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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 3
This webpage reproduces part of
A Late Stuart Pretender

by George Sherburn

published by
The University of Chicago Press

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 5

 p30  Chapter Four

America: 1812‑14

Once off Russian soil Roehenstart sent back friendly letters full of regrets to persons of the ducal household. The Baltic was unbelievable, and it took the "Susquehannah" thirty-five days to get from Kronstadt to Gottenberg. He reached London in November, where probably he hoped to find funds. At this time he seems to have had no idea of appealing for recognition as a Stuart. Before reaching England he said nothing about going to America, but various plausible reasons arose for doing so. There was the man Forbes, who, it is alleged, had run off to the States with Roehenstart's money; there was perhaps a knowledge that the Rohans had property near Port au Prince. Roehenstart when in America did visit Haiti, but it is extremely doubtful if anything could be realized from the Rohan plantation except by sale, and it was not at this time sold.

Our best information about this San Domingo estate comes from a letter written by the Duc d'Enghien for his amie (or wife?), Princess Charlotte de Rohan. This lady had in 1803 become the residuary legatee of her cousin the "necklace" Cardinal de Rohan, in whose castle at Ettenheim she had lived for some years. The Cardinal and his brother Prince Ferdinand had inherited the plantation when another brother, the Admiral, had been guillotined; and upon the death of the Cardinal (1803) half the property was the princess's. Presumably the animosity of the Condés towards Napoleon would keep her from friendly relations with Prince Ferdinand, who was subservient to the Emperor. The value of the estate before the Revolution, so the Duc d'Enghien wrote in a letter preserved at Chantilly, had been estimated at 1,500,000 livres. "At the time of the confiscation there was arranged a simulated sale to the London bankers Turnbull and Forbes. These agents paid over with great exactness the revenues from  p31 the property, which was managed by their own agents, up to the moment when Toussaint-Louverture appropriated the property to his own use — an accident which turned out advantageously, since the property was thus kept intact even until peace was secured by the French expedition."1 But since no returns had been realized for some years, the Duke hoped a sale could be arranged in the name of Princess Charlotte. Apparently no sale was made; for when the Princess died in 1841, her will bequeathed "A mes cousins de Rohan, mes biens de Saint-Domingue." We do not know what Roehenstart's relations with his father's family were, but it is safe to assume that in 1812 various heirs would be glad to have the estate in San Domingo investigated.

Certainly there were other reasons for going to America. Improbable is the reason given in the Voyage of Messence, namely, that a relative was sailing for the States, and had persuaded Roehenstart to go along as a part of a projected voyage to China. And it is conceivable that Roehenstart came to America, as many have done, because he thought it a good place in which to make a fortune. Before his commercial projects were terminated, however, he stated the moral of this attempt saying, "I never knew before coming to this country how painful it is to have debts." But he was more than a mere trader. His well-fused roles included those of tourist, trader, intellectual, writer, and lover as well.

As a writer he probably did little, but like many travelers he thought there were things about the newborn country ("whose birth," he says, "had not been the easiest") that his pen ought to tell the world. Before leaving England he had burst into print in the London Sunday Review (May 3, 1812) with a long letter of advice to the Prince Regent. He writes in a liberal, anti-Tory vein not always associated with royal Stuarts, hoping to "temper admonition with sufficient respect to make it palatable." He casually recalls to H. R. H. in one sentence "what were the reasons for removing from the royal seat that race which by birth had stronger claim to sway the British sceptre than any of your own family." Ten days after this wordy advice appeared, Roehenstart sailed from Liverpool, again on the "Susquehannah." Thirty-seven days later he landed at Philadelphia on June 19. His travels in North and South America were doubtless not so extensive as he alleges. He probably went to see Niagara Falls, and he perhaps traveled through parts of Canada. He says he spent several months in Mexico, but his  p32 papers indicate that he could hardly have seen either Mexico or the northern coast of South America in the time spent in travel. One doubts even if he saw New Orleans, though he says he did.

