collection includes correspondence, orders, memoranda, petitions, indentures, and writings on military topics by Baron von Steuben during his tenure as an officer of the American army, as well as material relating to his estate and memorials.
Quantity: 7.0 Linear feet (15 boxes [1 oversize], 6 volumes)
Location note: Manuscript cage
Call Phrase: MS 591

Return to Top »

Biographical Note

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730-1794) served as inspector general of the Continental army and is credited with introducing to it European military concepts that began its transformation into a truly professional military establishment.

1730 Born Magdeburg, Germany.
1756-1763 Serves as staff officer in the Prussian military during the Seven Years' War.
1764 Named chamberlain for Prince Joseph Friedrich Wilhelm of Hohenzollern-Hechige, in southern Germany.
1777 In June, after rumors of homosexual activity force him to resign, visits Paris to seek a position in the French army or the army of the United States through their representatives there.
1777 Although initially discouraged by Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane because he spoke only French and German, receives letters of introduction to George Washington and Robert Morris predicated on his serving in the Continental army only as a volunteer.
1778 February Arrives at Valley Forge to serve under Washington, having informed Congress of his desire for paid service after an initial volunteer trial period, with which request Washington concurs.
1778 March Begins tenure as inspector general, drilling troops according to established European military precepts.
1778-1779 Writes "Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States," which becomes a fundamental guide for the Continental army and remains in active use through the War of 1812, being published in over 70 editions.
1780-1781 Senior military officer in charge of troop and supply mobilization in Virginia.
1781 Replaced by Marquis de Lafayette as commander in Virginia.
1781-1783 Continues to serve as Washington's inspector general, and is active in improving discipline and streamlining administration in the army.
1783 Spring Assists in formulating plans for the postwar American military.
1784 March Resigns his military commission.
1785-1788 Lives in New York City under increasing burden of debt.
1790 Successfully applies to Congress for a military pension.
1790-1794 Lives at his farm near Utica, New York, on land given to him by the state in 1786.
1794 Dies on November 28.

Return to Top »

Scope and Content Note

The physical collection consists of 15 boxes of correspondence and writings (1 oversize) from 1778 to 1851 and 6 volumes. Many documents are in French.

The bulk of the correspondence (1779-1781) concerns Steuben's efforts to reorganize the Continental Army and to make Virginia a base of General Nathaniel Greene's army during Steuben's command of forces there. They relate to matters including the preparation and distribution of his Regulations, reactions to and questions about his work, appointment of inspectors, supply needs, organization and administration of army and militia units, enemy movements and strength, and British forces in Virgina, among other topics.

Steuben's correspondents include Col. Jean Baptiste Ternant, Col. William Davies, the Board of War, M. de Franey, Chevalier de la Luzerne, Gen. Nathanael Greene, Gov. Thomas Jefferson, Col. Edward Carrington, Col. George Gibson, Gen. Thomas Nelson, Gen. George Weedon, Gen. Peter Muhlenberg, Louis de Pontiere, Gen. Robert Lawson, Gen. Isaac Gregory, Col. J. Junis, Gen. Mordecai Gist, Maj. Buller Claiborne, Capt. John Pryor, Capt. William North, Col. Benjamin Walker, and Gen. Benjamin Lincoln.

The correspondence from 1778 to 1789 has been microfilmed on reels 1, 2, and 3 (which correspond to boxes 1-3) and will be presented in this format.

The volumes include a letter book dealing with official military matters and including correspondence addressed to the War Board, George Washington, and other officers (1780 January - 1781 January); "Regulations pour la cavalerie ou corps legionaire [sic]" (partly in English), discussing the reorganization of the Continental Army's cavalry units in 1780-1781; "Thoughts on a national militia", containing several miscellaneous documents in French and English discussing the establishment of a peacetime army (ca. 1784); "Thoughts on the growth of the western territory," discussing political relations with Spain and Britain, and proposing settlements in Spanish Louisiana (ca. 1788); and a journal, in French, describing work, relations with tenants, and projected improvements on his farm in Oneida County, New York (1790-1792).

