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New Book Reveals Arsene Latour’s Adventures

February 11, 2018 in American History, European History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Nautical History, Texas History

New Translation of Latour Biography

New Translation of Latour Biography

Engineer-mapmaker, War of 1812 historian, architect and erstwhile secret agent Arsene Lacarriere Latour comes vibrantly to life in the new English translation of “A Visionary Adventurer, Arsene Lacarriere Latour 1778-1837, the Unusual Travels of a Frenchman in the Americas” by Jean Garrigoux.

Originally printed in French in 1997, the Latour biography was translated by retired diplomat Gordon S. Brown and published by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette press in 2017.

This biography draws from the large archive of Latour manuscripts and correspondence found in the Martine Bardon collection of France, and includes many important revelations about political intrigues of the United States, French Bonapartists, Spanish and Freemasons in the US, Cuba and Texas during the early 1800s. Although substantiation is undocumented, Latour seems to have been an unpaid double agent for the US.

Best known as an historian and early day journalist for his 1816 work, “An Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-1815,” Latour was much more than just an engineer-architect turned soldier at New Orleans during the British invasion of Louisiana: he was a multi-talented Renaissance man of considerable skills who dealt with the leading powerful men of his time. This narrative of his life also clearly shows that he was a keen political analyst and observer. The English translation allows non-Francophones to appreciate this biography for the first time.

Mostly forgotten by history, Latour is brought dramatically to life in this biography. Plagued by chronic illness all his life in a time when disease often led to early death, Latour did not let that keep him from doing dangerous explorations of the frontier, including up the Arkansas River among the Indians. He also made frequent trips between New Orleans, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Cuba. He conducted special agent work that could have gotten him killed. Adventure was written large upon his soul.

Born in Aurillac, France, Latour came to New York from the slave revolution ravaged Saint Domingue in 1804. He then quickly headed south to Louisiana. He adopted the US and was deeply proud of the American citizenship he obtained in April 1812 while living in New Orleans. In an 1829 letter to friend and newly elected President Andrew Jackson, Latour wrote, “No consideration whatever could induce me to renounce the honorable title of American citizen, which I have and will always prefer to any fortune.”

In addition to Jackson, Latour knew and interacted with James Madison, James Monroe, Joseph Bonaparte, Edward Livingston, William C.C. Claiborne, General James Wilkinson and Peter Du Ponceau. He was a close friend of Napoleon’s favorite soldier, Charles Lallemand, and with privateer Jean Laffite.

Latour was a superb architect. His handiwork can be readily seen in New Orleans’ French Quarter by the buildings he created, most notably the famous Napoleon House, built in 1814. He designed the original city plan of Baton Rouge, La. In Cuba, where he lived for nearly 17 years, he built bridges and a fountain, plus brought the first steam engines to the island.

Through Latour’s correspondence and those of his associates, the biography reveals the complexity and depth of this artful French adventurer of the Gulf of Mexico. It is quite a wonderful, absorbing work, interweaving Cuban histories and archives with the Bardon Latour family collection to show how everything meshed together in a tapestry of intrigues. This is a worthwhile book to add to any early southern history enthusiast’s library, sure to be consulted and reread many times to garner at least a better picture of what life must have been like during the time South America was endeavoring to gain independence from Spain, privateers and pirates were rampant on the Gulf of Mexico waters, and politicians and filibusters plotted to seize borderlands of the US interior. I heartily recommend it.

Cobbett the Body-Snatcher, or What Happened to Thomas Paine’s Corpse

October 27, 2014 in American History, general history, History

Thomas Paine as he may have looked when Cobbett unearthed him.

Thomas Paine as he may have looked when Cobbett unearthed him.

Even  before Thomas Paine  had died, at least one of his “friends” had designs on acquiring his skull.

