Continental Navy Lieutenant Pierre Douville was born in the port village of St. Peter’s at Saint John’s Island, now known as Prince Edward Island, in 1745 to Marie Roger or Roge’ (1709-1785) and Francois Douville (1684-1757). His mother was the daughter of Gabriel Roger, a pioneer merchant in the community. Pierre was the tenth of eleven children and the couple’s youngest son. The Douville’s were married in 1722 when Francois was about thirty-eight and Marie was thirteen years old. Pierre Douville was baptized on 7 August 1745 with godparents Jacques Douville and Josephe Carpentier in attendance. According to an article written by Georges Arsenault, the cleric presiding over the 30 January 1757 funeral of Francois Douville recorded that Pierre’s father was the “First inhabitant of the said Island”. A 1728 census indicates the senior Douville, who was born in Normandy, settled there in 1719. There is speculation that Francois Douville came to the island involuntarily as a shipwrecked sailor or as a cod fisherman either looking to settle in the New World or scouting the island for investors back home in France. The 1752 census identifies him as one of the most prosperous inhabitants whose multiple occupations are listed as fisherman, navigator and ploughman or farmer. At his death, Francois Douville apparently owned multiple properties hosting large herds; as well as, several fishing vessels. He also operated a flour mill at present day Bristol.
The year following the senior Douville’s death, Pierre along with his mother, seven siblings and extended family were forcibly removed from the island by the British in the Acadian deportation to France in what is known as the “Grand Derangement”. French and Anglo interests in the New World had been at war since before the British conquest of Acadia in 1710 and continually simmered due to Acadians’ refusal to pledge allegiance to Great Britain. For a time English settlements were contained in the Canadian maritimes; however political, economic and military forces soon drove thousands of Acadians out of Nova Scotia- many of them to St. John’s. As part of the French colony in America, St. John’s Island was protected by a local garrison of soldiers attached to the main French stronghold of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. A successful siege of Louisbourg fortress by New England troops during King George’s War in the year of Pierre Douville’s birth resulted in the subjugation of the French population despite a spirited defense of the island. For six years beginning in 1749, native-American and Acadian forces continued resistance against British and New England colonists in what is now referred to as Father LeLoutre’s War. After the second successful siege of fortress Louisbourg in 1758 during the French and Indian War, yet another wave of forced expulsion commenced. It is during this time that thirteen year old Pierre Douville and his family found themselves among the almost 700 refugees from Saint John’s deported to France, arriving there on 23 January 1759 after a three month winter crossing of the Atlantic on one of five English ships loaded with “Human Goods”. Within a short time of their arrival at the port city of Saint-Malo on the English Channel in Brittany, Pierre lost three sisters and a brother to epidemic disease running rampant among the refugees.
According to research by Patricia H. Forsander published on www.genealogy.com; the Douville family resided for the next four years at Saint-Servan, a suburb of Saint-Malo which is today bisected by Douville Boulevard. The displaced Acadians were subsidized by the crown with a six sol per day allowance, just higher than the average wage of a common laborer. This handout was not so much out of compassion for their plight but as a countering response to the British offer of “sixpence per day for their Subsistence and…to each what may be reasonable for Lodging” in exchange for swearing allegiance. With the end of the Seven Years War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, France ceded all territorial claims in North America except the island archipelago of St. Pierre and Miquelon which were returned by the British. These islands are located at the entrance of Fortune Bay, just off the southern coast of Newfoundland near the rich fishing grounds of the Grand Banks. Pierre Douville, now almost eighteen, and his surviving family boarded the transport Marie Charlotte in June 1763 to relocate to the last remaining French colony in North America. Upon their arrival at Miquelon, the Douville family was first granted property on lle-aux-Chiens , literally “Island of the Dogs”. Today the uninhabited low-lying outcrop just east of Saint Pierre is known as lle-aux-Marins, or “Island of the Sailors”. In time, the family was removed from that place to Saint Pierre or St. Peter’s.
According to the 2008 article “Pierre Douville: an illustrious son of St John” authored by Georges Arsenault and appearing in the The Acadian Museum of Prince Edward Island publication “Little Souvenance”; Pierre Douville left his family for a life at sea the following year. The young mariner went on board the flute Nanny contracted by the crown to transport displaced Acadians from Europe to Cayenne in French Guiana located on the Northeast coast of South America. Peace with Great Britain and the loss of its North American territories, generated a desire to expand the French colonial empire in the West-Indies, Antilles and Guiana. French officials intended that peace-loving, hard-working Acadian farmers would eventually replace the slave-based economy there which produced cocoa, coffee, sugar and indigo for export. A number of ships departed from French ports in 1794 conveying about two hundred Acadians recruited for the resettlement scheme with promises of future prosperity and fifty livre incentive payments coupled with threats of losing their sustenance subsidy. Arriving at Kourou just Northwest of Cayenne in the fall, these settlers were ill-prepared for the disastrous adventure. Although hundreds more emigrated to the Acadian communities of Sinnamary, Kourou and Cayenne in December 1764 and early 1765, the French government soon realized that the collapse of “La Nouvelle Colonie” on the South American mainland was inevitable and offered to return the settlers to France.
Arsenault’s research indicates that Pierre Douville next served as a second lieutenant on the vessel Two Friends in 1765 conveying forty-five Acadians to France, forced by French authorities to leave Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. It is possible this ship is the brigantine Two Friends under the command of John Tucker which was earlier evicted from fishing grounds in Englee and Canada Harbor on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland by the HMS Lark in July 1764. The master of this Two Friends was employed by Anthony Colombier who subsequently filed a complaint against Lark’s commander Lieutenant Peter Vancourt. Colombier testified that he “had been granted the land by Gov. Thomas Graves in 1762, went to great expense installing storehouses, stages, etc. to prosecute a fishery, and was unmolested in 1762 and 1763.” Columbier reasoned further that if French fishing rights assured by the Treaty of Paris were not upheld then “French fishermen may only dry fish on this coast”. Pierre Douville subsequently entered the coastal sailing trade between Saint-Pierre and New England and sometime about 1770 settled first at Pawtucket, then Providence, RI where he became a shipmaster working for wealthy merchant houses.
