Du Ponceau, Peter Stephen

Du Ponceau, Peter Stephen (b. Pierre Étienne Du Ponceau)

(1760–1844) lawyer, philologist, author; born at Saint Martin, Ile de Ré, France. Educated for the French priesthood, he decided it was not his vocation. His knowledge of English gained him the post of secretary to Baron von Steuben, whom he accompanied to America in 1771; with von Steuben's appointment as major general, Du Ponceau was made a captain and Steuben's aide-de-camp (1778–79). His health forced him to leave the army but he became under secretary of foreign affairs (1781–83). After studying the law for two years (1783–85), he practiced international law in Philadelphia; his command of European languages plus his cosmopolitan background soon made him much in demand in this field. In his later decades, he published works on a variety of legal, historical, and linguistic subjects. He became particularly well known for his studies of the languages of Native Americans.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.