Guide to the Arsène Napoléon Girault Collection,
A collection in the
Special Collections & Archives Department,
United States Naval Academy
589 McNair Road
Annapolis, MD 21402-5029
Prepared by: Jennifer A. Bryan
Special Collections & Archives Department
United States Naval Academy
Arsène Napoléon Alexandre Girault de San Fargeau was born December 26, 1801 in Troyes, France, the third child of Germain Charles Girault and his second wife Marie Angelique Canqueray (or Cauqueray). The elder Girault made a fortune as a military contractor for Napoleon's armies but fell on hard times after the French defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. He died in 1819, just a few weeks after visiting Paris where Arsène had planned to attend law school. The change in the family's fortunes prompted Arsene's mother, whose relations with her son were already strained, to apprentice him to a stocking weaver.
After working as a clerk for several firms, Arsène left France for America in 1826. He found employment as a French and Latin teacher in Philadelphia and became a citizen of the United States in 1833. He established the Spring-Villa Seminary for Young Ladies in Bordentown, New Jersey in 1836. The school was on property that Girault bought from Joseph Bonaparte, Napoléon's elder brother, who had moved to the United States after the emperor's downfall. In 1842, Girault closed the school for financial reasons. He moved to Washington, D.C. where he taught French and Spanish.
In 1845, Girault was teaching in Baltimore when Commander Franklin Buchanan, first Superintendent of the new Naval School (later Naval Academy) in Annapolis, hired Girault to teach French. The only member of the faculty from outside the Navy, Girault received his commission as a Professor of Mathematics from President James K. Polk in 1848. Professor of Mathematics was the naval rank, regardless of subject taught. Girault headed the French Department at the Naval Academy until his retirement in February, 1866. He died May 2, 1874 in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Girault had married Margaret Sullivan Wilson on October 6, 1831 at the Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. She was his second wife, his first wife having died in a railroad accident six months after their marriage. Arsène and Margaret had five children: Edward Lepelltier Girault, Annie Wilson Girault, Joseph Bonaparte Girault, Arthur Napoleon Girault, and Mary Pauline Girault.
Scope and Content Note
The Arsène Napoléon Girault Collection consists of reproductions of original documents, typescripts, and genealogical material from various sources related to the U.S. Naval Academy's first professor of French. It is arranged alphabetically by document type into a single series with no subdivisions.
The documents include a copy of a manuscript in French on the Moravians. A Presbyterian, Arsène Girault was one of two founding elders of the First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis. There is also a typescript copy of part of a letterbook that contains information on Girault's life in France. This typescript was created in 1935 by Louis H. Bolander, Assistant Librarian, U.S. Naval Academy, from the original in the possession of Elinore Girault of Annapolis. There is also a photocopy of the entire letterbook. Another item of interest is a photocopy of the prospectus for the Spring-Villa Seminary for Young Ladies. Some material relates to Arsene's son Edward, who served in the Second Regiment, Potomac Home Brigade, Maryland Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
|1||1||Biographical and Genealogical Records, 1866-1998, n.d.|
|3||Legal Documents, 1826-1874|
|4||Navy Commission, 1848|
|5||Pension Claim Records for Edward Girault, 1862-1956|
|6||School Exercises, n.d.|
|7||Spring-Villa Seminary for Young Ladies, 1841|