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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 8

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Bonapartes in America

Clarence Edward Macartney and Gordon Dorrance

published by
Dorrance and Company,
Philadelphia, 1939

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,
please let me know!


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Chapter 10

 p193  IX
The Napoleonic Exiles in Alabama

The thunder of the guns of Waterloo scattered the Imperial Eagles to the four quarters of the earth. One of the last acts of the notorious Fouche, the treacherous Duke of Otranto, was to prepare for Louis XVIII a list of the followers and officers of Napoleon who were to be proscribed. Fouche drew up a list of a hundred names. This was afterwards reduced to eighty, and then to fifty-nine. Fouche, a traitor to whomever he served, warned many of those whose names were on the list of the proscribed, and "only the most obstinate or the most foolhardy fell into the hands of the police." The ordinance of proscription as proclaimed July 24, 1815, was as follows:

"Desirous of conciliating the interests of our subjects, the dignity of our crown, and the tranquillity of Europe, we order, first, that the generals and officers who have betrayed the King before the 22nd of March, or who have betrayed or attacked France and the government by force of arms, and those who by violence have possessed themselves of power, shall be seized and brought before competent courts-martial in their respective divisions, viz., Ney, Labedoyere, Lallemand senior, Lallemand junior, Drouet d'Erlon, Lefebvre-Desnouettes, Armeil, Brayer, Gilly, Mouton-Duvernet, Grouchy, Clausel, Laborde, Debeille, Bertrand, Drouot, Cambronne, Lavallette, and Rovigo."

 p194  Thirty-nine others were ordered to leave Paris in thirty days and remain in the country under the eye of Fouche until expelled from France or brought to trial. Among those on this second list were Real, Vandamme, Dirot, Cluis, and Garnier de Saintes. Ten of the officers named on these two lists made their way to America. The first notable French refugee general to arrive in America was Marshal Grouchy. Accompanied by his two sons, Colonels Alphonse and Victor, Grouchy arrived at Baltimore in January, 1816. Traveling under the assumed name of Charles Gauthier, Grouchy wrote to Stephen Girard in Philadelphia asking him to honor a draft on Lafitte and Company, Paris bankers. This Girard was reluctant to do; but when he learned that his correspondent was none other than Marshal Grouchy, he changed his tone and showed him every courtesy and accommodation. At Waterloo, Grouchy had command of the entire right wing of the Grand Army. In pursuing the Prussians after Ligny he moved with extraordinary slowness, neither joining the main army, then in the death grapple with Wellington, nor cutting off the Prussians. Some attributed his action, or inaction, to stupidity, others to treachery. Gourgaud published in Europe severe reflections on the conduct of Grouchy at Waterloo, and this opinion was shared by the Emperor. When in the United States Grouchy wrote a reply to Gourgaud, "Observations on the Campaign of 1815," which was published in Philadelphia.

Like most Frenchmen, Grouchy was interested in Thomas Jefferson, and in the autumn of 1817 he set out  p195 to visit Jefferson at Monticello. When he reached Wilmington, where he was entertained by the du Ponts of gunpowder fame, one of his sons was taken sick and the journey had to be given up. Writing to Jefferson he said: "If anything can lessen the bitterness with which a distant exile overwhelms me, and the state of degradation and servitude of my native land, it is to see yours happy, powerful, free, and respected, and all through institutions founded upon the very same principles for the establishment of which I have so often needlessly shed my blood." Jefferson wrote a courteous note in reply, expressing the hope that the Marshal would be able to make the visit at a future date.

When a speaker at a public dinner in New York referred to Grouchy as "Marshal Grouchy," the French Minister at Washington protested to the American government against this offense to the government of France. About the same time France withdrew her consul at Baltimore because the postmaster of that city in a Fourth of July speech had said some unpleasant things about the Bourbons. "No public agent," wrote de Richelieu to our minister at Paris, Albert Gallatin, "could be maintained in a town where His Majesty had been so publicly insured." Grouchy returned to France in 1821. When in the United States he was on intimate terms with Joseph Bonaparte, who did not regard him in any way as a traitor to Napoleon.

