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Margaret Blennerhassett- More Character Than Riches

Posted on March 1, 2013 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (2)

by Kathy Warnes

Her contemporaries noted Margaret Agnew Blennerhassett’s beauty and surviving portraits reflect that beauty.  According to a Montreal Gazette story of January 28, 1841, she was tall, with chiseled features, a clear complexion and her blue eyes sparkled with intelligence and life. Margaret Blennerhassett’s intelligence, accomplishments, and romantic temperament matched her beauty. An excellent linguist, she fluently spoke Italian, French, German, and enjoyed comfortable familiarity with Spanish, German, French, and English literature.

Although talented in her own right, Margaret Agnew’s family background added to her mystique. Accounts of her early years conflict, with some sources stating that she was born in 1771, others 1772, and others fixing her birth year as 1777. Whichever year, Margaret was born and raised on her grandfather’s estate in England near the Scottish border. It is clear that Brigadier General James Tanner Agnew, a British Army officer killed in the Battle of Germantown during the American Revolutionary War was Margaret’s grandfather and her father was Robert Agnew, the lieutenant governor of the Isle of Man.

Despite the advantages of beauty, talent, an excellent education, an illustrious family, and later a famous husband, Margaret Agnew Blennerhassett died poor and virtually alone in New York City in 1842. Often historians and writers access and interpret her life through her husband, Harman Blennerhassett, but Margaret Agnew Blennerhassett deserves individual interpretation. She acted with courage, determination, and perseverance, while suffering the consequences of her perception of Aaron Burr and she fought her own battles for survival in an era when women depended mostly on men for survival.

Margaret Agnew Married Her Uncle Harman Blennerhassett

The Montreal Gazette story and a story in the Brooklyn Eagle dated October 21, 1900, say that Margaret Agnew married Harman Blennerhassett between 1796 and 1800. One source says that she married Harman in 1794 when she was just twenty years old. Many of her biographies say that they married in 1796 when Margaret was just 18. Like the date, the circumstances of their marriage are unclear.

Some accounts say that Harman Blennerhassett met Margaret Agnew in England at the home of Admiral Hon. Michael de Courcyand his wife, the former Anne Blennerhassett and Harman’s sister. Other accounts state that Margaret had gone to France to study and had gotten caught up in the violence of the French Revolution.

Concerned for her safety, her family had sent her Uncle Harman Blennerhassett to Paris to find her and bring her safely back to England.  Her Uncle Harman rescued Margaret from the French Revolution, but he also fell in love with her and she with him. The two shared a common love of art, literature, and music and they were reasonably close in age, Harman Blennerhassett being born on October 8, 1764, and Margaret either in 1771, 1772, 1774, or 1777. Since they were closely related, both the church, state, and their families considered the Blennerhassett marriage incestuous, so after they were married they were forced to leave England.

Margaret Blennerhassett chose to defy convention, married her uncle, and left her home and family to accompany her husband to a strange country.  Accounts also vary as to whether the Blennerhassetts came to the United States together or separately. Margaret’s uncle and husband Harman Blennerhassett had been born in Castle Conway in County Kerry, Ireland, educated at Trinity College in Dublin, and in 1790 became a member of the Irish bar.

Articles in the American Review of 1848 contend that Harman Blennerhassett came directly to the United States from England, but other records show that he probably spent some time traveling in Europe after his succeeded to his family property. He traveled and lived in Europe where he absorbed the republican ideas prevalent at the time and lived in the West Indies where he added to his substantial fortune for several years before he came to America. Other sources say that he had to leave England after agitating too enthusiastically for Irish independence.

Harman Blennerhassett may have used his powers of eloquence and sense of adventure to appeal to the same qualities in his wife Margaret. Some sources say that the Blennerhassetts arrived in New York in 1794, others in 1797, along with their fortune of about $140,000, and their valuable possessions. Over the next two years they moved to Philadelphia and then crossed the Appalachian Mountains to Pittsburgh, the gateway to what was then known as the West. Whatever the time and circumstances of their arrival, the Blennerhassetts moved down the Ohio River to Marietta and learned about an island in the middle of the Ohio River for sale.

The Blennerhassetts Bought An Island and Developed it into An Estate

In 1797, a vast wilderness extended for hundreds of miles west of the Alleghany Mountains. A few scattered villages and a log blockhouse along the Ohio Valley punctuated the miles of trees and brush and occasionally a log cabin stood at the meeting of streams. Emerald green islands dotted the face of the Ohio River and when Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett heard descriptions of this beautiful country, they decided to visit it. After a long difficult journey over the mountains and through the wilderness, they arrived at the old Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh in the late fall of 1797. They took passage on a keelboat, arriving at Fort Harman, now Marietta, Ohio, about two weeks after leaving Pittsburgh.

In the spring of 1798, the Blennerhassetts bought Backus Island which lies two miles below what was then called The Point, and is now the city of Parkersburg, West Virginia.  For two years the Blennerhassetts lived in an old blockhouse at the head of the island and immediately changed its name from Backus Island to Blennerhassett Island. Immense forests and lush meadows covered their new home. The Blennerhassetts and their workers and slaves began the task of leveling the forests and grading and clearing the lands.

By 1800, the Blennerhassett’s Island estate was completed. A velvety green lawn covered with flowers spread like a carpet in front of the mansion.  Peaches, pears and many other fruit trees that pack horses had carried across the mountains lined a tall protective fence. To the south, slaves planted vegetable gardens. A broad street ran in the rear of the mansion, lined with rows of white log cottages, homes for the laborers and slaves.

The mansion itself was designed in Palladian style, horseshoe shaped with an outbuilding attached to either end of the arch. The left wing served as a kitchen and the right wing functioned as Harman’s office, laboratory and wine cellar. The central part of the house contained twelve rooms, ample space for the frequent guests that the Blennerhassett’s enjoyed entertaining. The mansion’s furniture was elegantly and tastefully designed. Costly pictures and mirrors lined its walls, fine carpets covered its floors, and Margaret Blennerhassett had chosen bric a brac and ornaments from the East to accent and harmonize the entire house.


Margaret and Harman Blennerhassett lived pleasant and comfortable lives in their wilderness mansion. Harman conducted scientific experiments, organized an extensive private library, and oversaw his fields. Margaret Blennerhassett was a fearless horsewoman and frequently rode ten to twenty miles a day through the countryside.

Both Blennerhassetts quickly made many friends among the Virginians and the people of Belpre and Marietta, Ohio. Harman often went to Marietta to attend Mason meetings at the first lodge west of the Alleghenies. Margaret Blennerhassett socialized with the ladies of Belpre and Marietta, and frequently entertained ladies from the East. Their hospitality became renowned up and down the Ohio River, and many travelers stopped to enjoy the hospitality of the Blennerhassett home.

