Office Hours: John Galluci

Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures John Gallucci recently trans­lated and edited Castorland Journal: An Ac­count of the Exploration and Settlement of New York State by French Émigrés in the Years 1793 to 1797. The book is published by the Cornell University Press and is available at the Colgate University Bookstore.

The Castorland Journal was a travel­ogue written by three Parisian business­men between 1792 and 1797. The journal was an account of their business affairs at the French-owned New York Company. The company’s intent was to invest in large swathes of land not yet populated by Euro­peans and later sell the land to investors as it became more valuable. The authors of the Journal, Simon Desjardins, Geoffrey Des­jardins and Pierre Pharoux described their work for the New York Company as they surveyed and promoted settlement in a tract of land they called “Castorland,” (castor meaning beaver in French) running along the Black River in northern New York State.

Gallucci first heard about the Castorland Journal many years ago, but when it became a recurrent document in his work, he decided to begin the first modern translation of the story.

“I discovered the story 20 years ago,” Gallucci said. “Over the years I was in­volved in different projects, but this story kept coming back and I became interested. People were just using a translation of this Journal which was translated over 100 years ago and had never been published. I wanted to do something useful with this [Journal].”

Throughout his work on translating the Journal, Gallucci encountered several new pieces of information that challenged his view of post-revolutionary America.

“I was stunned by some parts of this Journal,” Gallucci said. “I discovered this decade, the 1790s. It became a source of endless fascination for me. It doesn’t have the same spectacular events marking it, yet this is a moment when the U.S. is in a very precarious posi­tion. Anything could have happened … I [also] had no idea that the British occu­pied land after the American Revolution. It really took the American Revolution 10 years to end. For example, the British held Oswego, New York. There was a fort there, and the people in this story went through and were detained by the Brit­ish. It changed my view of American his­tory; I got a sense of the instability and the fragility of the borders.”

The Journal spans a wide range of disci­plines, covering subjects and events pertain­ing to literature and science as well as history and international relations of the time.

“It is very interdisciplinary,” Gallucci said. “It is relevant to science as the authors were engineers and architects. It is also clearly valuable as history as it gives people historical information, but the story itself is pretty dramatic, so I also believe it has lit­erary value. If there was a more fortunate outcome (the author unfortunately died), the person who wrote it might have done something with the journal.”

With so many concepts and subjects ad­dressed in the story, Gallucci found it diffi­cult to point to one element or idea that the reader should focus on.

“I’m hoping the reader will get the plea­sure of knowing something about an un­known piece of American history, and the desire to learn more and perhaps produce something,” Gallucci said.

Critics have praised the translation’s rich portrayal of early America and the various groups competing for territorial power and money.

Castorland Journal gives a wonderfully vivid portrait of life on the early American frontier,” Professor of History at the Univer­sity of Montreal François Furstenberg said. “The journal by Simon Desjardins and Pierre Pharoux sheds tremendous insight on the pro­cess of land development in the post-Revolu­tionary period, on European-Indian relations, and on social life in the back-country more generally. Elegantly written, it focuses on the often-overlooked but critical area of northwest New York on the U.S./Canada borderland.”

Gallucci has not yet begun work on a new project, but hopes to continue studying New York state and 1790s America.

“I’d like to do something more about Central New York, maybe connected with this project. I think it is so important for New Yorkers to know their history … and I want to use my expertise in a good and practical way.”