Archive for the ‘French Revolution’ Category

“The house was new and pretty”

Brought up in the high society of the French court at Versailles; married at 17 to an aristocrat and soldier, with a promising diplomatic career ahead of him; serving the Queen as a lady-in-waiting; HENRIETTE-LUCY DILLON GOUVERNET DE LA TOUR DU PIN (1770-1853) could not have imagined that she, her husband Frédéric-Séraphin and their two children Humbert and Séraphine, would be fleeing for their lives to America in 1794. Disembarking in Boston after a 60-day journey, the emigrants traveled to Troy, New York, where they boarded with the nearby van Buren family to “learn American ways” before acquiring property of their own.

In September, my husband opened negotiations with a farmer whose land lay . . . on the road from Troy to Schenectady. It was on a hill overlooking a wide stretch of country, and we thought it a very pleasant situation. The house was new and pretty, and in good condition. Only a part of the land was in cultivation. There were 150 acres under crops, a similar area of woodland and pasture, a small kitchen garden of a quarter of an acre filled with vegetables, and a fine orchard sewn with red clover and planted with ten-year-old cider apple trees, all in fruit. We were told that the price was twelve thousand francs, which General [Philip] Schuyler thought not excessive. The property was four miles from Albany . . . .

As soon as we had the house to ourselves, we used some of our money to set it in order. It consisted of only a ground floor, raised five feet above the ground. The builders had begun by sinking a wall six feet down, leaving only two feet above ground level. This formed the cellar and the dairy. Above this, the remainder of the house was of wood, . . . The gaps in the wooden frame were filled with sun-dried bricks so that the wall was compact and very warm. We had the inside walls covered with a layer of plaster into which some colour had been mixed, and the whole effect was very pretty. . . .

. . . [O]n the day I moved into the farm, I adopted the dress worn by the women on the neighbouring farms—the blue and black striped woolen skirt, the little bodice of dark calico and a coloured handkerchief, and I parted my hair in the style fashionable today, piling it up and holding it in place with a comb. In summer, I wore cotton stockings and shoes. I only wore a gown or stays when I was going into town. . . .

Many of our neighbours made a habit of passing through our yard on the way to Albany. As we knew them, we never objected. Besides, in talking to them, I always learned some fresh piece of news. As for them, they enjoyed talking of the old country. They also liked to admire our small improvements. What excited most admiration was an elegant small pigsty made out of wood by M. de Chambeau [a friend] and my husband. It was a masterpiece of carpentering, but the admiration was couched in such pompous terms that it always amused us: ‘Such a noble hog sty’.

Because funds were tight, Henriette-Lucy made and sold butter, stamped with the family monogram; it “was much in demand.” She had eight cows and several slaves to assist on the farm. Then, she was dealt “the most cruel blow that any mortal could endure”: her daughter Séraphine was suddenly taken ill and died within a few hours.

In April, 1796, Henriette-Lucy, Frédéric, and Humbert, and their friend Monsieur de Chambeau, having come to America with valid passports, were able to return to France after the Revolution to take possession of their properties. Henriette-Lucy had been happy in America but had “a presentiment that I was embarking on a fresh series of troubles and anxieties.”

From Memoirs of Madame de La Tour du Pin, trans. by Felice Harcourt, (NY:The McCall Publishing Company, 1969), pp. 242, 253, 266, 282. See also In the Words of Women, pp.307-313. Illustration: watercolour on ivory (c.1802) in a private collection.

posted June 14th, 2018 by Louise, Comments Off on “The house was new and pretty”, CATEGORIES: Daily life,de La Tour du Pin, Henriette-Lucy Dillon Gouvernet,Farming,French Revolution,New York,Refugees

“the relation of lover and mistress”

ANGELICA SCHUYLER CHURCH was the sister of Alexander Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth, usually called Eliza or Betsy. They were the two eldest of the eight children—Angelica one year older than Eliza— of soldier and statesman Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer both of whose families were wealthy Dutch landowners. The Schuylers lived in Albany where the girls were educated by their mother and private tutors.

