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Pierre Etienne Duponceau papers

 Collection — Container: Manuscripts Group 2 Box 10, Folder: 1
Identifier: Mss. 39.2 D94

Scope and Contents

Letter, 1781 August 29, from Baron von Steuben, Charlottesville, Virginia, to Pierre Etienne [Peter Stephen] Duponceau, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Duponceau's Carte de Visite. The letter is written in French and von Steuben states he has had no reply to letters sent to Pres. Washington and to the Secretary of the Congress; von Steuben plans to leave for Carolina to join Gen. Greene.

In French. ALS. Four newspaper clippings concerning Duponceau. 1844-1845.

Carte de Visite of Pierre Etienne Duponceau (possibly of a statue) with notation, "Presented by Mis Mimika Farish Frith, of St. Louis and Paris, June 11, 1938.

Also inluded are a typed transcription of the letter and clippings about Duponceau (1844-1845).


  • Creation: 1781, 1844-1845


Language of Materials

English French

Conditions Governing Access:

Collection is open to all researchers. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, such as the Virginia Public Records Act (Code of Virginia. § 42.1-76-91); and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (Code of Virginia § 2.2-3705.5). Confidential material may include, but is not limited to, educational, medical, and personnel records. If sensitive material is found in this collection, please contact a staff member immediately. The disclosure of personally identifiable information pertaining to a living individual may have legal consequences for which the College of William and Mary assumes no responsibility.

Conditions Governing Use:

Before reproducing or quoting from any materials, in whole or in part, permission must be obtained from the Special Collections Research Center, and the holder of the copyright, if not Swem Library.

Biographical Information:

Peter Stephen DuPonceau (born Pierre-Etienne Du Ponceau) was a French linguist, philosopher, and jurist. He was born in St-Martin de Ré on June 3, 1760, and died in Philadelphia on April 1, 1844. He spent the majority of his life in the United States.

DuPonceau's education took place at Benedictine College, where he gained an interest in Linguistics. However, he abruptly ended his education after only 18 months over a dissatisfaction with the scholarly philosophy taught at the college. He emigrated to America in 1777, at age 17, with Baron von Steuben. Once there, he served as a secretary for Steuben in the Revolutionary Army. After the war, he moved to Philadelphia, where he would spend the rest of his life.

DuPonceau joined the American Philosophical Society in 1791 and served as president of it from 1827 until his death. He became famous in the field of linguistics for his analysis of Indigenous languages of the Americas, as a member of Society's Historical and Literary Committee, he helped build a collection of texts detailing the native languages of the Americas. His book concerning their grammatical systems (Mémoire sur le systeme grammatical des langues de quelques nations Indiennes de l'Amérique du Nord) won the Volney prize of the French Institute in 1835.

DuPonceau was also one of the first western linguists to hold the view that Chinese writing was based on spoken words, and not ideas and concepts. He used the example of Vietnamese using chu Nom at the time to show that the Vietnamese employed Chinese characters primarily for sound and not for meaning. It would be over 100 years before this idea would become accepted in linguistic circles. Further information about this individual or organization may be available in the Special Collections Research Center Wiki: . Further information about this individual or organization may be available in the Special Collections Research Center Wiki: .


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Acquisition Information:

Gift of Mimika Farish Frith.



Guide to the Pierre Etienne Duponceau Papers
Special Collections Staff.
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Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center Repository