Short URL for this page:
"On This Site Stood Fort Tombecbee built by
Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville,
Governor of Louisiana Here civilization and savagery met, and the wilderness beheld the glory of France."
— Tablet Inscription upon Monument erected in 1915 by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, in the State of Alabama, at the site of old Fort Tombecbee
Thomas W. Martin
Member of Newcomen Society
Alabama Power Co.
A Newcomen Address
The Newcomen Society of England was founded at London shortly after the World War, to encourage and promote research and study of the History of Engineering and Industrial Technology. With headquarters at The Science Museum, South Kensington, the British membership includes many industrialists, engineers, physicists, educators, historians and technologists distinguished for their services in various parts of the British Empire.
The Society takes its name from Thomas Newcomen (1663‑1729), the British Engineer, whose valuable contributions in improvements to the newly invented steam engine brought him lasting fame in the field of the mechanic arts. Newcomen, in partnership with the famous Thomas Savery (1650‑1717), developed the Newcomen Engines, whose period of use was from 1705 to 1775. It was in 1764, while working on a model of Newcomen's engine, that James Watt first conceived the idea of a condensing engine: the Watt Engine.
The "Transactions" of the Newcomen Society, issued annually at London, constitute an unique and most valuable contribution to the history of Engineering and Industry. These annual volumes find their way to technical and university libraries throughout the world.
In 1923, through the initiative and efforts of the American Founder, Mr. L. F. Loree of New York, aided by a small group of well-known American industrialists, railroad presidents, engineers and educators, there was founded the American Branch of The Newcomen Society. The American Newcomen has its headquarters in those of The American Society of Mechanical Engineers at New York, whose Secretary is the Joint Honorary Corresponding Secretary for North America, in Newcomen Society.
The two principal events in the yearly program of the American Newcomen are: the Annual American Dinner at New York, held simultaneously with the British Dinner at London and with exchange of cable greetings; and the "Annual American Pilgrimage" to some point of historic interest concerned with the beginnings of industry, or transportation, or the mechanic arts in America. Papers presented at the Annual Dinners are read simultaneously at London and New York.
A collateral objective of the American Newcomen is to provide another informal link in the friendly and intimate relations between the United States and Great Britain.
The American Newcomen comprises in its membership many American leaders in the fields of finance, industry, transportation, communication, the utilities, science, engineering, university education and technology. The Newcomen Society of England enjoys international reputation in the value of its papers and meetings, which are based upon exhaustive scientific research in these special fields of History.
To his native State of Alabama, Thomas W. Martin, throughout his life, has made contributions of outstanding service. Alabama's rich natural resources have to him offered both challenge and opportunity. Few men know better Southeastern United States than he. Member of the Alabama Bar, Member of the American Bar Association, he long has been President of Alabama Power Company, with whose operations he has been connected since the beginning. Student of history and keen analyst, Mr. Martin is Chairman of the Alabama Committee of the Newcomen Society. In this address he traces this picturesque story of Old France in New Alabama while the great Napoleon yet lived — a recital little recorded in school history books but part of the record of this Nation.
In July of the Year 1818, Colonel George Strother Gaines, historic United States Choctaw Factor, found himself stationed at Fort Tombecbee in Alabama Territory. He was destined to witness interesting events.
Only a short distance was it to White Bluff, which Gaines had suggested as suitable location on Tombecbee River for the colony of French refugees then planning to cultivate vine and olive.
Day by day Colonel Gaines watched curiously the new colonists carve a military settlement for themselves out of wilderness. Gradually he became accustomed to a strange sight of men in garb of French officers going about humble tasks; yet still was he aware of incongruity in the scene before him.
French artists of the period have given us vivid picture of what Colonel Gaines probably witnessed! The proud Tricolor of France flying over a rude cabin known to the refugees as the "Shrine of Napoleon" and suited to their worship of a Creator who had brought them across tempestuous seas. In the distance, men in French uniform are engaged in tasks necessary to create a place of human abode within a wilderness; trees felled and being cut into logs and borne on shoulders to a yet uncompleted log house; another soldier with spade preparing freshly plowed land for vine and olive; and still others standing in groups or talking with French gentlewomen dressed in the colorful Parisian finery and styles of the period: brocaded gowns, high-heeled satin slippers, and ornate headdresses of wives and daughters who have accompanied the exiles to America.
A trio is engaged in plowing, with steers and wooden plow. One of the trio is Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes dressed in the uniform of a French General; white cockade hat, long blue coat with epaulets, insignia of his rank, brass buttons, crimson breeches, boots and spurs. There are next him two others of lesser rank, in similar garb.
