In journalism school, we always referred to tales of ink-stained wretches and newspapers gone by told by our professors as “war stories.” But a teacher of French at the Albany Female Academy in the 1830s had some real war stories to tell: General Henri La Fayette Villaume Ducoudray Holstein.
He was a native of Germany who entered the French service and acquired the confidence of Napoleon and had a relationship with Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette. Joel Munsell reports that on the restoration of the Bourbons, he went to South America, “where he found scope for his military skill.” That’s shorthand for a plot to liberate Puerto Rico from Spain, establish it as the Republic of Boricua, and turn a profit. This became known as the Ducoudray Holstein Expedition. The Spanish got wind of it, asked the Dutch government of neutral port Curacao to intercede, and Ducoudray Holstein found himself under arrest in Curacao. Over a series of trials and appeals, he was found guilty of mercenary acts and sailing under false Dutch papers, and sentenced to death. It is said that Lafayette and the government of the United States interceded with the Netherlands on his behalf, and Ducoudray Holstein found himself sailing for a new home in the United States. After a time teaching military tactics, he settled his family in remote upstate New York, where he became a professor of the French, Spanish and German languages and literature at Geneva College in Ontario County.
The General taught there for a number of years and then came to the Albany Female Academy (now known as the Albany Academy for Girls), where he taught French for six years until his death, and (again according to Munsell), “won the esteem of all who knew him.” While in Albany he wrote “The New French Reader, for the use of Universities, Colleges, Academies and Schools,containing original and selected anecdotes, biographical sketches and character portraits of persons distinguished by their genius and their knowledge.” And that was just the title. Luckily, the rest is available to us through Google Books. He also contributed to a periodical called “The Zodiac.” He died May 23, 1839, at the age of 76, and was buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.