By the time of the War for Independence, Pierre Douville is well-established in Rhode Island and apparently in command of a vessel accepting orders from Providence merchants and slave-traders Nicholas Brown (1729-1791) and his brother John Brown (1736-1803), founders of Brown University. Based on a series of letters posted from Providence on 15 November 1775 published on pages 1031-1033 in Volume 2 of “Naval Documents of the American Revolution”, merchant sea captains Pierre Douville and Jonathan Clarke, Jr. are associated with Brown in an adventure to ship badly needed French arms and ammunition for use by the Continental Army from Saint-Pierre to any convenient and familiar port from Providence to Long Island. One undocumented source suggests the governor of Rhode Island Nicholas Cooke proposed Douville as the ideal person for the smuggling operation and yet another states Douville himself pitched the idea to General Washington on early September 1775. Jonathan Clarke, a New Haven shipmaster with an almost two decade-long relationship with the Brown family, had just completed at that time a voyage from the Canary Islands to Annapolis on the brig Baltimore in June 1775 suggestive of a slave trade run. Perhaps ironically, Clarke was appointed master of the sloop Liberty on 27 May 1776 immediately subsequent to his service in obtaining these military supplies. Clarke’s mastery of Douville’s native French language is evident in his apparent appointment as the Marquis de Malmedy’s linguist later in December 1776. In one of the referenced letters, Nicholas Brown requests Charles Jovett, a shipowner and resident of St. Peter’s acquainted with Douville; to load his vessel with a cargo of codfish, liver oil, caulking pins “and Good soldier Guns compleetly fitted with Iron or Steel Ramrods & Bayonets …worth 10 dollars apiece, & pistles swords & Hangers in proportion …But Above all that Most Wanting is Cannon & Pistle Powder”. Douville evidently had informed Nicholas Brown that up to five tons of gunpowder could be gotten there and delivered by 1 April 1776. Brown minimizes the risky smuggling operation by promising Jovett “There will be no grait Danger except the Seas, to Come, in the Winter As the English Men of War & Tenders will Doubtless be All in Winter Quarters before that Time.” In a last minute addendum to the letter, Brown offers Jovett the leeway to “Choose to go to france in our Vessel or otherways” in order to acquire the desired cargo but recognizes “the resque you know as well as Anybody”. Due to their sensitive and incriminating nature, much of the Brown’s orders were verbally conveyed to Captains Douville and Clark with the instruction “They will (if necessary) let you in to the Knowledge of th[e] Voyage & our orders to them.” Nicholas finished the postscript by adding, “But whither you ingage In eighter or not We Esteem you Honr & friendship so much As to hope you will keep Secrets & Use your Utmost Influence and Interest in Assisting them”. Jovett is a bit of a mystery however, it is known that another New Haven sea captain William Brintnal (1745-1826) was master of the sloop Charles Jovett bound from New Haven to Jamaica in December 1773. It is therefore assumed he was involved with the New England and West Indies trade, as well as the cod fishery industry.
In reality, the codfish represented only one cargo leg of a secret triangular trade which brought arms and ammunition to the rebellious colonies from French sources. It is difficult to precisely determine the details of Douville and Clarke’s orders and their private personal communications with their contact at St. Peter’s. An undated later endorsement added to the top of Nicholas Brown’s letter to Charles Jovett reads “The Knowledge of the Transaction in the forgoing Letter Came to Us by Mr Jonathan Clark, who when they Came in with the Land went on shore after a Pilote, and Emediatly After, the Vessel was taken Mr Clark was Eaqually Conserned as facter in the Voyage with Capt Deveil [Douville] And Confirms the foregoing Letr & Directions by Subscribing his Name to this postscript.” The details surrounding this postscript are made clear in a letter to George Washington dated 21 May 1776 from General Israel Putnam, also published in “Naval Documents of the American Revolution”, which opens the explanation with “Missfortune on misfortune”. Putnam reveals that Clarke and Douville, in command of a ship owned by Brown loaded with twelve tons of gunpowder and “500 Small Arms & dry goods” was taken by HMS Asia’s armed tender who carried her prize into Sandy Hook. According to General Putnam, “The English Captn with a Boats Crew came on shore for Assistance to land his Goods, soon after the French Capt who was on Board- saw a small Sloop to Leward beating up to him, tis supposed he thot them friends- he immediately weigh’d anchor and bore down for them when unluckily it prov’d to be one of Asia’s tenders”. According to Captain Clarke’s official report recorded in the Journal of the New York Provincial Congress dated 21 May 1776, the badly needed cargo of gunpowder did not emanate from France but from French sources in the Caribbean. It reads, “Capt. Jonathan Clarke, late from the French West Indies and bound to some port to the eastward, attended, and was admitted. He informs that he has had the misfortune to have his vessel and cargo seized and taken by an armed tender near Black Point, below Sandy Hook.” In response to Clarke’s report on the loss and associated request for a “small sum of money” to support the four crewmen of the ship’s boat who landed with him “on the back of Long Island”, the Provincial Congress voted to advance the unfortunate captain twenty-five dollars.
The French captain General Israel Putnam refers to is Pierre Douville, captured off Shrewsberry Inlet near Sandy Hook on 20 May 1776 on board the French sloop L’Amiable Marie. The vessel was probably Douville’s and named ‘friendly Marie’ after his mother, who one genealogical source states was the most popular marrain on Saint John’s (Prince Edward) Island with more than 24 godchildren. Douville had been in command of L’Amiable Marie since before the gunpowder smuggling operation was conceived. A ship’s roll dated 30 July 1775 and published at: http://daniel.burgot.perso.neuf.fr/html/genealogie/aimablemarie.htm places the 55 ton vessel at France with a cargo belonging to Nantes merchants Plombard and Legris & Co. A 6 June 1776 letter from Nicholas Brown to Messieurs Plombard and Legris suggests the trading house, which was not heavily invested in American trade, was also involved with the doomed arms shipment. Serving under the twenty-eight year old Master Pierre Douville as master’s mate and relief captain on the voyage of L’Amiable Marie in the summer of 1775 was thirty-six year old John Clere. L’Amiable Marie was manned by twenty year old Pierre Dubois, Etienne Arsonneau age eighteen and sixteen year old Louis Marie Dubois, all Arcadians. Whether any of the crew continued with the vessel only to be captured by the British ten months later is not known. Black Point and Shrewsberry Inlet are located near present day Sea Bright, just south of Sandy Hook at the confluence of the Navesink and Shrewsberry Rivers. Clearly, Captain Douville was attempting to elude the British chase and land his goods up one of the short rivers in proximity to American resistance forces in the Jersey Highlands. General Washington would receive yet another letter about the affair from Continental Navy Commodore Esek Hopkins on 2 September 1776 requesting personal attention concerning the exchange of “near kinsman” Henry Hawkings, a “common hand” captured with Douville’s sloop. One source claims that Pierre Douville’s participation in the American arms smuggling scheme in 1775 resulted in the burning of his family’s homestead farm at Saint-Pierre by the enraged British.
Some sources suggest Pierre Douville entered public service on 13 June 1775 as an officer on the sloop Providence under Captain Abraham Whipple. Two days after that date, Rhode Island’s General Assembly ordered the Committee of Safety to fit out two ships to defend the colony’s shipping. One of the two vessels chartered for that purpose was the sloop Katy owned by Providence merchant John Brown, brother of Nicholas. Abraham Whipple was commissioned her captain and appointed commodore of the tiny Rhode Island fleet which soon thereafter captured the tender of HMS frigate Rose. Katy spent the summer protecting Narragansett Bay from enemy cruisers prior to departing on 12 September 1775 on a cruise to acquire gunpowder for Washington’s desperate army. Upon Whipple’s return to Providence, the sloop Katy was purchased by Rhode Island on 31 October 1775. In November, the Rhode Island sloop sailed to Philadelphia carrying sailors enlisted in the Continental Navy and upon arriving on 3 December was immediately taken into Continental Navy service and renamed Providence. It is certainly possible that Pierre Douville served as lieutenant under Captain Abraham Whipple on the sloop Katy from June through October 1775 in the service of Rhode Island. However, it is also clear from his voyage to St.Peter’s and the French West Indies between November 1775 and May 1776 to acquire gunpowder and subsequent capture, Douville was not attached to the sloop Katy after she entered Continental service and became known as the Providence. Those sources may also be mistaking the Rhode Island privateer Providence with the Continental Navy sloop Providence. It is also conceivable that Pierre Douville served as lieutenant on the private armed letter-of-marque Providence owned by his future father-in-law Samuel Aborn and under the command of his future bride’s brother Lowry Aborn in April 1775.