John Wesley Jarvis,  an artist who was a close associate of the  author of “Common Sense,” asked Paine once, in a rather morbid but friendly mood, if he would permit him to have his skull to study when he was dead, considering Jarvis had a “thing” for the study of craniology, and, being a younger man, would likely survive the American Revolution’s firebrand author. Paine replied “No, let me alone when I am dead; I should not like my bones to be disturbed.” However, Paine got only a decade of repose in the grave before his bones went rambling, and it is likely today those same remains are yet above ground, thanks to another “friend” who dug him up in the fall of 1819.

graveRadical newspaper editor William Cobbett, an on-again, off-again British resident of the United States, decided Paine’s forlorn final residence beneath a walnut tree on his New Rochelle, N.Y., farm was greatly ill-suited to someone he considered a fellow countryman, plus a revolutionary patriot, and all around “great man.” So the best thing to do, in Cobbett’s eyes, was to hire his printshop man Benbow plus a couple of others to head out with a covered wagon one night, and dig Paine up by lantern light so they could body-snatch the corpse and smuggle it away by ship to the country of his birth, where a suitable interment and ceremony would be held on sacred ground at St. Paul’s Church. Yet another friend of Paine’s happened to be riding by around that time, saw them in their nefarious act of grave-robbery, and alerted the local constables, but Cobbett’s men succeeded in dashing away with the coffin and mouldering contents. Cobbett, with Paine’s body packed in a probably musty-smelling large trunk, then left quickly for England by the ship Hercules as newspapers both bemoaned and applauded the act in America.

“Tom Paine has of late become literally a ‘bone of contention.’ Mr. Cobbett, it was reported, had formed a determination to ship off the rotting carcass of his fellow countryman, that it might finish the process of putrefication in the land where it germinated. Upon this, a very respectable writer observes_‘It is as it should be__let England be the sepulcher of her own blasphemy.’  The Democratic Press, and the National Advocate, take offence at such sentiments; and aver that Mr. Cobbett, if he has done the foul and ‘sacriligious’ deed, ought to be sent to the state prison,” wrote the editor of the Northern Whig of Hudson, N.Y.  on Oct. 19, 1819.

The National Advocate of New York opined that they hoped the report of Paine being disinterred  “is not true: we cannot bring ourselves to believe, that an act of sacrilege, so daring__so repugnant to every feeling of patriotism, has been committed by William Cobbett..remove the bones of a revolutionary patriot, from the soil which he eminently assisted in liberating, and send them to moulder in a land of slavery? What could have induced such an act? ….Whatever the errors of Paine may have been on the subject of religion, he is to be judged by a Higher Tribunal, whose rights no earthly power can usurp. As a patriot, he laboured indefatigably and successfully in achieving the Independence of America, and America is deeply indebted to him: let his errors be forgotten, and his good deeds, alone, remembered__and let no sacrilegious hand disturb his bones.”

Meanwhile, Cobbett’s “Igor” grave-robber, Benbow, sought to defend his actions at the New Rochelle farm by penning a letter to the National Advocate newspaper:

“Sir, In answer to numerous questions relative to the removal of the bones of the greatest man of the age, in which he lived, who lay in a state of degradation, and whom, as an Englishman, I claim as my countryman, I have to say we mean to raise a colossal statue in his memory, which will prove to you, in the first place, the value we as Englishmen set upon the merits of Mr. Paine; and on the other hand, will prove to you, as Americans, your ingratitude, neglecting, as you have done, the man, who had done more, ten times told, than any other person, towards emancipating America from British slavery. However, Mr. Paine’s remains are gone to the land where they will be honored; and, being instrumental in the removal, forms one of the happiest periods of my life.”

