Peril at Paris — Miss Kingdom – Disturbances at Rouen – Quits France – Passport – Insurrection in St. Domingo – Lands at New York – Connection with M. Pharoux
The marine of France had attained to an unprecedented pitch of efficiency and power under the fostering care of Louis XVI. Her flourishing colonies in the Antilles still afforded a valuable nursery for her seamen.
For although, of all her great possessions in the West, there remained at the close of the war of independence (1763), only the Island of St. Domingo, and a few of the smaller islands, yet in value they equalled, if they did not exceed, the colonial possessions of all other nations taken together.
From St. Domingo alone the exports amounted to 168,000,000 francs = £6,720,000
And the imports to 250,000,000 francs = £10,000,000
While at the same period, the commerce of Great Britain with her American and West Indian colonies did not exceed £8,288,145.
From 1786 to 1792 Brunel seems to have been actively engaged in his profession; and from his intelligence, gaiety, amiability, and general refinement, to have endeared himself, as well to his superior officers as to his ruder companions. It is much to be regretted that there remains no record of the impressions which the susceptible mind of Brunel received of those countries which he visited and the people with whom he must have been brought into contact during the six years of his naval service. One memorial only has been found of his constructive talent: this is a drawing of a machine for husking coffee, dated Guadaloupe, 1790. In January, 1793, we find him in Paris, his ship being paid off. There, events were succeeding each other with a rapidity and violence unparalleled, perhaps, in the annals of human passion; and, on the very day when the Convention pronounced sentence against the unfortunate Louis XVI., Brunel was found defending his own loyal opinions in the colonnade of the Café de l’Échelle, little conscious of the risk to which he subjected himself. In the heat of discussion, and in reply to some ferocious expressions of an ultrarepublican, he exclaimed, more boldly than prudently, “Vous aurez bientôt à invoquer, comme autrefois, la protection de la Ste Vierge, ‘À furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine.’ ” [Inscription on one of the Gates of Rouen, after the city had been taken by the French.]
Fortunately for our young loyalist, M. Taillefer, a member of the Assembly, by committing an act of greater indiscretion, turned the attention of the bystanders upon himself, and, in the confusion which ensued, Brunel was enabled to effect his escape. That night he slept at the Petit Gaillard-bois next door, and the following morning at an early hour quitted Paris.
At Rouen, where his family had been known to entertain moderate views, Brunel was enabled to remain for a while undisturbed; but at a time when every species of despotism was exercised without a despot being acknowledged, and when “to stifle every emotion of sensibility” was, according to Robespierre, the greatest proof which a man could give of devotion to his country, it was not possible that France could any longer offer Brunel a home. And though the death of Louis XVI., which took place four days after Brunel’s escape from Paris (January 21st, 1793), was quickly followed by indiscriminate massacres of the judges and executioners of that ill-fated prince, yet there was no safety, either for the loyalist or the constitutionalist, under the jealous and unprincipled government then existing.
At Rouen, Brunel again availed himself of the protection of his relative, M. Carpentier, and it was under his hospitable roof that an event occurred which exercised a marked influence upon Brunel’s future career. In that house, for the first time, he met a young English lady, of the name of Kingdom, gifted with no ordinary personal attractions. This lady was the youngest of sixteen children, nine of whom only reached maturity. Her father, who had been an army and navy agent at Plymouth, was dead, and her mother, supported by the active interest of the member for Plymouth, who had been left guardian to her children, was enabled to secure provision for her sons in the navy office. Anxious to obtain every advantage for her favourite daughter Sophia, who had just attained her sixteenth year, she was induced, at the invitation of some West India friends, M. and Madame de Longuemar, to permit the young lady to accompany them to Rouen, that she might acquire a practical knowledge of the French language. We might be surprised that Miss Kingdom should have been permitted by her friends to enter France at all when (1792) everything was tending so rapidly to a political crisis, if we were not aware how little was generally known in England as to the condition of political parties in France. Already the King and his family were prisoners, and the most fearful cruelties were being committed in the name of liberty. Circulars had been addressed by the municipality of Paris to the other cities of France, inviting them to imitate the massacres of the capital. At Rouen two young ladies, known to M. and Madame de Longuemar, were dragged into the street by the mob, and with shouts of “à la lanterne” were actually murdered, because they had been heard to play a loyalist air on their pianoforte. The alarm thus created in Rouen hastened the departure of M. and Madame de Longuemar for the West Indies. Miss Kingdom would gladly have accompanied them, but a severe