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Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben papers

Call Number

MS 591


1778-1851 (bulk 1779-1781), inclusive


Steuben, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, Baron von, 1730-1794


7 Linear feet (15 boxes [1 oversize], 6 volumes)

Language of Materials

The documents in the collection are in English and French.


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.

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.


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

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.

Access Restrictions

For more information on making arrangements to consult the collection, please visit

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

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

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

Location of Materials

For more information on making arrangements to consult the collection, please visit

Collection processed by

Celia Hartmann

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:46:48 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

Processed by Cecila Hartmann, November 2011.


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024