Pierre Douville entered service in the Continental Navy as 3rd Lieutenant on the 20-gun ship Alfred sometime 5 September and 23 October 1776. He apparently followed former 3rd Lieutenant John Fanning who left the vessel for the sloop Fly in February 1776 but is not listed on the Alfred’s roll of officers and men who served from the time of her commission until 5 September 1776 left with the ship by Captain Dudley Saltonstall upon his departure. Alfred’s first commander Saltonstall was replaced by 1st Lieutenant Jonathan Pitcher for a brief period and subsequently permanently relieved as captain by John Paul Jones on 22 October 1776. The following day Pierre Douville, spelled Deville in the records, is noted as a participant in the court-martial of brigantine Hamden’s gunner James Bryant held on board the Alfred in Newport. Third Lieutenant Pierre Deville is also included on the list of men entitled to prize shares in the British ship Mellish and brig Active taken by the Continental Navy ship Alfred in late November 1776. Sometime after Lieutenant Robert Sanders’ departure from the ship likely between late November 1776 and Captain Elisha Hinman’s assumption of command in late January 1777, Pierre Douville was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant of the Alfred. He served in this capacity until the Alfred’s capture. During Douville’s service on the vessel under the command of John Paul Jones, the ship Alfred cruised first off the coast of Newfoundland in company with the Continental Navy sloop Providence, departing from Tarpaulin Cove near Nantucket and bound to Boston between 2 November and 16 December 1776. It was during this voyage that the brig Active was taken with a rich cargo of fine goods, an unnamed snow with a cargo of fish and the ship Mellish, armed for war and laden with soldier’s clothing. The Alfred’s crew also burned warehouses and materials used in the British whale and cod fishery at Canso, Nova Scotia during this adventure. It is believed by this writer that a “Sketch of the Bay and Coal Mines at Cape Briton” listed in “A calendar of John Paul Jones manuscripts in the Library of Congress” (1903) misidentified as the November 1777 work of one D’Arvoilles was actually drawn by Douville for Jones on the occasion of this cruise.
Now under the command of Captain Elisha Hinman, Alfred next cruised from Boston to Portsmouth, NH from 25 July to 1 August 1777 and then from Portsmouth to L’Orient, France in company with the frigate Raleigh to obtain military supplies between 22 August and 6 October 1777. On the trans-Atlantic crossing the two Continental Navy vessels captured four small prizes. Departing L’Orient on 29 December 1777, Alfred again sailed in company with the Raleigh to the Senegal River in British West Africa, arriving on 15 January 1778. The ship Alfred left the Senegal with Raleigh on 1 February 1778 taking a small sloop before setting course for the West Indies and home. On 9 March 1778, near Barbados, they encountered British warships Ariadne and Ceres. When the American ships attempted to flee, Alfred fell behind her faster consort. Shortly after noon the British men-of-war caught up with Alfred and forced her to surrender after a half an hour’s battle. Alfred gave and received a number of broadsides during the half hour fight. Most of the 181 crew were taken out of the “Rebel Ship Alfred” and entered on the frigate Ariadne, including the seven ranking officers, 2nd Lieutenant Pierre Douville among them. Alfred’s officers were subsequently transferred to HMS Yarmouth under Captain Nicholas Vincent. Second Lieutenant of Marines Nathaniel Richards was released at Barbados due to the intercession of the English captain, a family friend. Sent on a cartel to Martinique, Richards took passage for home from in the brig Charming Sally. He was captured again by Captain McCartney commanding HMS Ambuscade and taken prisoner to Halifax. His release was finally obtained on 7 July 1778 and Nathaniel Richards sailed on a cartel to New London, arriving on 28 July. From Barbados the remaining officers were transported to England, arriving at Gosport before being confined at Forton Prison on 18 July 1778.
The journal of Forton prisoner Timothy Connor published by William Richard Cutter in “A Yankee Privateersman in Prison in England, 1777-1779” records their arrival, “Saturday, 18th. Very hot weather. This day came on shore five officers belonging to the Alfred, twenty gun ship, out of Boston; Capt. Inman [Elisha Hinman], his first and second sailing lieutenants, and captain and lieutenant of marines. Likewise came on shore five more prisoners, all Americans; the prize master and four hands taken in a prize belonging to the schooner Hawk, out of Marblehead (but belonging to Manchester), mounting ten carriage guns, one Capt. Hibbet commander. No news for us as yet. Out of all hopes.” The pension affidavit of Third Lieutenant Charles Bulkey indicates Connor misidentified him as the second, who was Douville. According to Bulkey, the five officers confined at Forton where Hinman, First Lieutenant Peter Richards, himself, Captain of Marines John Welch and Lieutenant of Marines William Hamilton. Sometime between the capture of the Alfred and the arrival of her officers in England on the Yarmouth, 2nd Lieutenant Pierre Douville was exchanged. It is likely this exchange was for a British officer held by the French in the West Indies as Douville was back home in Providence by the time of his marriage, just eight days after his fellow officers were incarcerated at Forton.
Pierre Douville was married to Cynthia Aborn, the fifth of seven children of Samuel Aborn (1725-1801) and Mary Burrows (1732-1797), just one week after her eighteenth birthday at the King’s Church in Providence on Sunday 26 July 1778. The bride’s father Samuel Aborn was a colonel in the Rhode Island militia in command of the fort at Pawtuxet, as well as a deputy to the Rhode Island Assembly from Warwick. The Anglican marriage ceremony at the fifty-six year old wooden sanctuary was officiated by the Reverend John Graves who had been the rector there since before Cynthia’s birth. The wedding must have offered both Graves and the church family a welcome respite from the ecclesiastical tension that enveloped the Church of England during the Revolution. Like other Rhode Island vicars, Rev. Graves continued to offer regular Sunday prayer for King George and the royal family, a source of great offense to many parishioners. Eventually during the hostilities, the doors of King’s Church would close and Graves ministry there came to an end. Located on North Main Street, the Episcopal church was later renamed St. John’s in 1794.
