Daily Archives: February 27, 2017

French Refugees in 19th Century Troy

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It appears that early on in its history, the then-village of Troy was home to political refugees from France. In his “Troy’s One Hundred Years, 1789-1889,” Arthur James Weise says that in 1794, Troy became the temporary home of several refugees.

“The most eminent were Frédéric Séraphin, marquis de la Tour du Pin Gouvernet, and his lovely wife. The marquis had served with distinction as an officer in the French army, and at the beginning of the Reign of Terror, had loyally devoted himself to save Louis XVI from dethronement. Losing in a single day, in April, 1794, by ordered executions, his father, father-in-law, and uncle, and knowing that his own life was in jeopardy, he escaped arrest by concealing himself for six weeks in the city of Bordeaux. There is secretly succeeded in obtaining passports to America for himself, his children and their nurse. Disguised as peasants they embarked without detection and had a safe passage to the United States. The young and accomplished marchioness was also successful in securing a passport, dressed as a boy, under the name of Charles Lee, whose uncle, it was alleged, had died, leaving him property in the United States.”

Weise reports that the marquis and marchioness arrived separately in New York City, bearing only two trunks of fine towels and letters of introduction to wealthy citizens of Albany. They were referred to Troy as a pleasant and secluded residence and given introduction to Mrs. John Bird, later the wife of Colonel Albert Pawling. According to Weise, they asked her to refrain from introducing them around, and to “shield them as far as practicable from any attentions which as strangers and persons of rank might be shown them by the inhabitants.

They rented a vacant tavern at 140 River Street that was later known as Mechanics’ Hall, apparently the only vacant building in the village that was suited as a residence – it was literally boarded up when they took possession, and “The bar room, used for a parlor and dining-room, was cheaply and scantily furnished.” Weise says that the Marquis was befriended by “the nephew of Comte de Rochambeau,” who had made his home in Troy a temporary refuge. In order to better support his family, the marquis purchased a small farm three miles west of Port Schuyler (Watervliet), and moved from Troy to cultivate it, “assisted by a number of slaves.”

“At the close of the French Revolution, the marquis returned to France with his family. His confiscated property was restored to him and his political ability was again employed in the services of his country. Under the Empire, he was prefect of Amiens and Brussels, counselor to the embassy at the Congress of Vienna, minister plenipotentiary to the court of the Netherlands, and afterward to Sardinia. In 1832, he retired to Lausanne, where he died in 1837, in the seventy-ninth year of his age.”

What little we can find of Frédéric-Séraphin , Marquis of La Tour du Pin , Count of Gouvernet, doesn’t contradict Weise’s account, but doesn’t entirely confirm it, either. A Wikipedia entry (translated from the French because I love the language but can never learn it) confirms many of the basic details, saying that the Marquis was part of the LaFayette expedition “to help the revolted Americans, before returning to France to pursue his military career.” It says he was Minister Plenipotentiary at The Hague in 1792 before emigrating, his father and uncle having been guillotined. But it doesn’t say where he emigrated to, and doesn’t detail his return. Our resource on LaFayette makes no mention of the Marquis, and provides only sketchy information on the other Frenchmen who came over with him and in some instances stayed.

The National Archives has some correspondence between Marquis de La Tour du Pin and Alexander Hamilton. In sourcing it, the Archives says that the Marquis was an aide-de-camp to LaFayette during the revolution, and following the war was named colonel of the Royal-Vaisseaux and served as an aide to his father, who was the Minister of War. In 1794 he emigrated to the United States, “where he bought and operated a farm near Albany. Three or four years later he went to England.”

The Archives also helpfully provides a description of La Tour du Pin’s property that was published in an advertisement in the [Philadelphia] Courrier de la France et des Colonies, March 1, 1796, offering the property for sale:

“A farm newly occupied by the undersigned, situated in Watervleit [sic], five miles north of Albany, and two miles north of Troy; it contains 206 acres. There is a pleasant house with dependencies, in all in very good order; a large orchard full of choice trees, and a good sized vegetable garden where there are also fruit trees and bushes. The farm utensils are also for sale, a complete assortment, with several milk cows and mares that will bear….”

The letter, dated February 21, 1798, seems to indicate that La Tour du Pin was still trying to sell his property. Relying more than we’d like to on Google Translate, the letter notes that he would like to sell his farm “d’Albany,” and notes that the previous kindnesses shown by the family of Madame Hamilton “make me hope that at your request she will still be willing to render the Service to us to sell this small object.” He wrote to Hamilton on the topic again in July 1798, at which point he may have left the United States.

With the beauty of hindsight and the power of editing, we note that the farm of La Tour du Pin was located on what is now called Delatour Road, for what, in the bright light of morning, are blazingly obvious reasons. More to come on that.