Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 online

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Hunter is a widow of thirty-six who has two daughters, whom she has
well brought up. She conceived a friendship for me, and I was treated
like one of the family. I passed my time there. I was ill, and she took
care of me. I was not in love with the Misses Hunter, but had they been
my sisters I could not have been fonder of them." The two Viosmenils
and their aides were at Joseph Wanton's, in Thames street. The Wantons
had been governors of Rhode Island from 1732: Joseph Wanton was the
last governor under the Crown. He is described as wearing a large white
wig with three curls - one falling down his back and one forward over
each shoulder. De Chastelleux lodged with Captain Maudsly, at No. 91
Spring street; De Choisy at Jacob Riviera's in Water street; the
marquis de Laval and the vicomte de Noailles at Thomas Robinson's, in
Water street; the marquis de Custine, the commander of the regiment
Saintonge, at Joseph Durfey's, 312 Griffin street; Colonel Malbone
entertained Lieutenant-Colonel de Querenel at No. 83 Thames street;
while Colonel John Malbone was the host of the commandant Desandrouins,
the colonel of the engineers, at No. 28 of the same street; William
Coggeshall of No. 135 Thames street had the baron de Turpin and De
Plancher for guests; De Fersen and the marquis de Darnas were at the
house of Robert Stevens, and De Laubedières and Baron de Closen at that
of Henry Potter, both in New lane; Madame McKay, 115 Lewis street,
quartered De Lintz and Montesquieu; Joseph Antony, at 339 Spring
street, Dumas; and Edward Hazard, of 271 Lewis street, the two
D'Olonnes. Admiral de Ternay was much on his ship, but lodged at
Colonel Wanton's in Water street; his captains, De la Chaise and
Destouches, were at Abraham Redwood's, 78 Thames street.

On the 21st of July, Admirals Graves and Arbuthnot arrived off the
harbor with eleven vessels - one of ninety, six of seventy-four, three
of sixty-four, and one of fifty guns. The following day the number was
increased to nineteen, and from this time the French squadron was
effectually blockaded in Newport. Although doubt seems to have been
felt by some as to the good intentions of the French army, the general
feeling on their arrival was one of joy. On Sunday, the 15th, the
intelligence became known in Philadelphia, where Congress was then
sitting. Washington ordered the soldiers to wear a black-and-white
cockade as a symbol of the alliance, the American cockade being black
and the French white, but seems withal to have felt nervous and
impatient for some decisive action. He sent La Fayette to Newport to
urge Rochambeau to make an attack on New York, but the latter replied
that he expected from the admiral de Guichen, who commanded the West
India squadron, five ships of war, and declined to take any steps until
his army was in better condition. La Fayette, who was young and full of
ardor, was hardly pleased with Rochambeau's caution, but apologized for
his impetuosity on the ground of disliking to see the French troops
shut up in Newport while there was so much to be done. To this
Rochambeau replied that he had an experience of forty years, and that
of fifteen thousand men who had been killed and wounded under his
orders he could not reproach himself with the loss of a single person
killed on his account. He desired, however, a personal interview with
Washington - a request which from some reason the commander-in-chief did
not seem anxious to grant. There was at times a coolness in the
relations between Rochambeau and Washington, arising perhaps from a
different estimate of La Fayette; but the cloud, if there was any, was
never very perceptible or of any long duration. On the 21st of August a
committee of the General Assembly of the State, at that time in session
at Newport, presented Rochambeau and De Ternay with a formal address of
welcome. De Rochambeau's reply was full of manliness and good-will. He
said, "The French troops are restrained by the strictest discipline,
and, acting under General Washington, will live with the Americans as
their brethren. I assure the General Assembly that as brethren not only
my life, but the lives of the troops under my command, are entirely
devoted to their service." This frank avowal dissipated a fear felt by
some that the French might have some ulterior motive in coming to the
assistance of the colonies.