Alexander Hamilton met Eliza in Morristown, New Jersey, the Continental Army’s winter quarters, in 1780 where she had come to stay with relatives. Hamilton was smitten; he wrote to his friend John Laurens in March 1780:

I give up my liberty to Miss Schuyler. She is a good-hearted girl who, I am sure, will never play the termagant. Though not a genius, she has good sense enough to be agreeable, and though not a beauty she has fine black eyes, is rather handsome, and has every other requisite of the exterior to make a lover happy.

Hamilton married Eliza but he was also drawn to her sister Angelica whom he also met in 1780. Angelica was gay, witty, vivacious and interested in politics. In 1777 Angelica had married John Church, an Englishman who left for America under suspicious circumstances. Since her father did not approve of the match the pair eloped. Church made a fortune in the Revolution; after the war he and Angelica settled in London where John became a member of Parliament and Angelica established herself as a noted hostess. Angelica and Hamilton corresponded frequently during her stay abroad.

Angelica also made a friend of Thomas Jefferson who was serving as minister to France. Although they were on opposite sides of the political scene in America—Federalists vs Republicans—the two also corresponded. They had discussions about the appropriate roles for women, Jefferson expressing the view that “French ladies miscalculate their happiness when they wander from the true field of their influence into politics.” (Recall the exchanges Jefferson had had with Ann Willing Bingham on this subject here, here, and here. Angelica and Jefferson also corresponded in language that is quite intimate and flirtatious. They worked together to assist victims of the French Revolution.

Hamilton’s letters to Angelica in London were also intimate and flirtatious. Just after the Churches left in 1785 he wrote:

You have I fear taken a final leave of America and of those that love you here. I saw you depart from Philadelphia with peculiar uneasiness, as if foreboding you were not to return. My apprehensions are confirmed and unless I see you in Europe I expect not to see you again.
This is the impression we all have; judge the bitterness it gives to those who love you with the love of nature and to me who feel an attachment for you not less lively.

He wrote on December 6, 1787, thanking her for some information she had sent him.

. . . I can not . . . resist the strong desire I feel of thankg you for your invaluable letter by the last packet. Imagine, if you are able, the pleasure it gave me. Notwithstanding the compliment you pay to my eloquence its resources could give you but a feeble image of what I should wish to convey.
This you will tell me is poetical enough. I seldom write to a lady without fancying the relation of lover and mistress. It has a very inspiring effect. And in your case the dullest materials could not help feeling that propensity.

More about Hamilton and Angelica Church in the next post.

Sources for LETTER to John Laurens and Hamilton’s letters to Angelica: “From Alexander Hamilton to Angelica Church, [3 August 1785] also Alexander Hamilton to Angelica Church, [6 December 1787 Founders Online, National Archives, last modified July 12, 2016, [Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 3, 1782–1786, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 619–620 and pp. 374–376.] The portrait of Angelica Schuyler Church, son Philip, and a servant is by John Trumbull (1785).

posted July 14th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bingham, Anne Willing,Church, Angelica Schuyler,French Revolution,Friendship,Hamilton, Alexander,Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler,Jefferson, Thomas,Letter-writing,New York

“too wise to wrinkle their foreheads with politics”

Thomas Jefferson and ANNE WILLING BINGHAM continued their correspondence, he in Paris where he was the American minister and she in Philadelphia where she was a leader of society. In his letter of May 1788 to Anne he makes mention of the developing tensions that ultimately led to the French Revolution—”Paris is now become a furnace of Politics.” The letter is also most interesting as it contains his views on the proper place of women, which were typical of the times.

