An Account of the Exploration and Settlement of New York State by French Émigrés in the Years 1793 to 1797
Edited by John A. Gallucci
The Castorland Journal is a diary, a travel narrative about early New York, a work of autobiography, and a narrative of a dramatic and complex period in American history. In 1792 Parisian businessmen and speculators established the New York Company, one of the most promising French attempts to speculate for American land following the American Revolution. The company's goal was to purchase and settle fertile land in northwestern New York and then resell it to European investors. In 1793, two of the company's representatives, Simon Desjardins and Pierre Pharoux, arrived in New York to begin settlement of a large tract of undeveloped land. The tract, which was named Castorland for its abundant beaver population ("castor" is the French word for beaver), was located in northwestern New York State, along the Black River and in present-day Lewis and Jefferson counties.
John A. Gallucci's edition is the first modern scholarly translation of the account Desjardins and Pharoux wrote of their efforts in Castorland from 1793 to 1797. While the journal can be read as tragedy, it also has many pages of satire and irony. Its descriptions of nature and references to the romantic and the sublime belong to the spirit of eighteenth-century literature. The journal details encounters with Native Americans, the authors' process of surveying the Black River, their contacts with Philip Schuyler and Baron Steuben, their excursions to Philadelphia to confer with Thomas Jefferson, Desjardins' trip to New York City to engage the legal services of Alexander Hamilton or Aaron Burr, the planting of crops, and the frustrations of disease and natural obstacles.
The Castorland Journal is historically significant because it is an especially rich account of land speculation in early America, the displacement of Native Americans, frontier life, and politics and diplomacy in the 1790s. The Cornell edition of the journal features Gallucci's introduction and explanatory footnotes, several appendixes, maps, and illustrations.