It is not to be supposed that the belles of Newport were indifferent to
the advent of these fascinating French paladins, or that the gallant
Gauls were unmoved by the beauty and grace of the Newport women. With
one accord they joined in admiration of their fair hostesses, not only
for their charms of face and figure, but for the purity and innocence
of their characters, which made a deep impression on these Sybarites,
accustomed as they were to the atmosphere of intrigue and vice peculiar
to the French court of the day. We find the record of this enthusiasm
in the letters and journals of the officers, but for a picture of the
special belles of the time there is none more correct than that
furnished by the prince de Broglie and the comte de Ségur, who visited
Newport the following year. They note particularly Miss Champlin, the
daughter of a rich merchant who lived at No. 119 Thames street. Mr.
Champlin had large shipping interests, which he managed with great
enterprise. At his house De Broglie was introduced by De Vauban, who as
aide to De Rochambeau had met all the Newport notables, and the prince
writes: "Mr. Champlin was known for his wealth, but more for the lovely
face of his daughter. She was not in the room when we entered, but
appeared a moment after. She had beautiful eyes, an agreeable mouth, a
lovely face, a fine figure, a pretty foot, and the general effect was
attractive. She added to these advantages that of being charmingly
_coiffée_ in the Paris style, besides which she spoke and understood
our language." Of the Hunters, Lauzun's hostesses, De Broglie says:
"The elder, without being regularly handsome, had a noble appearance
and an aristocratic air. She was graceful, intellectual and refined.
Her toilette was as finished as Miss Champlin's, but she was not as
fresh, in spite of what De Fersen said. The younger, Nancy Hunter, is
not so modish, but a perfect rosebud. Her character is gay: she is
always laughing, and has beautiful teeth - a thing not common in
America." But Vauban, who on this occasion acted as master of
ceremonies, promised the prince a greater treat for the morrow, and
took him on that day to a house on the corner of Touro street and the
Park, where they found a serious and silent old gentleman, who received
them without compliment or raising his hat and answered their questions
in monosyllables. The lively Frenchmen would have made a short visit
had not the door opened and a young girl entered; and here De Broglie's
own raptures must speak: "It was Minerva herself who had exchanged her
warlike vestments for the charms of a simple shepherdess. She was the
daughter of a Shaking Quaker. Her headdress was a simple cap of fine
muslin plaited and passed round her head, which gave Polly the effect
of the Holy Virgin." Yes, this was Polly Lawton (or Leighton), the very
pearl of Newport beauties, of whom the prince says in continuation:
"She enchanted us all, and, though evidently a little conscious of it,
was not at all sorry to please those whom she graciously called her
friends. I confess that this seductive Lawton appeared to me a
_chef-d'oeuvre_ of Nature, and in recalling her image I am tempted to
write a book against the finery, the factitious graces and the coquetry
of many ladies whom the world admires." Ségur says: "She was a nymph
rather than a woman, and had the most graceful figure and beautiful
form possible. Her eyes appeared to reflect as in a mirror the meekness
and purity of her mind and the goodness of her heart." Polly chides the
count, according to the rules of her faith, for coming in obedience to
the king, against the command of God, to make war. "What could I reply
to such an angel?" says the entranced Frenchman, "for she seemed to me
a celestial being. Certainly, had I not been married and happy in my
own country I should, while coming to defend the liberty of the
Americans, have lost my own at the feet of Polly Lawton." We fear the
comtesse de Ségur would hardly have relished her lord's raptures over
the pretty Quakeress, and would have quite approved of Rochambeau's
order which sent him back to his post.

Among this bevy of Continental beauties, to whom we may add the names
of the lovely Miss Redwood - to whose charms sailors in the street would
doff their hats, holding them low till she had passed - the two Miss
Ellerys, Miss Sylven, Miss Brinley, Miss Robinson and others, it is not
wonderful that the French officers bore patiently the enforced
blockade. They indulged in constant festivities, to which they invited
their fair enslavers. A deputation of Indians, numbering nineteen and
consisting of members of the Tuscarora, Caghnawgas and Oneida tribes,
visited the camp on the 2d of August. They were cordially received by
Rochambeau, who gave them a dinner at which they were reported to have
behaved well. After dining with General Heath they performed their
war-dance, which was a novel and interesting sight to the French
officers. As a return for this entertainment the French army gave a
grand review, preceded by firing of cannon. The sight must have been a
fine one. The regiments were among the flower of European chivalry,
some of them of historical celebrity, such as the regiment of Auvergne,
whose motto was "_Sans tache_" and one of whose captains, the famous
D'Assas, is said to have saved a whole brigade at the expense of his
life, crying, as he saw the enemy approaching on his unsuspecting
comrades, "À moi Auvergne! voilà les ennemis!" and fell dead. The
uniforms of the troops were most effective. The officers wore white
cockades and the colors of their regiments faced with white cloth. The
Bourbonnais regiment was in black and red, Saintonge in white and
green, Deux-Ponts in white; the Soissonnais wore pink facings and
grenadier caps with pink and white plumes, while the artillery were in
blue with red facings. The savages were delighted with the pageant, but
in spite of its splendor expressed more astonishment at seeing trees
loaded with fruit hanging over tents which the soldiers had occupied
for months than at anything else. They took their departure in
September, being presented with blankets and other gifts by Rochambeau.

