A French Volunteer of the War of Independence

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(The Chevalier de Pontgibaud)

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(The Chevalier de Pontgibaud)






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Authorized Edition.

"The story of my life,
From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,
That I have passed."
Othello, Act i, sc. 3


The Chevalier de Pontgibaud was one of the gallant little band of Frenchmen, who, "sick for breathing and exploit," crossed the Atlantic to aid the American colonists to gain their independence. Like most of his companions, he was a mere lad, courageous, adventurous, high-spirited, light-hearted, and cool-headed, but he united to these ordinary attributes of the French gentleman, one which his comrades did not possess, or had no opportunity of developing. He seems to have been a shrewd observer of men and events, and he had a keen sense of humour.

It was not probable that a youth barely out of his teens and thinking more of his own liberty than the cause in which he was engaged, should have noted his impressions at the time. They were written down more than forty years later, but that will not detract from the value of a book which gives vivid pen-portraits of men about whom much has been written but of whom much yet remains to be written.

Concerning the author's life, little need be added to what he tells us, but I am indebted to his great-great-nephew, the Comte de Pontgibaud, for some details which are not to be found in the book. The Chevalier de Pontgibaud married—31 July, 1789—a daughter of Marechal de Vaux, and the widow of Comte de Fougieres, marechal de camp. He was deeply attached to her, and only survived her a few months. She died in 1836 and he in 1837. From the time of his return to France (1814) till his wife's death, he resided at 6, Place Royale, Paris, but afterwards removed to the residence of his nephew, Comte de Pontgibaud, 32, Rue des Tournelles, where he died.

He was a genial, kind-hearted man,

and it is related of him that in his later days he never left home without a pocketful of five-franc pieces, one of which coins he would bestow on each poor person he met. "As I want for nothing myself," he said, "let me do all I can for poor people who do want." Indeed had it not been for his charitable disposition he would never in all likelihood have written his book. His cousin, Mme. de Lavau, who was interested in many charitable works, said to him one day, "My dear cousin, you have had such an adventurous career that an account of the principal events of your life would make a most interesting book. I would give away the copies as prizes in a lottery, and I warrant we should get a large sum for one of my charities." The proposal was perhaps hardly flattering to the author, but he was too kind-hearted to refuse, and the book was duly written. He even permitted a relative to pad out the volume by the addition of some singularly dull letters, which, being devoid of all interest, have been omitted from the present translation.

The Memoires du Comte de M—— (the writer was then known as the Comte de Moré) has become a rare book, and appears to have been unknown to many of the historians and biographers whose writings relate to the War of Independence and the actors concerned in it. That the book is rare and rather valuable is due to the "book-maniacs," who have snapped-up every available copy, not on account of any interest in the book or its author, but because of—the printer! A certain young man had persuaded his relatives to set him up in business as a printer, but in a little over a year he contrived to lose more than 150,000 francs. He threw up the business in disgust, and resolved to make his living by the pen. To prove that he was better fitted to compose with the pen than with the "stick," it needs but to cite his name,—Honore de Balzac! Even a book which had the honour of proceeding from the novelist's unprofitable press has acquired a fictitious value.

Both as the Chevalier de Pontgibaud and the Marquis de Moré, the author had the good sense to keep out of politics, and his name occurs but rarely in memoirs and histories of the day. In Vatel's Vie de Madame du Barry he is mentioned as being present at a dinner party to which she was invited. The incident is related in the MS. Memoirs of Comte Dufort de Cheverny. "Seeing that the Chevalier wore the Order of Cincinnatus, she told us the following story. 'When I was at Versailles, I had the six tallest and best looking footmen that could be found, but the noisiest, laziest rascals that ever lived. The ring-leader of them gave me so much trouble that I was obliged to send him away. The war in America was then beginning, and he asked for letters of recommendation. I gave them, and he left me with a well filled purse, and I was glad to get rid of him. A year ago he came to see me, and he was wearing the Order of Cincinnatus.' We all laughed at the story, except the Chevalier de Pontgibaud."

On the fly leaf of a book in the Library at Clermont Ferrand there are also some MS. notes—supposed to be written by Comte Thomas d'Espinchal—relating to the Chevalier de Pontgibaud. It is there stated that the Chevalier furnished Talleyrand with the means of returning to France by lending him 600 louis. It is not improbable, and as the Ex-Bishop would be absolutely certain to forget the obligation, this may account for certain severe remarks about Talleyrand to be found towards the close of the present volume.

