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A French Volunter
General Washington was less than charmed by the young Frenchman whose thirst for la gloire was matched only by his ignorance of English. But the newcomer swallowed his pride, served valiantly, and lived to piquantly recall his adventures as
August 1966 | Volume 17, Issue 5
The fugitives’ situation was desperate. The city, largely Loyalist, was held by the British; friendly country lay far away. They had no proper clothes for midwinter and no food, and their boat was leaky. Nevertheless, they rowed out to lower New York Harbor; no doubt the tide was running out. They found there a strange ship at anchor, and took the desperate chance of hailing her. She was in fact a French parlementaire , which had come under a flag of truce to parley with the English. This business done, the ship was waiting for a wind to sail for Haiti. The runaways were taken aboard and hidden, for fear of a British search. When indeed a boarding party appeared, it took only a perfunctory look around, for the fugitives’ small boat had drifted back to New York on the returning tide and had stranded there; the hunt was centered in the city.
Thus Dubouchet got safely to Haiti. He then came down with fever, and was lodged with a kindly free mulatto woman who, he reported, made no indecent demands upon him, unlike most of her kind, “who assail especially young men newly arrived, not yet enervated by the climate and by excesses.”
After a long bout of illness he recovered and returned to France, arriving at the end of July, 1778. In Paris he called on Franklin, and found to his relief that the great man had received duplicates of the dispatches he had delivered to the sea. He was warmly received by John Adams and Richard Lee.
Although he felt entitled at least to a French colonelcy for his American exploits, he experienced the usual setbacks of the absentee, and was forced to settle for a captaincy. Family influences, however, worked to make him an aide-de-camp to Rochambeau, who was then preparing the great, expedition in aid of the American Revolutionary armies. Unexpectedly, Dubouchet found himself headed back to the United States.
After a stormy ninety-day crossing, Rochambeau’s forces arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, on July 11, 1780, and were joyfully received as liberators. Dubouchet was appointed aide-major-général, and because of his knowledge of English he became, in effect, liaison officer with the Americans, military and civilian. He enjoyed this association and helped to keep good relations with the inhabitants, as they testified with a Resolution of Thanks from the city on his departure.
After a full year in Newport the main French army moved out, in July, 1781, for the campaign that was to end at Yorktown. But Dubouchet was left behind, as chief of staff of the base detachment assigned to Newport. He was angry and humiliated at the slight. A fellow officer, M. de Laubardière, offered to buy his horses, saying that in the circumstances Dubouchet wouldn’t need them. Dubouchet took the words as irony or persiflage, and responded bitterly. Laubardière. considering himself insulted, asked satisfaction.
The two, with a certain M. de Mauduit serving as second to both contestants, walked to the outskirts of the city, and at the word of command fell upon each other with their swords. Laubardière received two slight wounds, while his thrust at Dubouchet “would have transfixed me, if his weapon had not been arrested by the collar-bone.” M. de Mauduit helped pull out the weapon, and then walked Dubouchet back to his billet, in the house of the worthy Captain Storey, at 265 Thames Street. “The great quantity of blood I lost in walking back made my wound the less dangerous,” wrote Dubouchet, subscribing to the thenaccepted medical theory of bloodletting. “Aided by a large cloak in which I was wrapped I bore myself so hardily that a number of people, asking me for orders, were surely far from imagining that I was wounded and covered with blood.” On reaching Captain Storey’s house, Mauduit hurried off to fetch the army surgeon.
Dubouchet entered; the daughter of the house, Miss Betsy, asked him to take tea. “Being very impatient to reach my room, and not to prolong the conversation on the stair, I imprudently promised to do so.” In his room he did his best to staunch the flow of blood, and felt himself grow steadily weaker. “The young person, probably finding that I was too slow in keeping my promise, came to summon me, and entered at the moment when, without my cloak and bloody shirt, I was sponging my wound. This sight, so new, so unexpected to her, filled her with such terror that, with a scream, she fell back in a faint. Her screams and the noise of her fall immediately brought her father and mother from the ground floor. They found me trying to bring her back to consciousness by pouring water on her face. … But she did not respond, and her parents were ready to despair when my surgeon arrived, happily, to attend to her and to bring her out of her faint with strong cordials.” Dubouchet was put to bed and was bled (1) three times in twenty-four hours. Nevertheless he recovered in seventeen days, and made his peace with the convalescent M. de Laubardière.
In August, Dubouchet, with the Newport detachment, was ordered to join Rochambeau in Virginia. He was present at the Battle of Yorktown and at Cornwallis’ capitulation on October 19—four years, almost to the day, after Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga. Unfortunately Dubouchet gives us no piquant details to add to history’s store.