(Benbow appears to have had a very mean life indeed if he counts thieving a corpse from a grave at night like the resurrectionists of the period as the happiest time he had experienced.)

graverobberThe editor of the City of Washington Gazette in November, 1819, wrote that “It must be admitted that Mr. Paine, with a few honorable exceptions, has been treated very scurvily in the United States…..Mr. Paine believed in a future state…in his treatise on dreams & c. (he) expressly states that he expected to exist hereafter. In truth, he was of too philosophical a turn of mind, and had too logical an intellect, to believe anything else. His infidelity extended no farther than to an unbelief in the Divinity of the Christian system. “

Paine had thought he would be buried in the Quaker church cemetery near his New Rochelle farm, but upon his death in 1809,  that congregation refused him from being interred in their consecrated ground due to his unconventional religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

The public was so enthralled by the story of Tom Paine’s travels after death, one unknown author even wrote a witty and dark poem about it, which appeared in the New York Daily Advertiser. Some sample verses include what happened once Cobbett arrived in England with his moldy cargo:

“He grasps the atheist’s skull and cries—

Here are the bones of mighty Paine,

Bro’t in this box across the main—

His dreary grave I search’d and found,

And dug these reliques from the ground—

A spot neglected, wrapp’d in gloom,

A dismal, cheerless, hopeless tomb,

With briars and nettles overspread,

And covered with the hemlock’s shade.”

One wonders what Edgar Allan Poe would have done with this sort of inspiration: perhaps Paine would have quoth “Nevermore!”

Back to Cobbett & co., when he arrived at Liverpool, his luggage was taken from the vessel to the custom house to undergo the usual inspection. When the last trunk was opened, Cobbett observed to the surrounding spectators, who had assembled in great numbers “here are the bones of the late Thos. Paine!” This declaration exacted a sudden and visible sensation, and the crowd pressed forward to see the contents of the package. Cobbett remarked that “great indeed must that man have been, whose very bones attracted such attention.”

The customs officer took out a coffin plate, inscribed “Thomas Paine, aged 74, died 8th June, 1809,” and having lifted up several of the bones, replaced the whole and passed them. The captain of the Hercules did not know the trunk had human remains in it until he arrived in Liverpool.

To welcome the corpse thief Cobbett back home, some of his political friends in Liverpool decided to have a public meeting with a special dinner in his honor (it is not known if Paine was invited also), but the weather turned out to be treacherous with snow and ice, and not many turned out.  Cobbett gave a lengthy justification for unearthing and importing Paine, particularly in having once abused the very man whose bones he now intended to honor. This he did by citing he had had immaturity of judgment and want of experience at the time he had attacked Paine in print in Philadelphia years earlier, and because Paine was then supporting the enemies of his country.

In a life he wrote about Paine in the early 1800s, Cobbett ripped him with the following poisonous pen:

“How Tom gets a living now, or what brothel he inhabits, I know not, nor does it much signify. He has done all the mischief he can in the world; and whether his carcass is at last to be suffered to rot on the earth, or to be dried in the air, is of very little consequence. Whenever or wherever he breathes his last, he will excite neither sorrow nor compassion; no friendly hand will close his eyes, not a groan will be uttered, not a tear will be shed. Like Judas, he will be remembered by posterity; men will learn to express all that is base, malignant, treacherous, unnatural, and blasphemous, by the single monosyllable__Paine!”

At the Liverpool dinner, Cobbett said his conscience hurt him about this earlier nastiness, and when he learned how Paine’s bones had been dishonored in America, though he was the founder of her independence, he determined to give his former enemy a more respectful and suitable burial. With respect to his object in bringing the bones to England, Cobbett declared it was to have them exhibited in London to as many people as might choose to see them, thus raising a sufficient sum to create a colossal statue to Paine’s memory.

Later, Cobbett tried to proceed with the plan further by going so far as to try to hawk rings made of locks of hair carefully clipped from Paine’s skull. This last venture appears not to have found many takers.

Paine's death mask

Paine’s death mask

Within a year of the exhumation, Cobbett had gone bankrupt and had a stay in Newgate Prison, while Paine was exhibited by Benbow. Then the skeleton was stored away in a cellar at Cobbett’s home to enjoy some “quiet time” until Cobbett himself died.

In February 1836, the effects of the late William Cobbett Esq were put up at auction at his farm in the parish of Ash, near Farnham. Towards the end of the sale, a curious large box was brought forward. Auctioneer Piggott opened it, and stepped back quickly, aghast. It was Thomas Paine’s remains, wrapped in several papers. Piggott flatly refused to sell the contents, saying as he had never been a dealer in human flesh, he certainly wasn’t going to now sell human bones.  The coffin plate of Thomas Paine was exhibited but went unsold, too.