illness rendered her unable to encounter a sea voyage, and she was in consequence left under the care of M. Carpentier, the American consul, an intimate friend of the Longuemars, who was himself married to an English lady, and was also, as we have seen, the relative and tried friend of Brunel. Here, then, it was that Brunel became acquainted with Miss Kingdom. Opportunities were not wanting for the cultivation of an acquaintance in which mutual sympathy awakened mutual admiration. For Brunel beauty of form possessed an irresistible attraction. One day, while the young lady was admiring his first attempt at oil painting — still in existence, and, in her graceful and winning manner, pointing out what parts pleased her most, he turned to Madame Carpentier, and whispered, “Ah! ma cousine, quelle belle main !” Oui,” she replied, “ mais elle n’est pas pour toi.” Not long after this little event, an émeute of the republican party called out the royalists to suppress it : Brunel amongst the number. The excitement was tremendous—the danger great. It was no wonder, therefore, that love should take the place of admiration and sympathy. When all the houses of the respectable inhabitants had to be barricaded against the intrusion of the sans-culottes or bonnets rouges,—when the distant roll of the drum roused mysterious forebodings of some popular paroxysm, or the clang of the tocsin summoned the loyal and well-disposed to protect their property and their life,—the thoughts of these two loving hearts would necessarily be concentrated each upon the other, and impressions would be received which nothing could ever efface. Young Brunel’s position now became daily more critical; a longer delay in Rouen might be dangerous. Already a new phase in the revolution had presented itself.
Provisions and public money, destined for the army, had been intercepted, and everything portended another fearful catastrophe. The Jacobins had prevailed—the reign of terror had commenced–the Convention was overthrown. Its power had passed to the committee of public safety—to Robespierre, St. Just, Couthon, Collot, and “ to the ignoble, sanguinary, and depraved Barère.”
A column of Federalists had issued from Brittany and Normandy, with the view of marching upon Paris, while other columns from Bordeaux, and the basin of che Loire, — from Avignon and Languedoc, Grenoble, the Ain, and the Jura, were pressing forward towards the same point, with the avowed object of rescuing the republic from the sanguinary tyranny of its own children.
Upon the plea that he was engaged to purchase corn and flour for the army, Brunel with difficulty obtained a passport to America, its operation being limited to one year.
No time was to be lost.. On the 7th July, 1793, he bade adieu to his native country; not, as we may well believe, without feelings of deep and heartfelt sorrow. But his loyal spirit could never have allied itself with men whose hands were imbrued in the blood of their sovereign, and he had no reasonable prospect of obtaining employment at home in any other career than that of war. Thus did the iniquity of her government deprive France of the services of one of her most gifted sons.
The attachment, also, which Brunel had formed, while it tended still farther to embitter his farewell, must yet be regarded as adding another motive for entering upon the struggle for independence, and as offering a new and powerful stimulant to the exercise of faculties which he must have felt conscious of possessing, in the hope of winning a prize upon which his imagination and his affections had set the highest value.
That Miss Kingdom was strongly impressed with the devotion which she had inspired, her constancy and fortitude, through many years of trial, afford the most unequivocal testimony.
At Havre, Brunel found an American vessel called Liberty, in which he secured a passage for the United States. Scarcely had he congratulated himself upon his escape from tyranny and oppression, when he discovered that the passport, to obtain which he had devoted many anxious hours, had been forgotten. After the first moment of disappointment, no time was given to vain regret; a mind so full of resource as that of Brunel, could scarcely fail to find some means to supply a loss which, to any other, would have been irreparable, and might have proved fatal. Having borrowed a passport from one of his fellow passengers, he soon produced a copy, so admirably executed in every minute detail, even to the seal, that it was deemed proof against all scrutiny.
To his caligraphic skill he was now indebted for freedom, and perhaps for life. Scarcely was the ink dry, when a French frigate hove in sight. A signal was soon after made for all the passengers on board the American vessel to parade on deck, that their passports might be examined. The detection of any irregularity would have subjected Brunel to arrest, and an immediate transmission back to France as suspect. Confiding in his artistic skill, and feeling the importance of suppressing all appearance of hesitation or misgiving, he was the first to present his bold but well simulated document, of which he received the necessary confimation without having aroused the slightest suspicion as to its authenticity.
Without farther let or hindrance, he landed in safety at New York on the 6th September, 1793. There, to his dismay, he found the French squadron which had conveyed all those who had been so fortunate as to escape the fearful massacre at St. Domingo.