Immediately after his marriage, in late July 1778 Pierre Douville was attached to the 90-gun ship-of-the-line Languedoc, flagship of the French fleet at Rhode Island then under the command of Vice Admiral Charles Hector Count d’ Estaing (1729-1794). The Continental Navy Lieutenant served in that same capacity with the Marine Royale as an additional “Lieutenant de Vaisseau” on the Languedoc. Interestingly, although he had already served the Continental Congress about two years in that capacity and an additional year prior to that in other quasi-public service, Pierre Douville was not added to the official list of commissioned officers of the Continental Navy until 25 August 1778. Some sources suggest Douville was taken on d’ Estaing’s vessel at the “particular request” of General George Washington due to his extensive knowledge of the New England coast. He apparently participated in d’ Estaing’s naval action with Lord Richard Howe commencing on 10 August and continuing through 28 August 1778. During this running battle with both a tempestuous storm and the British fleet, the severely storm-damaged Languedoc and her compliment of 1,181 men were engaged by the smaller 50-gun HMS Renown who raked her victim with a starboard broadside that spewed iron across Languedoc’s decks from stern to bow. The Frenchmen were fortunate to escape surrender when nightfall and the timely arrival of French assistance brought an end to the hot action. Douville enjoyed a brief respite at his Pawtuxet home while “waiting orders” as d’ Estaing refitted his flagship at Boston during 1779. A receipt for cash paid to Lieutenant Pierre Douville’s father-in-law Colonel Samuel Aborn (1725-1801) on 11 February 1779 for L146.1.6 or about $487 for his “Service as pilot on Board the French Fleet” was probably associated with his time on board the Languedoc. The older brother of Douville’s wife Lorain, or Lowrey, Aborn (1758-1830) was paid in the same manner for similar services.
According to editors Elmer James Ferguson and John Catanzariti in “The Papers of Robert Morris, 1781-1784” (1984), Lieutenant Douville served “on the Queen of France and was captured when that ship was sunk during the fall of Charleston“. While not certain, it is likely Douville entered on the vessel prior to 18 June 1779 when under the command of Captain John Peck Rathbun she sailed in company with the sloop Ranger and frigate Providence from Boston. While on the celebrated cruise off the coast of Newfoundland in July 1779, the three Continental Navy ships infiltrated the Jamaican merchant fleet during which the American squadron captured eleven prizes. Sailing in dense fog among British warships protecting the fleet, the Americans took the merchantmen in secret before escaping at nightfall. Eight made Boston with the three Continental ships in late August, the prize ships and cargoes selling for more than a million dollars. Most certainly, Lieutenant Pierre Douville was serving on the 28-gun Continental frigate when Queen of France departed Boston with frigates Providence and Boston in company with sloop Ranger on 23 November 1779 to cruise east of Bermuda. The squadron, under the command of Commodore Abraham Whipple, took the 12-gun privateer Dolphin on 5 December before arriving at Charleston on 23 December 1779 to assist in the defense of the city besieged by the British. The Queen of France was stationed in the Ashley River to prevent British forces from attacking the city. Eventually her guns were removed and she was scuttled, her officers and men going ashore and serving as artillerymen in defensive fortifications until the city fell. The siege of Charleston ended with her fall to the British on 12 May 1780 and the surrender of all American defenders including the Continental Navy contingent of all four vessels.
Among the number of Continental Navy officers and men released by mid-July, Douville returned to duty on 16 August 1780 as an auxiliary lieutenant on board the 80-gun French flagship Duc de Bourgogne, or Duke of Burgundy, under Rear Admiral Charles de Ternay. Chevalier de Ternay (1723-1780) had just arrived at Newport on 10 July in command of the naval forces associated with “Expédition Particulière” transporting Lieutenant General Count de Rochambeau’s “Auxiliary Army of France” to aid in America’s bid for independence. This intervention was the result of an alliance forged over two years earlier on 6 February 1778. Unfortunately, the French fleet was bottled up in the Narragansett Bay by the British Navy shortly after de Ternay’s arrival. It was during this time of naval inactivity that Douville apparently impregnated his new bride who would bear their first born son and namesake the following year on 19 June 1781. Lieutenant Douville also became acquainted with Claude Blanchard, the commissary of the French auxiliary army during that time. Blanchard’s journal entry for 23 November 1780 published in 1876 reads, “On the 23d, in tolerably fine weather, I was three or four leagues from Providence, and I saw large tracts of country newly cleared and many houses recently built. This district will grow rich and become peopled gradually. I dined at Patuxet in the house of M. Dourville, a Canadian and a lieutenant in the American navy. He had married in this village where he was held in esteem; he was of great use to me for the wood-cutting which was entrusted to me. He had been employed upon the squadron of M. d’Estaing, and M de Ternay had also employed him on his vessel.” Upon the death of Chevalier de Ternay due to a “putrid fever” at the Newport home of Dr. William Hunter on 15 December 1780, Douville was transferred to the 64 gun Jason under the command of Captain Jean Isaac Chadeau de la Clocheterie as “Lieutenant de vaisseau” or ship’s Lieutenant in early 1781. The third rate frigate distinguished herself in the 16 March 1781 engagement known as the Battle of Cape Henry between the British naval squadron of Vice Admiral Arbuthnot and a French fleet under Admiral Charles René Dominique Sochet or Chevalier Destouches. Destouches had succeeded de Ternay as interim commander of the Duc de Bourgogne and the French fleet. He was requested by General Washington to sail for the Chesapeake in order to participate in a joint operation with the Continental Army to confront the British army of General Benedict Arnold in Virginia. Destouches’ orders were frustrated by Arbuthnot’s successful repulse of his fleet and returned to Newport with five dead and one wounded on the Jason among the expedition’s 184 casualties.
Jacques-Melchior Saint-Laurent, Comte de Barras (1719-1793) arrived at Boston from France on 6 May 1781 to take command of the French fleet on news of de Ternay’s death. On de Barras’ arrival, Chevalier Destouches assumed command of the 74-gun Neptune, placing the French Canadian Pierre Douville in the capacity of Lieutenant on that vessel for a time while listing him on the ship’s book as “American”. On 27 August 1781, the French naval squadron of Count de Barras departed Narragansett Bay with eight ships-of-the-line, four frigates and eighteen transports conveying French armament and siege equipment to the Chesapeake Bay in order to rendezvous with Rear Admiral Francois Joseph Paul Count de Grasse whose fleet who had sailed earlier from the West Indies. It is assumed that Douville returned to the Duke of Burgundy to serve directly under de Barras. Ignoring specific orders to mount an expedition to Newfoundland, Count de Barras was persuaded by Rochambeau to sail south instead to assist de Grasse in forming a blockade of the bay preventing Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves’ fleet from relieving Lord Charles Cornwallis and his besieged British army at Yorktown. The two fleets met in battle near the mouth of the Chesapeake on 5 September 1781 with the French naval victory directly resulting in Cornwallis’ surrender on 19 October 1781. Douville and de Barras’ fleet did not arrive until 10 September, five days after the engagement, however conveyed badly need supplies to the French and American siege troops. Lieutenant Douville remained with the French Navy after Yorktown, sailing with the combined fleets to the West Indies where he participated in an expedition under Count de Barras to capture Montserrat in February 1782. At the conclusion of his service on the Duke of Burgundy, Pierre Douville was honored in a letter of recommendation by Count de Barras written on board the French flagship on 24 March 1782. It roughly translates, “We the Lieutenant General Naval Armed Forces, Commander of the Royal and Military Order of St. Louis, certify that Mr. Douville, a lieutenant in the Navy of the United States of America, has served nearly two years in duty as a Lieutenant of Vessels off the coast of New England on the King’s ship the Duke of Burgundy, under our immediate orders, and those under the Generals who have preceded us in command of the squadron stationed on the coast of Northern America, and we declare that we have always been completely satisfied with his services in duty off the northern coasts of America as an officer of the sea and as a man of war.”
