Well, eating frogs legs always seemed a pretty naff idea to me! The sophistications of French cuisine were certainly beyond 18th-century Americans. Apparently the French admiral really was served up whole fresh green frogs by a well-meaning Bostonian....
The story is told by Samuel Breck, who was a young boy when the first French troop transport ships arrived in Boston in May 1781. The colonists, Breck tells us, were not used to the idea of Frenchmen as allies and had swallowed whole the account of French diet served up by English propaganda. Everyone, he reports, believed implicitly "every vulgar story told by John Bull about Frenchmen living on salad and frogs". Most of the town, who had never seen a Frenchman, rushed to the docks. They were astonished to behold not the "gaunt, half-starved, soup-maigre crews" of English propaganda but "plump, portly officers and strong, vigorous sailors".
Nonetheless misunderstanding was not dispelled.
Later in the year, Newburyport merchant and privateer Nathaniel Tracy, who had recently acquired a splendid mansion in Cambridge confiscated from the Loyalist John Vassall (now "Longfellow House"), decided to play host to the French admiral, the comte de Grasse and provide him with a taste of home:
|18th-century table setting, Carnegie Museum of Art|
The uproar was universal. Meantime Tracy kept his ladle going, wondering what his outlandish guests meant by such extravagant merriment. "What's the matter?" asked he, and, raising his head, surveyed the frogs dangling by a leg in all directions. "Why don't they eat them?" he exclaimed. "If they knew the confounded trouble I had to catch them in order to treat them to a dish of their own country, they would find that with me, at least, it was no joking matter." Thus was poor Tracy deceived by vulgar prejudice and common report. He meant to regale his distinguished guests with refined hospitality, and had caused all the swamps of Cambridge to be searched in order to furnish them with a generous supply of what he believed to be in France a standing national dish.
Samuel Breck, Recollections, with passages from his notebooks (1771--1862), p.24-6.
J.L. Bell, "Nathaniel Tracy serves frogs for dinner" Boston 1775 (blog)
Traceys of Enniscorthy and Newburyport