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French Countess Sends Condolences to Peggy Schuyler Van Rensselaer (Not Knowing She Had Died Three Years Earlier) on the Death of Hamilton
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I must venture this...to express our most sincere affliction, at the melancholy news of your mr hamilton’s end. … our credit is not great, with mr Tal…[Tallyrand] who visited you at Albany, and is now, on the very top of the wheel of fortune, w[h]ere he has taken care not to be another time reduced to be pennyless… Pray, let me hear, once more from you, and all your family. I have not had a word from any of you since I left new York…”

[ALEXANDER HAMILTON]. HENRIETTE-LUCY, MARQUISE DE LA TOUR DU PIN GOUVERNET. Autograph Letter Signed to Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler Van Rensselaer, August 27, 1804, Saint-André-de-Cubzac, France. 3 pp., 7 x 9.5 in.

Inventory #25700       Price: $850

In this poignant letter, a French aristocrat sends her condolences on the death of Alexander Hamilton to his sister-in-law, Peggy Van Rensselaer. What she did not know, however, was that Van Rensselaer had died more than three years earlier.

Comtesse de La Tour du Pin Gouvernet recalled the kindnesses of Peggy Van Rensselaer, her husband, and that of her parents, sisters, and other members of the extended Schuyler family, while she and her husband were exiles from France during the French Revolution in the 1790s.

Complete Transcript

                                                                        St André de Cubzac department de La Gironde                                                                                                                                                Augst the 27h 1804

Dear Madam
Perhaps you will not remember the person who is writing to you after so many years’ silence, but if you will recall to your memory the many kindnesses and attentions you have shewn us, you will easely believe, that they never can be forgotten by those who have been honoured with them. I have been so unfortunate, as never to receive any answer to several letters I wrote to you both from france and from england. I must venture this, however, to express our most sincere affliction, at the melancholy news of your mr hamilton’s end; my husband who has conceived so high an esteem for him, has felt it with the utmost concern; and when I think on the many proofs, I may say, of friendship with which mr hamilton and you, dear madam, have honored me, I cannot but feel the loss you sustain as I would do, for one of my own family. I read in the news papers that he was to have had the place mr Livingston now occupies of minister in france  what sincere happiness would it have been for us, if we could have had under our roof some of a family which in the days of our misfortunes, shelter’d us with so much generosity and compassion; believe me, dear mrs Renslaer <2> when I assure you, it would be the finest day in my life, were I enabled to pay to some of your friends, those attentions and that kindness with which I was always sure to be received at your house, and at dear mrs Shcuyler’s.

I trust you will not be displeased if I insert here something of my own situation. it is, tho’ by far, under what I would have had a right to expect; much better than that of many fellow sufferers, we have still a very comfortable house and Estate near bordeaux, w[h]ere we are settled, without any thought of leaving it; my husband, tho’ not entirely estranged from Public business, is not in a disposition to take any place bellow his character or situation in life, one, indeed, he has wished for and sollicited, it was that of minister in your Country but our credit is not great, with mr Tal…[1] who visited you at Albany, and is now, on the very top of the wheel of fortune, w[h]ere he has taken care not to be another time reduced to be pennyless.

Pray, let me hear, once more from you, and all your family. I have not had a word from any of you since I left new york, and dare not name any of those <3> from whose remembrance I should be so much concerned to be entirely erased, remember me to all, and believe me, dearest madam, your ever affectionate and gratefull friend

                                                                        Lucy Latourdupin

 

my husband and my son, (who is now a grown up man), desires their best respect to you and all your family. I have also two little daughters.[2]

if you are so good as to write to me, inclose your letter with the direction at the date of this, to your Consul at Bordeaux.[3]

Historical Background
Comtesse Henriette-Lucy de La Tour du Pin was present at Versailles during the Assembly of the Estates and witnessed the Women’s March on Versailles in October 1789 at the beginning of the French Revolution. From October 1791 to March 1792, she was in the Hague, where her husband served as ambassador. She returned to France in December 1792. During the Reign of Terror in 1793, many of her friends and family were guillotined, so she fled Paris to the family estate at Saint André Bouilh Cubzac in southwestern France.[4]

During the summer of 1793, the National Convention sent Jean-Lambert Tallien to establish the Terror in Bordeaux. Tallien seized the de La Tour du Pin family estate and imprisoned Frédéric-Séraphin, Comte de Gouvernet, Thérésa Cabarrus, who had become a French aristocrat by marriage but was divorced, began an affair with Tallien. When he suggested, “It is better to marry than be beheaded,” she married him, and the number of executions in Bordeaux notably declined. With her help, Lucy de La Tour du Pin secured the release of her husband, obtained a passport for her family, and they fled France for America in March 1794.

The Comte and Comtesse de La Tour du Pin first arrived in Boston with their two children and a substantial amount of baggage but no letters of introduction. Another French refugee in England sent a letter to them from Angelica Schuyler Church (1756-1814), a daughter of Philip Schuyler, who recommended them to her father and his family in Albany. They sold more than half of their possessions in Boston, including a piano, and converted it into money. After about a month in Boston, they made a two-week voyage to Albany.

With the generous assistance of General Philip Schuyler and his son-in-law Stephen Van Rensselaer III, the de La Tours settled on a 200-acre dairy farm near Troy, New York, north of Albany, on the Van Rensselaer estate. On the advice of Schuyler and Van Rensselaer, they spent a third of their funds on purchasing the farm, a third on purchasing farm animals and enslaved African Americans to work it, and kept a third as a reserve fund for unexpected circumstances.