Afterward, Continental Navy Lieutenant Pierre Douville was attached to the 80-gun Ship-of-the-Line le Triomphant, flagship of Louis-Philippe de Rigaud, the Marquis de Vaudreuil (1724-1802). Vaudreuil was second in command of the French Navy during the American Revolution and interestingly- like Douville, of French Canadian descent. Both his grandfather and uncle were governors of Canada while his father was an admiral in the French Navy. Marquis de Vaudreuil had earlier been in command of the Sceptre during the Battle of the Chesapeake and had fought on land with the Duke of Lauzun defeating Tarleton’s dreaded cavalry at Yorktown. According to at least one source, Douville served on the Triomphant during the Battle of the Saintes also known as the Battle of Dominica between 9-12 of April 1782. During this sea battle between a British fleet under the command of Admiral Sir George Rodney and the French fleet of Count de Grasse, one French ship-of-the-line was destroyed while four others were taken captive, including de Grasse’s flagship with him on board. Vaudreuil is credited with saving the balance of the French fleet however, returning to Boston after the disastrous defeat and assuming overall command of the French Navy in America. A letter from Robert Morris to de Vaudreuil dated 3 October 1782 suggests that Lieutenant Pierre Douville’s duty on the Triomphant had come to an honorable completion with a letter of recommendation from the Marquis to the Continental Agent of Marine. However, it is possible that Douville was one of the Triomphant’s three unnamed auxiliary officers when his former commander, John Paul Jones stepped aboard at Boston on 23 December 1782. Having completed the construction and launching of the only 74-gun ship built for the Continental Navy and delivered it as a gift to the French King on 5 November 1772 under orders from the Continental Congress; Captain Jones requested on 29 November that the Agent of Marine seek permission from Congress for him to serve with the Marquis de Vaudreuil. It is possible that John Paul Jones’ former lieutenant on the Alfred, Pierre Douville had solicited his service with Vaudreuil, although no supporting documentary evidence has yet surfaced. Triomphant’s lieutenant during Jones’ cruise was Louis-Gaspard le Gardeur, Sieur de Repentigny (1753-1808), who like Lieutenant Pierre Douville and the ship’s commander Marquis de Vaudreuil was French Canadian. Lieutenant Repentigny had earlier served with Vaudreuil on the Magnanimous. John Paul Jones would sail on board Vaudreuil’s flagship Triomphant for five months in the West Indies before returning to Philadelphia by another vessel in May 1783.
Details of that cruise are recorded by Jones himself. “As I foresaw that the plan conceived by the Chevalier de la Luzerne and Mr. Morris would probably not be carried out, I addressed myself to Congress without losing any time, and on December 4, 1782, I obtained an act from that body ordering me to embark on a ship of His Majesty’s fleet at Boston, under the orders of the Marquis de Vaudreuil, scheduled to join the Count d’Estaing in his expedition against Jamaica, etc. The prospect was very agreeable to me, because of all those who were assigned to serve on this expedition no one knew the Island of Jamaica as well as I, and since the Count d’Estaing had commanded a fleet of more than 70 ships of the line and a great army, I hoped to find myself in the best military school in the world, where I would be able to render myself very useful and would necessarily acquire very important knowledge about conducting large scale military operations. The Marquis de Vaudreuil received me politely on board his own flagship, le Triomphant, and billeted me in the Council Chamber with the Baron de Viomenil, who commanded the land forces. The Marquis de Vaudreuil’s squadron of 10 ships of the line, two frigates, and one cutter left Boston on December 24. The admiral’s intention was to join at the latitude of Portsmouth with two other ships of the line, l’Auguste and le Pluton, then in that port and under the orders of his brother (as the America was still not ready to put to sea); but stormy weather and contrary winds prevented this juncture and put the squadron into a disagreeable situation because of the proximity of the coast and of the Bay of Fundy. The admiral then attempted to join the ship le Fantasque, carrying troops from Rhode Island, but this also failed. The squadron, having lost sight of several ships loaded with masts and 20 merchantmen being convoyed to Boston, set course for the island of Puerto Rico. When that island was within sight, the Marquis de Vaudreuil was warned that Admiral Hood was cruising at the latitude of Cape Francois with 16 vessels of the line, and that Admiral Pigot, with greater forces, was at Saint Lucia, so that the enemy would necessarily consider the Marquis de Vaudreuil’s squadron an easy prey that could not escape Hood or Pigot.”
“The Marquis de Vaudreuil remained at the latitude of San Juan, Puerto Rico, for 10 days, practiced all kinds of fleet maneuvers, and then took 16 ships from a large convoy that had arrived at San Juan from France and headed toward the western end of Puerto Rico. Some of the flyboats sent to cruise by Hood perceived the squadron near the Mona Passage and immediately went to inform him that the Marquis de Vaudreuil was sailing south of St. Domingue on the way to some port on the west coast of that island or on the east side of Cuba, for the expedition to Jamaica. They were in error: the squadron headed south, into the wind, and passed to the leeward and within sight of the Island of Curacao, near the South American coast. The rendezvous that had been agreed upon by Don Solano and the Marquis de Vaudreuil at Cape Francois after the defeat of the Count de Grasse was held in utmost secrecy, and no one had the least idea that it was Porto Cabello on the continent of South America at 20 leagues to the windward of Curacao. The squadron maneuvered for three weeks along the coast against a current that chased the transport ships out of sight to the leeward; and because they had neither pilots nor good charts of this coast on board the squadron, La Bourgogne of 74 guns foundered on rocks at night two leagues from the coast and went down with 200 men, including officers, among them the first lieutenant. Le Triomphant arrived at Porto Cabello [Porto la Bello] on February 18, 1783. L’Auguste and le Pluton had arrived there some days before and the other ships of the fleet came in safely, one after the other. Don Solano had planned to meet with the Marquis de Vaudreuil at Porto CabeIlo in December. He did not keep his promise, and no news of his squadron was received at Porto Cabello. The anxiety that this uncertainty occasioned, combined with the lack of news from Europe, so deeply affected the spirit of several officers that they fell ill, and I myself was dangerously sick. Finally the news of a general peace arrived by frigate from France. The most brilliant successes and the most instructive experience in the art of war could not have given me pleasure comparable to that which I felt when I learned that Great Britain, after such a long struggle, had been forced to recognize the sovereignty and independence of the United States of America. On April 8, 1783, the day after the cessation of hostilities, the squadron left Porto Cabello, and after a voyage of eight days it arrived safely at Cape Francois. The Spanish squadron had left Havanna for Porto Cabello, and upon receiving news of the peace at Puerto Rico it changed course for Cape Francois and arrived there a few days before the Marquis de Vaudreuil. I remained only a short time at Cape Francois where I received the special favors of Monsieur de Bellecombe, the governor. I then embarked for Philadelphia, filled with gratitude for all the attention I had received from the Marquis de Vaudreuil, the Baron de Viomenil, and the other officers during the five months that I had been on board His Majesty’s squadron.”