Thomas Paine’s travels were just beginning, but the mystery of everything that happened to the remains, including his current status, remains a bone to gnaw on for historians.

In the 1870s, the trail of the remains focused mostly on Paine’s skull and right hand, which had stayed in the London area after Cobbett’s death. The second host of the bones was Lord King, a religious and political radical; then they went to a friend of Cobbett’s named Tillett, and disappeared for some years. The next appearance was in the study of the Rev. Mr. Ainslie of Brighton, a conservative Unitarian preacher, who claimed he had the skull.

“As that skull would be invaluable to the admirers of Paine, most of whom are believers in craniology or some kind of cerebral philosophy, Mr. Ainslie has been approached in various ways, but has thus far steadily avoided conversing on the subject. As the Rev. Mr. Ainslie has a good deal of fighting to do with the orthodox of Brighton, there is some ground for a suspicion that he does not wish it to come out that he keeps for secret homage the sacred ashes of St. Tom,” wrote a writer with tongue planted firmly in cheek for the San Francisco Bulletin in 1872.

So where are Thomas Paine’s remains now? Were they sold to a rag and bone recycler in England, as one tale says? Were they made into buttons? Were they dumped in the Thames? Were they kindly reburied? Or does the skull at least still stare out with sightless eyes through a cabinet of curiosities in some macabre collector’s study, the skull that held the mind which one day long ago opined, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”





The Poison Pen Duels of William Duane and Peter Porcupine

October 16, 2014 in American History, general history, History



The Weekly Aurora and Editor William Duane, and at botttom, William Cobbett (Peter Porcupine) and the Porcupine Gazette

The Weekly Aurora and Editor William Duane, and at botttom, William Cobbett (Peter Porcupine) and the Porcupine Gazette

Some eight thousand  times a day, six days a week,  pressmen  cranked the heavy wooden press of the Weekly Aurora newspaper  of Philadelphia. They were printing platens of tiny type on the Aurora’s eight linen paper pages, much of it poison pen invective written by pro-Jeffersonian editor William Duane against mortal enemy Peter Porcupine (William Cobbett), the editor of the pro-Federalist paper The Porcupine’s Gazette, just a few blocks away.

Duane and Cobbett continued their written vendetta through their respective presses for over 15 years and even across the Atlantic, until, with the end of the War of 1812 and the Treaty of Ghent, the fiery Irishman Duane and prickly Brit Cobbett “buried the hatchet” in early 1815,  shook hands symbolically, forgave each other their lying slanders, and called a pax on their maddened mud-slinging.

The editors’ political battles began with the swearing in of President John Adams, whose Executive Mansion residence was just down the block from the Aurora’s press. Both Duane and his publisher, Benjamin Franklin Bache, despised Adams as a Federalist with British monarchist sympathies. The Aurora was a Jeffersonian Democrat political publication friendly toward the French, even during the US Quasi-War with France. Duane began writing lengthy editorials against presidential policies and cohorts, saying “the pen and the press are my formidable weapons,”  and he kept his press running scorching hot most of the time. Cobbett, a British emigrant and bookseller in Philadelphia, started the Porcupine’s Gazette the day Adams took the presidential oath, and keenly defended with his quill any critical press about the President or his party, especially coming from the Aurora. Cobbett took up the prickly “nom de guerre” Peter Porcupine for his essays, and chiefly delighted in shredding the Aurora opinions with biting vitriol. In the maiden issue of the Porcupine’s Gazette, Cobbett declared the Aurora and its editorial staff “his enemies,” declaring “engarde!” for a lengthy duel of type fonts, ink,  and paper.