General Lefebvre-Desnouettes was the Commander of the Bonapartist refugees come to cultivate the Vine and Olive in this wilderness of Alabama. Wearing curly sideburns and showing the evident pride of his rank, he was giving instructions in the Art of Plowing.
Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo had caused his second abdication on June 22, 1815, and had placed Bourbon King Louis XVIII on the Throne of France. Napoleon, p12 looking for a place of refuge, had considered the United States of America. When asked concerning his plans for the future, he spoke of America as a final retreat where he could live with dignity. Napoleon considered this the most feasible plan and was impatient to set forth upon the long journey. Rumors reached him that at Rochefort a ship could be secured.
Upon arrival at Rochefort, he found that he could obtain passage on a merchantman already prepared to sail. His brother Joseph had embarked for America with several of Napoleon's attendants and part of his luggage. However, the whole Western Seaboard was so valiantly watched by British men-of‑war "that he was obliged to abandon the attempt in despair."[a] Before other plans could be considered, all hope of escape was ended by entrance into the harbor of a British Warship "Bellerophon," come for the purpose of seizing him, the Emperor. Thus was he captured and taken to St. Helena. Otherwise, it is conceivable that American History might have been different.
After Napoleon's banishment many officers active in his army were accused of treason, in the decree of July 26, 1815. The ordinance of proscription had directed a large number be brought before courts-martial; others either to be expelled from France or tried as the Chamber of Deputies should decide. When Marshal Ney1 and others p13 were executed and the "White Terror" became vindictive even to Napoleonic sympathizers, the urge to flee from France became imperative.
As the Emperor had thought seriously of settling in the United States it was only natural that his soldiers and sympathizers, now threatened with death, should turn to America for refuge. Contemporary Paris newspapers estimated that a total of thirty thousand reached the United States during 1815‑1817. Among these were numbered some of Napoleon's most important officers: General Count Clausel, commander at Bordeaux, who made the Duchesse d' (granddaughter of the executed Louis XVI of France) a prisoner during the dread Hundred Days; Colonel Nicholas Raoul, who had accompanied Napoleon to and from Elba; Marshal Grouchy and his two sons; the two Brothers L'Allemand, who later founded the French colony of Champ d'Asile in Texas; and General Count Lefebvre-Desnouettes. As captain of cavalry and aide-de‑camp to Napoleon, Lefebvre-Desnouettes had fought at the Battle of Marengo. He had been made Commander of the Legion of Honor for gallantry at Austerlitz, and was conspicuous in the Battle of Saragossa. In that freezing, bloody retreat from Russia he sometimes had ridden in a sleigh at the Emperor's side. After arrival at Philadelphia, Lefebvre-Desnouettes became leader of his compatriots there.
Many of the exiles upon arrival in America were impoverished. To help them, as well as to issue their becoming permanent settlers, a plan was devised by which, upon organization of the exiles into an Agricultural Society, they might receive a grant of land from the American p15 Government. Such lands were to be located in a part of the country having a climate comparable to Southern France. Upon such grant the refugees prepared to cultivate vine and olive — two branches of agriculture needing encouragement. The cultivation of the olive had not been attempted heretofore in the United States. Earlier efforts, however, had been made to encourage the growth of the vine.2 In the state of public opinion at the time, wine was an important article of consumption, and many there were who felt that its manufacture should be encouraged as a domestic industry. Indeed, Secretary of the Treasury, William H. Crawford reported to the U. S. Senate on April 18, 1820, that "The principal object of the grant was not that a small number of tracts of land should be cultivated in vines and olives, but that the whole tract should be settled by persons understanding the culture of those plants."3
The plan for the Society assumed a special significance, because there was widespread public sympathy in America towards the victims of the Bourbon Restoration. Though military and political exploits of later years, ending with Waterloo, had cost Napoleon the sympathy of the world, yet many of his brave followers still possessed qualities p16 that caused them to stand for the rights of man in the French Revolution, as against the Bourbon rule — a spirit akin to that possessed by our own colonists from England during earlier periods.
After the Society was organized, prospecting was begun for a suitable location. Several, including Jean A. Peniereb1 and Bazile Meslier, went from Philadelphia westward and thence down the Ohio, in search of favourable land, but none met their fancy. While in Kentucky, they were advised to establish their settlement on the Tombigbee River in the Alabama Territory, which recently had been acquired from the Creek and the Choctaw Indians. The century‑old efforts of the French had left definite impress upon the area, especially the Villages of New Orleans and Mobile. This would be more congenial than the cruder West, and the climate was said to be similar to that of Southern France.