Paris May 11, 1788DEAR MADAM,
— A gentleman going to Philadelphia furnishes me the occasion of sending you some numbers of the Cabinet des Modes & some new theatrical pieces. These last have had great success on the stage, where they have excited perpetual applause. We have now need of something to make us laugh, for the topics of the times are sad and eventful. The gay and thoughtless Paris is now become a furnace of Politics. All the world is now politically mad. Men, women, children talk nothing else, & you know that naturally they talk much, loud & warm. Society is spoilt by it, at least for those who, like myself, are but lookers on. — You too have had your political fever. But our good ladies, I trust, have been too wise to wrinkle their foreheads with politics. They are contented to soothe & calm the minds of their husbands returning ruffled from political debate. They have the good sense to value domestic happiness above all other, and the art to cultivate it beyond all others. There is no part of the earth where so much of this is enjoyed as in America. You agree with me in this; but you think that the pleasures of Paris more than supply its wants; in other words that a Parisian is happier than an American. You will change your opinion, my dear Madam, and come over to mine in the end. Recollect the women of this capital, some on foot, some on horses, & some in carriages hunting pleasure in the streets, in routs & assemblies, and forgetting that they have left it behind them in their nurseries; compare them with our own countrywomen occupied in the tender and tranquil amusements of domestic life, and confess that it is a comparison of Amazons and Angels. . . .

Madame de Rochambeau is well: so is Madame de la Fayette. I recollect no other Nouvelles de societe interesting to you. And as for political news of battles & sieges, Turks & Russians, I will not detail them to you, because you would be less handsome after reading them. I have only to add then, what I take a pleasure in repeating, tho’ it will be the thousandth time that I have the honour to be with sentiments of very sincere respect & attachment, dear Madam,
your most obedient & most humble servant.

Jefferson’s letter can be read online HERE.

posted April 14th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bingham, Anne Willing,French Revolution,Jefferson, Thomas,Lafayette, Marquise Adrienne

Visit of the “Hermione”

In a previous post, mention was made by SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY in a letter to MARY WHITE MORRIS of a dinner she had attended at the Lafayettes. (The Jays dined there frequently.) Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis, had returned to France after the victory at Yorktown in 1781 and was much celebrated. Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles, his wife, (pictured) had expressed a desire to visit America but she never did make that trip. Lafayette, however, returned to the United States in 1784 to visit George Washington. When he came back to Paris he became embroiled in the chaos of the French Revolution. He ordered the storming of the Bastille, sending the key of that prison as a souvenir to Washington.

Lafayette became the leader of the liberal aristocrats and favored a constitutional monarchy. For his views he, with many other aristocrats, were considered guilty of treason by the Radicals who had taken control of the Revolution. In the Reign of Terror that followed, he was seized and imprisoned in Austria. Since Adrienne came of an old aristocratic family, her mother, grandmother, and sister were guillotined. (Read a description of the execution recorded by their Catholic confessor here.) She was also arrested but her life was spared due to the intervention of prominent Americans. When Adrienne was released she, with two of her daughters, joined her husband in prison in Austria. (That sort of thing was done back then.) In 1797 Lafayette was freed and, with his family, returned to France. Sadly Adrienne died at age 47 in 1807. Lafayette made another trip to the United States in 1824. It was a triumphal tour.

We were reminded of his visit by an event that occurred this past weekend when a replica of the ship Hermione on which Lafayette sailed in 1824 arrived in New York. Passing Governor’s Island to the sound of celebratory cannon fire, the three-masted, 32-gun frigate docked at the South Street Seaport. On Sunday, accompanied by many private vessels, it sailed around the southern tip of Manhattan past the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson River to the Intrepid. Returning to the East River it made its way to Greenport on Long Island. The Hermione resumes its journey northward along the coast this week, with stops at Newport (8-9); Boston (11-12); Castine, Maine (14-15); and Lunenberg/Halifax, Nova Scotia (18), before returning to France.

In honor of Lafayette’s visit to the New-York Historical Society in 1824, that institution currently has an exhibition which is worth seeing—“Lafayette’s Return: The ‘Boy General,’ the American Revolution and the Hermione;” it will run through August 16. See details here.