Like boxers in a ring, both editors were well-matched: Duane and Cobbett were equally gifted writers, both thrived on provoking controversy, and both likewise found themselves the targets of such unfriendly responses as broken office windows and libel suits from readers who didn’t appreciate being victimized in the press. Both also served stints in jails and prisons for their published opinions. Both were called “crazy.” They thrived in testing the boundaries of a “free” press.

Duane, in conjunction with Bache, produced a noteworthy attack on Cobbett  in a June 1796 issue of the Aurora called the “History of Peter Porcupine” in which the authors deigned to give a formal account of the “celebrated manufacturer of lies and retailer of filth.”

“His usual occupation at home was that of a garret-scribbler, excepting a little night-business occasionally, to supply unavoidable exigencies…He took a French leave for France. His evil genius pursued him there, and, as his fingers were as long as ever he was obliged as suddenly to leave the Republic, which has now drawn forth all his venom for her attempt to do him justice. On his arrival in this country, he figured some time as a pedagogue; but as this employment scarcely furnished salt to his porridge, he having been literally without any bread to eat, and  not “a second shirt to his back,” he resumed his old occupation of scribbling, having little chance of success in the other employments which drove him to this country.”

Peter Porcupine countered “Their great object is to silence me, but I am sorry to tell them it is all in vain; for I am one of those whose obstinacy increases with opposition.”

Cobbett, not content to just nettle Duane and the Aurora, also made it his particular business to sully the reputation of noted physician Dr. Benjamin Rush, whom he called a murderer due to his bleeding practices while attending patients ill from yellow fever. Dr. Rush sued Peter Porcupine for $5,000 in damages, and as luck would have it, the judge who heard the case happened to have been libelled by Cobbett, too, so the case was found in the plaintiff’s favor, Cobbett was bankrupted, and soon went back home to England to regroup. Duane and Bache gloried in the finding, but not for long. Bache died of yellow fever, and Duane assumed ownership of the Aurora after marrying his publisher’s widow. Cobbett, now back in his British homeland, began publication of a new paper, the Political Register, targeting some British practices as well as his old arch-foe, William Duane. The Atlantic offered no defense from his pen.

In 1802, the Republican newspaper of Baltimore Maryland published an editorial examining the Duane-Cobbett feud thusly:

“On every occasion where the French government has been the subject of discussion, either in its concerns with this country, or its war, or peace with Great Britain, the Aurora man has discovered the strongest predilection for the plundering republic. This he has displayed particularly, in his many false, contradictory and blundering paragraphs, respecting the cession of Louisiana, the bloody scenes in St. Domingo, and the conduct of Le Clerc relative to the property in St. Domingo of American merchants. On all these subjects Duane has manifested a peculiar sympathy with the French; and it was consistent in him, because their conduct and principles are congenial with the depraved sentiments of his own mind, and their revolution has exhibited on a large scale, what he has experienced on a small one__the complete triumph of scoundrelism.

“On the ebullitions of his gall, he has often attacked the ‘noted’ Peter Porcupine (as he affects to call him) and this conduct is natural, for Peter’s enmity to the French republic is as well known as this united Irishman’s cordial attachment. When Porcupine’s house was attacked by the rabble of London, for refusing to illuminate for the peace, our jacobin editor could not suppress his exultation; and with the same spleen has he lately noticed Cobbett’s letters to the British ministers, who negociated the preliminaries with the French agent. But, for his own sake, this MERCENARY ALIEN should be cautious how he introduces the name of Porcupine to the public with disrespect, as it invites an examination of his own character contrasted with that of William Cobbett. Two characters cannot be more dissimilar; and whenever they are mentioned together, the contrast fixes itself on the mind, much to the disadvantage of the hero of Clonmel {note: Duane’s family was from Clonmel Ireland} __The one has always been a consistent, loyal subject; the other, ever since he has been known has been distinguished as a seditious traitor. The one detests the modern French, for their numerous and unexampled crimes against the rights and independence of other nations; the other vindicates them for the same reason. The one has been the scourge of Jacobins and mock patriots; the other their constant panegerist. The one possesses a rough, unequivocal, unaccomodating independence of mind, scorning to wear the livery of any man; the other has been the supple tool, and sycophant of a party  ‘no less intolerant, than despotic and wicked.’ The one has been unremunerated for numerous services, in the “defence of his country, of religion and social order; the other has been compensated, with a prodigality disgraceful to the United States, for his wicked labours in the cause of anarchy and atheism. The one has acquired and deserves the thanks of many good men, although they condemn SOME of his publications; the other has merited, though from the fatality of the times, he has hitherto escaped it, a ____.” [One can only imagine what epithet filled in the blank.]