Through the efforts of friends of the Society, the refugees succeeded in obtaining a grant from Congress of four contiguous townships, each •six miles square, containing in all •92,160 acres for cultivation of vine and olive.4 The terms of the grant were liberal. The Secretary of the Treasury was authorized to contract for the sale of the land at two dollars per acre, or $184,320 for the whole, to be paid within fourteen years after a contract had been concluded with an agent "of the late emigrants from France, who have associated together for the purpose of forming a settlement in the United States." The number of emigrants to be at least equal to the number of half sections, or two hundred and eighty-eight in all; and no one person p17 could obtain patent for more than •six hundred and forty acres.
The name of the organization5 was French Agricultural and Manufacturing Society. It is known to history under various titles, such as: Society for the Cultivation of the Vine and Olive; French Emigrant Association, and Tombecbe Association.
The headquarters of the Society were established at Philadelphia, where the shares were subscribed and allotments made. The required number of applicants soon were received and the organization perfected. General Charles L'Allemand was elected President, and Colonel Parmentier, Secretary. William Lee, formerly American Consul at Bordeaux, originally was chosen as First Vice-President, but afterwards he vacated in favor of Charles Villar.
Later in 1815, de Neuville, the French Minister to the United States, came into possession of a remarkable series of documents emanating from the refugee Joseph Lakanal setting up a plan for a Napoleonic Confederation in Mexico and the Southwest. In his communication on the subject to the Duc de Richelieu, French Foreign Minister, de Neuville commented that: "The plan is like that of Colonel Burr, the insurrection of the West, with the real p19 but concealed object of making Joseph Bonaparte King of Mexico."6
The brother Charles and Henri L'Allemand were officers in Napoleon's army and had been condemned to death in absentia in 1815. Both of them escaped to the United States and their names appear in the first list of shareholders. Charles was allotted land, and probably came to Alabama for a period. "I have more ambition," he said, "than can be gratified by the colony upon the Tombigby,"7 and he left to organize the more exciting Champ d'Asile on the Trinity River in Texas.
Suspicion was aroused as to the true purpose of the grant, and in response to a resolution of the House, the Secretary of the Treasury reported that "many of the persons inscribed upon the list (of shareholders of the vine and olive colony) have transferred their shares and followed the banners of the French generals, who have made or attempted to make an establishment on the river Trinity."8
It is not within the scope of this paper to follow this interesting subject further, except to say that the plan for a Napoleonic Confederation completely failed.
For the most part, however, they were in good faith; and the Secretary of the Treasury entered into formal contract dated July 17, 1819, with Charles Villar as the Agent of p20 the French Society.9 Allotments were to be settled within three years; settlers were required to clear •ten acres from each quarter section or •5,760 acres in total before the expiration of fourteen years; to cultivate at least •one acre to each quarter section or •576 acres, in vines, within seven years; and before the expiration of seven years, to plant, within the four townships not less than five hundred olive trees, unless "established to the satisfaction of the President that the olive cannot be successfully cultivated thereon."
The emigrants objected to a condition of the contract intended to prevent speculation in the land, to the effect that title should pass from the United States only upon complete payment for the four townships and fulfillment of the contract by each settler. They desired that titles should be granted to each upon proof given that he had complied with the conditions of the contract. Had this been done in the first instance, the history of the settlement on the Tombigbee might believably have been different.10 Repeated protests of the emigrants finally resulted in the passage by Congress of a supplementary act, approved April 26, 1822, under which patent to the lands could be granted on compliance by the settler, his heirs or assigns, with the conditions of the contract.11
Among the names which appear in the list of shareholders were: Marshal Grouchy and his sons Alphonse and Victor; Generals Charles and Henri L'Allemand; Clausel, and Lefebvre-Desnouettes, together with Colonels Galabert, Schultz, Combe, Jordan, Vorster, Douarche, Charasin, Taillade, Peniere, and Defourni. Joseph Lakanal, to whom previous mention has been made, was also one of the shareholders; and although not upon the list, Colonel Nicholas Raoul and General Vandamme were among the first contingent.12 It is worthy of note that Peniere and Lakanal were members of the National Assembly and voted for the death of the King, Louis XVI, in 1792.
In a letter written from Philadelphia in January, 1817, officers of the Society asked former President Jefferson to trace for them "the basis of a social pact for the local regulations" of the Society. Jefferson declined the task, and in the course of his letter to Lee said: "I commiserate the hardships they have to encounter . . . but their own personal happiness will undergo severe trial here."13
Although dissatisfied with the conditions imposed, the Society decided to occupy the grant. Late in April, 1817, a large body of the refugees sailed from Philadelphia in the Schooner McDonough, taking with them an assortment of vine and olive plants.