If your curiosity has been piqued you may want to read a new biography of Lafayette: The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio.

Presumed portrait of Adrienne Lafayette by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard painted in 1790.

posted July 6th, 2015 by Janet, comments (3), CATEGORIES: French Revolution,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Lafayette, Marquis de,Lafayette, Marquise Adrienne,Morris, Mary White,Washington, George

“Is it possible? Do you mean that we are free?”

Henriette-Lucie de La Tour du Pin de Gouvernet was the wife of a French aristocrat who sought refuge in the United States with his family in 1794 to escape the guillotine. The exiles made a life for themselves—quite different from the one they had in France—on a farm they purchased near Albany. Henriette-Lucie recorded the details of their years abroad in a journal which was published by her heirs, and in which she described herself.

On paper, the portrait will not be flattering, for my reputation for beauty was due entirely to my figure and my bearing, not at all to my features.

My greatest beauty was my thick ash-blond hair. I had small grey eyes and my eyelashes were very thin, partly destroyed when I was four by a bad attack of smallpox. I had sparse, fair eyebrows, a high forehead and a nose often described as Grecian, but long and too heavy at the tip. My best feature was my mouth, for my lips were well shaped and had a fresh bloom. I also had very good teeth. Even today, at the age of seventy-one, I still have them all. I was said to have a pleasant face and an attractive smile, yet in spite of that, my appearance might have been considered ugly. I am afraid a number of people must have thought so, for I myself considered hideous certain women said to resemble me. But my height and my good figure, my dazzlingly clear and transparent complexion made me outstanding in any gathering, particularly by day, and I certainly overshadowed other women endowed with far better looks than mine.

The family had four slaves, among them Prime who “although he could not read or write, nevertheless kept accounts with such exactitude that there was never the slightest error.” In the spring of 1796, word was received from France that confiscated property had been returned to the family of Henriette-Lucie’s husband, and that it was necessary for him to return to France to claim it. Before departing, Henriette-Lucie insisted that their slaves be given their freedom.

These poor people, on seeing the letters arrive from Europe, had feared some change in our life. They were disturbed and alarmed. Therefore, all four of them were trembling when they entered my room to which I had called them. They found me alone. I said to them with emotion: “My friends, we are going to return to Europe. What shall I do with you?” The poor creatures were overcome. Judith dropped into a chair, in tears, while the three men covered their faces with their hands, and all remained silent. I continued: “We have been so satisfied with you that it is just that you should be recompensed. My husband has charged me to tell you that he will give you your liberty.” On hearing this word our good servants were so stupified that they remained for several seconds without speech. Then all four threw themselves at my feet crying: “Is it possible? Do you mean that we are free?” I replied: “Yes, upon my honor, from this moment, as free as I am myself.”

Who can describe the poignant emotion of such a moment! Never in my life had I experienced anything so sweet. Those whom I had just promised their liberty surrounded me in tears. …

The following day my husband took them to Albany before a judge, for the ceremony of the manumission, an act which had to be public. All the negroes of the city were present. The Justice of the Peace, who was at the same time the steward of Mr. Van Rensselaer, was in very bad humor. He attempted to assert that Prime, being fifty years of age, could not under the terms of the law be given his liberty unless he was assured a pension of a hundred dollars. But Prime had foreseen this case, and he produced his certificate of baptism which attested that he was only forty-nine. They made the slaves kneel before my husband, and he placed his hand upon the head of each to sanction his liberation, exactly in the manner of ancient Rome.

The quoted material can be found on pages 309 and 312-13 of In the Words of Women. The illustration is taken from the book Dancing to the Precipice: the Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin—Eyewitness to History by Caroline Morehead, a good read if you want to know more about this remarkable woman.

posted March 28th, 2013 by Janet, Comments Off on “Is it possible? Do you mean that we are free?”, CATEGORIES: French Revolution,Slaves/slavery

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