The young couple spent eight happy years in their wilderness home and eventually they had six children, Margaret, Dominic born in 1799, Harman born in 1803 and Joseph Lewis born in 1812, another daughter named Martha, and another who died of fever.

A Famous and Fateful Man with a Plan Visited Blennerhassett Mansion

Then in the spring of 1805, the Blennerhassetts entertained a famous and fateful visitor. That spring, Aaron Burr, ex vice- president of the United States, colonel in the American Army, and frustrated politician decided to come to the West. Indicted in New Jersey for murder for shooting Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Aaron Burr looked for new worlds to conquer in the West.  Many historians agree that Aaron Burr created a plan, which came to be called the Burr Conspiracy. He wanted to separate the West from the East and establish a republic with himself as president. As an extension of his presidency, he planned to establish an empire in Mexico in case of war between the United States and Spain and he also wanted to purchase and colonize the territory that is now Louisiana.

Aaron Burr’s controversial plan was complicated by the hatred of President Thomas Jefferson whom Aaron Burr had almost defeated for the presidency after 31 Congressional ballots and the already bitter section feelings on both sides of the slavery question. Aaron Burr definitely prowled for influential and wealthy men to cooperate with him in his political schemes whatever they were. He soon discerned that Harman Blennerhassett was both wealthy and influential and he likely found Margaret Blennerhassett both gracious and charming. Taking a woman companion with him, Aaron Burr visited Blennerhassett Island.  They strolled around the grounds in plain view of the mansion, Aaron Burr knowing full well that Margaret Blennerhassett’s hospitable nature would bring an invitation to tea at the least. Mrs. Blennerhassett saw Burr and his companion and invited them to come inside the house.

Shrewdly, Aaron Burr sent back his card declining the invitation on the grounds that they just wanted to satisfy their curiosity about the grounds. Burr knew that Margaret Blennerhassett, famed for her hospitality, would consider Aaron Burr, ex- Vice President of the United States a distinguished guest.

It seemed that Aaron Burr read Margaret Blennerhassett correctly, for she sent her servant back to Burr with a more cajoling invitation and finally, with the proper degree of reluctance, he accepted her invitation and he and the lady allowed Mrs. Blennerhassett to lead them into the house.

Aaron Burr first wrote to Harman Blennerhassett in December 1805, months before they had ever met, but Margaret Blennerhasset’s enthusiasm and admiration for Aaron certainly eased the correspondence between the two men. In his first letter Aaron Burr hinted that the United States was on the brink of war with Spain which he felt made it necessary to mobilize all of the talented men in the country to action. He indirectly appealed to Blennerhassett’s ambition and republicanism.

Harman Belnnerhassett Endorsed and Acted Upon Aaron Burr’s Plan

According to the October 21, 1900 Brooklyn Eagle story,  Harman Blennerhassett answered  Aaron Burr’s letter asking him to elaborate on his plan, but Burr replied that: the matter in its present state cannot be satisfactorily explain by letter.” He hinted that he and Harman Blennerhassett needed to speak in person.

In August 1806, Aaron Burr visited Blennerhassett Island again, this time accompanied by his accomplished daughter, Theodosia, wife of Joseph Alston, who was governor of South Carolina. Theodosia and her father shared a deep love that endured through Burr’s tempestuous life. When he was arrested she went to him, although poor health required her to be carried on a litter. She wrote to him daily. Since Theodosia Alston was a beautiful and accomplished woman, it does not stretch the imagination to believe that Theodosia Burr and Margaret Blennerhassett became fast friends.

Although Aaron Burr and Theodosia Alston remained only a short time on Blennerhassett Island, Harman Blennerhassett’s actions attest to the outcome of his conversations with Aaron Burr. He offered support and money to Aaron Burr who soon began to recruit men for his planned conquest of Mexico. Many men enrolled in the expedition, believing that President Thomas Jefferson favored the plan.

Boatyards at the mouth of the Muskingum River and at Belleville eighteen miles below the town quickly hummed with the activity of building batteaus and keel boats, the only way of transporting men and supplies. Family tradition and letters indicate that both Aaron Burr and Harman Blennerhassett often visited the boatyards to hurry the work before cold weather and ice slowed the construction. Harman Blennerhassett was responsible for the cost of the boats and the material crews for the expedition.

South Carolina Governor Joseph Alston, Aaron Burr’s son-in-law, visited his wife Theodosia on Blennerhassett Island and he and Harman Blennerhassett traveled to Lexington, Kentucky together to expedite the expedition. In the meantime, Aaron Burr visited Ohio River towns, adding recruits and expanding his acquaintance with influential citizens and officials.

Plots and Counter Plots

Rumors and reports began circulating around the United States. Rumor had it that an army of 10,000 men would rendezvous at New Orleans and join with a force partially composed of a Tennessee Army under General Andrew Jackson which would follow Burr into Mexico. Reports circulated that a squadron from the West Indies would participate in the invasion, slaves were to revolt and the banks of New Orleans were to be looted to supply funds for expenses.

President Thomas Jefferson eventually heard about the expedition and sent out secret agents empowered to call on the military and he also called on General James Wilkinson, the governor of Louisiana Territory to help suppress the expedition. When General Wilkinson received his orders from the President, he reconsidered his involvement in Aaron Burr’s plan. In 1805, General Wilkinson had agreed to support Aaron Burr’s plot to conquer Mexico and had sent his agent Zebulon Pike to map the most favorable route to conquer the southwest. Before Pike returned, General Wilkinson betrayed Burr’s plans to President Jefferson, and apprehended Aaron Burr and some of his accomplices. General Wilkins seemed to have betrayed both sides and in the trial of the Burr conspirators at Richmond, Virginia, he emerged with a badly damaged reputation.

Harman Blennerhassett joined forces with Aaron Burr, but it isn’t clear whether or not he knew the extent of Burr’s real plans. He did publish a series of papers supporting Aaron Burr’s views in the Ohio Gazette, under the pen name of Querist. He invested large sums of money in boats, provisions, arms and ammunition for the expedition. He went to Kentucky and when someone warned him of Aaron Burr’s real purpose, he returned to Blennerhassett Island very upset.

The Brooklyn Eagle story said that a secret agent, a Mr. Graham, working for President Jefferson, co visited Harman Blennerhassett and tried to convince him of Aaron Burr’s real purpose, but at that same time Captain Comfort Tyler of New York appeared on Blennerhassett Island with a company of men. Captain Tyler and Margaret Blennerhassett persuaded Harman to continue with his plans to aid Aaron Burr. Captain Tyler and his men along with Harman Blennerhassett and a company of men from Belpre obtained one boat and joined Aaron Burr at the mouth of the Cumberland River.