The McDonough reached the entrance of Mobile Bay safely, but when opposite Fort Bowyer a heavy gale arose, p22 driving the schooner ashore. Help arrived from the Fort and all the passengers and cargo were saved. At Mobile, whence the Company proceeded, they were welcomed to Alabama by the Mayor and the General Public "with acts of goodness, exercised towards individuals whom they had never before seen, but whose fortunes and destiny appear to have found in their generous hearts, a noble sympathy."14
A Government cutter was placed at their disposal and, with the cargo on board, ascended the Tombigbee River to Fort Stoddert. Here they were greeted by Federal Judge Toulmin, who entertained them. The revenue cutter was discharged and a barge procured for the remainder of the trip. Colonel Parmentier visited General Edmund Pendleton Gaines, the son-in‑law of Judge Toulmin, then in command at Fort Montgomery. General Gaines had attained national fame for his capture of Aaron Burr,15 the story of whose scheme for creating an independent government in the Southwest was related to Parmentier.
After some days, the refugees reached White Bluff, where some of the party landed while the rest went higher up to old Fort Tombecbee. Here they presented themselves to Colonel Geo. S. Gaines and consulted with him upon a favorable location. He suggested that they settle at White Bluff.
While at the Fort, Pennierb2 and Meslier, their exploring commissioners, joined the party and agreed with Colonel Gaines' suggestion. Plans were made to settle at the chalky cliff upon which today stands the City of Demopolis.
p23 Pennier and Meslier returned to Philadelphia and convinced their associates that this was a promised land. In his letter to a friend, Colonel Parmentier wrote: "White Bluff is one of the finest situations I ever saw in my life and the lands lying around it are of the finest quality. Nature here offers us everything. If we know how to profit by these advantages we must be happy."16
The name "Demopolis" was given the new town; streets were surveyed and log cabins erected before the settlers knew whether or not the site of the "City of the People" was within the Government grant. When Government surveyors arrived a little over a year later, they ascertained that Demopolis was outside the limits of the grant; the town was abandoned, and the settlers moved a short distance Eastward. Here they laid out a new town, calling it "Aigleville," as symbolic of Napoleon's standard which bore upon its summit the eagle. In Aigleville they were as unlucky as in the selection of Demopolis; because this time American immigrants and squatters made claims for parts of Aigleville. Finally, they built "Arcola," named for the battle fought with the Austrians near the Austrian village of that name, in November, 1796.
When Alabama was admitted to the Union in 1819, a county was formed to include these lands, and it was named "Marengo," for the battle fought by Napoleon against the Austrians at the village of Marengo, on June 14, 1800. The county seat was named "Linden," for the Austrian village of "Hohenlinden," in memory of the victory gained by the French under Moreau over the Austrians, December 3, 1800, at a village in Bavaria of that name.17
p24 The original townsite of Demopolis was sold by the Government to an American Company and now is a city of five thousand inhabitants, in Marengo County, Alabama.
Thus the names of the County and its principal cities preserve many recollections of the settlement made by The Soldiers of Napoleon!
Unlike the Anglo-Saxon pioneer, who looked first to the clearing of the land and was willing to bear the discomforts of isolation while making a place for himself in the wilderness, the French Military Adventurers turned attention first to the organization of a town. "Manufacturing" was a part of the original name of the Society, although there is no evidence that they considered any type of industry, except the cultivation of the vine and the olive.
By the time the contract was signed, January 8, 1819, many of the shareholders had left Alabama and forfeited their claims. The Senate decided to investigate. Resolution was passed directing the Secretary of the Treasury to report upon the state of the settlement. The report was made in due course,18 to which was attached a report of Ravesies, Agent of the Society.
Agent Ravesies advised the Secretary of the reasons for the non‑performance of the contract by many of the members; in substance they chiefly were military officers and merchants possessing an extremely limited knowledge of p25 Agriculture; that the region was a perfect wilderness; that many came prematurely to their lands; many were compelled to settle temporarily on small lots near the town of Aigleville where their funds were exhausted, preventing settlement on their allotments. Many were obliged to pay as much as five dollars per bushel for corn and fifty dollars for a cow (equal to several times these prices in present‑day purchasing power).c Finally they admitted that being strangers to the language, manners, and habits of the people, they were retarded from making the progress citizens of the United States would have made. The Agent thus voiced the sentiment of the group toward the ubiquitous American squatter:
". . . Upon almost all that part of our grant which was the most easy to settle and cultivate, the squatter, who is the pioneer of all new countries, has fixed himself. . . . He at once became hostile to our claims, and sternly refused possession to the grantees; in some instances denying the right of the emigrant, and, in many others, threatening the most violent and determined vengeance upon any person who would interfere with their settlement. . . ."
