J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Charges "to a Dog" and "to Trouble"

Baron Frederick William Augustus von Steuben arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on 1 Dec 1777 with his young French aides and a servant. In Europe the baron had been told that the American army wore scarlet, so he had secured uniforms in that color for himself and his companions. The locals immediately assumed they were British officers.

That confusion explained away, the Europeans headed south to Boston. Steuben's teen-aged translator, Peter Stephen Duponceau, later wrote to his granddaughter about their stay in that town:

We lodged as boarders at the house of a Mrs. Downe, the widow of a British officer, a respectable lady, with two beautiful and amiable daughters, the oldest Miss Betsy, about 19, and the youngest Miss Sally 16 years of age. There were no other boarders in the house but Baron Steuben and his family, and we were kindly and hospitably treated.

The bill at parting was very moderate, but there were two items in it which excited the anger of the good Baron, and made him ejaculate more than once, diable! diable! and Tertifle! The first of these charges was “to a dog,” which, in my opinion was a very just, and correct one. The Baron had brought with him his favourite dog Azor, a fine large Italian grey hound, who ate as much as any one of us. Why the charge was objected to, I cannot well conceive; it is probable that in Germany dogs go every where scot free.

The other charge was rather extraordinary, but under the circumstances a very just one. It was “to trouble.” I cannot recollect how much the charge amounted to, but it appeared to me very moderate. Only fancy to yourself an old German Baron, with a large brilliant star on his breast, a German servant attending him, and three French aid-de-camps, and a large spoiled Italian dog. None of all that company could speak a word of English except your grandfather, who was not a grave old man, as he is at present, but loved his share of fun when it went round.

We gave trouble enough to the good lady, and though I see in her charge much naiveté, I cannot perceive in it a symptom of avarice. As she had a little of what is, I do not know why, called Yankee cunning, she would have dropped these charges, and obtained her end by swelling a little, the more usual ones. . . .

In Mrs. Downe’s family to which came frequently female visitors,...I did not fail to take advantage of my fortunate situation, being the only person in our company who could speak the language of the country; I interpreted it as true as in duty bound, between the Baron and the old lady, and transmitted sometimes a few compliments from him to the young ones, but I left my brother beaux to shift for themselves. There they stood, or sat like Indians, and could talk only by signs. But the ladies had not studied Hieroglyphics, and I had the field all to myself. O! those were delightful times!
Italian greyhound portrait courtesy of Italian-Greyhound.net and Pet Action Shots.

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