Jean-Victor Moreau and His Exile in America

Jean-Victor Moreau was exiled to America after Napoleon Bonaparte banished him to the United States. Moreau, who was a friend to Madame Récamier and Madame de Staël, had served as a general under Napoleon and had helped him gain power. However, Moreau’s alleged involvement in a plot against Napoleon (the “Pichegru Conspiracy” or “Cadoudal Affair”) caused Napoleon to force judges to bring charges against Moreau.

Jean-Victor Moreau’s Exile in America

Jean-Victor Moreau in 1792. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Some people claimed that part of the reason for the charges and trial against Moreau was that Napoleon thought him as a potential rival, but historian Steven Englund claims that Jean-Victor Moreau “more exasperated Bonaparte than rivalled him.”[1] Ultimately, however, Moreau, who was described at trial as “about 41 years of age, of pleasing address and insinuating manners with [an] elegant figure,”[2] was sentenced to imprisonment in 1804.

Napoleon, pretending to be lenient, commuted his sentence to banishment. He afterwards ordered Moreau’s home in the rue d’Anjou be seized, as well as another chateau he owned. Furnishings at both residences were then removed to the royal chateau at Fontainebleau. In the meantime, Moreau and his family immediately embarked for America but shortly thereafter it was stated:

“Moreau, according to report, was detained in Spain because Bonaparte was afraid that he would be received with too much distinction in America. It was indeed natural to suppose that a republican general would be well received in America, having fallen a victim to the ambition of a man who has converted a commonwealth, at least what was held forth as such, into the most absolute monarchy on earth.”[3]

Napoleon Bonaparte. Author’s collection.

In 1805 reports finally came that Jean-Victor Moreau had set sail for America. His transatlantic arrival was heralded by a Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania newspaper on Saturday 31 August 1805 that stated he had arrived on the ship New-York at the Philadelphia Lazeretto (the first quarantine hospital in the U.S. that was built in 1799 in Pennsylvania’s Tinicum Township). The paper noted, “Many persons went down from Philadelphia yesterday, to visit this illustrious Warrior.”[4]

When he arrived in New York it was big news there too. The Evening Post of New York City noted:

“He comes to this country an exile from that of his nativity, where, for the last ten years past, he distinguished himself in the command of the army of the Rhine, as one of the bravest and ablest generals of the age. The character of General Moreau, as a soldier and citizen, is the most unexceptionable of any of the leaders of the French Revolution. By his great worth and brilliant achievements he became uncommonly popular in the French nation and armies. This excited Bonaparte’s jealousy; he therefore sought his downfall, and obtained a decree for his banishment.”[5]

According to an American merchant and eye-witness, preparations for Jean-Victor Moreau’s arrival in New York were accomplished by a General Morton who supposedly galloped throughout the city commanding and counter-commanding everyone to make haste and finish their preparations. Moreover, Moreau’s arrival was indicated by beating militia drums being heard in every part of the city:

“A grand display in the long main street of the city, called Broadway, which extends to the public promenade designated as the Battery … [was] the … point that the distinguished stranger was to land. … The general, clad in citizen style, with a blue coat and pantaloons, mounted a horse prepared for him, amid music and the acclamations of the crowd, and rode up, surrounded by his staff of parti-coloured militia, along the mains street to the City Hall. Each separate company of each and every battalion wore their own peculiar and frequently extremely singular uniform; and it was impossible to look at the ensemble of this military assemblage in any other light than as a harlequin parade; … Some American amateurs had got up a great concert on the same evening in the long saloon of the ‘City Hotel,’ at the time the largest public house in the place. General Moreau was invited to be present and promised to comply. The street corners were at once covered with large handbills announcing in immense capitals that he would attend the concert. … There was a great crowd present, but the most striking personage in the throng was by no means general Moreau – of whom everybody remarked that he did not look at all like a French general, because he simply wore a blue coat – but general Morton, in his Washington uniform, with a blue coat and yellow facings. The latter introduced to the general every one who wanted to have a good stare at him, and the shaking of hands with ladies and gentlemen went on as if it never would end.”[6]

While residing in New York with a General Stevens, Moreau also attended a public dinner and then a military fete held in celebration of the evacuation of New York City by the British on 25 November 1783. Troops were also paraded past him for his review as he stood dressed in a blue coat and round hat with unpowdered hair. It was also announced that the great French general would appear at the theatre and people were so excited to catch a glimpse of him, it was filled an hour before his anticipated arrival:

“Near the close of the play he politely made his appearance, attended by General Morton and General Stevens. The house resounded with the customary marks of applause, which were repeated three times. … The expression of his countenance is grave and placid, and his manners altogether simple and ostentatious — It is easy to conceive that a great and successful general of such an appearance and character, was indeed idolized by his army.”[7]

