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
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.
Table of Contents
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