In editing the Chevalier's Memoirs I have done little more than identify the personages named only by initials, and supply notes concerning them, correct one or two dates, and strike out a passage or two that was not according to modern taste. As a translator I have endeavoured, as I always do, to render the original as faithfully as could be, and preserve the style and spirit of the author. The only liberty I have taken with the text is to cut up some of the sentences, for a few of them were of an inordinate length. If it should be found that the style is not always of the purest, it should be remembered that the Chevalier was a man of action, and was fighting for the freedom of America at an age when less adventurous youths are quietly pursuing their studies.

Robt. B. Douglas.



(The Chevalier de Pontgiraud)


Birth—Early days—Education—Out in the world—Sent to the prison of Pierre-en-Cize by order of the King 1
Eighteen months in prison—A plan of escape successfully carried out—Armed resistance—Sheltered by a Lyons merchant—Arrival in Auvergne—A family compact—A compromise effected—Departure to join the, so-called " insurgent army" in America 18
Wrecked in Chesapeake Bay—Williamsburg Mr. Jefferson—Aspect of the country between Williamsbuxg and the Camp at Valley Forges—Description of the American Army—Welcomed by Marquis de la Fayette—He appoints me his aide-de-camp-My mission to the Oneida Indians-American ideas of the French—The Camp at Valley Forges — General Howe's dog Attempted sortie of the British Army from Philadelphia—The passage of the Schuylkill, and return—Our ambulance surgeon—Evacuation of Philadelphia—Defeat at Rareton Rivers—Battle and Victory at Monmouth—New York blockaded—Arnold's treason—Arrest, trial, and execution of Major André—The Earl of Carlisle and Marquis de la Fayette—Comte d'Estaing before New York—Siege of Newport, Rhode Island, by Gen. Sullivan—I am charged with the re-victualling of the French fleet—The siege of Newport raised—Our departure for France on board the frigate Alliance—A storm and its consequences—Mutiny on board—Capture of a British cruiser—Arrival at Brest 46
I visit my father, and am restored to his good graces—Arrival in Paris—Welcomed by all my relatives—Unexpected appointment as deputy-captain—Ordered to Lorient—Paul Jones and Captain Landais—Counter orders—Re-embark on frigate Alliance to rejoin Washington's army — In the absence of Paul Jones, the command of the frigate is given to Landais—He becomes insane during the voyage—Removed from his command by order of the passengers—The campaign of 1781 — Siege of York Town—The Capitulation of Cornwallis—End of the American War on the Continent—I return to France on the Ariel, commanded by Chevalier de Capellis—We fight and capture the British vessel Dublin — We enter Corunna in triumph—Fêtes, Balls, etc.—A religious difficulty—We narrowly escape figuring in an auto-da-fé—Th& Ariel weighs anchor—Arrival at Lorient 108
Proposed expedition to Sengal—A visit to Pierre-en-Cize—The reception I met with there—The reputation I had left behind me—Institution of the Order of Cincinnatus, which I am one of the first to receive—The pleasures of peace; mathematics and violin— Expedition to Cochin-China—An OrientaI Young Pretender—Eastern presents—The year 1789—Physical and political signs of an approaching Revolution—Infatuation of the people at Versailles and Paris—Delille—Nostradamus—Cazotte—La Fayette and my French comrades of the Order of Cincinnatus side with the Revolutionary party—I emigrate with my brother—The campaign in Champagne—The retreat—We arrive in Switzerland and establish ourselves at Lausanne—An account of the members of our little family—How an important house of business was founded—Unexpected news—I am called to the United States to receive ten thousand dollars, back pay and interest—I embark at Hamburg and go to receive my money
My third voyage to the United State—Philadelphia transformed into a new Sidon—The same simplicity of manners—Mr. MacHenry, Secretary of War—M. Duportail—Moreau de Saint-Méry—I meet my old friends again—A triple partnership with Senator Morris at the head of it—Burke's prophecy—Plans proposed to me—Viscount Noailles—The Bishop of Autun—A mission to the Directory to claim an indemnity—Marino, the pastry-cook, and M. de Volney—The Princes of Orleans — An elephant with a French driver—A trip to New York—Colonel Hamilton—Past, present, and future of the United States—I meet the Chevalier de la C—— Our recollections of M. de la Fayette—His escape from the fortress of Olmutz—Dr. Bollman—My return to Europe and arrival at Hamburg 170
Arrival at Hamburg—Departure for France—I become a smuggler at Antwerp—Condition of France—My residence in France—Departure for Trieste—Joseph la Brosse, die banker—The Governors Jnnot, Bertrand, Fonche (Duke of Otranto)—Gustavson, King of Sweden—Jérôme Bonaparte 218
Biographial Notes 271