However, he was optimistic concerning Viticulture, because he said:
"We have introduced vine enough to supply the country in due time, and whatever may be our own fate, (perhaps like that of most others, who have engaged in a new branch of industry,) the time will arrive when, through our exertions, others may be profited. It is not, I presume, vanity in us to say, that we have awakened public mind, and drawn it to the subject, which is now fairly before the people of this country, and whose attention thereto is favored by the general state of things, and we trust the object of our exertions will be finally accomplished."
On the other hand, he was confident that the olive tree would not succeed in that climate.
The pioneer in America has indeed borne the hardships and thus made way for our Civilization with little material p26 profit to himself. In the play of forces which has built this great Country every new industry has had its hazards — which Ravesies even then recognized.
May we not express a hope in passing that the Spirit of Ravesies shall continue to have its place in our land.
But the Secretary of the Treasury, in a spirit of extreme fairness, held that there had been substantial compliance by many of the settlers or their heirs or assigns, and ordered patents to be issued. Thus did the survivors of the colony become more firmly attached to the soil and gradually intermarried with Americans.
The gay spirit of the French was evident from the first; and while the days were filled with trials, the nights were given to pleasure. Beautifully-attired ladies, accompanied by escorts in military uniform, might be seen going through prairie mud to and from rough cabins, where dancing to the strains of the Marseillaiseº enabled them to forget the hardships of the day.
Had the colony located a few miles to the East of the Demopolis, they would have found soil suitable to the culture of the vine, because later it was to become for several decades such a center.19
It was General Lefebvre-Desnouettes who made the most extensive settlement. He was the wealthiest of the settlers, and his wife in France sent him large sums of money. His holdings of •four hundred and eighty acres were the best in the colony, and in addition to the house in which he lived, he owned a log cabin which he called his "Sanctuary." Here, he had a bronze bust of Napoleon. p27 Around the base of the figure were swords and pistols which the General had taken in battle, and around the walls were draped the Colors of the Emperor.
Lefebvre-Desnouettes rose from being a simple private to a Count of the Empire, a General, and intimate friend of Napoleon — and, a refugee.
Another dramatic personality was Colonel Raoul, conspicuous in a number of the Napoleonic campaigns and commander of Napoleon's advance guard when the returned from Elba. Arriving at White Bluff in 1818, he established himself upon his grant and erected his cabin on French Creek. Here he ferried travelers, while his wife, the former Marchioness of and Maid of Honor to Caroline, Queen of Naples, sold the passing traveler cakes of her own making. Remaining for several years, Raoul finally went to Mexico and afterwards to France where he obtained a general's commission in the French Army and held other important positions.
His intimate friends doubted that he had been the humble ferryman of French Creek — until on one occasion the General, being then Governor of Toulon, was visited by an old friend from Alabama, by whose statement Raoul proved the truth of the extravagant tales he had told about the wild Western World.
p28 Lefebvre-Desnouettes and Raoul are cited here as showing two of the most striking of the emigrants; and yet the colony contained many others of renown and culture.
The French exiles, whether in America or elsewhere, cherished a hope of rescuing Napoleon. In the canebrakes of Alabama and the forests of Texas they spent hours talking of his deliverance. L'Allemand dwelt on the vision of liberation until it became almost an actuality to him and to Desnouettes, who joined him in Texas for a brief period. A number of the Bonapartists in New Orleans and Charleston actually conceived a plot to rescue Napoleon; but his death in 1821 frustrated it, ending the hope of the exiles to vitalize the ruins of imperial power into a dynasty on American soil.
Bear in mind that here in Alabama was a group or colony of people, without guidance from earlier American Colonists; almost wholly ignorant of agricultural pursuits; unused to hardships and deprivations except those of war; accustomed to the formal and cultural walks of life, with far more education than the average Frenchman. They were far removed from an established settlement where food and clothing could be had; and continued for several years to depend upon their friends in Philadelphia and in France.
The idea was not now, that French soldiers should attempt a colony in the Wilderness of America. Soon they found that the call ever present with them to engage in military pursuits was inconsistent with the spirit which makes the settler at home even in the wilderness. Moreover, p29 actual settlement as farmers in the wilds of Alabama was a visionary enterprise on the part of the "Old Guard"; because, alas, they did not know how to profit by the advantages so gloriously described by Colonel Parmentier.
Much has been written on this French Military Adventure in Alabama, both by historians and by descendants of the colony.20
Little, however, has been found by way of contemporary writings by members of the Vine and Olive Colony. On the other hand, the Texas Colony was much better known in France. Its daring nature and political implications appealed to many then living in France, and numerous books and pamphlets were written. The French decree of exile slowly was relaxed or rescinded, and some of the Colonists returned to France.