Despite the fact that the Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolution was not formally signed until 3 September 1783 and ratified in January 1784, all hostilities had already come to an end by April 1783 with the ratification of a preliminary peace treaty originally inked the previous November. For all intents and purposes, British aggression ended with George III’s issuance of Cornwall’s Proclamation of Cessation of Hostilities on 4 February 1783. After serving the entire eight year duration of the War for Independence in the service of the Continental and French Navies, Lieutenant Pierre Douville returned to his home in Rhode Island. It is during this season that the Douville’s oldest daughter Cynthia was conceived, the couple’s second child being born on 28 October 1783. The Providence Gazette of 28 June 1783 reveals that Douville is already in command of the brig Independence sailing for Port Dauphin, presumably what is known today as Englishtown on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. This is the same locale depicted on the “Sketch of the Bay and Coal Mines at Cape Briton” listed among the John Paul Jones manuscripts in the Library of Congress” (1903) believed by this writer to be drawn by Douville in 1777. From Port Dauphin, the brig Independence apparently sailed to the West Indies as Captain Douville is recorded as arriving in Newport in that vessel bound from Martinico on 5 February 1784. Douville and the Independence are reported “arrived in the river” at Providence two days later.
Pierre Douville’s merchant career immediately after the war is chronicled in the shipping news published in the Providence Gazette. On Saturday 22 May 1784, Douville is cleared for departure to the West Indies on the sloop Cynthia, presumably his own vessel named for his wife. The sloop must not have sailed promptly as it was cleared again for departure two weeks later on 5 June. The voyage must have proved successful as the following year, Douville is cleared for departure from Providence and bound to St. Peters on the larger schooner Cynthia, also named after his beloved spouse, on Saturday 21 May 1785. The schooner is noted among the current arrivals at Providence from St. Peters on Saturday 8 October 1785. It is possible that Captain Pierre Douville sailed specifically to meet his dying mother at his native birthplace on St. Pierre-Miquelon. According to the genealogical research of Patricia H. Forsander and others posted on www.genealogy.com, the captain’s mother Marie left her home at St. Pierre in the fall of 1778 to return to St. Malo on the schooner La Charlotte with Pierre’s two younger siblings Philippe and Francois. Accompanied by her granddaughter Marie-Rose Bujeau, the old woman returned to St. Pierre on the ship Three Sisters just before her death on 6 June 1785. Their research indicates that “the mariner brought his wife Cynthia and son Peter to live among his extended family at Saint-Pierre and Miquelon in 1787, where she remained for two years while Douville pursued a lucrative maritime trade with the West Indies. Clearly the Douville family was in residence at Rhode Island when second son Charles Lowry was born on 14 April 1786. However, the couple’s third son Samuel Joseph was born at St. Pierre on 21 July 1788 where both he and his two year old brother were baptized in that year. The youngest daughter Mary was born on 22 November in 1789 at Rhode Island. The family is in residence again at Warwick, RI at the time of the 1790 Census with Pierre Douville recorded as the head of a household which included, in addition to himself, three males under the age of sixteen and three white females.” The young males included nine year old Peter, four year old Lowrey Charles and two year old Samuel Joseph. In addition to his wife Cynthia, the Douville females included seven year daughter Cynthia and one year old Mary.
Thanks to Andri Maurois’ “Chateaubriand: Poet, Statesman, Lover” (1969), we discover Pierre Douville in early 1791 at St. Malo, France where he was engaged to command the 160 ton brigantine St. Pierre on a trans-Atlantic crossing conveying a group priests and seminary students associated with the Society of Saint Sulpice to a newly organized seminary in Baltimore, St. Mary’s Seminary. The Roman Catholic order’s Paris seminary had been closed at the advent of the French Revolution with its teachers and students fleeing to avoid persecution. The Baltimore seminary likely founded by some of Douville’s passengers was established as the first such Catholic institution in the United States on 10 July 1791 with classes commencing in October of that year, shortly after St. Pierre’s arrival. Also among the vessel’s passengers was twenty-three year old St. Malo native and future French diplomat, writer and historian Francois Auguste Rene de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) who was to become known as the “Father of French Romanticism”. Chateaubriand was bound on a pilgrimage to America to meet George Washington, armed with a letter of introduction from French Revolutionary War veteran General Armand, Marquis de la Rougrie. After a short wait “becalmed in the roadstead…though no breeze sprang up, the ebb tide swept the St. Pierre out to the open sea” departing St. Malo on 8 June. Chateaubriand, asleep below during the brig’s departure, returned on deck to find “the land of France was out of sight.” For months the celebrated writer sailed “above the grave face of the abyss” while concurrently observing “the awful majesty of ocean horizons”. He proved an able sailor with a flair for the theatrical, on one occasion having himself bound to the main mast in the tradition of Ulysses. Maurois writes, “There he was drenched by the waves and well battered by the wind, but braving sky and water he cheered himself with the cry; “Oh storm, thou art not yet as fair as Homer made thee!'”. When Chateaubriand reminisced about his voyage on Douville’s vessel many years later he poetically remembered, “The vessel tossed at the mercy of a slow and thudding swell, while fiery sparks flickered along the foam that creamed about its sides. Myriads of stars twinkled against the dark azure of the vaulted sky, a shoreless sea, infinity in heaven and on the deep! Never has God so disquieted me by his greatness as in those nights when I had immensity above my head and immensity beneath my feet.” After a brief call at Douville’s home port of St. Pierre, where apparently the saavy captain lost an Admiralty court case over the loss of an anchor to the passenger charter defended by Chateaubriand himself, the brigantine continued on to the Chesapeake. After a three month crossing, Captain Pierre Douville’s vessel came into view of American soil as Chateaubriand recorded the arrival “Only the crests of a few maples rising above the water gave any hint of a coast.”
While some sources suggest it was King Louis XVI who recruited Pierre Douville to serve in the French Navy, probably nothing could be further from the truth. The French Revolution had begun to unfold as early as May 1789 with a shift in political power. The storming of the Bastille followed in July and August heralded the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man by the National Assembly of France. Social tension forced the royal court from Versailles to Paris in October 1789 with the following two years characterized by ongoing power struggles between liberal assemblies and monarchists. The Battle of Valmy, the first decisive victory of the revolutionary army of France on 20 September 1792, emboldened the newly assembled National Convention to declare the end of the monarchy and establish the First French Republic. The Revolutionary Wars that began in 1792 ultimately resulted in French victories which would unite and define the modern state. It was during these times in December 1792 that Pierre Douville traveled to Paris, excited by Revolutionary fervor and opportunity. Leaving his thirty-one year old American wife behind along with their five children between the ages of eleven and three years old, Douville was drawn to defend the same inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that had been won at such great cost in the Americas just a decade earlier. One source quotes the French-Canadian born adopted American naval volunteer as wanting to “get useful to his country”.