Jean-Victor Moreau’s Exile in America

Evacuation day and Washington’s triumphal entrance. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Besides attending fetes, military reviews, and the theatre, Jean-Victor Moreau decided a trip of the United States was also in order so that he could learn about the history and geography of the country to which he had been banished:

“General Moreau, his family having been obliged to prolong their stay in Europe, chose to take a journey of observation through a country so abundant in new and extraordinary aspects to the eye of a stranger. After visiting the Falls of Niagara,* he descended the Ohio and the Mississippi, returning afterwards by land to the spot from whence he set out. During this journey he acquired a perfect knowledge of that part of American through which he passed.”[8]

After Jean-Victor Moreau’s wife (Eugénie Hulot) and their daughter Isabelle arrived in the United States, the family settled in New Jersey. Moreau purchased a house owned by a Mr. Leguen that was located below the falls of the Delaware River at Morrisville, a few miles from Trenton. According to Russian writer Paul Svinine, who was known for being loose with the facts and making inaccurate assumptions, after Moreau settled in Morrisville:

“It was there that he in part found the happiness of which his cruel rival had sought to deprive him; it was there that, surrounded by a charming family and stedfast friends, he seemed so much to lose sight of the injustice whose victim he had been, that he was never heard to mention it, and rarely to name him who was the author of it.

In all that Moreau said or did, it was evident that he himself wished to forget what he had been, and was also desirous that others should forget it; but though in the first moment his perfectly artless manners and his unassuming tone, rendered it difficult to recognize in him, the great man, yet the contrast of that simplicity with his great renown and his lofty deeds, soon filled the mind with admiration, and there was no one who must not with enthusiasm contemplate the hero in the meek attire of his virtues and of his domestic habitudes.”[9]  

Perhaps, the only thing that Svinine got right was that Jean-Victor Moreau was with his family and friends and that he was enjoying the domesticity of his agricultural pursuits even though his fortune had been greatly reduced from defending himself against the charges in France. Morrisville was also where Jean-Victor Moreau spent a great deal of time fishing, fowling, and hunting while his wife supposedly shocked neighbors with her outrageous behavior of dancing and playing cards on Sundays. In addition, the “social intercourse” that Moreau encouraged resulted in his home supposedly becoming a “refuge of all political exiles, and representatives of foreign powers [who] tried to induce him to raise his sword against Napoleon.”[10]

While living in the United Stations, various doubts about Moreau’s true intentions arose. Some Americans feared that he might be a secret agent for Napoleon despite him remaining low key and despite his behavior being seen by many as “irreproachable.” Qualms people had about him became evident when he undertook an 1808 journey to New Orleans. His trip raised suspicions which were then published in papers along with rumors that he had been implicated in a plan to destroy the United States and that he would soon be arrested.

“Intelligence is said to be received by the executive, of the appearance of a number of French officers in the territory of Orleans. … The arrival of Gen. Moreau had not taken place, but was looked for in a few days. His progress down the river had been but slow, as he stopped at several places on the way. Whether his visit be in co-operation with the officers already there, is yet to be determined; it is too much to be feared that it forms a part of that system, which is calculated to make the territory of the U.S. the scene of war, and its government an object for destruction. By some it is thought, that the Fate of Spain is to be subsequent to that of the United States; that whilst Spain has its King on the throne, he may aid the Emperor Napoleon, with a detachment of the army of Mexico, for the subjection of New-Orleans; and with the same army the Emperor will afterwards possess himself of Mexico. The French officers now at New-Orleans may be on the lookout, preparatory to striking the blow. They may be the people, viewing the approach to Orleans, and exploring the route to Mexico.”[11]

American rumors about Jean-Victor Moreau and his bad intentions stretched all the way to Europe where journalists reported:

“Considerable conversation was afloat yesterday, on the subject of some newly discovered conspiracy, in which General Moreau was said to be implicated. On what foundation it rests we know not, unless the following article, from a New York paper, of Jan. 21, furnishes the authority:

‘It was reported yesterday that the dispatches from the French minister here to Bonaparte, which were intercepted in American vessel by a cruizer, and laid before the British Government, were afterwards submitted to the inspection of Mr. Monroe, before his departure from England. – These dispatches are said to criminate General Moreau; and on Mr. Monroe’s communicating their contents to the President, orders were given to arrest the General, if he could be taken within the United States.’”[12]

Of course, nothing came of the newspaper reports. Suspicions against the French general proved “groundless” as there was nothing to implicate him in any “hostile” enterprise against the U.S. Nonetheless, that did not permanently stop rumors as more began to swirl in the middle of 1810. This time European papers claimed that Jean-Victor Moreau might return to France because purportedly Napoleon had invited him to do so.