In late September 1794, they had an unexpected visit from fellow French refugee Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, one of the authors of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and a key member of an array of French governments, including those of King Louis XVI, some of the French Revolutionary governments, Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Louis-Philippe. His name has become associated with crafty, cynical diplomacy. A few years after this visit, back in France as Foreign Minister, Talleyrand played a key role in the XYZ Affair that led to the Quasi-War with France.

In the fall of 1794, however, he was a twice-exiled refugee, having fled Paris for England, then forced to leave that country by Prime Minister William Pitt’s expulsion order after France declared war on Great Britain. He delivered an invitation to the Schuylers for dinner, and, the Comtesse de La Tour left her children with a servant and went to Albany with Talleyrand. After spending more time in Troy with the de La Tours, the Comtesse de La Tour and Talleyrand spent the day with the Schuylers at the home of Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler Van Rensselaer. Fifty years later, the Comtesse recalled, “Monsieur de Talleyrand had been extremely impressed by the remarkable culture of Mrs. Van Rensselaer, and could not believe that she had not passed years in Europe. She had a very clear understanding of American affairs and the Revolution, of which she had gained a profound and extended knowledge through her brother-in-law, Colonel Hamilton, who was the friend and also the most intimate confidant of Washington. Colonel Hamilton was expected at Albany where he intended to pass some time with his father-in-law, General Schuyler. He had just resigned the position of Secretary of the Treasury, which he had held since the peace. It was to him that the country owed the good order which had been established in this branch of the government of the United States. Monsieur de Talleyrand knew him and had the very highest opinion of him. But he found it very remarkable that a man of his value, and endowed with talents so superior, should leave the Ministry to resume the profession of lawyer, giving as his reason for this decision that the position of Minister did not give him the means of bringing up his family of eight children.”[5]

In a visit to New York City for three weeks in the summer of 1795, the Comtesse de La Tour recalled that Alexander Hamilton, Talleyrand, and her husband conversed until midnight or beyond at the mansion of Thomas Law. The Comte and Comtesse de La Tour du Pin left New York in May 1796 to return to France via Spain to reclaim their estate.

Henriette-Lucy Dillon, Marquise de La Tour-du-Pin-Gouvernet(1770-1853) was born in Paris. She was the daughter of Arthur Dillon, the colonel-proprietor of the Dillon Regiment that served as a part of the French expeditionary force in the American Revolutionary War and an aide-de-camp to the Marquis de Lafayette, and Therese-Lucy de Rothe, one of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s ladies in waiting. In 1787, Henriette-Lucy Dillon married Frédéric-Séraphin, Comte de Gouvernet (1759-1837). When his father was guillotined in April 1794, he took the title of Comte de La Tour du Pin de Gouvernet. Like her mother, Henriette-Lucy served as an apprentice lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette from 1787 to 1789. During the Reign of Terror, she fled Paris for the family estate at Saint André Bouilh Cubzac in the Gironde region of southwestern France. Her husband was imprisoned, but she secured his release, and they fled to the United States. They settled on a dairy farm near Albany, New York, where they became close to Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord during his exile in the United States. With the establishment of the Directory in France, she and her husband returned in 1796. After the coup of 1799 brought Napoleon to power, her husband was able to resume his diplomatic career, and she promoted his career under Napoleon. During the Bourbon Restoration in 1814/1815, he was made a peer of France and a marquis. She went with him when he served as ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815-1820) and to the Kingdom of Sardinia (1820). Their son Aymar was involved in an anti-Orléanist plot, so the family sold their possessions and fled France. After her husband died in Switzerland in 1837, she moved to Pisa, Italy, where she died sixteen years later. Between 1820 and her death, she wrote a memoir for her son Aymar. Her descendants published it in 1906 as Journal d’une Femme de Cinquante Ans (Journal of a Woman of Fifty Years), and an English translation was published in 1920 as Recollections of the Revolution and the Empire. The memoir covers her life from her childhood to the month of March 1815, immediately following the return of Napoleon from exile on Elba.

Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler Van Rensselaer(1758-1801) was born in Albany, New York, to Catharine Van Rensselaer (1734-1803) and Philip Schuyler (1733-1804), a wealthy patroon and major general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. In 1783, she married distant cousin Stephen Van Rensselaer III (1764-1839), and two years later, he became the patroon of Rensselaerswyck. Her sister Elizabeth Schuyler (1757-1854) had married Alexander Hamilton in 1780. The Van Rensselaers had three children by 1789, but only one survived to adulthood. Peggy Van Rensselaer became ill in 1799, and she died in March 1801. The following year, her husband married Cornelia Bell Paterson, the daughter of William Paterson, former Governor of New Jersey and Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.



[1]Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838), at that time Minister of Foreign Affairs under Emperor Napoleon I.

[2][2]In 1804, her children were Humbert de La Tour du Pin (1790-1816), who died in a duel; Charlotte de La Tour du Pin Gouvernet (1796-1822); and Céle de La Tour du Pin (1800-1817). She also had Séraphine de La Tour du Pin (1793-1795), who died in New York. She later had Aymar de La Tour du Pin (1806-1867), the only child to survive her.

[3]The American consul at Bordeaux from 1801 to 1816 was William Lee (1772-1840) of Boston.

[4]Both her father and her father-in-law died on the guillotine.

[5]La Marquise de La Tour du Pin, Recollections of the Revolution and the Empire, ed. and trans. Walter Geer (New York: Brentano’s, 1920), 204.


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