Pierre Douville was offered a commission for his former rank of lieutenant on the ship Achilles in January 1793, the same month King Louis XVI was executed on the guillotine amid international condemnation. The Achilles’ mission was to protect the mouth of the Loire River and the Brittany coastline. It was during this tumultuous time of social upheaval and dictatorial abuse by the Committee of Public Safety known as the Reign of Terror that Douville was promoted to Captain on 25 February 1794 and given command of the ship-of-the-line l’ Impetueux, or Impetuous. His freshly launched 74-gun Impetuous was attached to the squadron of French Admiral Louis-Thomas Villaret de Joyeuse. Villaret de Joyeuse had served with distinction under Admiral Pierre Andre de Suffren, one of D’Estaing’s squadron commanders in the West Indies during and after the American Revolution. Rising quickly in rank during the advent of the French Revolution, Villaret was in command of the French fleet during the Third Battle of Ushant, popularly known as the Glorious First of June. Fought in the Atlantic Ocean four hundred miles west of Brest, this naval fleet action was both the first and largest between the French and British fleets during the French Revolutionary Wars. Villaret de Joyeuse was tasked with the mission of drawing the fleet of Admiral Lord Earl Howe away from a convoy of 117 vessels transporting grain from the United States to supply the starving masses in France driven to famine by the blockading British. Howe’s primary intent was to destroy the French naval fleet of twenty-six vessels.
In command of the 74-gun Impetueux and her compliment of seven hundred officers and men, Captain Pierre Douville was positioned sixth in the line of battle at the Vanguard of the French fleet. Soon into the sea battle, Impetueux became entangled with the 74-gun HMS Marlborough. Both vessels were severely damaged in the hot action at close quarters. The French ship Mucius under Captain Larregny came to Douville’s assistance, colliding with both ships in the smoke of broadside exchanges. All three warships sustained heavy casualties as the gunfire continued for hours. Both Marlborough and Impetueux lost all three masts in the action. HMS frigate Aquilon responded to Marlborough’s plea for assistance, finally towing the hull to safety. Mucius freed herself and rejoined the fleeing French fleet. Captain Douville, already having received a number of wounds, continued his assault on the British from the crippled Impetueux by engaging the HMS frigate Phaeton- his orders being to retard as much as possible the British pursuit of the escaping French fleet. Too damaged to even move, Impetueux and her courageous commander were finally subdued and taken by the crew of HMS Russell. Captain Pierre Douville was among Impetueux’s casualties, one hundred dead and eighty-five wounded, having received eighteen wounds during the course of the long action. Mortally wounded, Douville was taken to Forton Prison in Gosport, England where he died on 17 June 1794. It is reported that Pierre Douville was buried at Portsmouth, England with military honors. While the Glorious First of June was credited to Howe as a great victory in which seven enemy ships were taken in battle including Douville’s, the French objective of diverting British interest from the food convoy proved successful as that national lifeline escaped unmolested. Soon after, the Reign of Terror in France would also end when the Directory assumed control and brought stability to the state in 1795.
The only known likeness of Pierre Douville, said to be painted in France by an unidentified artist shortly before his death in 1794, was gifted to Brown University in 1887 by his granddaughters Miss Cynthia Douville and Mrs. Sarah Tinkham. Formerly on exhibit with the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection in the Special Collections of the Brown University Library, the portrait was loaned to the Arts Centre Confederation in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Acadian Deportation of 1758. Little known prior to that time, Earle Lockerby in “The Deportation of the Prince Edward Island Acadians” (2008) appears to be one of the first to recognize the contributions of Pierre Douville to American, Acadian and French history. More recently, the portrait hangs in the permanent exhibit of the Acadian Museum of the Université de Moncton. Douville’s likeness is also reputed to be the only extant portrait of a native-born person from the island of St. John before the Great Upheaval. There is some controversy over the present disposition of the remains of Pierre Douville. In the unsourced “Odyssey of an Acadian in American and French Navies” (1954), writer Raymond Douville claims the naval officer’s remains were returned home by the Society of Cincinnati and re-interred at the West Burying Grounds in Providence and then relocated again to Swan Point Cemetery in 1871 where a memorial now stands honoring his life and service. This statement is brought into question by others who indicate that nothing in the archives of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati support that conclusion, the monument inscription itself is silent on the matter and finally a letter accompanying the 1877 portrait presentation that discusses the monument relocation of six years earlier makes no mention of Pierre Douville’s remains. The monument inscription honoring the navy veteran finishes “Malthus closing an unspotted life all which had been consistently and bravely spent in the time of the adopted service and time of the old native country.”
A handwritten and signed copy of a letter from Pierre Douville’s wife Cynthia seeking compensation from the government of France for her husband’s service in the French Navy was recently offered for sale at Marion Auctions on 25 June 2016. It reads: “Providence March 8th AD 1803. Fulwar Shipwith Esqr. Sir, By the advice of Sundry Merchants in this town and of Several of the Officers in the Government of the United States, I take the liberty to commit to your care a piece of business of much importance to me, the nature of which you will discover in the documents herewith enclosed. I am a native of the State of Rhode Island and was married to the late Capt. Pierre Douville a citizen of the French Republic who at the call of his Country entered into its Service in the Navy and was Mortally wounded while commanding the French Ship of war L’ Impeteaux of Seventy four Guns in the naval engagement near England in the month of June AD 1794 and in a few days afterwards died of his Wounds. The history of my life as well as that of my family you will find in the enclosed documents. I conceive that there were due to my late husband at the time of his death arrears of Wages & rations which have never been paid and that I and my children are entitled by the laws and regulations of the Republic, to a pension or some kind of Gratuity on account of the Services and death of my late husband. To recover those arrears, Pensions or gratuities is the object of my present application and which I am informed by Pichon the Charge de affairs of the Republic to the United States may be recovered without delay. I have heretofore attempted to obtain whatever may be due to me or my children, but have failed in consequence of not forwarding proper documents. I have now procured every kind of proof which is thought necessary and have the whole certified by the highest Authority in the United States and flatter myself that no further difficulties will arise. I wish you to pay every attention to the business which its nature may require and to satisfy yourself for your trouble and expenses out of what may come into your hands. You will be so obliging as to write me as soon and as often as may be and inform me of all the particular circumstances relative to my prospects and your success. In particular I wish you to advise me what arrears were due to my husband at the time of his death, the amount of the Pension which is due, Whither it is to myself alone or whither my children are also to participate in the bounty of the Government. Whither the a pension is a sum in gross, or to be continued, and if continued how long. These are points which my former agent neglected to inform me upon. By the return of the Ship which conveys this to France I hope to receive information of the receipt of my papers and of your success in the business. If there shall be any further document needed you will please to inform me what is necessary. If you are fortunate in your application you will make remittances to me in good bills payable in the United States (if to be had), if not you may place the money in the hands of Thomas Dickinson & Company in London [eminent merchant house] and direct them to place the amount to the Credit of Messrs. Brown and Ives of Providence. I have written to Joseph Lanfrey Esq. a french Gentleman residing at Paris who was an intimate friend of my late husband requesting his friendship and assistance to you in this business. When you write me I wish you to write under cover to Philip Crapo Esq. Counselor at Law in Providence, State of Rhode Island, or to Mr. Sam’l Aborn, who have lent me their aid in Procuring the documents of who now forward the same on to you. I am with Sentiments of esteem, Your Ob’t Servant, (Copy Signed) Cynthia Aborn Douville.”
