CHAUMONT'S FIRST FIFTY YEARS
I n order to understand Jacques-Donatien Leray de Chaumont's role in the American Revolution, one must first know more about the man himself. What kind of career did he have prior to the arrival of American representatives in Paris in 1776? How wealthy was he? From what kind of family did he come, and what is known of his own wife and children?
Several of the biographical details that amateur and professional historians have presented about him are, quite simply, wrong. The mistakes begin with his birth. His tombstone, still visible today in the small cemetery near the château of Chaumontsur-Loire, says that he was born on 1 September 1724. The engraver erred by exactly one year. He was born in Nantes on 1 September 1725, in the parish of Saint-Nicolas, and baptized that same day.1 The church register indicates that his parents were noble homme René-François Leray de La Clartais and Françoise Bouvet. Jacques-Donatien was the second son. His older brother René had been born on 1 February 1724, which was also the date of his baptism. The fact that both boys, like most other children, were christened on the day of birth represents a sad commentary on the high infant mortality rates that still persisted in the eighteenth century. Indeed, the older brother died sometime in infancy or childhood. As far as one can determine, the parents had no other children.2
Relatively little information has survived concerning the mother's family. Her father was a moderately prosperous Nantes merchant, and her grandfather had held various municipal offices