Benjamin Hoffmann

Letters Written from the Banks of the Ohio

First published in French in 1792, Letters Written from the Banks of the Ohio tells the fascinating story of French aristocrat Claude-François de Lezay-Marnésia and the utopia he attempted to create in what is now Ohio.

Looking to build a perfect society based on what France might have become without the Revolution, Lezay-Marnésia bought more than twenty thousand acres of land along the banks of the Ohio River from the Scioto Company, which promised French aristocrats a fertile, conflict-free refuge. But hostilities between the U.S. Army and the Native American tribes who still lived on the land prevented the marquis from taking possession. Ruined and on the verge of madness, Lezay-Marnésia returned to France just as the Revolution was taking a more radical turn. He barely escaped the guillotine before dying a few years later in poverty and desperation.

Benjamin Hoffmann’s critical edition of the Letters, superbly translated by Alan J. Singerman, presents this unacknowledged masterpiece of Enlightenment literature for the first time since the beginning of the nineteenth century — and the first time ever in English.

This volume features a rich collection of supplementary documents, including texts signed by Lezay-Marnésia’s son, American novelist Hugh Henry Brackenridge. This fresh perspective on the young United States as it was represented in French literature casts new light on a captivating and tumultuous period of change in the history of two nations.

© B. Hoffmann 2015