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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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Two Mysterious Frenchmen at the Siege of Boston

According to Lt. Col. Stephen Kemble of Gen. Thomas Gage’s military and marital family (shown here courtesy of Live Auctioneers), on 6 July 1775 a Frenchman came into Boston from the American lines.

He brought the news that another Frenchman, “one Dubue, is their [the enemy’s] Chief Engineer, as Gridley cannot Act from his Wound.” Col. Richard Gridley, head of the American artillery regiment, had been wounded at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Various volunteers, including Henry Knox and Rufus Putnam, were filling in.

[ADDENDUM: Continental Army private Nathaniel Ober wrote in his diary on 6 July: “This Day a french man Desarted from us and went to the Regelors.” So that’s confirmation but no additional information.]

Five days later, the Connecticut officer Samuel Blachley Webb wrote to Silas Deane, who was both one of his Continental Congress delegates and his stepfather:
a Frenchman, who came here in the character of a gentleman, was detected in stealing. The next day he deserted to the enemy; but he’s of no consequence, being simple, a foolish fellow.
That man might not have been reliable, but on 17 August Kemble stated:
The Capt. of the Man of War that Conveyed the Inhabitants to Salem returned, and brought with him Monsieur Dubuque, a French Man, who had been employed by the Rebels as an Engineer.
I can’t find any mention of this French engineer in American sources, however.

I do have accounts of a couple of minor French noblemen viewing the siege of Boston for a while before sailing to London. (One day I’ll trace their story.) But they weren’t named Dubuque—not that the engineer must have used his real name.

A man named Dubuque owned the Shirley-Eustis house sometime around 1800, but he was said to have come to America as a refugee from the French Revolution, not before. But you never know.

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