The Virginia Militia Invaded Blennerhassett Island

President Thomas Jefferson issued a proclamation on November 27, 1806, which said that conspirators were fitting out and arming vessels in western waters for an unlawful military expedition against Mexico. He said that expedition leaders were “seducing honest and well-meaning citizens under various pretences,” to participate in the expedition. He warned all persons to withdraw from the expedition immediately or they would be prosecuted.

Under the Proclamation’s authority Colonel Hugh Phelps and the Virginia Militia invaded Blennerhassett Island on December 11, 1806.  Colonel Hugh Phelps of Parkersburg, who was also sheriff of the county, arrived at Blennerhassett Island with three companies of militia but discovered that Captain Tyler and Harman Blennerhassett had left during the night. Leaving his militia on Blennerhassett Island, Colonel Phelps quickly headed for the mouth of the Great Kanawha, expecting to intercept them. The Colonel arrived at Point Pleasant before Tyler and Blennerhassett, but they managed to pass by undetected in the darkness of the night and joined Burr at the mouth of the Cumberland River.

While Colonel Phelps pursued Captain Tyler and Harman Blennerhassett, his Virginia Militia broke into the Blennerhassett Mansion and plundered it. They broke into the cellars and drank the liquor they found there. They tore down pictures, threw curtains into the fire, and riddled ceiling and walls with bullets. They broke up or carried off the furniture and destroyed shrubbery, flowers, and crops. Many of the Militiamen owned Harman Blennerhassett money. Old court records later revealed the same names that Harman Blennerhassett had loaned money to for necessary supplies to survive the winter appearing on the rolls of the three Virginia Militia companies that vandalized Blennerhassett Island.

The marauding militia also threatened Margaret Blennerhassett and she may have been killed if Colonel Phelps hadn’t returned in time to prevent her murder. When Colonel Phelps, who was a man of character, saw the ruin and destruction that his men had committed during his absence, he castigated them in no uncertain terms, telling them they were a shame and disgrace to humanity. He offered his services to Margaret Blennerhassett and assisted her in every way possible.

The Blennerhassetts Moved to Mississippi and then to Montreal, Canada

The next morning Margaret Blennerhassett said a final goodbye to the home where she and Harman Blennerhassett had spent eight of the happiest years of her life. She and her two sons and their servants descended the Ohio River to the Mississippi River to rejoin her husband at Bayou Pierre, about thirty miles above New Orleans.

In the meantime, all of the governors on both sides of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers issued proclamations and called out their militia. Aaron Burr’s followers heard about these proclamations and most of them abandoned the expedition. All that remained were hunted and pursued as traitors.

Harman Blennerhassett was eventually arrested, but set free. While he was traveling back to Blennerhassett Island he was again arrested at Lexington, Kentucky, and put in prison. He hired the legal services of Henry Clay, who could not win his freedom. Harman Blennerhasset, Aaron Burr, and the other conspirators were tried by the United States Circuit Court at Richmond, Virginia, in August 1807. Aaron Burr and his fellow conspirators were acquitted and released.

Judging by his correspondence found in The Blennerhassett Papers, Embodying the Private Journal of Harman Blennerhassett and the Hitherto Unpublished Correspondence, Harman Blennerhassett attempted to clear his name and recover some of his lost fortune. He wrote to Margaret from Washington City on October 29, 1807, that “I have strong expectations of putting my claims upon Burr and Alston on a desirable footing.”

Despite his efforts, misfortune continued to pursue Harman Blennerhassett. Creditors seized his property on Blennerhassett Island and they used the grounds to cultivate hemp. The mansion was converted into a store house to preserve crops. In 1811, careless slaves accidentally set the mansion on fire and it burned to the ground. After his island home burned and Harman Blennerhassett couldn’t pay the debts on the island, he purchased a 1,000 acre plantation near Gibbensport, Mississippi, and with the few slaves remaining to him, he began to cultivate cotton. He had a reasonable chance of success because cotton brought in a good price in foreign markets at this point. For at least five years he earned a living for his family with cotton, but then the War of 1812 broke out, an embargo followed and the Blennerhassett fortunes again declined.

In 1819, Harman Blennerhassett received a letter from his old schoolmate, Charles Lenox, the Fourth Duke of Richmond, offering him a judgeship in Lower Canada. He sold his plantation and with a modest nest egg, he moved his family to Montreal where he was admitted to the Lower Canada Bar. In Montreal, Harman practiced law, waiting for his old schoolmate to secure him the judgeship. While touring Upper Canada, Charles Lennox, the Fourth Duke of Richmond, was bitten by a fox and died of hydrophobia on August 28, 1819, effectively ending any help that he could give his old friend Harman Blennerhassett. Harman next tried to build a successful law firm with a Mr. Rossiter, but did not make much financial progress with that endeavor either.

In 1821, Dudley Woodbridge, a former partner of Harman Blennerhassett, wrote to a friend that he had seen Margaret Blennerhassett in Germantown, Pennsylvania where she was visiting the grave of her grandfather. He noted that she had “lost every vestige “ of her former beauty and that she told him that her health and that of her children had suffered greatly during the time they lived in Mississippi. She said that her two daughters had died of the fever and that she and her three sons were recuperating in Montreal.

In 1822, Harman Blennerhassett sailed for Ireland pursuing an old legal claim and also wrote old acquaintances in London seeking profitable activities. In England, a spinster sister of Harman’s settled her inheritance on him, enabling him to send for his family. He retired to the Island of Guernsey and waited for his family to join him.

Margaret Blennerhassett struggled on in Montreal while Harman conducted a law suit in Ireland and searched for work in London. She had considerable literary talent and probably hoped that she could help the family finances with her books. She published her book The Deserted Isle in 1822 and The Widow of the Rock and Other Poems in 1824. Although The Widow of the Rock and Other Poems was published anonymously, the Montreal press called it “Mrs. Blennerhassett’s poems,” and treated her with considerable personal and literary respect. This excerpt from her poem, The Widow of the Rock, reveals another tragic episode in Margaret Blennerhassett’s life.

The Widow of the Rock

“On Visiting the Grave of my Daughter for the Last Time

It is not the moon in the pride of her power,

Nor the soothing relief of the calm midnight shade,

That leads me to wander alone at this hour,

“Tis the moonlighted hill where my daughter is laid…

Years have passed away since, but I cannot forget thee,

Sweet germ of my hopes,  ‘thou thy sorrows are o’re,

Thou are happy my daughter, why should I regret Thee?