In some respects the most interesting and most noted of the exiled generals were the two Lallemands, Charles and Henri. Charles, the older, had served in Egypt, San Domingo, and in the European campaigns  p196 of Napoleon, rising to the rank of general. When Napoleon was at Elba, Lallemand, with his brother Henri and Lefebvre-Desnouettes, serving under the restored monarchy, formed a conspiracy to size the arsenal at La Fere. They were apprehended and thrown into prison and only the return of Napoleon saved them from death. At Waterloo Lallemand commanded the Chasseurs of the Guard. In one of O'Meara's last conversations with Napoleon at St. Helena, the Emperor said to him, "Lallemand, whom you saw in the Bellerophon, was employed by me at Acre as a negotiator with Sydney Smith, during which he displayed considerable address and ability. After my return from Elba he, like Labedoyere, declared for me in a moment of greatest danger, and excited a movement of primary importance amongst the troops of his division, which would have succeeded, had it not been for the indecision of Davoustº and some others who had agreed to join with him, but who failed when the hour of trial arrived. Lallemand has great decision, is capable of movements on a large scale, and there are few men more qualified to lead a hazardous enterprise. He has the sacred fire."1

His younger brother, Henri Dominique Lallemand, commanded the artillery of the Guard at Waterloo. Both brothers were on the proscribed list and both made their way to the United States. Charles asked permission to accompany the Emperor to St. Helena, but was taken to Malta, and there set at liberty. Both appeared  p197 at Philadelphia and were the leaders of the refugees. Henri was a favorite guest at Stephen Girard's Water Street house and married Girard's niece, Henrietta.

Another picturesque leader among the exiles in the United States was Lefebvre-Desnouettes. In the Spanish campaign Desnouettes was captured and taken a prisoner to England. In 1811 he escaped from England and joined Napoleon on the Russian campaign as a leader of the cavalry. At Waterloo he commanded the lancers and was one of the last to leave the field. Associated with the Lallemands and Desnouettes was General Rigaud. Taken prisoner at Chalons, Rigaud was carried to Frankfort, but escaped and came to America in 1817.

In the fall of 1816 the French exiles in and about Philadelphia organized the French Agricultural and Manufacturing Society, known also as the Society for the Cultivation of the Vine and the Olive, and the French Emigrant Association. General Charles Lallemand was elected president and Colonel Nicholas Parmentier secretary. A deputation traveled through Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh and thence down the Ohio in quest of a suitable location. When in Kentucky they were advised to locate on the Tombigbee River, now Alabama. The Congress made them a grant of four townships, each six miles square. A nominal price of two dollars an acre was charged. There were to be two hundred and eighty-eight settlers, one for each half-section. Final title to the lands was to be given to the agent of the Society only upon condition that each settler had fulfilled the terms of the contract. This hard  p198 clause was inserted to prevent speculation in the lands, but it no doubt was an obstacle to the ultimate success of the enterprise.

The officers of the Society applied to Jefferson for a constitution, or plan of government. This he courteously declined to provide. Jefferson foresaw the hardships the settlers would meet. "That their emigration may be for the happiness of their descendants, I can but believe; but from the knowledge I have of the country they have left, and its state of social intercourse and comfort, their own personal happiness will undergo severe trial." With high-sounding words about Lycurgus not being able to write a constitution for the Athenians, nor Locke for the Carolinas,​a Jefferson asked to be excused from writing the Society's plan of government for the projected commonwealth in the Alabama wilderness. "Every people have their own particular habits, ways of thinking, manners, etc., which have grown up with them from their infancy, are become a part of their nature, and to which the regulations to make them happy must be accommodated." Jefferson wants to know too just what it is they have in mind: "Is it proposed that this shall be a separate state? Or a county of a state? Or a mere voluntary association, as those of the Quakers, Dunkards, Mennonites? A separate state it cannot be, because from the tract it asks it would not be more than twenty miles square, and in establishing new states regard is had to a certain degree of equality in size. If it is to be a county of a state, it cannot be governed by its own laws, but must be subject to those of the state of which it is a part. If merely a  p199 voluntary association, the submission of its members will be voluntary also, as no act of coercion would be permitted by the general law." Having the credit for the writing of the Declaration of Independence, and having had a part in the making of the Constitution of the United States, Jefferson evidently thought his fame as maker of constitutions and giver of laws well established, and did not care to try his aging hand at another.

