Joseph Beatty Doyle.

Frederick William von Steuben and the American Revolution, aide to Washington and inspector general of the Army online

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as the confidant, the adviser and the friend of Washing-
ton, as the honest and thorough gentleman, he proved
himself a worthy compeer of those great characters w^ho
laid the foundations of this republic so deep and strong
that it has successfully withstood the v.diirlwinds of a cen-
tury and a quarter, the strain of war and the laxity of
peace, the struggle with adversity and the more insidious
enervation as the result of prosperity. *

* Mrs. Cora B. Foster, of Washington, D. C. relates a fam-
ily tradition that prayer was offered at Steuben's grave by a
Welsh Baptist minister named Jones, to whose society the
Baron in his lifetime deeded a tract of land, and that after the
burial all traces of the grave were carefully obliterated, though


As has probably been inferred by the reader, Steu-
ben remained single all his life. There is a story that
when packing his goods preparatory to removal to liis
farm he let fall a portrait of a young lady, which was
picked up by a friend with an inquiry as to the identity
of the original. He displayed considerable emotion, and
remarked, ''O she was a matchless woman," which closed
the incident. It is very probable that the Baron's life
had at least one romantic episode, few there are that
have not.

In his will Steuben expressly excluded his relatives
from participation in his estate, which was mainly divided
between North and Walker, whom he considered his
adopted sons. To the former he specifically bequeathed
the silver hilted sword and gold box given him by the
City of New York, and to Walker $3,000 and the gold-
hilted sword given him by Congress. To Mulligan he
gave his library, maps, and charts with $2,500, and to

for what reason is not stated. None of the Baron's biographers,
however, relates any of these facts, and Pomeroy Jones, the early
historian of Oneida County, who was able to converse with liv-
ing residents of pioneer days, refers to the arrival of the Welsh
in 1808 as the begining of a new era. At the request of the
present writer Wm. M. Storrs, of Utica, N. Y., corresponding
secretary of the Oneida Historical Society, kindly furnishes the
following statement as the result of a thorough investigation,
which seems conclusiA^e on this point: "On the 12th of Septem-
ber. 1801, there gathered at the residence of John Williams,
Utica, N. Y., twenty-two persons and organized a Baptist
Church. These Welsh Baptists organized the first church in
Utica. In 1806, Rev. Richard Jones came from Philadelphia to
Steuben and organized the First Baptist Society there. He re-
mained pastor many years. Rev. Erasmus W. Jones delivered
an address before this Society, Dec. 3, 1888. his topic being, 'The
Earl}' Welsh Settlers of Oneida ounty.' In this address he men-
tions a Deacon Wm. C. Jones, coming to Oneida County, in
1798. I find no mention of any religious services at the funeral
of Baron Steuben, and am unable to locate the Deacon Jones
you speak of. The first Deacon Jones I find in the county is
the above Wm. C. Jones, who came here in 1798."


each of his servants a year's wages, in addition to his
wearing apparel to his valet de chambre. Everything else
was to go to North and Walker as above stated, and to
the servants' legacies was attached this condition :

That on my decrease thej^ do not permit any person to
touch my body, nor even to change the shirt in which I shall
die, but that they wrap me up in my old military cloak, and in
twenty-four hours after my decease bury me in such a spot as
I shall before my decease point out to them, and that they
never acquaint any person with the place wherein I shall be

It is perhaps needless to say that the last clause of
the will was not carried out, in fact the Baron had not
definitely selected his place of burial, although he seems
to have intimated that beneath the hemlock mentioned
above would be an appropriate spot for his grave.

We now come to the most unpleasant incident of all
in connection with Steuben's grave, which was not, after
all, destined to be his last resting place. Near the begin-
ning of the last century it was desired to locate a wagon
road through this estate, and the line as laid out by the
surveyors ran directly over the grave. A little variation
to the right or left would have answered every purpose,
but nobody paid any attention to the matter, and the
highway was graded as surveyed, cutting aff about one-
third of the grave, and exposing the coffin to view. It is
even said that the rough, wooden box which enclosed his
remains was opened by some of the neighbors who wanted
to secure a piece of the Baron's military cloak as a sou-
venir. Benjamin Walker finally heard of the desecra-
tion, and had the body taken up and removed farther
into the woods. In order to insure the care of the
grounds and prevent further desecration he set aside a
tract of fifty acres which he transferred to a Baptist So-
ciety in perpetuity on condition that five acres of wood-


land surrounding the grave be kept substantially fenced
and forever uncleared, and no cattle or other animals
were to be allowed within the enclosure. Any failure to
comply with these stipulations was to work a forfeiture
of the trust, which has been carefully observed, and
beech, maple, evergreens and other denizens of the forest
now thickly stand as sentinels over the spot.

