Monday, December 17, 2012

"I Was Present at Some Warm Work, It's True": Schenectady's William Duane Witnesses France's July Revolution

This painting, Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix (1830) commemorates the July Revolution in France. The  original painting is part of the collections of the Louvre.

In the General Letters in the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library is a gem of a letter written by William N. Duane to his sister, Maria Bowers (Duane) Jones that gives his eyewitness description of the July Revolution, a three-day revolt in France that overthrew King Charles X  in 1830 and gave rise to what would become known as the July Monarchy. In 1832, Parisians again revolted in an uprising known as the June Rebellion, which has been immortalized in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. The July Monarchy remained unpopular and was ultimately overthrown in 1848. A tip of the hat is due to researcher John Gearing, who recently came across this letter while researching another subject.

Page of letter from William N. Duane to his sister Maria Jones describing events during the July Revolution in France (Gen L 131). 

William N. Duane (1804-1871) was the son of James Chatham Duane and Mary Ann Bowers. Born and raised in Schenectady, he graduated from Union College in the class of 1824. He married Frances Eliza Prince Walton in 1835; the couple had one son. William Duane became a physician and worked from his home on Union Street, where he lived until his death in 1871.

Image of Dr. William N. Duane, ca. 1860.
From Duane surname file. 

From sources in the library, it is not clear why Duane was in France in 1830. The letter offers a number of interesting details recorded by Duane in November 1830, a few months after the July Revolution. He discusses that a rumor was spread that he had died during the uprising, and admits that while he did no fighting, he did help to build barricades and took some gilt paper crowns that had once decorated King Charles X's table from the ransacked palace. He also comments on the role of women in the uprising as combatants and nurses, noting that "no one was more active than they were in forming the barricades." A full transcription of this fascinating letter has been included below. The original spelling, punctuation, and line breaks have been preserved.

To: Mrs. Samuel W. Jones
New York
United States America

From W.N. Duane 16th Nov 1830

Paris November Nov 16
Rue d'arrjon au Marian
Boulevart de Tample

on the twelfth of this month my Dear Maria
I received my first and as yet, my only
letter from Home. its date was September
the fourth and written by our Dear Father on his
arrival from his wonderful jaunt through the Northern
Country. I happened by accident to extend my visit one
morning who was anxious to call on an American
who had been residing fr some years at Paris on am
leaving him he desired an address after looking at
my Card he told me he was certain he had a letter
for that name and some papers which had been
in his possession for six weeks. they were left at his
House. he gave them to an American who promised
to find me if in Paris but after keeping them a
fortnight he returned them with the report that
I was killed during the late glorious string gleanor (?)
of course all further enquiring ceased. three different
families sent during the revolution to my Hotel to
see if the report was true. I was present at some
warm work its true by was merely a spectator as
relates fighting although I did lend a hand
in making the barricades. I has since the late
struggle been a little frightened I must confess
when I reflect upon some of the risks that I ran
I saw many a poor fellow bite the dust on both
sides and heard the whiz of a stray bullet
occasionally but I now no more wish than
many a one of your sex for the streets waere
Herranged with them during the midst of the
warmest engagements and no one was more active
than they were in forming the barricades they brought
out old trunks and barrels and in short every thing
they could lay their hands upon. there were several
killed during the second day in the opposite corner
but on the same side of the street I saw one poor
woman shot. she was exciting the people to
make them stand to their barrier while a body of
the royal guards were coming down a little
street immediately opposite to it. at the first fire
she was among the victims. there was also another
killed by a cannon shot fired from the arch (by the)
palace she was setting in her room nearby a
quarter of a mile from the Palace the ball
entered the window and struck exactly in
the middle. but the most affecting sight that
I saw was the young woman as soon as poor
fellow dropped three or four would sally out
regardless of the fire and carry him in and
dress his wounds and minister to his comfort
and before any door you might see them
making bandages lint ti ti at as number of
the barricades the stood behind to load the
guns as soon as fellow would drop they would
run and get his gun and ammunition and
load and hand to the men. and many a swiss
was shot from the windows by woman
the swiss were the poor fellows who sufferd the most
they were the kings guards and of course detested
by the people and received no quarters. just at the
termination of the last engagement we went up
to the Tuilleries and on our way we heard a sharp
firing in a little street very near our route we were upon
as it was not far to follow the people who were hurrying in wards
when we arrived we found that a body of the royal guards
in [illegible] about 20 had been firing from an hotel all
day upon the people. who had just succeeded in forcing
the doors they rushed in and pushed the guards with
they bayonetts to the windows and the people below
were shooting them ina few moments they killed
the whole and threw their clothes guns et to the people
below, them then sacked the Hotel reds pictures [hole in paper]
tables and in short every thing that was movable
at the [hole in paper] bishops palace they made a bon fire
it was [hole in paper] they burned and destroyed for him
300,000 francs the whole of his library they threw
in the river not an article was touched by the people
but the Kings palace was lawful plunder and
what they could not carry off they broke to pieces
in the duchess deBerry appartments they had a fine
haul. I got three little gilt paper crowns that were made
to ornament his majesties dinner table. but the englishman
that was with me filled his pockets with preserves & liqueur
at Present as you will see by the papers which
I shall send to Father that we are all very quiet at
present. the exaministen are not to be tryed until the
last of January two of them at present are very ill but
from the state of the public feeling at present it will impossible
to save them foreign powers are making [illegible] in their favor
It is said in the papers that Gen Lafayette has recv'ed
the Embassy for America I saw the General yesterday
tell Father he desired particularly when I wrote to
be remembered to him. He gives a soiree this evening
and our minister on Wednesday. Mr. Hamper our
ambassador from Md has resigned his office on account of ill
health and gone to Winter in Italy. I saw M____ [?]ieves on Sat
and from his talk I should judge that is to be suspended or expects him
to resign as he talkes of going to study farming in England I sent
by the Packet of the first some seeds a letter and my miniature
directed to T.H. Fumiss give my respects to all our Friends
the McC____, Mumfords, Waltons, Kanes [illegible] kiss all. the children
give my love Father Mrs Jones and Elvira R_____ and kiss the
little Rec'd for your affectionate Brother William

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