The main body of the settlers left Philadelphia in the schooner McDonough in April, 1818, taking with them quantities of vines and olive plants. The schooner was driven ashore by a gale at the mouth of Mobile Bay, but the cargo and the passengers were saved, the soldiers of Ft. Bowyer assisting in the rescue. In a government barge the settlers were taken up the Tombigbee River to White Plains, where they laid out a town and built cabins. Count Real named the place Demopolis, the City of the People. A mistake however had been made in the location, for it was outside the bounds of the tract given them by the government. Demopolis therefore was abandoned, and the unfortunate emigrants moved further into the forest, where they made a settlement to which they gave this time a name of military reminiscence rather than political prophecy, Aigleville, the City of the Eagles. There Napoleon's veterans founded their home in the Alabama forests and made their pathetic effort to turn their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

It was soon evident that this grand enterprise was doomed to complete failure. The martial veterans of  p200 Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Dresden, Beresina and Waterloo were ill equipped to drain swamps, clear out stumps and conquer the wilderness. The land proved unsuitable both for the vine and the olive. Titles were inaccurate, and ere long the accents of the boulevards and the salons of France were heard no more in those leafy solitudes. Not a few of the wives of the exiles had gone with them to Alabama, where they made a brave but futile attempt to exchange their harps for the distaff, and empire gowns for the coarse habiliments of the wilderness. The settlers drifted hither and yon in that primitive land, not a few of them finding a home at Mobile. Surrounded by rough frontiersmen and Choctaw savages, wasted by strange sicknesses and baffled by the hostility of nature, the Alabama colony soon languished and died.

The Lallemands themselves did not go with the settlers to Alabama. The two chief personalities there were Raoul and Lefebvre-Desnouettes. Raoul, who commanded the advance of Napoleon on his return from Elba, remained for some years in Alabama as a ferryman over the Tombigbee at French Creek. He was last heard of fighting with the revolutionists in Mexico. Desnouettes had the largest tract of land and the best house in the settlement. In a log cabin hard by his house the general had a collection of Napoleonic relics, swords, pistols, flags, and a bust of his Emperor. In 1822 Desnouettes was granted permission to return to France and set sail on the Albion. The ship went down in a gale off the Head of Kinsale in the Irish Sea, April 22, with thousands of spectators on the cliffs  p201 watching the tragedy.​2 Lefebvre-Desnouettes perished with the rest. The names of an Alabama county and village are all that remain today to remind the Alabama traveler that once in the fastnesses of the Tombigbee, Napoleon's veterans hanged their harps and swords on the willows and sighed when they thought on France and the vanished glory of the Empire.

The Authors' Notes:

1 O'Meara, A Voice from St. Helena.

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2 In this same shipwreck perished the brilliant young Yale mathematician and astronomer, Alexander Metcalf Fisher. He was the fiance of Catherine Beecher, the gifted sister of Henry Ward Beecher, and it was her worries and beliefs as to the destiny in the next world of her lover, that led to her writing "The Minister's Wooing" and "Old Town Folks."

Thayer's Note:

a The references are to the Spartan Lycurgus, who wrote a famous constitution for his own countrymen (Plutarch, Life of Lycurgus, 5 ff.), which would hardly have been successful for Sparta's arch-rival Athens; and philosopher John Locke who in 1669 actually did write an elaborately unsuitable "Fundamental Constitutions" for the colony of North Carolina (see for example Connor, History of North Carolina, I, p37 f., with further references in the notes; and passim).

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