Mr. Kapp who visited the grave in June, 1857, in
company with the Baron's sole surviving servant, Lem-
uel Hough, thus describes the spot : ''The tall beech trees,
under whose shade he loved to sit in the evening of his
life, extend their widespread arms over the grave, and
keep watch over the old hero. Fragrant flowers, with
double vigor rising from the mouldering vegetation, form
a lonely wreath around the tomb. All dispute and trou-
ble, all hatred and envy of daily life, are shut out from
this hallowed spot, which, in its simplicity and seclusion,
presents a strong contrast with the stirring and promin-
ent career of him whose ashes it contains." So we leave



North, the Founder and Namer of Fort Steuben— Walker— Du-
ponceau— Fish — Ternant — Davies — Fleury — Fairlie — Smith
and Others.

It would be ungracious to dose this work without at
least a brief reference to the men who were closely aso-
ciated with General Von Steuben during his American
career, whose biographies, even independent of their con-
nection with the Baron, are of more than ordinary inter-

First in prominence if not in time was William
North, who was born of a military family at Fort Frede-
rick, Maine, in 1755. Twenty years later he entered the
Revolutionary army and served under Arnold in the ill
fated Canadian expedition. In May, 1777, he was ap-
pointed a captain of infantry in Colonel Henry Jack-
son's Massachusetts regiment, and acquitted himself with
credit at the battle of Monmouth Court House. Two
years later he was appointed aide-de-camp to General
Steuben, and served upon the latter's staff, as well as that
of General Washington's, until the end of the war. The
closest possible friendship ensued between him and Steu-
ben, as each learned to appreciate the valuable qualities
of the other, and when Steuben was ordered to Virginia
North accompanied him, taking an active part in the
campaigns there, which ended in the capture of York-
town. The war being over North returned to private life,
and lived for awhile with Steuben in his bachelor quar-
ters at the 'Xouvre" in New York City. He was too
valua1)le, however, to be left in retirement, and was con-


stantly called on to take part in public affairs, having been
elected several times to the legislature, which then sat in
New York City, and was chosen Speaker of the Assem-

When troops were ordered to the Ohio country in
the summer and fall of 1786 an encampment was first
made at Mingo on the Ohio river, two miles below the
present city of Steubenville. From there they were
brought to a point within the present limits of the city,
where was begun the erection of Fort Steuben. While
here the troops were inspected by Major North, and as
previously stated it was no doubt by his command that
the fort was located here, and the first permanent settle-
ment in Ohio named after his friend and chief. In recog-
nition of this and other services, Congress in October of
that year passed a special act creating North a Major in
the Second regiment United States Infantry, a part of
the regular army.

Major North was elected to the United States Sen-
ate and served in that body from May 21, 1789, to
March 3, 1799. When the difficulties with France be-
gan in the latter part of the eighteenth century. President
Adams appointed him Adjutant General of the army
with the rank of brigadier, which position he held until
June 10, 1800. In March, 1812, when the second war
with great Britain was impending he was again ap-
pointed Adjutant General, but declined. He was one of
the state canal commissioners in the incipiency of the
New York and Erie canal project where he rendered val-
uable service.

It is perhaps, needless to state that, whatever his
residence or occupation, his interest in his old friend, the
Baron, did not flag. In the fall of 1782 he writes from
Fishkill Landing on the Hudson in reference to Steuben's


claims then pending before Congress, strongly censuring
that body for its neglect, and expressing the hope that
**The department of which you are the head is so essen-
tial to the well being of the army, that I hope you will
not be permitted to resign it. It is so conspicuous a post
that I never wish to see it filled by another, while there is
an American army, to profit by your instructions."

