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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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Whatever Happened to Charles Bourgate?

Yesterday I described the tragical-comical story of Charles Bourgate, a French servant boy who thought it would be a good idea to accuse his master of participating in the Boston Massacre. That worked great for about eight months in which Charles appears to have gotten free room and board in the upper floor of the Boston jail as the province housed him as an important witness. But then he was convicted of perjury and whipped, and he vanished from the record.

I shift forward four and a half years to October 1775, when an American army was invading Canada. One of the young officers in that expedition was Capt. Henry Dearborn (shown here, later in life). He became very sick. Which is a little ironic, since he was a doctor.

On 25 Oct 1775, Dearborn wrote in his diary that “Charles gather’d me some herbs in the woods, and made me Tea of them, I drank very Hearty of it and next morning felt much Better.” That attendant was one of the two young men Dearborn wrote about on 5-6 November:

at evening Charles Hilton [a private in Dearborn’s company, captured at Quebec], and Charles Burget, a French Lad, [who had] Inlisted, at Fort Western, who was a native of Canady, Came back for me with Two Horses, we Stay’d here all night.

I hir’d an Indian to Carry me down the River, 9 Miles, to one Sonsosees, a French-mans, one of Charles Burgets relations, where I hir’d Lodgings and took my Bed Immediately. I was this time in a High fever. I kept the Two Charles’s to take Care of me.
On 9 December, having recovered from a violent fever that left him in delirium, Dearborn wrote:
at this time I concluded to send Charles Burget, my french Lad to Quebec, to see if he could procure me something from an Apothecary to help my Cough and to assist nature, in Carrying off my fever, he went and in four days return’d, but to my great mortification Brought nothing for me but bad News, which was, that our people had not got Possession of Quebec. . . .

I now began to be very uneasy and wanted to be with the Army and the Seventh day I set out in a Carriall to Quebec, and the 9th. day I Cross’d the River St. Laurence, I join’d my Company who Seem’d very Glad to see me, they told me that they had been inform’d by one of our men that Came not many days since from Sattagan that I was Dead, and that he saw Charles Hilton, and Charles Burget making a Coffin for me.
It’s too much to ask for Dearborn’s Charles Burget to be the lost Charles Bourgate. The age is a match—Bourgate was fourteen in late 1770, so he would have been nineteen in 1775, still a “boy” but also old enough to be a soldier. The names don’t match exactly, but they’re close enough for how British-American mangled French names in the eighteenth century (“Sonsosees” = Saint-Souci?). However, Bourgate was said to have been “born in Bordeaux,” and Dearborn called Burget “a native of Canady.” And it’s always dangerous for a historian or genealogist to read too much into a similarity of names with no other evidence.

Nevertheless, if I were writing a novel about Charles Bourgate, I’d make him Charles Burget as well, enlisting in the Continental Army and sticking to Capt. Dearborn with the same fervent loyalty that he’d shown back in Boston. I don’t know what happened to Charles Burget after the invasion of Canada, either.

1 comment:

Kinggame said...

You do some incredible hands on historical work. Thank you.