It will be remembered that, in 1790, the Constituent Assembly had empowered each colony belonging to the republic to make known its wants on the subject of a constitution, through an assembly which was to be elected by its own citizens. The mulatto population of St. Domingo naturally claimed to participate, as citizens, in the privilege thus heedlessly decreed, and their claim was as naturally resisted by the whites, who, as the largest proprietors in the island, and the inheritors of the wealth, the luxury, and the prejudices of their fathers, felt their dignity compromised and their power endangered by this decision of the Assembly.
Though inferior in point of wealth, the mulattos were far superior in point of numbers, and under the name of Petit Blancs, were rising into social importance; they therefore rejoiced in the opportunity now assorded them to secure political position also.
Absorbed by class and personal contentions and animosities, they entirely overlooked the condition of the slave population.*
* The relative proportion of the population given by Mackenzie as quoted by Alison, was, whites 40,000, mulattos 60,000, blacks 500,000. Annual Register gives, whites 42,000, mulattos 44,000, slaves 600,000.
The ruinous effect of the mistaken legislation of the Constituent Assembly will be at once seen in the following comparative commercial statistics of St. Domingo. A.D. 1789.
|A.D. 1789||A.D. 1832|
|Sugar exported :|
|Brown 93,573,500||Total: 141,089,831 lbs.||none|
|Ships employed in Trade||1680||1|
|Besides many other articles, such as hides, molasses, and spirits, to the amount of 171,544,666 livres.—Annual Register.|
|Exports to France||£6,720,000||none|
|Exports from do.||£9,890,000||none|
The effect of the energetic and active Jacobin missionaries upon the minds of the negroes was not appreciated. More circumspect than had been their countrymen of Jamaica, when, in 1760, they sought to cast off the British yoke, the negroes of St. Domingo, under their able chiefs Brasson, Toussaint, and Hyacinthe, successfully accomplished their project, and in June, 1793, after a series of atrocious cruelties, Cape Town, the last stronghold of the planters, was reduced to ashes, while the whites and mulattos were actually engaged in civil contention upon a question of privilege and caste. “ Thus fell the Queen of the Antilles,” says Alison (History of Europe), “ the most stately monument of European opulence that had yet arisen in the New World; and thus democratic France, by an improvident and reckless encouragement of freedom, lost her most valuable West Indian possessions, as constitutional England lost her American colonies by an equally wilful, intolerant, and perverse legislation.”
The greater part of the fugitives from that devoted country had sought shelter in the United States; but, however ready our young émigré may have been to sympathise with their fallen fortune, his own personal safety called for all his attention and care.
The crews of the French vessels Brunel used to describe as so many sets of banditti. Many of them came to witness the landing of their exiled countrymen, and with coarse jests and imprecations, threatened to hang them all as a cargo of royalists ; and as Brunel was personally known to many of the officers of the squadron, there was the further apprehension that he might be recognised, treated as a deserter, and compelled, perhaps, to return to the country from which he had with so much difficulty succeeded in escaping.
Having found temporary protection in the lodging house of “one Wilson,” in Hanover Place, New York, Brunel lost no time in making his arrangements for quitting the city. A stranger in the land, he knew not where to direct his steps. In his dilemma he fortunately called to mind that two of his compagnons de voyage, M. Pharoux and M. Desjardins, had gone to Albany, for the purpose of organising, on the part of a French company, the survey of a large tract of land near Lake Ontario, lying between the 44th parallel of latitude, and the course of the Black River; and comprehending upwards of 220,000 acres. Brunel resolved to seek them, in a vague hope that he might be permitted to bear a part in an expedition which promised abundant exercise for his enterprising spirit, and an ample field for his genius: whilst it held out some prospect, if not of immediate remuneration, yet of enabling him to husband his little store of money for future emergencies.
M. Pharoux, the director of the expedition, an architect and surveyor of considerable repute, received. our adventurous émigré with all the courtesy of a kind and generous nature. During the voyage he had marked the originality of thought and amiability of character which distinguished Brunel, and he at once secured the co-operation of one to whom difficulties and dangers promised to be only incentives to exertion, and the means of drawing forth natural resources of no ordinary kind.
Accompanied by four Indians, supplied with two tents, a few axes, and fowling-pieces, these three enterprising French gentlemen entered upon the arduous task, not only of exploring, but of actually mapping a region hitherto scarcely known—a region where nature had for ages put forth unrestrained her power and her beauty. The glories of the physical world were appreciated by Brunel in their widest extent, and the impressions made by the richness, variety and magnitude of the vegetation in those primeval forests was ever remembered by him with pleasure, mingled with a certain awe, when he called to mind the perils by which his path had been so often compassed.