As a systematic planner of travels Roehenstart drew for himself a freehand map of the States, squeezing in the Mississippi and even a part of the Missouri River as well as the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence. The map, like its artist, was chiefly attentive to the Atlantic seaboard. It contains marginalia of some interest. Industry was uninteresting to him and is unmentioned. Colleges, on the other hand, were of interest, and he notes the location of colleges in Cambridge, New Haven, "Princetown," "Washington College in Delaware," and "Williamsburg College in Virginia." From some points of view he was an intelligent tourist. One assumes that the latter half of 1812 was spent on the Atlantic seaboard — with a trip to Niagara.

The early months of 1813 were spent in the West Indies. On January 14 Roehenstart gave twenty dollars as part payment for a passage to Barbados in the schooner "Republican"; he gave a promissory note for an additional eighty dollars to be paid on arrival. Possibly this was a usual method of payment, taking into consideration the possibility of non‑arrival, since the British fleet was at this time blockading the Atlantic coast. Roehenstart evidently arrived; for late in February he was in St. Bartholomew's, and in April he visited Porto Rico. By May he was back in New York, possibly already determined to secure a ship and do some lucrative blockade-running on his own. He may have seen the process in successful operation during his first visit to the islands.

At a glance blockade-running might seem to any twentieth-century reader of American newspapers of 1813 a completely mad project; for the number of trading vessels daily captured either by American or by British privateers might well deter any ship from leaving port. But Roehenstart, encouraged, one judges, by Russian consular officers, was to sail under Russian colors, and they were somewhat privileged. Czar Alexander was thought by Americans to be "our mediator," and hence Russian prestige was up. Certain difficulties obviously existed. At the very moment when Roehenstart was purchasing a cargo, a leading Boston newspaper, the Columbian Centinel (August 7, 1813) remarked:

There are a great number of Russian vessels now loading in the United States with provisions. — Many of them probably are bound to British ports, and some possibly to the supply of the British blockading squadrons. As they respect the United States and England these vessels are neutral. If then, in the execution  p33 of Mr. Madison's Embargo Order, any of the Russian ships should be detained (and detained they must be if his officers do their duty), will not the Emperor Alexander, our Mediator, be likely to [protest]?

President Madison had recently issued an unpopular embargo order, prohibiting exports of provisions. The shipping interests of New England disliked the order, and the New England coast, while blockaded, was not very rigorously shut off. Hence perhaps New England was a convenient place to look for ships and cargoes — especially if one was to sail under neutral colors. In August Roehenstart in New Haven bought the brig "Betsy," whose home port had been Salem, Massachusetts; he rechristened the ship the "Alexander," proceeded to load it with a cargo of provisions — flour and corn among other things. He then set sail apparently for Jamaica, although officially he said for Havana — which port would not be affected by the embargo. The weather was very bad, but Roehenstart's troubles came rather from American privateers — Carthagenian pirates he called them.a On September 3 within sight of Jamaica his ship was, as he says, captured by pirates. A more accurate phrase would be "detained by an American ship." In his Memorial of 1816 he gives a fantastic, romantic account of the episode:

The wind was favourable, and I was only ten miles from Kingston, when at 4 o'clock in the morning, on the 3rd September 1813, a Carthagenian pirate came, took my Brig, and spoiled me of all my property. — The morning of the following day, they put me on board a small sloop, heart-broken, the edifice of my happiness entirely overthrown, and regretting not to have shared the fate of three of my crew, whom the Spaniards murdered at my side. — The loss of my collection is a more severe one than that of my Brig, since indeed no money can replace what I had: — bringing with me some Phoenician Inscriptions and Monuments which I had had the good fortune to find in a field distant six miles from Mexico! The Privateer gave us a very small quantity of bread and water, but owing to a fair breeze, we arrived at St. Barts before we have suffered much from want of nutriment. Then I returned to the United States 35 days after I had left New Haven: the strictest inquiries after my Brig proved of no use whatever.