Duane and Cobbett’s pugilistic press matches reached their peak in late 1806, when Peter Porcupine had the nerve to suggest in the Political Register the assassination of  his American rival, and said Duane’s earlier banishment from India “has cost us (Great Britain) millions in the other hemisphere (America), and greatly decieved am I,”  he opined, “if this cost has yet reached its amount.”  Duane wasn’t going to take that lying down, so in one of his typical long-winded rebuttals, he shot Cobbett down in the pages of the Oct. 27, 1806 Aurora:

“Cobbett knew how and by whom and for what purposes the millions were expended in America__he says the resistance of the Aurora to the views and policy of England cost her millions! Where are we to look for the expenditure of those millions? They were not lavished in supporting the Aurora certainly__there was no doing anything with such a man unless you take his life [referring to Cobbett’s statement advising someone should get rid of him] !”

Not content with that, Duane went on: “Millions were expended by England to oppose a single newspaper! And how expended?__Look at the rival newspapers__look at their columns__see English prejudices__English alliances__English laws__even English vices, fashions and follies how they are extolled, defended and held forth for invitation_go farther, look at the columns of those newspapers, opposed to the Aurora, and see the names registered in their advertisements, one of the prices of British devotion is to be found there…. Look at the facts. Why do the merchants shun the Aurora, which prints more papers, and has a more extensive circulation, and more readers, than any other paper in America__and go to papers which have little circulation out of the city, which have less in the union at large, and whose hostility to the American principles of the government are as open and unequivocal as their abject servility to British views!”

Then he took direct issue with Cobbett’s statement there is “no doing any thing with such a man unless you take his life.” Duane wrote, “The editor would be guilty of squeamish affectation or hypocrisy, if he did not most proudly exult in the sentiments conveyed by this pithy sentence. There is no doing with such a man__that is you can neither terrify him from the assertion of his principles and opinion__you cannot corrupt him__and the only mode in which you can get rid of him is by the hand of an assassin.”

Cobbett said in the same Political Register that “Of all the men in America, whether natives or foreigners, whether high or low in life, William Duane has been, and yet is, the most formidable enemy of England.”

Duane responded, “Upon the absurdity of this, no two men in America can form a different opinion; but it was necessary to the end in view that to justify an act of assassination, the object should be made of the greatest possible importance, therefore it is that the hyperbole is resorted to; the publication of Mr. Cobbett was not calculated for Philadelphia where we knew it would be laughed at; it was calculated for London__and by enhancing the supposed consequence of a vigorous and independent press in Philadelphia, and indirectly to obtain a similar credit of consequences for himself there.”

No attempt was ever made on Duane’s life, but he did occassionally suffer vandalism at the offices of the Aurora, when enemies broke windows overnight and kept the glass-installer busy.

When the two battling editors finally called their truce in early 1815,  US newspapers were amused but not overly surprised, given that in their late 50s Duane and Cobbett had become milder year by year in their attacks on each other, as each in turn went from radical extremes of political thought to meet more or less in the middle.

According to the Connecticut Mirror of March 27, 1815, “Cobbett…confesses in his paper that when he was in this country, he used to tell lies about Duane, and Duane, unwilling to be left behind in the race of magnanimity, in the Aurora of March 16, 1815, confesses that he lied about Cobbett,__”was his great opponent. We said very bitter things of each other, and some things, which, on both sides, were very false.” Duane continued that in those days of turbulence and terror, “To the violence of which Mr. Cobbett contributed so largely when he was the great opponent of the editor of the Aurora, much was no doubt said concerning Mr. Cobbett which was a matter of inference from the tenor and effect of his writings.”