‘Thou thy mother must weep, thou will never weep more!”

Margaret Blennerhassett Finally Returns Home

In 1825, Margaret Blennerhassett and her children moved to the Island of Guernsey to be with Harman. Faithful and loving to the end, Margaret held him with his head pillowed on her breast as he died on February 2, 1831.

For the next thirteen years, Margaret Blennerhassett struggled to keep herself and her children in modest circumstances, and in 1842 she and her son Harman Jr. crossed the Atlantic again for New York City. Margaret had decided to petition Congress for restitution for the ruin of her Blennerhassett Island property by the Virginia Militia. Robert Emmett, the son of the noted Irish patriot, an old friend of the family, and Henry Clay, the same person who had helped Harman also presented her petition in Congress.

Other prominent gentlemen supported Margaret Blennerhassett’s claim and a committee of the Senate voted to allow it, easing some of her financial trouble. She didn’t live to savor her victory over years of hardship. She died in June 1842, in a New York City tenement and was buried in New York by the Sisters of Charity. Another source says that she was buried in the Emmet family vault. Whichever her burial site, she was buried thousands of miles away from the resting place of Harman Blennerhassett, the man she had loved so faithfully and well.


The mansion on Blennerhassett Island lay in ruins until the 1970s, when archaeologists uncovered it and reconstructed it as Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park near Parkersburg, West Virginia. In late 1990, Margaret Blennerhassett and her son Harman Jr. were moved back to Blennerhassett Island where they now rest next to the restored mansion that Margaret loved so well.

Links for more Information about the Blennerhassett Story

Appleton’s Cyclopedia

The Widow of the Rock

The Burr Plot

Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park

Tribune Story

Margaret Blennerhassett Ghost Story

Letters from Harman Blennerhassett to his wife Margaret

Blennerhassett Biography

Blennerhassett Biography

Blennerhassett Genealogy

McBride’s Magazine, 1879

Blennerhassett Biography

Find a Grave


Blennerhassett, Harman, and Fitch, Raymond E. (contributor). Breaking with Burr; Harman Blennerhassett’s Journal, 1807. Ohio University Press, 1988.

Isenberg, Nancy. Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr. Penguin, 2008.

Lowther, Minnie. Blennerhassett Island in Romance and Tragedy. Mcclain Printing Company, 1974.

Safford, William H. The Blennerhassett Papers: Embodying the Private Journal of Harman Blennerhassett, and the Hitherto Unpublished Correspondence of Burr, Alston, … and Others .Cornell University Library, 2009.

Schneider, Norris Franz. Blennerhassett Island and the Burr Conspiracy.  Ohio Historical Society, 1966.

Swick, Ray. An Island Called Eden: An Historical Sketch of Blennerhassett Island near Parkersburg, West Virginia, 1798-1807. Parkersburg Printing, 1996.


Skedaddling to Canada and Back

Posted on January 30, 2013 at 9:20 PM Comments comments (0)


 The Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Canada.

Wikimedia Commons

 by Kathy Warnes


 Americans and Canadians have been hurrying or skedaddling across each others' borders for centuries. In fact, the word skedaddle has roots in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Linguists and ordinary people are still discussing where skedaddle first saw the light of speech and thedictionary. Some people think the word originated in Sweden or Denmark and immigrants brought the word to England. Others think it came from a Scottish dialect and still others say skedaddle comes from the Irish word sgedadol which means scattered. 


 The London Times weighed in onthe argument in November 1862 when a correspondent flatly stated that the word“skedaddle” was not a Yankee invention. The correspondent said that the word“skedaddle” was commonly used in Dumfriessseire where it means to spill any liquids in small quantities. Skedaddle also applied to coals, potatoes or apples, and other items falling from carts traveling from one place to another.“But skedaddle does not apply to bodies of men scattered,” the Times correspondent concluded.


 Despite the controversy surrounding its origins, Skedaddle moved into solid print during the American Civil War. The New York Tribune of August 10, 1861, recorded a Secessionist retreat by observing that “No sooner did the traitors discover their approach than they skidaddled, a phrase the Union boys up here apply to the good use the Seceshers make of their legs in time of danger.”


 The word skedaddle quickly crossed over into civilian use and expanded to mean“leaving in a hurry.” It just as swiftly crossed the Atlantic and appeared in the Illustrated London News in 1862, and in 1867 surfaced in Anthony Trollope’s novel, The Last Chronicle of Barset.


 Canadiansand Americans officially began their version of skedaddling during the American Revolutionary War, although people had crossed the borders for the more benign reasons like fur trading and commerce and for less peaceful reasons during the French and Indian War. During and after the American Revolutionary War, about 50,000 Loyalists or colonists wanting to stay loyal to Britain fled north to the territory that would later become the Dominion of Canada. 


 During the War of 1812, the United States invaded what were then the British Colonies in North America, (Canada) several times, and many Americans believed that Canadians would regard them as liberators. Although American armies did penetrate to York, then the capital of the Upper Canada, and burn it, they weren’t successful in capturing Canada and skedaddled back across the border. After the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, Americans and Canadians began the task of establishing a more solid and peaceful common border.


 The American Civil War Brings a Golden Age of Skedaddle


The American Civil War energized the word skedaddle on both sides of the Americanand Canadian borders. Ironically enough, while the union of the United Stateswas disintegrating, Canada was still in the process of forming its federatedunion. In 1861, Canada consisted of the United Province of Canada – parts of what are now southern Ontario and Quebec- and the separate colonies of Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia and Rupert’sLand.


 The American Civil War divided the Canadians as well as the Americans. The Canadian military, Tories, and people from Nova Scotia favored the South while people from New Brunswick and most English speaking people west of Quebec favored the North. French speaking people were mostly neutral.


 After four years of witnessing and fighting in the bitter American conflict,Canadians recognized the power of a united country. Two years after the Union had won the American Civil War, Canada passed its Constitution Act in 1867 and became the Dominion of Canada.


In the meantime, during the Civil War, Americans and Canadians skedaddled back and forth across the border. In a desperate effort to enlist soldiers to fight for the North, American President Abraham Lincoln offered men money to sign up to fight and in 1862, Congress passed a draft to obtain soldiers for the Union Army and the draft law also said that a prospective soldier could hire a substitute to go to war in his place.