There is clearly much fiction in this story as told privately for the eye, supposedly, of only the Prince Regent. Why Roehenstart and his men, put into a small sloop, made for St. Barts (some hundred miles distant) when within sight of Kingston is perplexing. It is safe to assume that he is making a heroic story out of his ill‑fated adventure. The real truth doubtless was that the "Alexander" was intercepted by an  p34 American ship, and was taken back to its home port of Salem, Massachusetts. There was in vogue at the time a system of ransoming cargoes, and within a couple of months after his return to the States, Roehenstart is busily trying to negotiate the sale of his provisions.

It is interesting to see what sort of public story Roehenstart — still romanticizing — was willing in 1824 to see printed in Messence's Voyage. The story is there told as if by Roehenstart himself:

You remember that I had long formed a project for visiting China. Not being able some years back to get a place in the embassy of Count Golowkin, I decided to cross over to England, from where ships regularly leave for Canton. I found at London one of my relatives, who, leaving for the United States, urged me to accompany him, assuring me that from there I should have frequent opportunities to continue my journey, and yielding to his insistence we embarked on the "Susquehannah" at Liverpool. In less than thirty days we were at Philadelphia: so near Niagarab I could not fail to visit the imposing phenomenon of the Falls. Thereafter I visited Canada, its great lakes, and the majestic St. Lawrence. After having run about the United States, I passed to the islands. In San Domingo the court of Christopher presented sights the ridiculousness of which I could hardly sketch — especially when comparing it with life at the Hermitage which so recently I had left. From Haiti I went to Jamaica, and from there crossed to Porto-Cavallo in South America. There I almost witnessed the earthquake that entirely destroyed the city of Caracas.c I then left for Mexico, where I stayed several months. Guided by the learned observations of von Humboldt I made a discovery the importance of which would have created in Europe a real sensation: it is that America was known to the Phoenicians, who had colonies there. I know that the difficulty of crossing the Atlantic without a compass has been objected, and especially in boats such as those of the Carthaginians; but to these objections I shall answer one word: I possessed sephulchralº monuments of this people, inescapable proof of the fact I offer, and I even succeeded through patience and labor in transporting these fragments to the point of embarkation. The war had just broken out between England and the United States. Few ships escaped the pirates cruising the Gulf of Mexico. I returned to New York, and under a Russian flag returned to Porto-Cavallo to embark the results of so much trouble. We set sail in favorable weather, and were already in sight of the mountains of Jamaica, where I intended to touch, when we saw a pickeroon of Carthagena chasing us. At once I raised the Russian flag to show that we were neutrals. They greeted us with a full discharge, and a moment later I had twenty-five of these ruffians on board. All resistance was useless: several of my men were killed at my feet: I expected to be slaughtered with all my crew. We escaped death, however, but my rich collection of natural history, my manuscripts, my ship, all that I possessed were taken from me, and I was pained to see the funerary stones  p35 thrown into the sea — precious remains of antiquity with which I expected to astonish the learned world. Soon afterwards they put me with five men and three wounded on board a small American sloop which had joined them. Then without other provisions than two sacks of biscuits and a barrel of water, they abandoned us to our fate. The third day we came to Saint Barts; from there I passed to Halifax, where a war ship brought me back to Europe.

The first reverse almost cured me of the itch for long voyages; and as for China I came back from there long since. I am going to Athens now to study the Turkish language in order to travel through Asia Minor, in the hope of discovering ancient monuments in the Troad through the researches of my predecessors.2

These two accounts of Roehenstart's major American adventure can be in large part checked by his private papers. The Phoenician remains may be labeled "by courtesy of Alexander von Humboldt" who was a favorite author of Roehenstart's and who believed in Phoenician colonies in America. It is certain that in 1813 Roehenstart made two voyages to the West Indies; the first, that of a tourist, lasting about four months, and the second lasting for only thirty-five days. It is practically impossible that he visited South America and spent four months in Mexico — even that he saw Mexico. His Phoenician remains were useful in keeping the story of his voyages free from taint of illegal trade in provisions, and they appealed to his love of romance. He thought of himself now and later as in the great tradition of travel-writing, and invented much of his tall stories.