The editor of the Connecticut Mirror reflected tongue in cheek that “So long as this course is pursued by these patriots, they will not only be secure of the goodwill of the Madisonian party in this country, but their mutual attachment will be beyond the danger of interruption. That sympathy which commences within the walls of a prison and is cemented by a course of lying and scurrility abroad against every thing virtuous and praise-worthy, will be as lasting as life, and will go in full vigour with its possessor to the grave, even if the lenity of the laws should suffer their existence to be lengthened to the ordinary age of man.”

Duane and “Peter Porcupine” remained friends and penpals for the rest of their lives.

So who were these mud-slinging fireballs of the press, and what were their backgrounds, other than that both came from humble origins, and were mostly self-taught?

Born near Lake Champlain, N.Y., in 1760, William Duane was raised by his mother in Ireland, where he learned printing by apprenticeship before he left for India in 1784. In India, he was editor of  the popular “The World” newspaper for a brief period before his unfavorable opinions about the East India Company government found him arrested, his goods confiscated, and himself on a swift ship back to England. Undaunted, Duane soon became editor of the “General Advertizer” and continued his controversial writings until disfavor prompted him to return to the United States in 1795. There he joined Benjamin Franklin’s namesake grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache, as editor for the Weekly Aurora at Philadelphia, a post he would hold until his retirement in 1822. He died in 1834.

Cobbett was born in Farnham, Surrey, in 1763, and in his youth had been a farmer and then a British soldier who had served in Nova Scotia before being discharged in 1791. He taught himself grammar and essay writing, and then studied printing. After publishing a pamphlet critical of the treatment of enlisted men in the British Army, Cobbett was nearly indicted before he fled to France in 1792, only to have to flee again due to the French Revolution underway. He arrived in the US and moved to Philadelphia in 1793. He ran the Porcupine’s Gazette only a few years before returning to England in 1800, and in 1801 he started the Political Register, which appeared weekly from January 1802 until his death in 1835. He became a member of Parliament late in life.

TO COME: William Cobbett the Bodysnatcher, or What Happened To Thomas Paine’s Corpse


The Aurora Editor Snipes at Britain, Post War of 1812

September 30, 2014 in American History, European History, general history, History, Louisiana History

The Weekly Aurora of Philadelphia

The Weekly Aurora of Philadelphia

With one of those quill pens he so often had wielded to acidulously attack targets in his Weekly Aurora newspaper at Philadelphia, Editor William Duane  reflected at length in March 1815 about the Causes and Character of the Late War with Great Britain, in an exposition that flowed like a river of tiny type and took up three weeks’  worth of issues of his Jeffersonian Democrat newspaper, a publication which was widely read by both his admirers and his Federalist and British detractors. Duane included the British visit and offer to Jean Laffite in a portion of  this work, published March 28, 1815:

“Great Britain has violated the laws of humanity and honor, by seeking alliances, in the prosecution of war, with savages, pirates, and slaves.

…when the war was declared, the alliance of the British government with the Indians, was avowed, upon principles, the most novel, producing consequences the most dreadful_The savages were brought into the war, upon the ordinary footing of allies, without regard to the inhuman character of their warfare, which neither spares age nor sex, and which is more desperate towards the captive, at the stake, than even towards the combatant, in the field. It seemed to be a stipulation of the compact between the allies, that the British might imitate, but should not control the ferocity of the savages__While the British troops behold, without compunction, the tomahawk and the scalping knife, brandished against prisoners, old men and children, and even against pregnant women, and while they exultingly accept the bloody scalps of the slaughtered Americans; the Indian exploits in battle, are recounted and applauded by the British general orders. Rank and station are assigned to them, in the military movements of the Brtitish army, and the unhallowed league was ratified with appropriate emblems, by intertwining an American scalp with the decorations of the mace.