These five volumes have been microfilmed on reel 4 (which corresponds to box 4) and will be presented in this format.

The volume "The Exercise of Troops" (in French), undated but bound within covers that are pages of a 1778 newspaper, has not been microfilmed.


The physical collection is arranged in 15 boxes (1 oversize) and six bound volumes. The microfilm is arranged by reel number.

Return to Top »

Access Points

Subject Names

  • Carrington, Edward, 1749-1810
  • Claiborne, Buller
  • Davies, William, fl. 1775-1781
  • Gibson, George, 1747-1791
  • Gist, Mordecai, 1742-1792
  • Greene, Nathaniel, 1742-1786
  • Isaac, Gregory
  • Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826
  • Junis, J.
  • La Luzerne, Anne-Cesar chevalier de, 1741-1791
  • Lincoln, Benjamin, 1733-1810
  • Muhlenberg, John Peter Gabriel, 1746-1807
  • Nelson, Thomas, 1738-1789
  • North, WIlliam, 1755-1836
  • Pontiere, Louis de
  • Prior, John W.
  • Steuben, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, Baron von, 1730-1794
  • Ternant, Jean Baptiste chevalier de, 1751-1833
  • Turmel, Joseph, 1859-1943
  • Walker, Benjamin, 1753-1818
  • Washington, George, 1732-1799
  • Weedon, George, 1734-1793

Document Type

  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Letter books
  • Returns (military reports)

Subject Organizations

  • Society of the Cincinnati

Subject Topics

  • Agriculture -- New York (State)
  • Drill and minor tactics
  • Officers (military officers)

Subject Places

  • Oneida County (N.Y.) --
  • Spain -- Colonies -- America
  • United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783
  • United States -- Territorial expansion
  • United States. Continental Army -- Supplies and stores
  • United States. Continental Army -Cavalry
  • United States. Continental Army -Drill and tactics
  • United States. Continental Army -Regulations
  • United States. Continental Congress. Board of War and Ordnance
  • Virginia -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783

Return to Top »

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

The collection has been microfilmed and will be brought to the researcher in that format. It can also be made available by Interlibrary loan.

Researchers on site may print out unlimited copies from microfilm reader-printer machines at per-exposure rates. See guidelines in Reading Room for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to quote from this collection in a publication must be requested and granted in writing. Send permission requests, citing the name of the collection from which you wish to quote, to
Library Director
The New-York Historical Society
Two West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as the Steuben Papers, MS 591, The New-York Historical Society.

Return to Top »

Container List


Container 1     Title Date
Box: 1 Correspondence (reel 1)
Box: 2 Correspondence (reel 2)
1781 January - March
Box: 3 Correspondence (reel 3)
1781 April 1 - 1789 April
Box: 4 Army returns; Military formations and instructions (1778), memorandum (1778 August 7), Opinions on the operation of the Army, Returns of various kinds (1779-1782), Muster rolls (1782); "Remarks on the Commerce of the United States with France from the occupancy of New Orleans and Louisiana if transferred to her from Spain (in French); Resolutions by Congress - Claims against the United States; accounts and plan of a farm; miscellaneous correspondence including Baron Steuben's will and testament, inventory of his property, freedom of the city, letters patent, and naturalization document; extracts from general orders; petitions, indentures, and certificates; "The Great Future, Agricultural, Commercial and Political, of the Mississippi Valley..." (1787-1790 in French); military maneuvers; Baron von Steuben's memorial; Tactics and maneuvers of the Prussians (in French); Steuben-Green correspondence (from photostats); "Journal of Improvements on his Farm in Oneida county" (in French); "Regulations for the cavalry or corps legionaire [sic]" (in French and English); "Growth of the Western Territory, 1788"; Letter book, 1780; "Thoughts on a National Militia, 1784" (in Frencha and English) (reel 4).

Return to Top »

Return to Top »