Perhaps the most valuable record is in an impressive hand-painted wall paper, found a few years ago in a French chateau, and evidently based upon the experiences of some of the returned refugees — not only from Alabama but also from Texas. Lithographs and engravings of this and of the Texas Colony21 have come to light, giving in unique detail p30 many of their early experiences. One of the lithographs is entitled "View of Aigleville, capital of the Marengo, on the Banks of the Tombecbee, commanded by General Lefebvre DesNouettes." Beneath this title is a vivid scene with a soul-stirring description, in French, of the settlement, thus translated:
"Let your minds be at rest, friends of patriots; be reassured all you who have French hearts, and souls moved by pity; our brothers, our parents, our friends, our companions in arms have at last found on this globe a safe shelter, a protecting and hospitable refuge, from which exile and unhappiness are never asking in vain for calm and security. These Frenchmen for whom so many families deplore their lot; whose absence has been the cause of so much inquietude and regret; whose return has been the object of so much longing; these Frenchmen, absolute masters of their thoughts and their opinions, breathe freely under the happy sky of independence."
When Lafayette visited America in 1824‑1825, his journey carried him through Georgia and Alabama. At Cahawba, the then capital of the State of Alabama (now a cotton field) he was visited by some of this Colony. Levasseur, Secretary to General Lafayette, thus records their impressions:
". . . We stopped one day at Cahawba, where the officers of the government of the State of Alabama had, in concert with the citizens, prepared entertainments for General Lafayette, as remarkable for their elegance and good taste, as touching by their cordiality and the feelings of which they were the expression. Among the guests with whom we sat down to dinner, we found some countrymen whom political events had driven from France. They mentioned to us, that they had formed part of the colony at Champ D'Asile. They now lived in a small town they had founded in Alabama, to which they had given the name Gallopolis. I should judge that they were not in a state of great prosperity. I believe their European prejudices, and p31 their inexperience in commerce and agriculture, will prevent them from being formidable rivals of the Americans for a length of time."22
Indeed, not difficult do we find it to under Levasseur's reference to the Champ d'Asile Colony, because by this time (1825) it had become an unhappy memory; and several of the colonists had gone to Demopolis, which Levasseur miscalled "Gallopolis."
In the area of Demopolis little remains to remind the visitor of the vine and olive colony. The inhabitants will point to a few grapevines and olive trees said to have been planted by the colony; and indeed there are many olive trees of second growth.
The old cemeteries contain many graves of those who succumbed to hardships of a life to which they were ill suited. Only a few of these graves are marked.
The Tombecbee area was rapidly settled after 1818 by the overflow from the border States; and early was it apparent that the culture and mode of life of this unfortunate colony was to impress itself through each decade. Many of the homes contained important paintings and other works of art. It is not unusual to find in the homes of this area, even today, portraits by Peale and other distinguished painters contemporary with the period of these French Colonists.
Cotton easily was adapted to the rich black land of these French Adventurers, part of an area known as the "Black p32 Belt," an area which in a quarter of a century was to pay two‑thirds of the State's taxes.23
Cotton dominated the culture of the people until coming of the boll weevil;24 but they long since have adapted themselves to a new order in Agriculture, and to dairying and cattle raising. With the coming of electric power into this area, varied types of industry have developed. The white chalky bluffs at Demopolis, which evoked such interest among the French, proved to be excellent limestone, now the basis of one of the principal cement operations of the South.
The increasing demand for cellulose has focused interest upon the Southern Pine, which in the coastal plain is known to grow to a diameter of •from ten to fifteen inches in as many years, compared with a period of four times longer in the Northern area of the white and spruce pine.
Thus the Southern Farmer in the vast coastal plain which runs through the lower part of the Southern States from Carolina to Texas, including these early 19th Century French settlements, looks forward, with proper cutting methods, to an annual crop of pine. Before long, Aigleville, of French days, may supply paper of various kinds, even newsprint; and thus fulfill the thought of Industry p33 which seemed to appear with frequency in the plans and records of those who unwittingly assumed the rôle of French Emigrants — but who in actuality were French Military Adventurers!
The "1937 Pilgrimage" to Annapolis and Washington, during which this address was delivered, was under the direction of the American Newcomen's permanent Washington Committee, whose roster is given on the following pages.
Rear Admiral H. G. Bowen, U. S. N.
Engineer-in‑Chief of the Navy
Washington, D. C.
John W. Barriger, III, Esqre.
Chief Examiner, Railroad Division,
Reconstruction Finance Corporation
H. M. Southgate, Esqre.
Westinghouse Electric & Mfg. Company
Dr. C. G. Abbot, D. Sc., LL. D.
