Daily Archives: March 3, 2017

The Resting Place of Séraphine

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A couple of eagle-eyed (or elephant-memoried) readers were already familiar with the story of Henriette Lucie Dillon, Marquise de la Tour du Pin Gouvernet, whose “Journal d’une femme de cinquante ans” has been the subject of our last several entries. And they were also familiar with an article about the Marquise and her former homestead that ran in the Knickerbocker News back in 1937, when Dr. J Lewi Donhauser owned the property.

The headline was “Letter Discloses Details of Two-Year Residence at Newtonville Estate of Lady-in-Waiting to Marie Antoinette, Refugee from French Revolution.” The article starts with sadness:

“Somewhere in an unmarked grave on the summer estate of Dr. J. Lewi Donhauser, just off Fiddler’s Lane near Newtonville, lies Seraphine, infant daughter of LaMarquise de La Tour du Pin, lady in waiting to Marie Antoinette. It was during La Marquise’s residence on the Colonie farm in 1795 a refugee from French revolutionaries, that Seraphine succumbed to infantile paralysis and was buried there . . . Several times in recent years diligent search of Dr. Donhauser’s place has failed to disclose the location of the little grave … When it became the Albany’s physician’s property, he found bits of shattered grave stones back of the house, which evidently had been thrown in a heap. They all bore the name of the family which had owned the property for so long, but none could be found with a clue that it might have marked the grave of Seraphine.”

The Marquise wrote that her daughter Séraphine died suddenly in 1795, “taken from us by a suden illness very common in this part of the country – a kind of infant paralysis. She died in a few hours without losing consciousness. The physician from Albany, whom Monsieur de Chambeau had gone to bring, as soon as she began to suffer, gave us no hope that she would live and declared that this malady was then very common in the country and that no remedy was known. The young Schuyler who only the day before had been playing with my daughter during the afternoon succumbed to the same trouble a few hours later and rejoined her in Heaven … There was no Catholic priest either in Albany or in the neighborhood. My husband, who did not wish to have a Protestant minister called, himself performed the last rites for our child, and placed her in a little enclosure which had been arranged to serve as a cemetery for the inhabitants of the farm. It was situated in the middle of our woods. Almost every day I went to kneel upon the grave, the last resting place of the child whom I had so much loved …”

The Knick News article says that a section of the building, erected by Stephen Van Rensselaer in 1783, still remained, and that a mulberry tree planted by the French statesman Talleyrand (on a later visit than the one we described previously) still flourished in the yard. “The Dutch kitchen of La Marquise still is to be found in the basement of the house.”

The letter referred to in the headline was somewhat obscured in the article itself. It was referring to a letter of inquiry sent to the State Archives and History Division, which prompted state historian Dr. Alexander C. Flick to determine that it was the summer home of Dr. J. Lewi Donhauser that had been occupied by the Marquise. Interestingly, and for this we are entirely in the debt of Christopher Philippo, Dr. Joseph Lewi Donhauser was married to the great great granddaughter of Joseph C. Yates, the first mayor of Schenectady, founding trustee of Union College, and seventh governor of New York State.