North's antipathy to Lafayette was at least as
strong as the Baron's. Writing to the latter (who was
probably then in Philadelphia) he gives the following ac-
count of the arrival of the marquis in New York, in Oc-
tober, 1784:

What, with a villainous wind, and the foolish parade which
has been made with the Don Quixote Lafayette, I have not had
a moment's peace. He arrived here on Friday, amidst the ac-
clamations of foolish disbanded officers and the town rabble;
seated on a little horse (for the sake of Christ I am sorry it was
not an ass) he made his public entry. Yesterday they gave him

a dinner, and at night ^ladame Hayley, and an old gave

him some of the most infamous fireworks I ever saw; but he,
like a true Frenchman, told her they were superb. He has done
me the honor to notice me. While we were looking at the ex-
hibition, he observed, putting his arm around my neck and
whispering how pleased he was that this attention was paid him
by an English woman. But d — n the subject, I have kept too
long on it already. Monsieur le Marquis goes to Rhode Island
to receive the honor due him from that state.

Soon after the Revolution ]\Iajor North married
Mary, daughter of James Duane, one of the most emin-
ent citizens of New York. The latter was born in that
city in February, 1733, and in 1759 married a daughter
of Robert Livingston. He became prominent as a law-
yer and jurist, and at the beginning of the troubles with
the mother country w^as inclined to sympathize with the
latter, and exerted every effort towards a peaceful recon-
ciliation. When that was found impossible he cast his
lot with the patriots, and was a member of the Continen-

Built 17S4.

Built 1812.






tal Congress. Having inherited a tract of land in what
is now Schenectady County, New York, he founded the
village of Duanesburg about seventy-five miles southeast
from the subsequent grant to Steuben and a dozen miles
southwest of the city of Schenectady. Here North built
a spacious home. An idea of his life here may be gath-
ered from the following characteristic letter to Steuben,
dated Duanesburg, January 8, 1789 :

I received your letter, my dear Baron, of the 12th of De-
cember, this morning, and have attempted three times to an-
swer, and therefore tore the sheet in pieces. To what it was
owing I know not; but I have had the blue devils all this morn-
ing. We have just dined on soup and beef-steaks, and I have
drawn two glasses of your sherry. Would to God you were
here to drink with me! Whether this wish will banish my ill
humor, my letter will show, provided I do not tear it in pieces
also. I am up by daylight, and set my man and boy to work
this morning; they were sent at a distance from hence, and I
was obliged to drudge a mile and a half, with a load on my
shoulders, through their carelessness. It is not very pleasant to
walk through the snow with a load; I did sweat most confound-
ly; this made me a little angry. But this was not all. Your
letter told me everybody was going to be a great man. I hate
everybody greater than myself except you. I see no chance I
have of getting anything in this scramble. This, perhaps, made
me mad. Knox will remain Secretary of War or have an equiv-
alent. His smiles and bows have secured him a place of conse-
quence in the new government. If you come in. you must re-
solve to see him your equal. Except a very few I despise and
detest the whole human species; would to God T had been an
Indian! I should either have been a warrior or a Sachem. My
wife is the best woman possible; my boy is good, but I am not
happy. My father-in-law tells me I am independent. So I am,
and so is every fellow with a woolen shirt, who owns a hundred
acres of land. I go to Albany with Polly and the boj^ to-mor-
row, for the first time since we have lived here. It is business
more than pleasure that takes me there. I shall get no office
under the new government because I shall ask for none. I am
proud and honest. I know what I am worth, and if other peo-
ple do not know it without my telling them, they may remain
ignorant. Hamilton, Jaj' and several others who will have the
chief management in this business, know me, but they have
their friends and dependents. I shall go to Boston, comfort my
old mother, and return here to drudge on in getting my living.


No doubt North's election to the Senate a few-
months later convinced him that he had not been forgot-
ten in the ''scramble," and served as an antidote for the
somewhat pessimistic feeling manifested at this time. He
died in New York City on January, 1836, at the age of
81 years.