Secretary, Smithsonian Institution
Major L. A. Codd
Executive Secretary, The Army Ordnance Association
Captain Hollis Cooley, U. S. N.
Director, U. S. Naval Research Laboratory
Captain Ormond L. Cox, U. S. N.
Director, U. S. Engineering Experiment Station
Hon. Jesse H. Jones
Chairman, Reconstruction Finance Corporation
Dr. William McClellan
President, Potomac Electric Power Company
Past-President, American Institute of Electrical Engineers
J. M. Symes, Esqre.
Vice-President, Association of American Railroads
Herbert A. Wagner, Esqre.
President, The Consolidated Gas, Electric Light
& Power Company of Baltimore
President, Maryland Academy of Sciences
Daniel Willard, Esqre.
President, The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad
President, Board of Trustees, Johns Hopkins University
Colonel C. E. Davies, ex‑officio
Secretary, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, New York
J. B. Ennis, ex‑officio
Vice-President, American Locomotive Company, New York
F. N. Jean Gindorff, Esqre., ex‑officio
J. P. Morgan & Company, New York
* The Author wishes to make grateful acknowledgment to Al C. Garber, Esqre., of Birmingham, Alabama, and to Doctor Charles Whelan, member United States Board of Parole, Washington, D. C., great-grandsons of John M. Chapron, one of the French group later referred to, who made available many original documents and other historical data; to Professor Hudson Strode of the University of Alabama, a native of Demopolis, Alabama, who made extensive historical studies in the Summer of 1937, at London, Paris, and various French villages, which he made available to the Author in preparing this Newcomen Address; and to Peter A. Brannon, Esqre., (Member of the Newcomen Society) of the Department of Archives and History, State of Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama, and to officials at the Library of Congress, Washington, D. C., for their valuable assistance in various historical researches.
[a] Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, Bourrienne, IV, 234.
1 Many of the French refugees shared the doubt then and now prevalent that Marshal Ney had been executed in obedience to the decree of the French Tribune of 1815, and believed that he was even then in North Carolina. All were in communication and looked forward to the day when Napoleon should come to America. (Marshal Ney: A Dual Life, by LeGette Blythe, Stackpole, New York, 1937; Historic Doubts as to the Execution of Marshal Ney, by James A. Weston, Whittaker, New York, 1895.)
2 Act of Congress approved May 1, 1802, entitled: "An act to empower John James Dufour and his associates to purchase certain lands," (13th Congress, 1st Session, No. 216, p744), authorized The President to sell lands for the growing of the vine.
3 Memorial of John M. Chapron, et al., which asked that the terms of the original grant be so changed that each settler on complying with the conditions of the contract should receive patent for his interest; and Report of Secretary Crawford to the U. S. Senate, April 21, 1820 thereon (Sen. Doc. Nos. 101 and 115).
Chapron was among the early settlers of the French Grant. He was living in San Domingo at the time of the Negro Insurrection of 1802, which drove the whites from the Island. Many of the French were murdered, but a few escaped to America and ultimately reached Philadelphia, where they were living in 1815. Some, including Chapron, cast their lot with the vine and olive colony, and their descendants have been for a century and today are among the most respected and distinguished citizens of Alabama.
4 Act of Congress approved March 3, 1817, entitled: "An Act to set apart and dispose of certain public lands, for the encouragement and cultivation of the Vine and Olive." U. S. Statutes at Large, Vol. III, p374.
5 Message of President Monroe to the Senate, March 16, 1818, concerning proceedings which had been taken under the Act of March 3, 1817, transmitted letter of Secretary of the Treasury of November 17, 1817, stating that "The late French emigrants having, by General Charles L'Allemand and Mr. Charles Villar, presented to this Department an authenticated copy of their proceedings, under the act of Congress to set apart and dispose of certain public lands for the encouragement of the cultivation of the vine and olive, from which it appears that the said Charles L'Allemand and the said Charles Villar, have been duly appointed president and vice president of the board entrusted with the management of the interest created by the act in question. . . ." (Sen. Doc. No. 144, p7.) It will be noted that the spelling of Fort Tombecbe and the river Tombigbee, — (the latter being the present accepted method of spelling) was different in various documents.
6 De Neuville to de Richelieu, August 13, 1817, Memoires et Souvenirs Du Baron Hyde de Neuville (Paris, 1890), II, 319.
8 Letter from Secretary of the Treasury dated December 14, 1818, to Speaker of the House transmitting information on progress under Act of March 3, 1817 (H. Doc. No. 33, p4).