Jean-Victor Moreau’s Exile in America

Jean-Victor Moreau. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

American papers dispelled such a notion and stated he was actually “domesticating himself.” Shoring up support of this domestication it was reported that Moreau had accepted the Vice-Presidency of the Benevolent Institution in New York. Just as it seemed as if Moreau was fitting in and not a threat to Americans, tragedy struck in late 1811. An extract from a letter written by a neighbor of Moreau’s to a friend mentioned a fire that destroyed the his Morrisville residence:

“Hard to relate, but so it is, our friend General Moreau lost the whole of his dwelling and green houses by fire; the whole was consumed in less than two hours this morning, between five and six, about two-thirds of his furniture has been saved, no lives lost; fortunately Mrs. Moreau and daughter had gone to New-York last week, the General and some servants only remained at Morrisville. It is suspected that the accident has occurred by the bursting of one of the new six plate stoves which are placed under the green house; the gardener had left every thing safe at four o’clock, when he had put a stick or two more to the fire, fearing that the intense cold of the morning should affect the plants.

There is no doubt the fire originated from the above causes, as no other fire was in the house and it was discovered first on the north west side in the green house.”[13]

When the War of 1812 broke out (a conflict fought between the U.S. and the U.K. and their respective allies that started in June of 1812), President James Madison offered Jean-Victor Moreau command of the U.S. troops. He thought about accepting the position but when he learned Napoleon’s Grande Armee had been destroyed in Russia, he decided to return to Europe, probably also encouraged by his wife, who wanted to go home.

President James Madison in 1816 by John Vanderlyn. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Moreau negotiated with Charles John of Sweden and the Tsar Alexander I of Russia, who then joined with the Prussians and Austrians to fight against Napoleon. General Moreau wanted Napoleon defeated and a republic government put in his place, and so he provided advice and military strategies to Charles John and the Tsar about the best way to defeat Napoleon. Unfortunately for Moreau, he was severely wounded at the Battle of Dresden on 27 August 1813 while in conversation with the Tsar. Three days later he sent a message to his wife detailing his injuries but also trying to allay her fears:

“My Dear Love, — at the battle of Dresden, three days ago, I had my two legs carried off by a cannon-ball.

That scoundrel Buonaparte is always fortunate.

The amputation was performed as well as possible.

Though the army has made a retrograde movement, it is not at all the consequence of defeat, but from a want of ensemble, and in order to get nearer Gen. Blucher.

Excuse my hasty writing. I love you with all my heart.”[14]

Jean-Victor Moreau died on 2 September 1813 with his last words being, “Rest easy, gentlemen, it’s my destiny.”[15] Tsar Alexander had Moreau’s body taken to St. Petersburg where he was buried at the Catholic Church. In America, Moreau’s name and reputation were destined to survive. The town of Moreau, New York, located in the northeast part of Saratoga County, claims it was named after this famous French general.

Jean-Victor Moreau’s Exile in America

The death of General Moreau. Courtesy of Wikipedia.


*Some reports claim that he never visited Niagara Falls. 

References:

  • [1] S. Englund, Napoleon: A Political Life (New York: Scribner, 2010), p. 224,
  • [2] The Ipswich Journal, “Friday’s Post,” March 24, 1804, 2
  • [3] The Exeter Flying Post or, Trewman’s Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser, “Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday’s Posts,” March 7, 1805, p. 1.
  • [4] The Gleaner, “General Moreau,” August 31, 1805, p. 3.
  • [5] The Evening Post, “Trenton, September 2,” September 3, 1805, p. 3.
  • [6] The Leisure Hour: An Illustrated Magazine for Home Reading v. 4 (W. Stevens, 1855), 108
  • [7] H. Croswell, The Balance, and Columbian Repository (New York: Sampson, Chittenden, & Croswell, 1805), p. 399.
  • [8] P. Svinine, Some details concerning General Moreau and His Last Moments (Boston: Nathaniel Willis, 1814), p. 6–7.
  • [9] Ibid. 1814, p. 7–8.
  • [10] J. G. Wilson and J. Fiske, Appleton’s Cyclopædia of American Biography v. 4 (New York: D. Appleton, 1888), p. 390.
  • [11] Hartford Courant, “Extract of a Letter from Washington, dated Feb. 22, to the Editor of the Baltimore North American,” March 9, 1808, p. 2.
  • [12] The Caledonian Mercury, “From the American Papers,” March 24, 1808, p. 2.
  • [13] The Evening Post, “Extract of a Letter,” December 28, 1811, p. 3.
  • [14] Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser, “Moreau’s Letter to Madame Moreau,” September 30, 1813, p. 8.
  • [15] P. J. Haythornthwaite, Who Was Who in the Napoleonic Wars (London: Arms & Armour, 1998), p. 224.

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