Bruce Pitts' Tour Map: 2015 Episodes

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Road-tripping in France circa 1787: Roads and Canals

In his circumnavigation of France, Thomas Jefferson took roads, floated canals, sailed seas, rode mules, and rode horses. But mostly he took roads. The roads of 18th Century France were highly variable – some good, some grand, some execrable (little more than cakes of rubble) – and they were maintained by a system of local slavery called “le cuvée.” The roads of Languedoc were superb. The roads of sandy Brittany deteriorated faster than they could be built, leading to the unusual predicament that the more they were worked on the shorter they became. And the best roads were those constructed 2000 years earlier by the Romans. In this segment we talk about the roads that Jefferson traveled, with brief mention of the marvelous Canal du Midi.

References:

Robb, Graham, Th-1788-1789e Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War, WW Norton, 2007.

Gabler, James M. Passions: The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson, Bacchus Press, 1995.

Young, Arthur, Travels in France During the Years 1787 – 1788 – 1789, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1969.

 

Overview of our Jeffersonian tour of France

Eighty-three thousand one-hundred eight days after Thomas Jefferson left Paris in his American-made horse-drawn carriage to circumnavigate France, we departed Paris in our tiny diesel Renault to do the same. Our intention was to follow his footsteps through the vineyards, antiquities, engineering marvels, cities, and pastures that he passed – to recreate to the extent possible his experience 227 years later, to understand what it must have been like to travel the country alone in 1787, to try to channel the people he met along the way.

References:

Peterson, Merrill D. (Ed.) Thomas Jefferson: Writings, Library of America, 1984.

Gabler, James M. Passions: The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson, Bacchus Press, 1995.

 

Road-tripping in France circa 1787: How Jefferson Traveled

What few travelers there were of 18th Century France spent more time on water than they did on roads, taking advantage of rivers, coastal waters, and an extensive system of canals. Thomas Jefferson spent a good deal more time than other travelers in his private carriage, driving along the Royal Postal Road that had only recently been opened to private traffic. He opted not to ride with others in a “diligence” or stage coach which, in his time, would have been crowded, dirty, smelly, uncomfortable, and so dangerous that a French-German phrase book of the time included such entries as “I believe the wheels are on fire” and “Gently remove the postilion from beneath the horse.” Jefferson chose to travel alone – in cognito – which added a dimension of dangerous novelty to his adventure that may seem inconsequential in our time but was extraordinary in his.

References:

Robb, Graham, The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War, WW Norton, 2007.


Bruce Pitts grew up in Rhode Island, attended Yale and then attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and completed his residency in internal medicine at Temple University. In 1982, he joined the Fargo Clinic where he has practiced for the past 30 years. He is married and has two children.

His lifelong interest in American history comes from two sources: growing up near Plymouth Colony and the seven years he spent in where he became fascinated by American revolutionary history and the found of the nation.

Read Bruce Pitts' blog, Pitts in Paris.