Perhaps the finest display was that which celebrated the French king's
birthday on Friday, the 25th of August. The ships were decorated with
the flags of all nations during the day and brilliantly illuminated at
night. High mass was celebrated on the flag-ship, after which a number
of salutes were fired. The town joined in the festivity. The bells of
Trinity were rung and the inhabitants decorated their houses with
flags. The autumn was spent in agreeable pastimes, but with the
approach of winter it became necessary to put the army into comfortable
quarters. The houses which Rochambeau had offered to repair were ready,
and the regiments were installed in them; the State-House, which had
been used as a hospital by the English, was put to the same use by the
French; and an upper room in it was fitted up as a chapel, where masses
were said for the sick and dying by the ábbe de Glesnon, the chaplain
of the expedition. The list of the dead was soon to include no less a
person than Admiral de Ternay. He was taken ill of a fever early in
December, and brought on shore to the Hunter house, where he died on
the 15th, being buried with great pomp in Trinity churchyard on the
following day. The coffin was carried through the streets by sailors:
nine priests followed, chanting a requiem for the departed hero. The
tomb placed over the remains by order of Louis XVI. in 1785 having
become injured by the ravages of time, the United States government in
1873, with the co-operation of the marquis de Noailles, then French
minister, had it moved into the vestibule of the church, placing a
granite slab over the tomb. One of Rochambeau's aides ascribes the
admiral's death to chagrin at having let five English ships escape him
in an encounter.

The winter passed slowly. Rochambeau ordered a large hall to be built
as a place of meeting for his officers, but it was not completed until
nearly spring. Meanwhile, the Frenchmen gave occasionally a handsome
ball to the American ladies, such as that of which, in January, the
officers of the regiment De Deux-Ponts were the hosts, and one given by
the handsome Viosmenils on the anniversary of the signing of the treaty
of alliance, February 6, 1781. But the crowning festivity of the French
stay in Newport took place in March, when Washington visited it for the
purpose of witnessing the departure of an expedition comprising part of
the French fleet under Destouches, which was to co-operate with La
Fayette on the Chesapeake. The barge of the French admiral was sent for
the American chief, and he crossed the bay from the Connecticut shore,
landing at Barney's Ferry on the corner of Long Wharf and Washington
street. The sight must have been an imposing one - the beautiful harbor
of Newport full of stately ships of war and gay pleasure-craft, the
French troops drawn up in a close line, three deep, on either side from
the ferry-house up Long Wharf and Washington street to Clarke street,
where it turned at a right angle and continued to Rochambeau's
head-quarters, while the inhabitants, wild with enthusiasm, crowded the
wharves and quays to see the two commanders meet. Both were men of fine
and stately presence: Washington was in the full prime of his imposing
manhood, the very picture of a nation's chief; the French marshal was
covered with brilliant decorations, and stood with doffed hat to
welcome the hero of Valley Forge. In the evening the town was
brilliantly illuminated, and, as at that time many of the people were
very poor, the town council ordered that candles should be distributed
to all who were not well off enough to buy them, so that every house
might have lights in its windows. The procession on this occasion was
led by thirty boys bearing candles fixed on staffs: Washington and De
Rochambeau followed, and behind them came a concourse of citizens. The
night was clear and there was not a breath to fan the torches. The
brilliant cortége marched through the principal streets, and then
returned to the Vernon house, corner of Clarke and Mary streets, where
Washington and Rochambeau were quartered. Washington waited on the
door-step until all the officers and his friends had entered the house,
and then turning to the boys who had acted as torch-bearers thanked
them for their services. It may be believed that these young patriots
felt well repaid. The French officers were much impressed with the
looks and bearing of the American chief. De Fersen, writing to his
father, says: "His fine and majestic countenance, at the same time
honest and sweet, answers perfectly to his moral qualities. He has the
air of a hero. He is very reserved and speaks little, but is polite and
frank. There is an air of sadness about him which is not unbecoming,
but renders him more interesting." A few evenings after the French gave
a grand ball to Washington, which he opened with the beautiful Miss
Champlin, at whose house he had taken tea on that evening. The gallant
Frenchmen seized the instruments from the band and themselves played
the music of the minuet "A Successful Campaign" for a couple
representing so much beauty and valor. The entertainment was given in
Mrs. Cowley's assembly-rooms in Church street, and Desoteux,
aide-de-camp to Baron Viosmenil, had charge of the decorations. An
eye-witness says of the ball: "The room was ornamented in an exceeding
splendid manner, and the judicious arrangement of the various
decorations exhibited a sight beautiful beyond expression, and showed
the great taste and delicacy of M. de Zoteux, one of Viosmenil's aides.
A superb collation was served, and the ceremonies of the evening were
conducted with so much propriety and elegance that they gave the
highest satisfaction."