 Some Canadians decided to go to war to earn the generous bounty. Many Canadian males who lived in rural areas where they had scant hope of scratching out a bare living by farming. Others lived in urban centers where they could find only low paying jobs, if they could find one at all. The bounty and the $25.00 to $30.00 a month for fighting in the Civil War attracted them more than the 25 to 50 cents a day they could earn at home. Border cities like Buffalo and Detroit featured a brisk human trafficking in soldiers. Other Canadians fought because they thrilled to the adventure of war and others fought as a private crusade against slavery.


 Twenty first century historians estimate that between 33,000 and 55,000 men and women from Canada served in the Union Army and around 12,000 in the Confederate Army. Some Canadian soldiers already lived in the United States and others signed up when Union Army recruiters visited Canada


 A Few Canadian Soldiers in Michigan Regiments


 The Fifth Michigan Volunteer Infantry was organized at Fort Wayne, Detroit and it mustered into service on August 28, 1861 with a total of 900 officers and men. Canadians enlisting in the Fifth Michigan included Thomas Birchall, 32, in Company B, Jeremiah Patcheaud, 23, and Theodore Sharp  23, both of Company F. William Graham 25, and John Morgan, both of London, Canada West, were unassigned. TheFifth Infantry saw much action, including Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg and after the war ended, it arrived back at Detroit and disbanded on June 17,1865.


 Born in Canada in1844, Robert F. Dodd enlisted as a Private at Hamtramck, Michigan, in Company E, 27th Michigan Infantry. At Petersburg, he acted as an orderly and volunteered to help carry the wounded  from the ground in front of the Crater under heavy fire.  He died at Petersburg on July 30, 1864, and he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on July 27, 1896. At least 29 soldierswho had been born in Canada won the Medal of Honor.


 American Soldiers Skedaddle to Canada


Americans skedaddled across the Canadian border just asavidly. On August 11, 1862, the Toronto Globe reported that “an extraordinary number of  Americans are here to escape being drafted.” The same day the Milwaukee Sentinel noted that from fifteen to twenty refugees were taken from propellers on the way to Canada to escape the draft.


 On November 4, 1862, the Burlington, Vermont Press reported that the United States Marshal at Rouse Point was stopped from twenty to thirty men a day who were attempting to escape over the border to Canada to avoid military service. The Press noted  that “yesterday an able bodied young man by the name of Horace Edgerton from Pawlet in Vermont, was detected in an attempt to slip across the line in women’s clothes.”


 The flow of American skedaddlers continued into 1863. The Detroit Advertiser of March 15, 1863,said that the number of skedaddlers climbed daily in Windsor, “though for the honor of Michigan, we are happy to say that they are by no means all from this State.” The Advertiser said that  Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Iowa contributed their fair share of skedaddlers to Canada. According to the Advertiser, there were over 400 of the skedaddlers in Windsor and some of the Windsor citizens estimated the number to be as high as a thousand. There were also a large number in Amherstburg, Sandwich, Chatham, and scattered through settlements along the Canadian frontier.


 The Advertiser reported that the public houses in Windsor were filled to capacity and all of the public houses were occupied by what it termed “a class of people who live on cold meals and sleep on the floor.” Many of them were seeking employment, offering to work for fifty cents a day and board. The Advertiser noted that an intelligent Canadian had told them that not less than 4,000 or 5,000 of therunaways had crossed over the Detroit River to Canada during the past two months.The Canadian said, “As a general thing they are orderly, and the Windsor people have no cause to complain, so long as their guests are in funds and pay their board bills promptly. ”The story concluded  that the skedaddlers were cowards and that the Canadians heartily despised them as well as their fellow Americans.


 Historian Marcus Lee Hansen presented the story a little more gently when he wrote that many of the deserters were experienced  farmhands and were welcomed at first because of a labor shortage in many parts of Canada. Canadians appreciated their skill and willingness to work for lower than average pay. By 1864, the number of skedaddlers had increased enough –some estimate as high as 15,000-to upset Canadians who felt they were competing for Canadian jobs.


 The Hartford Post of July 27, 1863, reinforced Marcus Lee Hansen’s point when it said in a July 27, 1863 story that the number of Canadians arriving in Hartford had increased and the increase happened in other cities, including Boston where over two hundred had arrived the day before. According to the Post, “there has been so much skedaddling from the States into Canada that it has greatly reduced the demand for and price of labor, so that the Canadians themselves find it to their advantage to come here and offer themselves for substitutes, realizing the large premiums offered.


 After the Civil War ended, the American government offered an amnesty proclamation in May1865, assuring draft dodgers that they wouldn’t be punished if they returned home.  Marcus Hansen wrote that people who had moved to Canada before the Civil War moved back to the United States. Many Canadian skedaddlers followed the pattern by moving back to Canada.


 Skedaddling into the Twentieth Century

 During World War I, many Canadian soldiers who didn’t want to enlist to fight overseas skedaddled into the United States for refuge- at least until 1917 when America entered the conflict. World War II featured a close cooperation of Canadian and American forces and government sanctioned skedaddling.


 Americans who resisted the Vietnam War during the 1960s and early 1970s skedaddled to Canada  in large numbers. The liberal governments at the time focused on maintaining Canada’s sovereignty and autonomy from the United States, so they granted the refugees asylum and most Canadians welcomed them.

In his book Northern Passage:  American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada, sociologist John Hagan estimates that about 50,000 Americans skedaddled north  to avoid fighting in a war they considered unjust.  John Hagan himself protested the war and escaped to Canada to avoid fighting in it.


 Americans and Canadians have left a long tradition and trail of border skedaddling, and descendants on both sides of the border!



Hagan,John. Northern Passage:  American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada.Association for Canadian Studies in the United States, 2005.

Hansen,Marcus Lee. The Mingling of the Canadianand American Peoples. Vol 1: Historical. The Relations of Canada and the UnitedStates, Ayer, 1940.

Vinet, Mark. Canada and the American Civil War.Wadem, 2001.

Winks,Robin W. The Civil War Years: Canada andthe United States, McGill, Queens University, 1999.


William Tell - Mythical Hero, Mythical Historical Figure, or Both?

Posted on January 3, 2013 at 8:40 PM Comments comments (5)

by  Kathy Warnes

History needs to be written and taught with imgination and documentation, with a fascinating figure like William Tell included to add zest to the story. Miss Arylene Burr, our American elementary music teacher, taught us that Gioachino Rossini wrote an opera in four acts called William Tell. Although William Tell features four acts, the William Tell Overture is the most famous part of the opera and it gallops into the Twenty First Century as a major part of the concert and recording repertoire of performers around the world.

The Story of Swiss National Hero, William Tell, Evolves

When Mr. Magnus. Meyer, our history teacher, told us about William Tell, he stressed that the story was about a Swiss national hero who fought for freedom much like the American George Washington. I didn’t find out until later in my historical journey that there are several accounts of the William Tell legend, beginning with the late Fifteenth Century White Book of Sarnen by Hans Schriber.

