Daily Archives: March 1, 2017

Talleyrand Visits Albany and Troy

Published by:

So, the Marquis and Marquise de la Tour du Pin found themselves in exile in Albany (as one does) in 1794. With what seems like extremely benevolent assistance from General Philip Schuyler and his family, they were set up to buy a farm on property that is now the site of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, on the Troy-Schenectady road and along what is now Delatour Road. The owner of the farm “did not wish to move until after the snow was well packed,” a reminder that travel and moving was much more trouble in the seasons of mud back then. “As we had arranged with the Van Burens, who evidently had had enough of us, for two months only, it was necessary, therefore, to look for another home from the first of September to the first of November.” Hence, their stopover on River Street in what had been a tavern.

“At Troy, we found for a moderate sum, a little wooden house in the midst of a large yard, enclosed by a board fence. Here we established ourselves, and, as it would be necessary for us to purchase some furniture for the farm, we immediately acquired what we wanted.”

While there, they had a most surprising, high-ranking visitor, a central figure in the history of France.

“One day at the end of September, I was in the yard with a hatchet in my hand, occupied with cutting the bone of a leg of mutton which I was preparing to put on the spit for our dinner. All of a sudden, I heard behind me a loud voice which said in French: ‘On ne peut embrocher un gigot avec plus de majesté.’ Turning quickly, I saw Monsieur de Talleyrand and Monsieur de Beaumetz. Having arrived the evening before at Albany, they had learned from General Schuyler where we were. They came on his part to invite us to dinner and to pass the following day with them at his house. These gentlemen were to remain in the city only two days. An Englishman who was one of their friends was accompanying them and was very impatient to return to New York. However, as Monsieur de Talleyrand was very much amused at the sight of my leg of mutton, I insisted that he should return the following day to eat it with us. He consented.”

The visitor, who said “You can not stick a leg with more majesty,“ was Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Bishop of Autun, one of the authors of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. An emissary to Britain during the Revolution, he was forced to stay there when a warrant for his arrest was issued in December 1792, and then forced to leave Britain in March 1794 under the expulsion order of William Pitt after France declared war on Britain. Like some others of his countrymen, he came to the United States. Interestingly, Talleyrand was the house guest of Aaron Burr in New York City, but it is reported he declined to return the hospitality some years later when Burr was in self-imposed exile, as Burr had in the interim killed Talleyrand’s friend Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804.

The Marquise left her children in care of their traveling companion and fellow exile Monsieur de Chambeau and “Betsey,” her white servant, and set out for Albany with Talleyrand and Beaumetz to dine with the Schuylers. Apparently the Marquis joined them as well. Arriving there, they found General Philip Schuyler had just received newspapers bearing the latest news from France, which in this case was the events of 9 Thermidor – July 27, 1794 under our calendar.

“Here we found the news of the Revolution of the 9 Thermidor; the death of Robespierre and his followers, the end of the shedding of blood and the just punishment of the Revolutionary Tribunal. Monsieur de Talleyrand was rejoicing especially that his sister-in-law, Mme. Archambauld de Périgord, had escaped, when, later in the evening, having taken up from the table a paper which he though he had read, he found her name among the terrible list of victims executed the 9 Thermidor, that very morning, during the session in which Robespierre was denounced. The news of her death painfully affected him … Without the news of this cruel event, our evening with General Schuyler would have been more agreeable.”

Talleyrand returned to Troy to enjoy the hospitality of the de la Tours. Having known him her entire life, the Marquise noted that Talleyrand had a paternal and gracious tone that was very charming. “I regretted sincerely to find so many reasons for not holding him in esteem, but I could not avoid forgetting my disagreeable recollections when I had passed an hour in listening to him. As he had no moral value himself, by singular contrast, he had a horror of that which was evil in others. To listen to him without knowing him, you would have believed that he was a worthy man.”

As today pretty much all talk has to turn to Hamilton, apparently do it did then as well. Two days later they spent the day at Mrs. Van Rensselaer’s home, with all the Schuylers. This was Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler, daughter of General Schuyler, who married the patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer III, and whose sister Elizabeth was married to Alexander Hamilton.

“Monsieur de Talleyrand had been extremely impressed by the remarkable culture of Mrs. Van Rensselaer, and could not believe that she had not passed years in Europe. She had a very clear understanding of American affairs and the Revolution, of which she had gained a profound and extended knowledge through her brother-in-law, Colonel Hamilton, who was the friend and also the most intimate confidant of Washington. Colonel Hamilton was expected at Albany where he intended to pass some time with his father-in-law, General Schuyler. He had just resigned the position of Secretary of the Treasury, which he had held since the peace. It was to him that the country owed the good order which had been established in this branch of the government of the United States. Monsieur de Talleyrand knew him and had the very highest opinion of him. But he found it very remarkable that a man of his value, and endowed with talents so superior, should leave the Ministry to resume the profession of lawyer, giving as his reason for this decision that the position of Minister did not give him the means of bringing up his family of eight children. Such a pretext seemed to Talleyrand very singular and, so to speak, even a little naïf.

The following morning Talleyrand and company made one final visit to the Troy homestead, and then took a sloop back to New York City. Some time in November the winter snows came, and the river ice, which made it possible to move to the farm in what is now Colonie. With that beginning of transition to the farm life, the Marquise writes casually of an event that she must have previously considered inconceivable, for she notes its extreme singularity but provides no elaboration on what was then a waning practice, but still a legal one in New York:

“At this time we bought a negro, and this purchase, which seemed to be the most simple thing in the world, produced in my case a feeling so new that I shall remember it all my life.”

As before, the source for all this is the Marquise’s memoir, “Journal d’une femme de cinquante ans.”