Perhaps it would be interesting to the participants of the gay Newport
cotillons of to-day to know the names of the dances with which the
company regaled themselves a hundred years ago. They were "The Stony
Point" (so named in honor of General Wayne), "Miss McDonald's Reel," "A
Trip to Carlisle," "Freemason's Jig" and "The Faithful Shepherd." As
Benoni Peckham, the fashionable hair-dresser of the day, advertises in
the Newport _Mercury_ a "large assortment of braids, commodes, cushions
and curls for the occasion," we may guess that the belles of Newport
made elaborate toilettes. One of them, writing to a friend in New York,
speaks of a dress she had worn at some festivity which probably was not
unlike many at Washington's ball. "I had," she says, "a most stiff and
lustrous petticoat of daffodil-colored lutestring, with flowered gown
and sleeves lined with crimson. My cap was of gauze raised high in
front, with doublings of red and bows of the same, and was sent me
direct by the bark Fortune from England." So it seems the Newport
beauties did not disdain the exports of the mother-country they were at
war with. A few nights later the citizens gave a ball in honor of the
two heroes.

The visit of the French to Newport terminated soon after this fête.
Washington and Rochambeau, it is said, planned in the Vernon house an
attack on New York, and in May the vicomte de Rochambeau brought to his
father from France the news of the sailing from Brest, under Admiral de
Grasse, of a large squadron laden with supplies and reinforcements. The
restrictions imposed on him by De Sartines were removed, and the new
ministry sent him full powers to act. He therefore determined upon an
immediate move, for his troops were becoming demoralized through long
inactivity. After a conference with Washington at Weathersfield a
summer campaign was resolved upon, and, returning to Newport,
Rochambeau proceeded to make arrangements for it. The troops began to
move on the 10th of June, almost a year from the date of their arrival.
A farewell dinner was given on the Due de Bourgogne to which about
sixty Newport people were asked. The next day the whole army left camp
and marched to Providence, so ending a sojourn which, although not
productive of positive advantage, will long remain a brilliant page in
the history of Newport.