The most durable version of the William Tell story comes from Aegidius or Giles Tschudi, of Glarus, Switzerland, who lived from February 5, 1505, to February 28, 1572. He recorded the story of William Tell, an expert crossbow shot, originally from Burglen, in the canton of Uri in Switzerland.

In William Tell’s time, the Austrian Habsburg emperors wanted to rule Uri and Hermann Gessler, the Austrian governor of Altdorf, raised a pole in Uri’s central square with his hat dangling from the top of it. He told the citizens of Uri that if they didn’t bow to his hat, they would be arrested. When William Tell passed the hat, he refused to bow and Gessler arrested him. To punish William Tell, Hermann Gessler threatened him and his son, Walter, with execution if he didn’t shoot an apple off Walter’s head. If Tell hit the apple, he and Walter would be free.

On November 18, 1307, William Tell took aim at the apple on his son Walter’s head. Before he shot, William Tell removed two crossbow bolts from his quiver, took aim, and split the apple on Walter’s head. Gessler asked why he had removed two crossbow bolts from his quiver and William Tell told him that if he had killed his son, he had been prepared to use the second bolt on Gessler.

Angrily, Gessler ordered William Tell arrested and taken across Lake Lucerne to his castle at Kussnacht. A storm brewed on Lake Lucerne, violently rocking the boat and the soldiers untied William Tell and begged him to steer the boat. William Tell escaped by jumping from the boat, swimming to shore, and making his way to Kussnacht by land. When Gessler arrived, William Tell shot him with his crossbow as he traveled down a narrow stretch of the road from Immensee to Kussnacht.

William Tell’s actions ignited a rebellion and eventually the Swiss rebels formed the Swiss Confederation, which, as a federation of independent small states called cantons, existed from the end of the Thirteenth or early Fourteenth century until 1798, when the French Republic invaded Switzerland. Tschudi also documented William Tell’s death in 1354, when he wrote that Tell died trying to save a child from drowning in the Schachenbach River in Uri.

Tschudi and WilliamTell Fade In and Out of FavorThrough centuries of historiography,

Tschudi as a historical source has been discredited and William Tell as the Swiss national hero has swung back and forth on a pendulum of approval and disapproval. According to an article in the American newspaper The Brooklyn Eagle, in the 1880s, the Swiss Canton of Schwyz decided to expunge William Tell from its textbooks, but later reinstated him. In 2006, a Swiss survey about William Tell revealed that 58 percent of the Swiss people believe that William Tell was a legend, yet many Swiss still consider him Switzerland’s national hero.

The historic existence of national heroes like King Arthur, Robin Hood, and William Tell is unverifiable and some historians seriously doubt their validity. Although he believes that William Tell is unverifiable, historian Roger Sablonier, a professor of Middle Age History at the University of Zurich and project manager of the Forum for Swiss history at Schwyz, doesn’t seem to be bothered by his continuing presence in the national psyche.

"In order to maintain its sense of togetherness, a nation needs such myths," he said. "You can criticize them, but they are still somehow alive." He welcomes their presence, but cautions that politicians appropriate them for their own purposes.

Beware or Be Aware of Myth in History?

Perhaps Joseph Campbell, the late American mythologist, writer, and lecturer, best illustrates the tangling of myth and history in human psyches in his ground breaking non-fiction book of comparative mythology,Hero with a Thousand Faces. In Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell presents his perception of the archetypal hero that can be found in world mythologies. Like William Tell, Campbell’s archetypal hero, follows a variations of a pattern of the mythical hero, including the hero’s adventures. The hero puts the knowledge, blessing or benefit that he acquired during his adventures to use in the everyday world, often a positive benefit that serves to define the hero’s role in society.

The evolution of William Tell illustrates that the dividing line between history and myth is often crossed, even with documentation. Historians need to document their work with the best resources possible, but impeccable documentation does not always inspire an interest in history. Sometimes teachers like Miss Burr and Mr. Meyer telling the story of William Tell ignite the curiosity of a child and encourage that child to look beyond the prosaic names and dates that some people call history to the enduring stories of people and nations. As interest in history grows so does documentation knowledge. Eventually, both produce people with a solid sense of history and myth and the intellectual tools to know the difference.


Birmingham, David. Switzerland: Village History. Swallow Press, 2004.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton University Press, 1972.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. Anchor, 1991.

Fisher, Leonard Everett. William Tell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.

Wilson, John. The History of Switzerland. Cosimo Classics, 2007.

Santons and The Stars and Stripes Continue the Christmas Prayer for Peace

Posted on November 17, 2012 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (0)

French Santa - Wikimedia Commons

by Kathy Warnes


Christmas santons and the World War II Stars and Stripes newspaper staff writer Paul S. Green bring an enduring message of peace from the Second World War.


The Monday, December 25, 1944, Christmas edition of the Stars and Stripes, the American Armed Forces newspaper, featured a story by staff writer, Paul S. Green. Staff writer Green wrote about Christmas in Marseilles, the chief city of Provence in France. In his story, staff writer Green said that Christmas in Provence was different than in any other province in France because of the ancient tradition in Provence of reproducing miniature versions of the crèche, the manager where the infant Jesus was born. Provencals called these miniature versions of the crèche santons, from the Provencal “santouon,” or little saints. The Italian word for santon is “santoni”, a shortened version of “Santi Belli” for beautiful saints.


St. Francis of Assisi Recreates the Manger Scene

Even though Paul Green wrote his story about santons 66 years ago, the ancient custom of santons traces back to thirteenth century Grecio, Italy, where St. Francis of Assisi first created a crude stable to recreate the birth of Christ. He laid moss and straw in his recreated stable to mimic the stable of Bethlehem. He fashioned figures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and St. Joseph. He created villagers who traveled on donkeys and oxen from far and wide to visit the miracle at the stable.


Italian migrants crossing the border into Provence, then the closest province to Italy, brought the colorful santons custom with them and santons soon became a central part of the Provencal Christmas. Paul Green wrote that santons were so prevalent that Christmas trees were seldom found in Provencal homes. Crèches replaced Christmas trees, although the crèche custom didn’t spread to other parts of France.


Provencal Citizens are Mirrored in Santons


Santons are figurines of Provencal citizens on their way to celebrate the birth of Jesus with their humble, local offerings. These citizens include the scissors grinder, the fishwife, the blind man, and the chestnut seller. They are usually dressed in nineteenth century style although their origins trace back to thirteenth century.