It will be remembered that when Steuben first. un-
dertook to drill the troops at Valley Forge, the ranks
were thrown into confusion from the inability of the sol-
diers to understand the Baron's orders. There was pros-
pect of a sudden termination of the w^hole business in a
ludicrous fiasco, when a young man stepped from the
ranks and offered to translate the orders into English.
That young man was Benjamin Walker, w^ho was born
in England in 1753. He came to America, and on the
outbreak of the w^ar enlisted in the second New^ York
regiment which, at the time of the incident just men-
tioned, was at Valley Forge. He had received a liberal
education, and spoke and wTote French fluently. He does
not appear to have been specially versed in German, but
as the Baron was an excellent French scholar it was an
easy matter for him to dictate his orders and documents
to Walker in French to be rendered by the latter into
English. The two men became very closely attached to
each other, and from 177S to 1782, as an aide to the
Baron and member of his official family, he necessarily
had charge of his correspondence and other documents.
He also served about a year on Washington's staff, and
was highly respected by all his military associates. Dur-
ing the latter period he taught Mrs. Washing-
ton the game of chess, of which the lady seems to
have tired, and backgammon was adopted as a substitute,
not to Walker's pleasure. At the close of the w^ar Wal-
ker was made private secretary to the Governor of New


York, and also became chief naval officer under Wash-
ington. He was with Steuben awhile at the "Louvre,"
but having married he took a house in Maiden Lane op-
posite Liberty street, where, as we have already seen,
Steuben on his invitation went to live with him on the
breaking up of the "Louvre." He removed to Courtlandt
street shortly after, but Steuben does not seem to have
resided with him there. In response to a request from
the Baron for his picture he replied : "If it was a minia-
ture you meant, we have a miniature painter here in New
York, as superior to Peale as light to darkness." We do
not learn who the painter was, possibly it was Earle, or
whether he ever received the commission. On leaving
the office of secretary. Walker became a broker, and Steu-
ben was a frequent and always a welcome guest at his
house. In 1708 he was appointed by the Earl of Bute
in charge of the latter's extensive estate in northern New
York, which caused his removal to Utica, where he re-
sided until his death on January 13, 1818, at the age of
sixty-five years. He took an active part in public affairs,
and represented his district in Congress in 1801-3. His
rescue of Steuben's remains from desecration and pro-
vision for their last resting place have already been re-

Pierre Etienne Duponceau was born at St. Martin,
Re, an island, off the western coast of France, on June 3,
1760. He seems to have had a natural taste for linguistic
study, and learned to speak English from some persons
of that nationality who resided on the island. While at
college he pursued his English studies with such interest
that he was called L' Anglais. He afterwards became
abbe of the monastery, but remained only a short time,
and in December, 1775, he walked to Paris, his woridly
possessions at that time, in addition to the clothes on his


back, consisting of an extra shirt and a copy of "Paradise
Lost." English was then the popular language in the
French salons notwithstanding the feeling against that
country, and Duponceau prepared an English-French vo-
cabulary of chase and racing terms for the Duke of Or-
leans, but when he asked for compensation received the
reply, "Le princes ne donent rien," (princes give noth-
ing). Disgusted with court circles he cultivated associa-
tion with literary characters, among them Beaumarchais,
at whose house he met Baron Steuben in 1777. As it was
absolutely necessary that the latter should have some as-
sociate in his projected journey to America who under-
stood English he engaged Duponceau as private secretary,
and the pair sailed for their new field the following Sep-

As illustrating the character of the lively young
Frenchman it is said that shortly before the party reached
Portsmouth, Duponceau wagered that he would kiss the
first girl they met after landing. The proposal was re-
ceived with incredulous laughter, but nothing daunted
Duponceau approached the first young lady he met on
shore, and told her of his vow, adding that having come
over to fight for American liberty he asked a kiss as a
blessing on his undertaking. Moved by his pleading or
appearance, or perhaps both, the kiss was granted, and
Duponceau had the laugh on his companions. His viva-
city and gallantry made him a favorite in Boston society,
where his knowledge of English gave him an enormous
advantasre over his foreign associates, who, as he said,
"Stood and sat like Indians, and could talk only by signs."
He condescended, however, to do some interpreting be-
tween the Baron and some of the older ladies, while carry-
ing on a tender flirtation with Miss Sally Doan, daugh-
ter of their hostess.


