- Historic Sites
Louis Philippe In America
The future French king asked Washington for directions and got an arduous tour of a new nation’s wilderness
April 1969 | Volume 20, Issue 3
Here they rested for several days. They were cordially received by the great men of Pittsburgh, including General John Neville and Hugh Henry Brackenridge, author of Modern Chivalry . Neville’s son was impressed by the brothers’ familiar, democratic manners, and by Beaujolais’s playfulness. He remembered Louis Philippe as rather taciturn, melancholy, and subject to fits of abstraction. Of course, he may have been suffering from the sequels of illness. The visitors made friends with the picturesque émigré the Chevalier Dubac, who was described as “the most popular citizen of the village.” Though once an attaché of the French legation in Constantinople, he was not at all cast down by ill fortune. He opened a confiserie , making a specialty of burnt maple sugar, peach-flavored, with hazelnuts and walnuts. He had a pet monkey, Sultan, who he insisted could tell counterfeit money from genuine. “Allons, Sultan,” he would say, “tell dese good ladie de good money from de counterfeit.” After some byplay, Sultan would scrape all the money into the cash drawer. “Madame, he is like de Pope; he is infallible.”
From Pittsburgh the course led north to Erie, Pennsylvania, then east along the shore of Lake Erie. Ever curious about the natives, Louis Philippe paused at the Cattaraugus Reservation of the Seneca Indians. Here, apparently, occurred an incident that always amused the younger brothers. The chief was ill; Louis Philippe prescribed and performed a bleeding. Much relieved, the chief granted the medicine man his highest mark of esteem; he installed the visitor for the night in the place of honor, between the chief’s grandmother and his great-aunt. It is true that in the morning the chief tried to impound, by a legal quibble, the brothers’ faithful, far-travelled dog.
Thus they came to Buffalo Creek, no more than an Indian trading post. They crossed to the Canadian side of the Niagara River and spent a day regarding Niagara Falls. Montpensier made of the famous view a sketch, from which he later developed an oil painting (see page 44).
East of Buffalo, the track led through swamplands inhabited only by mosquitoes. Floundering through the wet woods, the Frenchmen met a party bound for Niagara, and recognized Alexander Baring, an Englishman who was engaged to the daughter of the great William Bingham of Philadelphia; she was the cousin of sweet Abby Willing. He found the princes wearing ragged clothes and gaping boots, and nearly penniless. He asked if the sight of Niagara was really worth all the toil and pains, and was assured that indeed it was. (Later, as Lord Ashburton, Baring was to reappear in American history as signer of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty.)
The princes emerged from the sloughs. Montpensier wrote to his sister: “We have spent fourteen nights in the woods, devoured by all kinds of insects, soaked to the bone, unable to get dry, eating pork and sometimes a little salt beef and corn-bread.” They crossed the Genesee at Avon Springs by Widow Berry’s rope ferry and reached an outpost of civilization in Dr. Timothy Hosmer’s sanitarium beside healing springs. Here they found excellent fare, and incredibly a bathhouse, and just as incredibly a well-chosen library. Their courtly host, a former surgeon in the Revolutionary army, was in local remembrance “a gentleman of the old school, scrupulously clean and neat, with a portly frame and erect military carriage. His hair was ribbon-tied, and carefully powdered by his black servant, Boston. His breeches of soft and nicely-dressed deerskin were fastened at the knees by silver buckles.” It seemed to the princes that they were re-entering a lost world.
The impression was reinforced, a day’s journey farther on, in Canandaigua. Here the bedraggled travellers were greeted in perfect French by Thomas Morris, son of the financier Robert Morris and agent for the newly opened lands of the Genesee country. He had been educated in France and had brought with him to these backwoods an accomplished French chef. He put up the visitors in his comfortable house, supplied all their wants, took them on fishing trips on beautiful Canandaigua Lake. They made friends with a young Scottish clerk in the land office, John Greig, and all, wearing moccasins, went hunting deer and wild duck.
Years later Greig, a lawyer and bank president, revisited Europe. Timidly he sent up his card to the French king: “John Greig, late of Canandaigua, America.” As an awe-struck Canandaiguan had it from Greig, “the recollections of early scenes rushed vividly upon the mind of the monarch; and, laying aside his royal state, he went quickly to the door, threw it open, and, expanding his arms, fervently clasped John Greig to his bosom.” During a whole month, “John must sit by his side at dinner, play at chess and cribbage with him in his library, and ride by his side. … When he left the court of St. Cloud, it was, as John Greig afterward said, like tearing himself from the home of his youth, and the embrace of a father.”
At Thomas Morris’ urging, and under his guidance, the party visited the falls of the Genesee, stopping for the night at the log house of Orringh Stone, in the present Brighton, Rochester’s suburb. The two-story frame tavern that succeeded the cabin a year or two later is now jealously guarded by the Society for the Preservation of Landmarks in Western New York. The falls themselves, though a disappointment after Niagara, tempted Beaujolais to make a sketch, and later a painting (see page 45).