In addition, santons include the three wise kings who along with the shepherds visit Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. Besides the Christmas scene, crèches often illustrate typical Provencal villages. A maker of santons is called a santionnier, and skilled santionniers passed their knowledge down from parents to children for centuries.


There are two types of santons, santons d'argile or clay figures and santons habille or clothed figures that resemble dolls. The earlier bas-relief santons evolved into carved wooden figures that included marionettes, clockwork characters and even children in costumes in living creches.


Provencal santons are made from the fine clay or argile that is found around Marseilles and Aubagne. The santionniers make two piece plaster molds from original carvings and fill them with the clay for molding. They take the figure from the mold to paint it before it is dried and baked. The santionniers hand paint the figures with great care, using bright colors.


Santons were air dried instead of fired in a kiln until the end of the nineteenth century, and the air dried figurines were fragile and easily broken. Santons made in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are usually fired in a kiln.


Jean-Louis Lagnel Makes Santons During the French Revolution

The churches were closed during the French Revolution, depriving people of santon creative and religious expression and destroying markets for the crèche makers. Ordinary people set up crèches in their homes, something that had previously been a custom for rich people. These crèches or santons became increasingly elaborate.


Jean-Louis Lagnel of Marseilles had made molded figurines for the church crèches and when the churches were closed he decided to make santons for the entire population at affordable prices. He made small clay figurines in plaster molds and dried them before firing them. His santons became instantly successful and inspired an industry.


People in Marseilles started a santon fair, another sprang up at Aubagne to the east, and soon there were santon fairs at villages throughout Provence. Since 1803, santonniers have gathered each December in Marseilles to sell their santons and Aubagne holds a two day fair.


The Musee du Santon in Marseilles exhibits a private collection of eighteen and nineteenth century santons. Several towns and villages in Provence present elaborate creches or santons festivals in November and December.


Paul Green Describes World War II Santons

In his 1944 Christmas story in the Stars and Stripes, Paul Green reported that during Christmastime the stalls along La Canabere in Marseilles and dozens of stores were filled with santons of all sizes, all types, and all prices. The most popular were figures of Jesus on a bed of straw, the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the ox, the donkey, and the lamb. Among the other favored santons were the Three Kings, the simple minded peasant, the female washerwoman, the fishmonger, the knife grinder, the gypsy, the baker, the blind man, the drummer, the woodcutter, the fisherman, the tailor, the hunter, the carpenter, the forester, and the peasant riding a donkey.


The Prayer that the Children Prayed in Front of the Santons

According to Paul Green’s story, on Christmas Eve the children put their shoes under the chimney instead of hanging up their stockings as Americans did and according to tradition they said the following prayer in front of the santons:


“Faithful to the crèche, Lord, bestow upon us the virtues of those who surround thee and of the products which they offer thee.


Make us philosophical as the fisherman, untroubled as the drummer, joyous as the simple peasant, hard working as the washerwoman, patient as the spinner, valiant as the donkey, strong as the ox.


Give us the sacred leisure time of the hunter, give us also the tastes of the shepherd, the pride of work of the knife grinder and the thinker, the songs of the miller.


Give us the wisdom of the Magi.


Give us the cheerfulness of the dove, the petulance of the cock, the prudence of the snail, the gentleness of the lamb.


Give us the goodness of bread, the tenderness of soft cookies, the piquancy of the cod fish, the good humor of heated wine, and the relish of garlic.


Give us the purity of oil.



Paul Green wrote that Christmas in Provence as in America, is a holiday of the home and families gather around the festive board to eat, drink, and be merry. He said that “The Provencal who is a big eater normally, outdoes himself at Christmas, but this year many will be satisfied with spam (the edible kind) in the American tradition.”


Santon Prayer of Peace During World War II Fits Our Twenty-first Century

World War II disturbed Christmas celebrations in Provence as well as the rest of the world. The Christmas of 1944, the first since the liberation, Provencals sang with more than usual fervor the ancient Christmas hymn:


“To you father and mother, /I wish a happy holiday, / more war…health…good appetite, /The angels on this very day/Are everywhere on earth, /Let there be peace,/No more war/We will never tire of praying,/No more war. Let there be peace.”




“Marseilles Christmas Not Typically French,” Paul S. Green. Stars and Stripes, December 25, 1944


Christofferson, Thomas and Christofferson, Michael. France During World War II: From Defeat to Liberation (World War II: the Global, Human, and Ethnical Dimension) Fordham University Press, 2006


Jackson, Julian. France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944. Oxford University Press, 2007.


Paxton, Robert D. Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944. Columbia University Press, 2001


Riding, Alan. And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi Occupied Paris. Knopf, 2010


Vinen, Richard. The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation. Yale University Press, 2007

Does Jacques LeRay Chaumont Still Haunt Chaumont Castle?

Posted on October 21, 2012 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (0)

by Kathy Warnes


Historians call Jacques LeRay Chaumont the "Father of the American Revolution," and the enabler of the French Revolution. Does his spirit still haunt Chaumont Castle?


The Chateau or Castle Chaumont, between Blois and Amboise, France, is located on a hill overlooking the Loire River with a panoramic view of the Loire Valley. A climb leads to a park of cedar trees that surrounds the castle as well as stables and gardens.


Eudes II Builds Chaumont in the 10th Century

Eudes II, Count of Blois built the castle in the 10th century to protect Blois from attacks from the Count of Anjour, its feudal rivals. The Norman Geiduin inherited the castle and improved it. His great niece Denise de Fougere married Sulpice d'Amboise and the Chateau Chaumont passed into the Amboise family and remained there for 500 years. Louis XI ordered it burned to the ground and from 1465 to 1510, Peter of Amboise, his oldest son Charles I of Amboise and his grandson Charles II rebuilt it.


Catherine de Medici and Diane of Poitiers Live at Chaumont

The apartments at Chaumont contain rooms that Catherine de Medici and Diane of Poitiers once occupied and these rooms still feature tapestries, fine furniture and terra cotta medallions by Nini. In 1560, Catherine de Medici, the widow of Henry II, acquired Castle Chaumont, to use as an instrument of revenge against Diane of Poitiers who had been her husband’s mistress.


Catherine forced Diane to leave her favorite home at Chenonceaux to live at Chaumont. Ruggieri, Catherine’s astrologer, had an office in a room connected to a tower by a stairway and the tower itself was an observatory where Catherine and her Cabbala master questioned the stars and entertained numerous astrologers, including Nostradamus.


Chaumont is Modernized

In 1594, a tax farmer Largentier, bought the castle and after his arrest for speculation, the chateau and the title of Sueur de Chaumont passed to a family from Lucca. This family owned it until 1667 when family connections passed it to the seigneurs de Ruffignac.


