Asylum In Azilum
Refugees from the French Revolution, many of them of noble birth, built a unique community in the backwoods of Pennsylvania—and hoped their queen would join them
April 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 3
Following Kcaling in August of 1793 went two agents also employed by the French associates, both of them known and recommended by Morris. They were entrusted with the job of selecting the site for the town and starting delivery of building materials. One, Charles Félix Bué Boulogne, was a land agenl who after serving in Rochambeau’s army had decided not to return to his native FYancc, but set himself up in a business to represent French people wishing to find land in America. His companion, Major Adam Hoops, knew this particular part of the Susquehanna well; he had marched through the Wyoming Valley in General John Sullivan’s expedition against the Iroquois in i779; he had camped there and believed he knew the ideal place on the river, lying between Tioga Point (now Athens, Pennsylvania) and WilkesBarre, where a town could have a commanding position for trading throughout the district.
The pair set off, armed with Morris’ letters of introduction and credit, to present themselves to the most useful and powerful man of the area, Matthias Hollenbeck, judge, colonel, and chief merchant, with trading posts that stretched from Wilkes-Barre to the New York State border. He had fought for this land in the Indian wars and in the territorial civil wars between Pennsylvania and Connecticut claimants; he had covered it all on horseback, knew everybody, and could smooth out for the prospective buyers any former claims that might prove awkward. Hollenbeck was wealthy enough to advance cash at once on Morris’ notes, and his stores were well enough stocked to fill rafts, pirogues, and Durham barges to send upnver with the first essentials.
The section seen by Hoops in the past and now chosen for the town lay within a big arc formed by two dramatic curves of the river, thus enclosing it on three sides with water, while (he fourth and westerly side ended in some steep rocks, beyond which stretched the “wild lands.” Some clearing had been done by earlier settlers, and the area was known as Schufelt Hats, after a Peter Schufelt who had come here in 1770 from the Palatinate and then moved on. Other holdings were scattered about, and it was these that Hollenbeck would prod the owners to sell; if they were obstinate, the greater power of Robert Morris could be called down upon (hem. The landmark for which navigators of the river watched when seeking this spot was a curious rock upended on the bank, rising fortyfour feet and locally known as Standing Stone. Nearby, Boulogne promptly bought on his own account a 35o-acre lot that contained a habitable house and, heading his letters “Standing Stone,” began bombarding Hollenbeck with requests for goods and cash—and a great many complaints. “The cows are exceeding poor and hardly give any milk. … I cannot help but observing to you that your blacksmith hath not treated us well … the chains and tools are hardly worth anything … the iron so bad or tender, that it breaks like butter.” By this time Hoops was back in Philadelphia with the report to Noailles and Talon that the work had truly begun.
Aristide collected two of his shipmates (the third had apparently had second thoughts about the project), pleased that they were ready to follow him again. One, named Valois (later known as Wallois), was a chef formerly employed by the Bourbon-Condés. The other, Norès, only fifteen years old, had been intended for the priesthood. Together the three went to the wharves to examine a boat, but Aristide decided he could build something better—“I have been very active these last days, busy constructing a boat, and the gentlemen are ready to do all the work that I desire.” Triumphantly on October 2 i he reported that “my boat was launched yesterday.”
Unfortunately, Aristide’s first effort failed. He was obliged to sell the boat for as good a price as he could negotiate for Noailles and Talon. Somehow, but he does not tell us how, he got his first party of pioneer workers to the Susquehanna, probably by foot overland to Harrisburg, where they were able to board a rivercraft. Aristide told his sister he was transporting “the husbands and fathers who precede the wives and the children,” but at least one woman was included, because he reports a baby born en route. At night the pioneers sought local hospitality- “we literally fill the houses that are willing to put us up.” The mightiness of the continent became an ever greater reality as they journeyed north: “Poor Aristide, have you not seen now chains of majestic mountains, added to the vastness of the ocean, to separate you further from your sisters?” Each day brought fresh wonders, and at last there was the town of Wilkes-Barre, with Hollenbeck to entertain them in his low frame house with his quick wit and hearty food and perhaps some awesome stories of Indian massacres.
The journey was almost over, only seventy-five miles more, but it was slow going up the constantly curving river. The pioneers marvelled at the vegetation—maples, oaks, and elms, butternuts and black walnuts—at the high mountains and the fertile plains that alternated from bank to bank as the river turned and turned, a land that even in late autumn showed promise of abundance. At last the strange upright stone appeared. The flat, arcshaped plain, showing signs of settlement, could now be seen.