9 The contract is set forth in report of the Secretary of the Treasury to the Senate, of December 24, 1827, pp34‑37, Report from The Secretary of the Treasury, (In compliance with a resolution of the Senate of 20th May, 1826,) in relation to Grants of Land Made to French Emigrants, to encourage the Cultivation of the Vine and Olive, December 24, 1827 (Sen. Doc. No. 11).
10 Message of President Monroe, March 16, 1818, mentioned in Note 5, (Sen. Doc. No. 144) contained report of Secretary Crawford, February 19, 1818, stating that allotments to three hundred and fifty immigrants had been approved by the President; Memorial of John M. Chapron, and others, April 4, 1820 (Sen. Doc. No. 101); Report of Secretary of the Treasury on petition of Lefebvre-Desnouettes, and others, March 20, 1822 (Sen. Doc. No. 70).
11 U. S. Statutes at Large, Vol. III, p667.
12 Sen. Doc. No. 33, 15th Cong., 2nd Ses. Colonel Nicholas Raoul is not to be confused with Count Pierre Francois Real who was one of the Philadelphia shareholders, but did not go to Alabama. (Whitfield, 331, 352.)
13 Letter from Jefferson to William Lee, January 1, 1817, — MS. Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress.
14 Letter to a friend in Philadelphia dated Mobile Bay, May 26, 1817, National Intelligencer, July 16, 1817.
16 National Intelligencer, August 30, 1817.
17 Tharin, p54.
18 Report from The Secretary of the Treasury, (In compliance with a resolution of the Senate of 20th May, 1826,) in relation to Grants of Land Made to French Emigrants, to encourage the Cultivation of the Vine and Olive — Sen. Doc. No. 11, December 24, 1827, to which is attached Report of F. Ravesies, dated Aigleville, February 27, 1827, who signed himself "Agent of the Tombecbe Association."
19 Colonial Mobile, p465; Tharin, p67.
20 Pickett's History of Alabama (1851), Vol. II, p386; McCorvey, 'The Vine and Olive Colony'; Alabama Historical Reporter, Tuscaloosa, April, 1885; Lyon, 'The Bonapartists in Alabama,' Southern Home Journal, Memphis, 1900 (since reprinted in the Gulf States Historical Magazine, Montgomery, March, 1903); The French Grant in Alabama, by Whitfield, Transactions Ala. Hist. Soc., Vol. IV, (1899) p321; Napoleonic Exiles in America, Reeves, Johns Hopkins Press (1905); Tharin's Marengo County Directory for 1860‑1 [Mobile, Farrow and Dennett, 1861], p51.
21 Champ d'Asile (Place of Refuge); Le Texas ou Notice Historique sur Le Champ-d'Asile — Paris, June, 1819.
22 Lafayette en Amerique, en 1824 et 1825, ou Journal d'un Voyage aux Etats-Unis; par A. Levasseur, Secretaire du General Lafayette pendant Son Voyage, Tome Second, p188 (Paris, 1829); English Edition, Vol. II, p84 (Philadelphia, 1829).
23 J. W. DuBose, "Chronicles of the Canebrake" (Manuscript in Alabama Dept. of Archives and History); Boyd, (1931) "Alabama in the Fifties," p12: "We use the term 'Black Belt' loosely to denote the eleven counties which in 1859 paid two‑thirds of the State's taxes . . . (the County of Marengo being included). The term can be applied with equal truth to the soil, the inhabitants, or that part of the map where the greatest population density is indicated."
24 A bug or beetle which had its origin in Mexico, was introduced into the cotton area of Texas about 1893, spread slowly and with disastrous effect through the whole of the cotton section.
a This paper was published as a soft-cover booklet, 4 unnumbered pages followed by pp5‑36. On [p4] the following information is given:
Thomas W. Martin
This Address was delivered before The American Branch of The Newcomen Society of England, at Washington, D. C., on November 4, 1937, during the "1937 Pilgrimage" of the Society to Annapolis and Washington
First Printing: November 1937
set up, printed and bound
in the United States of America
the Princeton University Press
The copyright was not renewed, however, as required by the law at the time, in 1964 or 1965, and the work has therefore been in the public domain since January 1, 1966.
The first and last pages — [p1] and p36 — merely quote particular squibs of the text. I reproduce [pp2‑3] above; [p4] is given over to publication and copyright information, of which the first part of this note quotes the essentials. I have not transcribed pp6‑7, which list various officers and honorary members of the American Branch of the Newcomen Society.
c In 2015, roughly $75 and $750. By modern standards, the corn was exorbitant, but the price of the cow was comparable to today's prices.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
I would like to thank
History of Alabama
The Newcomen Society
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 13 Jun 17