As already related Duponceau accompanied Steuben
to York and Valley Forge, sharing the vicissitudes and
honors of his chief. He was quite near-sighted, which
defect sometimes led him into ludicrous situations as once
when he mistook some red petticoats hanging on a fence
for a body of British soldiery. He was kept busy in the
transcribing and translation of Steuben's army regula-
tions, correspondence &c., until the winter of 1779-80
when he fell ill, and retired to the country for a short
time. He was able, however, to go with Steuben to Vir-
ginia in the Autumn of 1780, but the following June was
again prostrated and returned to Philadelphia. Fortified
with a strong letter of introduction from Steuben, ex-
plaining that his health did not permit him to remain in
the military service, he was made an American citizen
and appointed an assistant secretary in the office of for-
eign affairs under Robert Livingston. Correspondence
kept up his friendship with Steuben, and after the Revo-
lution he entered upon the practice of law. He became
a leading citizen of Philadelphia, and was recognized as
authority on scientific and literary matters. His publi-
cations of legal esays, translations, ethnological and other
works, procured for him what was known as the Volney
prize of $2,000 for original research, and for a number
of years he was President of the American Philosophical
Society. He died on April 1, 1844.

Nicholas Fish was born in New York City on Au-
gust 28, 1758. He was educated at the College of New
Jersey and studied law, which he left to join the Revolu-
tionary forces. In the spring of 1776 he became aide to
General Scott, and on June 21 of that year was made
brigade major. On November 21 he became major of
the Second New York regiment, and soon after Lieuten-
ant Colonel. He attracted attention by his work at both


battles of Saratoga, and the following year was ap-
pointed division inspector under Steuben. The latter is
quoted as saying that he would have made an excellent
officer in the best European army, and the two soon be-
came firm friends. He was soon assigned to more active
work, and had an infantry command at the battle of
jMonmouth. In 1779 he was in Sullivan's expedition
against the Indians, and afterwards took an active part
in the Virginia campaigns and the siege of Yorktown,
where, with Hamilton, he aided in storming and captur-
ing one of the redoubts. In 1786 he was made Adjutant
General of New York State, and with Steuben prepared
plans for harbor defenses for the city in 1793. He mar-
ried a member of the Stuyvesant family, and died on
June 20, 1833. His descendants have been unusually
eminent in public affairs.

Among those who accompanied Steuben to America
was Jean Baptiste Ternant, a French lieutenant, who was
born in Normandy in 1730. He resigned his position in
the army, and offered his services to Congress by which
body he was commissioned major and appointed sub-in-
spector under the Baron. On September 25, 1778, he
was commisioned lieutenant colonel and directed to in-
spect the troops in Georgia and South Carolina. His
letters to Steuben describing the condition of affairs there
are very interesting, but they w^ere terminated by his cap-
ture with Lincoln's army at Charleston in 1786. He was
soon afterwards exchanged and continued in the service
until the close of the war, having been assigned to the
charge of Armand de Roarie's regiment, during the ab-
sence of its colonel in France soliciting supplies. On the
latter's return Ternant was again sent south where he
remained until the close of the war when he spent two
years in travel and then went back to France, re-entering


his old army in 17'8(), receiving- a colunel's ccjmmission.
He was in the battle of Volney, and seems to have been
a short time with the German army. On the outbreak of
the French revolution he was sent as ambassador to the
United States, holding that position until superseded by
Genet in 1793. He took an active part in the negotia-
tions of 1798 in regard to the differences between Ameri-
ca and France, and at first followed Napoleon, but was
disgusted at the latter's coup de'tat on 18 Brumaire (No-
vember 9), 1799, and declined the newly made dictator's
offer of a commission. His death occurred at Couches,
in 1816.

William Davies, who graduated at Princeton Col-
lege in 1765, later joined the Revolutionary forces and
was made inspector under Steuben in 1778. He was a
favorite, not only of Steuben but of Washington, on ac-

Online LibraryJoseph Beatty DoyleFrederick William von Steuben and the American Revolution, aide to Washington and inspector general of the Army → online text (page 29 of 32)