A few words on the after fate of these gay Frenchmen. The story is not
a bright one. The times that tried men's souls were at hand, and many
of them fell victims. The comte de Rochambeau, made a marshal by Louis
XVI., narrowly escaped death under Robespierre. In 1803 Napoleon gave
him a pension and the grand cross of the Legion of Honor: he died in
1807. Lauzun perished on the scaffold, sentenced by the Tribunal in
January, 1794. The night before his death he was calm, slept and ate
well. When the jailer came for him he was eating his breakfast. He
said, "Citizen, permit me to finish." Then, offering him a glass, he
said, "Take this wine: you need strength for such a trade as you ply."
D'Estaing, on his return from America, was commander at Grenada. He
became a member of the Assembly of Notables, but being suspected by the
Terrorists was guillotined on the 29th of April, 1793. The vicomte de
Rochambeau was killed at the battle of Leipsic; Berthier became
military confidant to Napoleon, was made marshal of France and murdered
at Bamberg; the comte de Viosmenil was made marshal at the Restoration;
his brother the marquis was wounded and died, defending the royal
family; the comte de Darnas, who helped their flight, barely escaped
with his life; Fersen was killed in a riot at Stockholm; the comte
Christian de Deux-Ponts was captured by Nelson while on a
boat-excursion at Porto Cavallo: Nelson generously released him on
learning who he was; Desoteux, the master of ceremonies of the Newport
assembly, became the celebrated Chouan chief in Vendée; Dumas was
president of the Assembly, general of division, fought at Waterloo and
took a high rank in the constitutional monarchy of 1830. With what
interest and sympathy must the Newport belles have watched the career
of their quondam admirers! How must the tragic fate of some of them
have saddened friendly hearts beyond the ocean they had once traversed
as deliverers! The lot of the fair danseuses of the French balls at
Newport was in most cases the ordinary one, and yet the record of their
loves and their graces leaves a gracious fragrance amid their former
haunts in the city by the sea. In the old streets and peeping from the
quaint latticed windows we can with a little imagination see their
graceful figures and fair faces, or find in the Newport drawing-rooms
their pictured likenesses on the wall or in the persons of their
descendants, often no less piquante and attractive than the dames of
1780. Miss Champlin married, and until lately her grandson was living
in the old house, the home of five successive generations; her brother,
Christopher Champlin, married the beautiful Miss Redwood; one of the
Miss Ellerys took for a husband William Channing and became the mother
of a famous son; her granddaughter was the wife of Washington Allston;
the Miss Hunters married abroad - one the comte de Cardignan, the other
Mr. Falconet, a Naples banker.

We pass over the sad fate of Newport for years following the
Revolution - the misery and dilapidation that succeeded its former
prosperity. We turn from the picture which a later French traveller,
Brissot de Warville, draws of its poverty and desolation in 1788 to
look at the renaissance, the rejuvenation that rescued this historic
spot from oblivion. To-day lines of villas and stately mansions have
uplifted themselves on the avenues, and gay crowds throng the streets.
The shadowy forms of a past generation may still haunt the scenes of
their former triumphs, but must rejoice over the life and light that
nineteenth-century revels have dowered them with. The world rolls on,
and brings in its course new actors, new scenes, a new drop-curtain,
but men and women are always men and women. The loves, hopes, fears,
disappointments or triumphs of to-day, - these, if nothing else, link us
to a past generation. The idler on the club piazza, if not a Lauzun or
Fersen, may no doubt arouse himself as nobly in a grand question of
right or wrong (have we not seen it in our own generation?), unsheathe
his sword and become, like Lytton's hero, "now heard of, the first on
the wall:" the pretty belle of the afternoon fête, may she not have the
same heart of steel and a spirit as true as that of some
eighteenth-century ancestress? There is room, then, even in this
historic spot, for the gay modern cortêge, for the life, the light, the
prosperity and pleasure which embalm old memories and keep a centennial
on the shrines where the youth and chivalry of a century ago lived,
loved and have left the subtle odor of past adventure to add a
mysterious but not unlovely fragrance to present experience. - FRANCES



Later and more scientific investigations have tended to confirm the
truth of the rather broad statement made by Buckle in his _History of
Civilization_, that rice and potatoes have done more to establish
pauperism than any and all causes besides. A food easily procured,
sufficiently palatable to ensure no dissatisfaction, and demanding no
ingenuity of preparation, would seem the ideal diet, the promised rest
for weary housekeepers and anxious political economists; but the latter
class at least have found their work made double and treble by the
results of such diet, while social reformers - above all, the advocates
of total abstinence - are discovering that till varied and savory food
and drink are provided the mass of the people will and must crave the
stimulant given by alcoholic drinks.

National dietaries and their results on character and life, fascinating
as the investigation is, have no place in the present paper, the design
of which is simply to show the existing state of the food-question
among the poor. Of these, poor Irish form far the larger proportion, a
German or French pauper being almost an anomaly. Thrift seems the
birthright of both the French and German peasant, as well as of the
middle class, and their careful habits, joined to the better rate of
wages in America, soon make them prosperous and well-to-do citizens. It

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Online LibraryVariousLippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science Volume 26, September, 1880 → online text (page 15 of 20)