The widow Douville’s letter is addressed to her Paris agent Fulwar Skipwith (1765-1839), a Revolutionary War veteran first appointed in 1795 as Consul-General under the United States Minister to France, future President James Monroe. He later briefly served as President of the Republic of West Florida and as President of the Louisiana State Senate during the War of 1812. His legislative initiative to grant amnesty to former privateers resulted in the cooperation of pirate Jean Lafitte and his forces with General Andrew Jackson in the successful defense of New Orleans on 8 January 1815. Her solicitation of Skipwith’s services mentions French Baron Louis Andre Pichon (1771-1854), Secretary of Legation and Charge d’Affaires from 1801 to 1805 during the time of the Louisiana Purchase. After earlier serving as a diplomat in Philadelphia from 1793 to 1796, Pichon returned to France and assisted in negotiations to end the Quasi-War between the two nations. Cynthia Aborn Douville instructs her agent Skipwith, upon his successful mission to secure compensation of unpaid wages and pension due her, to deposit such funds as may be recovered in the eminent London merchant house of Thomas Dickinson & Company to the credit of the Providence firm of Brown and Ives, a leader in American commerce for decades. This partnership between Nicholas Brown, Jr. (1769-1841) and Thomas Poyton Ives was earlier known as Brown, Benson and Ives between 1792 and 1796 when George Benson retired. Along with his brothers, Nicholas Brown was a major benefactor of his alma mater Rhode Island College, which in 1804 voted to change its name to Brown University. Thomas Poynton Ives (1759-1835) apprenticed in the counting house of Nicholas Brown, Sr. prior to marrying his only daughter Hope and with his brother-in-law Nicholas, Jr. formed a successful shipping business, particularly in the Far East trade. Poynton pioneered the American version of transporting mass goods on larger vessels between major ports and off-loading to smaller vessels for distribution to lesser markets. This concept later evolved into the intermodal transport of containerized goods widely used on a global scale today. Joseph Lanfrey, the intimate friend of Pierre Douville mentioned in his widow’s letter, is most probably the employee of the French Republic’s office of military subsistence who in the years immediately prior to this letter owned the Hotel de Brienne in Paris, used as an office for military supplies. Originally confiscated during the French Revolution, Lanfrey owned the prominent property between 1800 and 1802 when he sold it to his tenant, interior minister Lucien Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon. The building became known as the “Palace of the Mother of the Emperor,” when Lucien sold it to his mother in 1805. The French government purchased the Hotel de Brienne in 1817 and ever since the building has housed the Ministry of War. Lanfrey is also likely the same Joseph Langley De Lisle, native of Grenoble in France, who served as Commissary of the French army in Rhode Island as early as 1781. It is this “Commissary Inspector-General in the French Land Service” who was married to Bathsheba Bowler, daughter of Metcalf Bowler, in Newport on 8 July 1784. Langley conceivably met Continental Navy Lieutenant Pierre Douville during Commissary General Claude Blanchard’s forays into the Pawtucket woods near Douville’s home in 1780. Finally, Cynthia Aborn Douville instructs agent Skipwith to copy all correspondence to her to others at home with a special interest in her affairs, her brother Samuel Aborn (1765-1818) and her brother-in-law Philip Crapo (1767-1838), a well-known Providence lawyer of French descent married to her sister Desire Burrows Aborn (1767-1859).
A letter of response from the government of France was also included in the auction lot containing Cynthia Aborn Douville’s request for compensation due her for her husband’s service in the French Navy. It reads: “Paris the 2nd Pluviose Year 12 of the FR [French Republic]. Bureau of Pensions. The Minister of Marine and the Colonies to Mr. Shipwith Commercial Agent of the United States of America at Paris- I hasten to announce to you Sir- that this Government has accorded a Pension of 600 F on the Case of the Invalids of the Marine to the Widow of Capt. Douville who died of the wounds he received in the Battle of 13th Prairial Year 2nd. Madam Douville residing in the United States, I beg you to inform her that her Pension commenced the first of year ?th & that she can receive the arrears at Paris by transmitting a Power for that purpose- I Salute you. (Sig’d) Decraz”. The dates employed in the letter refer to the French Revolutionary or Republican Calendar. This calendar was designed to eliminate all religious or royal references and was only used for about twelve years between 1793 and 1805, as it was abolished by Emperor Napoleon I on 1 January 1806. Year 12 referred to the year beginning 24 September 1803 in the Gregorian calendar. Depending on the specific year, the month of Pluviose extended from 20-22 January to 19-21 February, making the 2nd Pluviose in the third week of January 1804. The thirteenth day of Prairial in the second year of the French Republic marked the Battle of the Glorious 1st of June in 1794. The month of Germinal extended from 20-21 March to 20-21 April. This letter appears to be from Denis Decres (1761-1820), the French Minister of Marine and of Colonies from 1801 to 1814, concluding with a secretarial signature. Decres sailed as a midshipman on the frigate Richmond under Count de Grasse’s fleet during the American Revolution. Rising to the rank of Vice Admiral, Decres was known as a brutal and conceited politician who served as Minister of Navy from shortly after Napoleon’s coup d’etat on 9 November 1799, through the emperor’s coronation on 2 December 1804 and until Napoleon’s abdication in April 1814.
For Pierre Douville’s naval services to the French Republic, his widow received a pension from the government of France until her death in Providence. Pierre and Cynthia Douville’s youngest child Mary, just two years old when the naval officer left for France, died a little over two years after her father on 13 October 1796, one month before her seventh birthday. The 1800 Census indicates two females in forty-year old Cynthia Douville’s household, besides herself one other female age sixteen to twenty-five, no doubt her seventeen year old daughter of the same name. The census also includes one male between 16 and 25 and two other males between ten and fifteen years old, presumably nineteen year old Peter, fourteen year old Lowry Charles and twelve year old Samuel Joseph. Uncertain if addressed to mother or daughter, Cynthia Douville’s name appears on a list of unclaimed letters at the Providence post office between 31 August and 15 September 1804. Widow of Continental Navy Lieutenant and French Navy Captain Pierre Douville, forty-six year old Cynthia Aborn Douville died on 21 October 1806 and according to King’s Church Records was buried at Pawtuxet five days later, just over two months prior to her daughter Cynthia’s marriage to John Willis, Jr. on 29 December 1806. The remains of the captain’s wife today rest in the Arnold-Pawtuxet Burial Ground having at some time in the past been re-interred from the Aborn-Whitney Lot. According to the Providence Gazette of 8 November 1806, their oldest child Peter was named administrator for her estate. Earlier in 1805, Peter Douville had been admitted to the Society of the Cincinnati in the place of his father. Like his father Pierre, the junior Peter Douville was a mariner having command of the brig Sea Flower in 1806 and the sloop Phebe in 1808. In 1818, the younger Douville then of Cranston, filed for insolvency and subsequently relocated to Savannah. He died on a schooner in West Florida on 2 October 1825.