But he did buy the "Alexander"; it was taken and was convoyed back to Salem. Something like two months later Roehenstart was making efforts to recover something at least on his cargo. He drew up a detailed and doubtless inflated account of his losses, which, he found, totaled $17,899.50. The accounting he dated November 25, 1813.

His personal relations now began to be complicated. Early in 1813 he had become acquainted with Comte Gabriel Sampigny d'Yssoncourt, a Frenchman with some property in the States. In May he had borrowed $150 of Sampigny and in August $300. Such loans, to a man spending thousands at the time for a ship and cargo, were mere matters of convenience. But when in the autumn Roehenstart returned ruined by the loss of his ship and cargo, Sampigny became urgent in his desire for repayment. The two men apparently had lodgings at the same house, and enjoyed the company of ladies who perhaps also lived there. Letters that Roehenstart preserved show that the two men were  p36 very kindly disposed to each other until this matter of the loans became critical. Sampigny wrote to Roehenstart during the first voyage to the West Indies in a friendly, frivolous manner, recounting the sorrows of the ladies (two or three of whom he represents as enamoured of Roehenstart) at Roehenstart's absence. Sometime, so Roehenstart asserted, he had repaid the first loan, but had failed to retrieve his written promise to pay. He alleged that Sampigny was now trying to collect that debt a second time.

Much of the details of this confused affair come out in letters that Roehenstart, after leaving New York on December 23, 1813, wrote to a lady whom he affectionately calls bonne amie, and who was Mrs. E. Chapus, 148 Reed Street, New York — a French widow with a young son named Eugene. She was among the ladies whom Sampigny had in May, 1813, represented as inconsolable during Roehenstart's absence. One passage will give the tone of Sampigny's early friendship. He is writing about the ladies:

Sobs and tears have had their way freely, &c. Would that you could make yourself invisible and come among us, and thus believe the picture that I can only sketch for you, and you would be quite convinced of the truth of my narrative. Your little air is the refrain of all that they sing or play. Nothing more touching has been heard. In a word, then, my dear friend, you do not cease to live in the midst of us: one Lady lives in the memory of what she was on the point of enjoying; the other on the hope of being one day the object of your attentions, and I on the expectation of the moment which will bring back my friend. Please don't forget the vow that I have made of consecrating to your service some years when you shall one day be in your glory. . . . If you have some need to regard my purse as your own, that will assuredly demonstrate to you, though very feebly, how much I should like to show that you are dear to me. . . . Adieu, tout à vous pour la vie.

But after the fiasco with the "Alexander" things changed. Even here the chatty manner in which Sampigny speaks of being in Roehenstart's service "when you shall be one day in your glory" doubtless did not please. Roehenstart never pretended to glory and he did not relish such jokes. In his opinion one gentleman did not hound another for money owed. These two attitudes are reinforced by a reflection that Roehenstart set down, possibly before he left Russia:

It is strange, but it is true, that those who have been thrust by misfortune to a state beneath their birth and expectations, consider themselves the object of universal hostility. They see contempt in every eye, they suppose insult in every word; the slightest neglect is sufficient to set the sensitive pride of the  p37 unfortunate in a blaze; and, alas! how little is this sensibility respected by the rich and gay in their dealings with the unhappy! To what an addition of misery are the wretched exposed; meeting not only those contumelies, which the prosperous are not backward to bestow, but those fancied ills, which, however unfounded, keep the mind in a constant fever with itself, and warfare with the surrounding world?