In 1699, the Duc de Beauvilliers bought the Castle Chaumont, modernized some its interior and decorated it expensively enough to house the Duc d’Anjou who was passing through on his way to become king of Spain in 1700. His heirs sold the castle to a Monsieur Bertin who demolished the north wing built by the Amboise family to open the castle towards the river view.


In 1750, Jacques Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont purchased the Chaumont castle for a country home and he built a glassmaking and pottery factor. Benjamin Franklin was never a guest at the Castle Chaumont, but his grandson Temple stayed there.


Jacques de Chaumont, ‘Father of the American Revolution?’


The United States government considered Jacques Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont to be the French "Father of the American Revolution," but he later opposed the French Revolution. His son, also named Jacques Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, was born in castle Chaumont. Jacques was born in Nantes in 1726 and he made his fortune in shipping. At age 25, he married Marie Therese Jogues des Ormeaux and purchased the Chateau de Chaumont, located between Blois and Tours, as a country home.


He established a glassmaking and earthenware factory, and in 1772, he signed a contract with renowned Italian sculptor Jean Baptiste Nini to oversee his factories. Nini set up the production of portrait medallions, a sculpture in miniature done in terra cotta for very wealthy people and European Royalty. Jacques and his family held a prominent place in civic affairs and were wealthy and powerful, but they didn’t belong to the hereditary aristocracy.


Jacques dealt with the American colonies, championed the American Revolution, and hated the English. Louis XVI appointed Jacques a member of his council and he became one of the king’s chief advisers in commercial matters. When the King offered him the position of Secretary of Treasury, he refused because he felt that he could better help the American revolutionists as a private citizen instead of a ministry member of a country officially at peace with England.


When the American colonies declared their independence on July 4, 1776, they sent emissaries to France to seek help from King Louis XVI.


Jacques Chaumont Befriends Benjamin Franklin


Acting as an intermediary between King Louis XVI and the American representatives, Jacques Chaumont swayed the King and the French government in favor of the American side of the Revolution. Benjamin Franklin came of Paris in December 1776 and quickly developed a close friendship with Jacques and his family, living at the Chaumont estate in Passy for several years. Jacques helped him obtain French support of money and armed forces for the American cause.


Besides helping Benjamin Franklin, Jacques also worked with John Adams, Silas, Deane, the Marquis de Lafayette and the Comte de Vergennes to help the American Revolution. Although he was an aristocrat, he believed in the equality of all men and put his money behind his beliefs by providing huge sums to purchase weapons, supplies and clothing for the American armed forces.


The Bonhomme Richard


The American government asked Jacques to oversee equipment and management of the combined French and American naval fleet. He worked closely with Admiral Charles Hector Estaing, the French Fleet commander. He ordered his shipyards to refit a merchant vessel into a warship. He gave the warship to America, christening it the USS Bonhomme Richard, and earmarking it for Captain John Paul Jones to use.


Jacques' Political Ideas Turn Against Him


When the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolutionary War in 1783, Jacques Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont commissioned Jean Baptiste Nini to make a portrait medallion of Benjamin Franklin. It is still Franklin’s most famous profile.


The political ideas of liberty and equality of all men that Jacques cherished turned against him. The massive financial aid that he had helped convince King Louis XVI to supply to the Americans led to the bankruptcy of the French government. In 1788, drought caused a severe famine in France and the French Treasury had no money available to subsidize the cost of flour for bread to prevent thousands of people from starving.


Jacques Loses His Castle Chaumont


In 1789, the French Revolution dramatically reduced Jacques’ own finances and the new French Revolutionary government seized his assets, including his beloved Chateau at Chaumont-sur-Loire.


In 1785, Jacques’s son who had the same name went to America and bought property in Otsego County, New York. In America, he was known as James, and in 1790, he married a girl from New Jersey and became an American citizen.


Without Jacques Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont and the country of France, the United States would have found it difficult if not impossible to win its independence. James and the French government also helped America when the country went to war with the British in 1812.

Madame de Stael Buys Castle Chaumont and Turns it into a Literary Center


In 1810, the writer Madame Germaine de Stael, bought the Castle Chaumont after she had been banned from Paris for harshly criticizing Napoleon. For half a year Castle Chaumont served as a literary center and a focus of opposition against Napoleon. After numerous changes of owners, the castle became the property of Vicomte Joseph Walsh, who was responsible for extensive renovations.


The Comte d’Aramon bought the now sadly neglected Castle Chaumont in 1833, and hired architect Jules Potier de la Morandiere of Blois to undertake extensive renovations. D’Aramon installed a museum of medieval arts. In 1875, Marie Charlotte Say, the heiress to the Say sugar fortune bought Chaumont and later that year she married Amedee de Broglie. They restored the stables and chateau and replanted the surrounding park.



The Belle Epoque or "Beautiful Era"


Belle Epoque is French for "Beautiful Era", a period in European social history beginning in the late 19th century and ending with World War I. Coinciding with the French Third Republic, the German Empire, and the American Gilded Age, historians consider the Belle Epoque a golden age for French upper classes. The European major powers were peaceful, new technologies improved people’s lives, no income tax marked their financial horizons, and commercial arts adapted the Renaissance and 18th century styles to modern life. .


Castle Chaumont is a Historic Monument


The Princesse de Broglie, who was the last lady of castle Chaumont-sur-Loire. The Borglies owned Castle Chaumont until 1938, when the French government assumed ownership of the castle. A park surrounds the castle along with over 400 decorative gardens which are open from April through October. Visitors at Chaumont included the Princess of Chimay Caraman, Sarah Bernhardt, composer Francis Poulenc, artist Marcel Proust and poet Jean Cocteau.


The French Ministry has classified Castle Chaumont as a Monument historique since 1840 and currently, the Chateau de Chaumont is a museum that features several exhibitions every year. There is a Garden Festival every year at Castle Chaumont from April to October that allows modern garden designers to display their work in an English style garden against the background of an 10th century castle.


And perhaps Jacques Chaumont himself strolls through the English gardens and remembers his American and English friends.




Brecher, Frank W. Securing American Independence: John Jay and the French Alliance, Praeger Publishers, 2003.


Hibbert, Christopher, The Days of the French Revolution, Harper Perennial,1999.


Clarke, T. Wood, Emigres in the Wilderness, The Macmillian Company, 1941.


Schaeper, Thomas J. Frane and America in the Revolutionary Era: The Life of Jacques-Donatien Leray de Chaumont, 1725-1803. Berghahn Books, 1995.


Schama Simon, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Vintage, 1990.