…the savage, who had never known the restraints of civilized life. and the pirate, who had broken the bonds of society, were alike the subjects of British conciliation and alliance, for the purposes of an unparalleled warfare. A horde of pirates and outlaws had formed a confederacy and establishment on the island of Barrataria, near the mouth of the river Mississippi. Will Europe believe, that the commander of the British forces, addressed the leader of the confederacy [Jean Laffite], from the neutral territory of Pensacola, “calling upon him, with his brave followers, to enter into the service of Great Britain, in which he should have the rank of captain; promising that lands should be given to them all, in proportion to their respective ranks, on a peace taking place; assuring them, that their property should be guaranteed, and their persons protected; and asking, in return, that they would cease all hostilities against Spain, or the allies of Great Britain, and place their ships and vessels, under the British commanding officer on the station, until the commander in chief’s pleasure should be known, with a guarantee of their fair value at all events?” There wanted only to exemplify the debasement of such an act, the occurrence, that the pirate should spurn the proffered alliance; and accordingily, Lafitte’s answer was indignantly given, by a delivery of the letter, containing the British proposition, to the American governor of Louisiana.

There were other sources, however, of support, which Great Britain was prompted by her vengeance to employ, in opposition to the plainest dictates of her own colonial policy. The events, which have extirpated, or dispersed, the white population of St. Domingo, are in the recollection of all men.Although British humanity might not shrink, from the infliction of similar calamities upon the southern states of America, the danger of that course, either as an incitement to a revolt, of the slaves in the British islands, or as a cause of retaliation, on the part of the United States, ought to have admonished her upon its adoption. Yet, in a formal proclamation issued by the commander in chief of his Brittanic majesty’s squadrons, upon the American station, the slaves of the American planters were invited to join the British standard, in a covert phraseology, that afforded but a slight veil for the real design. Thus, admiral Cochrane, reciting “that it had been represented to him, that many persons now resident in the United States, had expressed a desire to withdraw therefrom, with a view of entering into his majesty’s service, or of being received as free settlers into some of his majesty’s colonies,” proclaimed, that “all those who might be disposed to emigrate from the United States, would, with their families, be received on board his majesty’s ships or vessels of war, or at the military posts that might be established upon, or near, the coast of the United States, when they would have their choice of entering into his majesty’s sea or land forces, or of being sent as free settlers to the British possessions in North America, or the West Indies, where they would meet all due encouragement.” But even the negroes seem, in contempt, or disgust, to have resisted the solicitation: no rebellion, or massacre, ensued; and the allegation, often repeated, that in relation to those who were seduced, or forced, from the service of their masters, instances have occurred of some being afterwards transported to the British West India Islands, and there sold into slavery, for the benefit of the captors, remains without contradiction. So complicated an act of injustice, would demand the reprobation of mankind. And let the British government, which professes a just abhorrence of the African slave trade; which endeavors to impose, in that respect, restraints upon the domestic policy of France, Spain and Portugal, answer, if it can, the solemn charge, against their faith and their humanity.”

Duane took Great Britain to task for allying themselves with the “savage” Indians and their known depradations, then in having the lowness in character to try to associate with people some regarded as pirates, and, worst of all, trying to start a violent slave insurrection by promising the slaves their freedom for their help. For once, his exposition found friendly readers among most of  the general public of  the United States. Much of the lengthy opus was reprinted widely. The British, including his old arch-enemy journalist with a similar poison pen, William Cobbett, stayed silent on the matter. (By the spring of 1815, Duane and  Cobbett had reconciled and become friends after a bitter battle in print that had lasted for over 15 years).

The Aurora, once a powerful publication that could help sway presidential elections (Jefferson claimed it helped him gain office), had declined in its political pull by the time the War of 1812 ended. By late 1815, Duane published a letter to the editor from the same “pirate” he had disparaged in his exposition earlier that year: the mercurial newspaperman’s favor was as capricious as the wind.


William Duane and “Peter Porcupine,” the Epic Battle of the Word-Dueling Journalists




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