Asylum In Azilum


It has been said that all Azilum jumped up in a body and dashed away when the news came in 1803 that the First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, had offered the amnesty so long awaited, but in truth there were few of the original French left to celebrate, weep for joy, and begin to pack. The Blacons and the rest tried to wind up their affairs in an orderly fashion, but Laporte was left with plenty of tag ends of negotiations to settle, until eventually it was he and Charles Hornet who bought the entire arcshaped plain and split it between them. They carted away lumber from the houses to build their barns; they plowed the land where gardens had been and turned into successful farmers, producing descendants who gave distinction to the district, such as Bartholomé Laporte’s own son John, who became a judge. In the homes of Lefèvre, Laporte, and Hornet descendants odd bits of Sèvres porcelain were preserved, as well as a milk churn, a warming pan, and a pair of fancy lace stockings belonging to a Laporte lady; and today the Hornets still pronounce their name in the French way: “O-may.”

The original dream was over. Noailles died nobly off the coast of Cuba, his business success in America cast aside when he felt compelled to fight once more for his own France in the war against England. Talon, more politically devious and too interested in power, secretly slipped back into Napoleonic France as a constant plotter for the cause of a Bourbon restoration, but he was caught, imprisoned, released, and spied upon, and he died insane. His contribution to the monarchy he promoted was a remarkable daughter, the Comtesse du Cayla, who became mistress of the Bourbon king restored after Napoleon’s fall, Louis xviii. Kindly, jolly Blacons, a true citizen of Azilum while it lasted but never a good businessman, got so deeply in debt on his return to France that he committed suicide. His wife, Félicité, and their daughter found comfort in the close friendship of another Félicité, Aristide’s sister.

And Aristide, who had believed he would “always write in the language of poetry” once he was in the wilderness, never forgot his little cabin quietly rotting in the woods. Just before he sailed in 1798 as captain of the eightyfour-gun Tonnant , part of Bonaparte’s expeditionary fleet to Egypt, he wrote to Félicité from Toulon that “the Commander-in-Chief has offered 6 acres of land to each of his soldiers—and I abandoned 3oo in America!” Two months later he died a heroic death defending his vessel to the end at the Battle of the Nile, his lifeblood draining away as he stood upright on deck, his stump of a leg thrust into a barrel of chaff, supported in the arms of loyal Norès. One day a Laporte descendant identified the site of his cabin by marks on trees that could only have been made by a onehanded axeman. Here a town grew, and the name Dupetit-Thouars was compressed and Americanized into Dushore in his honor. (The cabin itself was reconstructed as part of the restoration of the Azilum colony in this century.)

Some people have criticized the French of Azilum for only managing to survive for a bare ten years. These have no understanding of the overpowering love the French have for their own land, nor for the loneliness, the financial muddles, the political chaos, and the sad news from home that unsettled and defeated them. Laportes, Hornets, and Lefèvres still living in the district, Keatings and d’Autremonts farther afield, prove that Azilum was not merely an episode.

That the town worked at all is magnificent because its pioneers were people raised in the ancien régime of France with no knowledge of living beyond the graceful leisure of a perpetual drawing room. They left a memory like a Fragonard painting incongruously set among the endless mountains of Pennsylvania.