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, June 10, 2021

The Later Career of Henry DeBerniere

On 18–19 Apr 1775, Ens. Henry DeBerniere was in the column of British troops that marched to Concord and back. Having visited the town looking for cannon the month before, he was probably one of the main guides for his regimental commander, Lt. Col. Francis Smith.

A couple of months later, he drew a map of the Battle of Bunker Hill that I discussed back here.

We have just a few glimpses of DeBerniere through the next few years as the 10th fought at Brooklyn, Germantown, Monmouth, and Rhode Island. He became a lieutenant during the war, a captain-lieutenant sometime in 1783. As of 1792 he was a captain, still with the 10th Regiment, stationed on Jamaica. Three years later, he was promoted to major.

Britain’s wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France opened up more opportunities for career officers. In November 1796, DeBerniere transferred to the 9th Regiment with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Three years later, the regiment fought in Holland, including the Battle of Bergen (shown above).

In 1798 DeBerniere married Elizabeth Longley (1770-1858), eighteen years old and born the year the lieutenant colonel entered the army. That difference in ages may be why later sources estimated he was born later than he was.

Meanwhile, in 1799 Henry’s older brother, retired army officer John Anthony DeBerniere (1744-1812), and his family moved from Ireland to South Carolina. Papers from that branch of the family are in the collections of the South Carolina Historical Society. His gravestone is in the cemetery of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Charleston.

On 10 Nov 1805 three British transport ships sailed from Cork, Ireland, to carry Lt. Col. DeBerniere and the 9th Regiment to a new assignment on the continent. A storm blew up, and one of those ships, the Ariadne, was wrecked off Calais. All the regiment’s staff officers and 262 soldiers became prisoners of war.

The Times of London reported that twenty women and twelve children were also captured. Those might have included Lt. Col. DeBerniere’s wife, their son John (b. 1801), and daughter Elisabeth (b. 1803). If not, Elizabeth DeBerniere later joined her husband in France.

The French government chose not to exchange the regimental commander for an officer held in Britain. DeBerniere remained a prisoner at Nancy, far from the coast in northeastern France, year after year as the wars swirled around him.

Eventually Napoleon had to retreat from Moscow, and the Sixth Coalition formed to pursue his army, defeating it at Liepzig in late 1813 and then entering France. In his Narrative of a Forced Journey Through Spain and France, as a Prisoner of War, in the Years 1810 to 1814, Baron Blayney wrote:
Shortly after the head quarters of the grand army were established at Metz, and the sick and wounded were removed from Mayence, &c. towards Verdun and the interior. For six weeks the roads were crowded with waggons, and all the public buildings at Verdun were converted into hospitals. At the same time an hospital fever prevailed at Mayence, and was conveyed to Metz and Nancy, in which latter place Colonel de Bernière of the 9th regiment fell a victim to it, universally regretted.
Henry DeBerniere thus died a captive in the land of his Huguenot ancestors on 6 December 1813.

Parliament approved a £150 annual pension for the widow Elizabeth DeBerniere and her three daughters. The DeBernieres’ only son had already died. Francoise Charlotte Josephine, born while the couple was in France, married the Rev. Newton Smart, and the family took the name of DeBerniere-Smart. Among their descendants is Louis de Bernières, author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.

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