George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 2 November 1788]

Sunday 2d. Thermometer at 50 in the Morning—[ ] at noon and 70 at Night. Wind at No. Et., with clouds, and appearances of rain till about Noon; when it cleared and became pleasant.

Mr. George Mason came here to dinner and returned in the Evening. After dinner word was brot. from Alexandria that the Minister of France was arrived there and intended down here to dinner. Accordingly, a little before Sun setting, he (the Count de Moustiers) his Sister the Marchioness de Brehan—the Marquis her Son—and Mr. du Ponts came in.

Eléanor François Elie, comte de Moustier (1751–1817), successor to the chevalier de La Luzerne as French minister to the United States, had arrived at New York in January. Although an officer in the French army from the age of 17, he spent most of his life in diplomatic service. He was appointed minister to the German state of Trier in 1778, was sent to London in 1783 to soothe relations between Britain and France’s ally Spain, became minister to Prussia in 1790, and later served Royalist exiles of the French Revolution in negotiations with both the British and Prussians (BIOG. UNIVERSELLE description begins Biographie Universelle Ancienne et Moderne . . .. 45 vols. Paris, 1843–65. description ends , 29:482–84). In the midst of this distinguished career, his mission to the United States was a failure almost from the start. “A very well informed man” sincerely desirous of promoting American-French commercial relations, he lacked the tact and insight needed to deal with American republicans (David Humphreys to Thomas Jefferson, 29 Nov. 1788, JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 14:300–304). “The Count de Moustier,” wrote John Jay to Jefferson 25 Nov. 1788, “it seems . . . expected more particular and flattering Marks of minute Respect than our People in general entertain Ideas of, or are either accustomed or inclined to pay to anybody” (JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 14:290–91).

The marquise de Bréhan, an artist and much esteemed friend of Thomas Jefferson, proved to be a further detriment to Moustier’s reputation in America. “Appearances (whether well or ill founded is not important),” Jay told Jefferson, “have created and diffused an opinion that an improper Connection subsists between him [Moustier] and the Marchioness. You can easily conceive the Influence of such an opinion on the Minds and Feelings of such a People as ours” (Jay to Jefferson, 25 Nov. 1788, James Madison to Jefferson, 8 Dec. 1788, JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 14:290–91, 339–42).

For her part Madame de Bréhan was already “furiously displeased with America” (Jefferson to Maria Cosway, 14 Jan. 1789, JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 14:445–46). She came to America hoping to find a climate beneficial to her delicate health and a pastoral utopia where the simple virtues of rural life extolled by French intellectuals of the time really existed. The harshness of the American winters and the realities of American life both in towns and in the country soon gave the lie to those romantic preconceptions, leaving her with a feeling of betrayal (JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 14:300–304).

Madame de Bréhan’s son, Armand Louis Fidèle de Bréhan (1770–1828), who later became the marquis de Bréhan, had been brought to America with the hope of giving him an education that would be “more masculine and less exposed to seduction” than in France (Jefferson to Abigail Adams, 30 Aug. 1787, JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 12:65–66). He was later commissioned a captain in the Royal Lorraine cavalry and accompanied Moustier to Berlin when the comte was appointed minister to Prussia. Although Bréhan joined the Royalist émigrés during the early years of the French Revolution, he returned to France in 1803 and became a baron of the empire under Napoleon. When Napoleon fell from power, he apparently accommodated himself to the new Bourbon regime with little difficulty (Balteau, Dictionnaire de Biographie Française description begins J. Balteau et al., eds. Dictionnaire de Biographie Française. 20 vols. to date. Paris, 1933—. description ends , 7:196–97; Md. Journal, 11 Nov. 1788).

Victor Marie du Pont (1767–1827), eldest son of the French economist and diplomat Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (1739–1817), had recently become an attaché to the French legation. When Lafayette became commander of the French national guard in 1789, Du Pont returned home to serve the marquis as an aide-de-camp. He subsequently held several diplomatic posts in the United States and in 1800 joined his father and other members of the family in establishing permanent residence in the new nation. His American business ventures, unlike those of his younger brother Eleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771–1834), were generally unsuccessful.

mr. george mason: probably George Mason, Jr., of Lexington (see entries for 17 Dec. 1773 and 29 Nov. 1785).

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