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History Bytes: The Burial of Admiral Charles de Ternay

This post is by Pamela Rochette, 2017 summer intern at the Newport Historical Society.

On December 16, 1780, a procession starting from the Hunter House on Water Street (now Washington Street) led by military men and nine Catholic chaplains, wound its way through the streets of Newport. A solemn affair, it was a funeral cortège for Admiral Charles de Ternay who had died of typhus the day before. De Ternay had arrived in Newport in July that same year, under the leadership of General Rochambeau, as commander of the French fleet during the Revolutionary War.

One of the French army officers, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine de Verger, briefly noted in his diary for that date, “The Chevalier de Ternay died. The whole army was paraded for his funeral.” The mourning of Admiral Charles de Ternay’s death was a city-wide event, which lasted for over a day. De Ternay died early in the morning on December 15, 1780, a cannon was fired every half-hour for the rest of the day and flags were at half-mast from his flagship, a seventy-four gun ship of the line Duc de Bourgogne.

Following the cortège, sailors from the flagship carried the casket, with senior officers of the fleet as guards of honor, and French seamen and troops marched behind. The entire display was elaborate, long, and impressive. A fifteen-gun salute was fired as soon as the casket came into sight of the Duc de Borgogne, which was anchored in Newport Harbor. From that point on, the cortège continued its way through downtown Newport, past Long Wharf, along Thames Street, and finally to Church Street to the destination of Trinity Churchyard. Although Trinity Church was an Anglican Church, the nine Catholic chaplains completed the burial service of the Admiral. Newport residents lined the streets to watch as the French military commemorated Admiral de Ternay and lowered him into the ground.

Image: Circa late 18th century drawing of the monument to Admiral Charles de Ternay, commissioned by Louis XVI and currently hanging in Trinity Church. From George Champlin Mason’s Extra-Illustrated Reminiscences of Newport, NHS Collection.