For his lack of understanding of this psychological bias Sampigny had to pay by taking abuse instead of money. In many of his travels Roehenstart showed intense irritation because of slights real or imagined from customs officers, the agents who issued or visaed passports, and all such people. The French Revolution might well, he thought, be instructive to the Prince Regent; but he himself clung, subconsciously perhaps, to the old idea that blood royal should instinctively inspire deference. If the lion knows the real prince, customs officers might be courteous to Roehenstart. Instinct, as Falstaff remarked, is a great matter.

In December, 1813, Roehenstart left New York for two or three obvious reasons. Sampigny threatened him with a lawsuit if the debts were not paid; and in any case he had to go to Boston to see about recovering something on the cargo of the "Alexander." During the stay in Boston, letters passed between Roehenstart and his bonne amie, and in them a strong leitmotif was hatred of Sampigny. For example:

Sampigny is a monster! I now have only $200 and do not yet know what will be decided in my case. I can give only the half. If you are willing to lend me $200, remit to him the enclosed note, and send me in your reply the money in two bills by the return post. — I don't wish to tie myself by an uncertain promise: sooner than four months I shall not succeed in repaying, but I will give you against all risks a letter of change on my sister in case I am not in condition to pay sooner. [December 27, 1813]

The startling thing about this letter actually is the mention of his sister, of whom Mme Chapus perhaps had some knowledge. It is the only mention of a sister in any of the documents preserved by Roehenstart. Sampigny was not paid, and Mme Chapus had lent or did lend money to Roehenstart. Upon his return to England he sent her a draft for $500, of which $200 were to go to Sampigny. Meanwhile in Boston or Salem he recovered something (not specified) for his cargo, and on or about January 23 took ship for Halifax. Before sailing he returned her letters to Mme Chapus. He kept copies of his to her, but not of the letters she had written to him.

 p38  He reached England on the "Raleigh" in the spring, and on May 3, 1814, arranged to have a sight draft sent for him by Rev. John Audain, Rector of Charmouth to an American agent, Henry Cruger. The draft was for $500. Either it did not arrive, or was unpaid for lack of funds in the Audain account. This failure to pay was unknown to Roehenstart for some years, and he regarded the failure to pay as the fault of Audain, whom he more than once berates for financial turpitude. The failure to pay must have annoyed Sampigny and Mme Chapus greatly. In his last letter to Madame from Salem, Roehenstart had concluded with "Adieu, ch. amie. I don't know when I shall see you again. . . . Never doubt the tender, living attachment that I bear you. Ah, how much I regret you, Adieu, b. am. My sincere wishes for your happiness will never cease."

During a period in 1823 when Roehenstart and Sampigny were reconciled, Sampigny wrote to Roehenstart that Mrs. Chapus was then living at St. Cloud, apparently with a M. Bosc. She was considerably more plump than formerly; her son Eugene was then old enough to have a mistress and a child, and it seemed a very cheerful ménage. If Roehenstart ever saw bonne amie after 1813, he left no record of the meeting.

One suspects that Roehenstart interested the ladies fully as much as they interested him. His fantasy was not love but position. He never expected to be recognized as an heir to glory or to the British throne, but he did hope to be able to live modestly but yet as might become a royal Stuart. America taught him that debts are painful. The ensuing years were to offer further lessons in frustration.

The Author's Notes:

1 Mlle Sardent ("Jacques de la Faye") in her roman d'exil called La Princesse Charlotte de Rohan et le Duc d'Enghien (1905) prints much of this letter, pp217‑20. See also p381.

2 pp425‑28.

Thayer's Notes:

a Not from Carthage, of course, but from Cartagena de las Indias, the Caribbean port, now in Colombia; whence the unusual spelling Carthagenian.

b An absurdity: Niagara Falls is about 670 km from Philadelphia, or roughly the distance from Rome to Munich; to which must be added the primitive roads in the United States at the time.

c The Caracas earthquake was March 26, 1812: Roehenstart has considerably stretched the meaning of "almost".

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