The Imprisonment Of Lafayette


Covered with mud and blood from the fight, he rode into a village and offered two thousand crowns for a fresh horse. The large sum, his accent, and his disheveled appearance aroused suspicion, and he was taken into custody. Brought before the mayor for an examination, he kept a cool head, gave a plausible explanation, and was about to be released when someone in the crowd recognized him. The general first denied the identification, but when the mayor insisted he be taken to Olmütz to make certain, he admitted that he was indeed Lafayette, and was escorted back to his cell.

Bollman was the only one to reach Hoff. Not finding Lafayette there, he guessed that the general had gotten lost. Crossing the border into Silesia, he searched for Lafayette, hoping he had been able to make it into Prussia along a different route. A week later, Bollman, too, was arrested, and after two weeks he was taken to Olmütz to join Huger.

In the meantime the civil examination of Huger had begun. Since Huger spoke no German, a Professor Passi, a tutor employed by a Russian nobleman living in the vicinity of Olmütz, served as interpreter.

For three months Huger and Bollman were kept in solitude and brought separately before the tribunal for examination. The early investigation centered on a suspected political plot involving Austrians. Finally the judges determined the two had worked independently of any local help and for the sole purpose of freeing Lafayette. The charges were reduced to “forcing a military post,” and after that they were allowed a little more freedom and better food. But the examinations continued, this time on the revised charge.

There were efforts on many fronts to help the two. Huger managed to smuggle letters out to Thomas Pinckney, former governor of South Carolina, who was then the American minister in London. He first wrote him on January 5, 1795, asking Pinckney to write his mother and closing with the plea “Don’t forget us.”

At home Huger’s family wrote to George Washington, asking that the President intervene to obtain his freedom. Secretary of State Timothy Pickering informed them that the President was concerned, but “the cause of Mr. Huger’s confinement would render an application delicate and difficult, the United States having no public functionary in the Austrian dominions....”

In Olmütz the prisoners had more influential help. Their interpreter had hinted several times that there were friends working in their behalf. It seems that Passi’s regular employer, a certain Count Mitrowsky, took a sympathetic interest in the case. He gave Passi the money necessary to bribe the judges, and when Bollman and Huger were found guilty the sentence was unusually light: one month’s labor in irons, followed by banishment from Austria. With a little more encouragement from Mitrowsky the judges saw fit to reduce the sentence to fourteen days’ further confinement and banishment. Eight months after the attempted rescue Huger and Bollman were released.

Passi made all necessary arrangements for them, allowing them to see their benefactor briefly, then hurrying them across the border. They left none too soon. The crown lawyers had reported to Vienna, and a directive came back upbraiding the judges for their leniency and demanding that the trial be reopened.

Lafayette continued to be held prisoner until a young French general named Bonaparte invaded the Austrian dominions in 1797, forcing the emperor to sue for peace. The Directory told Bonaparte to demand the release of Lafayette and the others at Olmütz as a condition to a peace settlement. The famous general was freed September 19, 1797, five years after his arrest along the frontier.

But the story does not quite end there. Following their release from prison Bollman sailed with Huger to the United States in 1796. Afer failing repeatedly in business ventures, he became an agent of Aaron Burr in 1805. He first served the former Vice President as a land promoter but soon became entangled in Burr’s alleged scheme to establish a western empire in the Louisiana Territory. In late 1806, shortly after delivering an incriminating message from Burr to General James Wilkinson, Bollman was arrested and—for the second time in twelve years—imprisoned. He declined Jefferson’s offer of a pardon on the ground that it would be tantamount to an admission of guilt, but regained his freedom when the case against Burr failed to stand up. In his later years he wrote several pamphlets on the banking systems of the United States and England; he died in Jamaica in 1821.

Huger, meanwhile, had finished work on his degree in 1797, graduating from the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania. He returned to South Carolina, married one of Thomas Pinckney’s daughters, and divided his time between his plantation on the Santee River and a summer home in Statesburg, choosing the life of a rice farmer instead ofthat of a doctor; he also served two terms in the South Carolina legislature.

Then in 1824 Lafayette arrived in America for a tour iat took him to every part of the country. After landing in New York City he got in touch with Huger, with whom he had previously corresponded. Referring to him as “my dear deliverer,” Lafayette asked him to join his party in New York. Huger did so and then accompanied the general to Yorktown for special ceremonies there.