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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Friday, September 13, 2013

“Among the persons taken up on suspicion of conspiration…”

Yesterday’s posting about the new institute devoted to Thomas Paine at Iona College noted that its library has hosted a series of exhibits drawn from the Thomas Paine National Historical Association’s collection. Here’s a link to the most recent.

That webpage shows a letter from Paine, written in both English and French, seeking help from the French writer and politician Dominique-Joseph Garat (1749-1833) at the end of 1800. Paine evidently wanted Garat to approach Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès (1748-1836) for a favor. A year before, Sieyès had engineered a coup that deposed the Directory government, expecting to be in charge of the new government.

Sieyès underestimated his military partner in that coup, a general named Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte gained the title of First Consul, with much more power than the other two Consuls or any legislature. The constitution Sieyès wrote and Bonaparte rewrote omitted a declaration of citizens’ rights. Sieyès himself got a position of prestige but very limited power.

On 24 Dec 1800, royalists tried to kill Bonaparte with a horse-cart bomb. The First Consul insisted that the assassin were Jacobins and seized the opportunity to arrest scores of his leftist opponents.

That was the situation when Paine wrote to Garat on 27 December, as this English transcription says:
I begin by saying that the Citizen Seiyes knows very well the Citizen Robert Smyth. I have dined in company with Seiyes at the house of Smyth, the corner of Rue Choiseul on the Boulevard. Seiyes knows also Madame Smyth and her two daughters. They are also well known to the Banker Perregaux, who is the Banker of Smyth.

Robert Smyth purchased a house (national property) No 2 Rue Cerutti. One of his daughters is married to a young man, Charles Este, who has been in France since he was 14 years of age, under the protection of Smyth, and who was pupil of the Surgeon Dessault. It is of this young man I am going to speak.

He occupies the house in Rue Cerutti. Madame Smyth lives in the same house with her daughters. As Este is a perfect master of the French language he does business for some American merchants and American Captains of Vessels who do not understand French.

Among the persons taken up on suspicion of conspiration Este is one. His papers among which are those belonging to several Americans and certificates of purchases in the French funds, for himself and for Americans, are all seized, and also all the letters and papers of Madame Smyth which regard her domestic affairs. . . .

The detention of Este, in the situation he is in business is not only injurious to him, but to several Americans, whose commercial papers and interests are in his hands; and so confident am I of the innocence of this young man, that I offer myself as a caution for (??) his appearance at any time the Minister of Police shall call for him.
The French government released Charles Este because he remained in Paris as a banker for many years.

Now how did Paine get involved in the affairs of the Smyth family? I went digging, and found a story even more convoluted than the French Revolution.

TOMORROW: “Citizen Robert Smyth” and the American Revolution.

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