Biography

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 395

One of the first and certainly one of the most artistic depicters of colonial America was a man who did not learn English until he was sixteen: Michel-Guillaume-Jean de Crèvecur (krehv-kur), who published his first book in London under the pseudonym J. Hector St. John. Descended from an old Norman family, he was born at Lesches, near Caen, France, on January 31, 1735, and was educated by Jesuits. He came to America in 1754, married, and in 1769 settled on a farm in Orange County, New York. After three months in prison on suspicion of espionage during the American Revolution, he returned to France. There, François de La Rochefoucauld befriended him, arranged for the publication of the letters that made him famous, and got him a consulship in New York. On his return to America in 1783, Crèvecur found his farm burned, his wife dead, his family scattered. He then threw himself zealously into developing Franco-American relationships.ur, Michel-Guillaume Jean de[Crèvecoeur, Michel-Guillaume Jean de]}{$S[A]St. John, J. Hector[Saint John, J. Hector];Crèvec{oelig}ur, Michel-Guillaume Jean de}ur, Michel-Guillaume Jean de[Crèvecoeur, Michel-Guillaume Jean de]}ur, Michel-Guillaume Jean de[Crèvecoeur, Michel-Guillaume Jean de]}ur, Michel-Guillaume Jean de[Crèvecoeur, Michel-Guillaume Jean de]}

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His great work, Letters from an American Farmer, contains political philosophy, economics, agronomy, and colonial history, but it is chiefly marked by a visionary idealism, certitude that America could be the brave new world. Crèvecur was one of the first writers to give a definition to the American character that has been incorporated into subsequent attempts to develop an American identity myth. The descriptions of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are particularly idyllic. However, he strikes a dark note in describing the terrible institution of slavery in “Descriptions of Charles-Town.”

The picturesque Eighteenth Century Travels in Pennsylvania and New York pretends to be a translation from an early Oneida Indian manuscript, but the work is actually based on Crèvecur’s own early travels with his friend Benjamin Franklin.

Ill health constantly interrupted his diplomatic work. Finally, in 1790, he returned to France, where he lived with his daughter and son-in-law until his death at Sarcelles on November 12, 1813.

Crèvecur was one of the first writers to give a definition to the American character that has been incorporated into subsequent attempts to develop an American identity myth.

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