YORKTOWN PEOPLE HAVE SOME UNPLEASANTNESS WITH THE FRENCH
It did not take long for friction to develop between the dispossessed inhabitants and the wintering French late in 1781. William Reynolds wrote movingly from York on November 16,  reporting that: "The french troop's march'd in 13th inst: and have taken possession of part of some, and the whole of most of the houses in this Town. Some of the Inhabitants are turn'd out and others with their familys confin'd to a room, a situation little better than a prison." He cited a few examples for Governor Thomas Nelson to whom he was writing. "Mr. Mitchell could not obtain part of your house on your order. Mr. Powell let his family have two rooms at his house, but the Count Viomini, who commands at this place turn'd them out of one." Reynolds painted a rather dismal picture and then gave some of the reasons for the situation:
Perhaps David Ross had a more detached view when he wrote from York to Col. William Davies on November 17:
At least one American soldier who remained for a time in Yorktown after the surrender took note of the housing situation and the pre-emptions of the French. He was Joseph Plumb Martin, a member of a detachment from the "Corps of Sappers and Miners," which was detailed to a small schooner in the harbor loaded with 20 tons of beef. He related:
In letters which Virginia's governor, Benjamin Harrison, wrote on December 4 to Dudley Digges, Comte de Rochambeau, and Baron de Viomenil it is clear that the considerable friction between the local inhabitants and the French army forces had not subsided.  Rochambeau had made application for the appointment of a person near him who could advise him "on smaller Matters of Government and who may attend to the Interests of the Inhabitants of the Country around his Incampment." The French commander had informed the Chief Executive that he had already given orders to "Mr. De Veville his Quarter Master to settle the disputes with the Inhabitants who have had their forage taken without Orders & to grant them receipts for it."
Harrison, in his request to Dudley Digges to serve as advisor in this capacity, urged him earnestly to "not decline the Task however disagreeable it may be." Showing a clear understanding of the local populace, he wrote that:
Harrison, in his letter to Rochambeau, expressed high approval of the measures the French commander had taken "to settle the Accounts of forage used by" the French troops. He also informed him of the appointment of "the Honble Dudley Digges to assist in that business, and any other small matters, that you may have to communicate."  Harrison's letter to Baron Viomenil also informed him of the appointment of Digges. Actually this letter to the Baron was a tardy reply to a letter that he had written Harrison on November 6 assuring the governor that the troops would be kept in line. Harrison commented:
He added that Digges had been appointed "to assist you in this and any other difficulties as may occur." One such other difficulty was detailed later, just prior to the departure of the French army. In a letter to Rochambeau on June 26, 1782, Governor Harrison used the opportunity to raise a sensitive point insofar as the local inhabitants were concerned. "Complaints are made every day to me of Negroes being concealed in York and Williamsburg amongst the Troops." He pointed out that "the pretence that some make of their being free and of their being property of the British is without foundation and is inculcated into them to serve the purpose of detention." 
Digges accepted his assignment and began work soon after his appointment on December 4, 1781. He was careful in keeping his record in the form of "A List of all Claims against the French Army and the Continental Army, where no receipts or Certificates were given for the Articles mentioned therein."  His list was dated January 1, 1782, indicating that he completed his consideration and endorsement of claims in less than a month. Essentially all of the approved claims had to do with forage seized in the town area and more particularly in the countryside.  The majority of the claims were from Warwick, York, and Gloucester counties (in that order) though there were a few from James City and Elizabeth City counties and from Williamsburg.
When the French moved into Yorktown, they established a hospital in the courthouse and this led to some disruption of public business. On January 23, 1782, William Reynolds detailed this in a letter to the governor when he wrote from Yorktown: 
Civil government was moving slowly, however, and the French would remain for another six months. In May 1782 the Virginia Assembly, meeting in Richmond, did empower the "justices of the peace for the county of York" to hold their sessions "at such place in the county as they may think proper, so long as the court-house in the town of York shall be occupied by the troops of our allies."  The York County Court failed to implement this for some five months, about four months after the major part of the French troops had gone. Evidently they stuck with the courthouse despite its condition. On October 21, however, the justices did meet and adjourned "to the House of Mrs. Gibbons," a leading ordinary in town located nearby on Lot 30. 
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2010