WHAT HAPPENED TO LAFAYETTE?
The story began early on the afternoon of June 13, 1777, when a French vessel slipped into an isolated bay on the coast of South Carolina and dropped anchor. On board was a young man, the Marquis de Lafayette, who had purchased the ship for this voyage to America. With him was Baron de Kalb and a group of French nobles who had been promised commissions in the "Armies of the States-General of North America" by one of the American agents in Paris raising support for our cause.
The Frenchmen were lost; they had intended to land at Charleston, but
had been driven off their course by fifty miles to the north. They had
entered a small bay which belonged to Major Benjamin Huger. Some men who
were grappling for oysters in the bay led the Frenchmen to the plantation
of Major Huger, himself a descendant of French Huguenots. Huger welcomed
his unexpected guests and invited them to stay the night at his
He was serving as commanding general of the northern army of France
when the "Suspension of the King" was announced on August 10, 1792. With
France in the control of revolutionaries like Robespierre and Danton,
Lafayette realized that only the guillotine awaited him at home. With a
group of followers, Lafayette crossed the frontier into Austria just as
the French assembly passed a decree
The group hoped to take refuge in a neutral country, but when they
reached the Austrian lines, Lafayette was arrested as an enemy of monarchy
and sent to Prussia for temporary confinement.
The fact that the Comte de Narbonne was the ex-minister of war made
this quite an accomplishment. In fact, the feats of Dr. Bollman paralleled
the escapades of the fictional "Scarlet Pimperenel."
In May of 1794 he was transferred entirely out of Prussia to an undisclosed Austrian prison. The emperor of Austria held Lafayette personally responsible for the downfall of Louis XVI and was determined not to let the general's friends contact him. Three months after Lafayette's disappearance, Bollman's search took him to Olmutz, a fortress city located on a plain in Austria (now Czechoslovakia).
There Bollman heard talk of increased security at the prison and of new
and important arrivals so important that they had no names - they were
referred to by numbers. Even the guards were
Bollman felt sure that Lafayette was among them, and so checked into
the Golden Swan, where a Dr. Haberlein, the prison physician, was in
residence. Bollman, being a doctor himself, had no trouble making friends
with Dr. Haberlein. Haberlein, a simple, unsuspecting man, was one of the
few people who knew the identity of all the prisoners; through Haberlein,
Bollman confirmed his suspicion that Lafayette was one of the nameless
prisoners of Olmutz. After a short time, Haberlein became an
Haberlein transmitted notes and books between Bollman and Lafayette. It all seemed very innocent; the doctor was permitted and even encouraged to read the letters and notes, but what he did not know was that each note or letter contained messages written in the simplest form of invisible ink, lemon juice.
At this time Austria was full of spies, and foreigners with no obvious occupation were quickly checked by officials; thus Bollman made plans to travel to Vienna, promising Dr. Haberlein he would return. It was in Vienna that Bollman met Francis Kinloch Huger. Francis' father, Major Huger, had been killed in 1779 during the siege of Charleston, and two years later young Francis Huger had been shipped off to England to improve his health and study medicine.
By 1794 he had completed his medical studies in London and decided to
see first-hand the war
Huger, at length ready to return to England and eventually to the
Americas, was looking for a traveling companion. A mutual friend
introduced him to Bollman. The two men began to get acquainted and talked
quite freely; both doctors, they had much in common. Speculation on the
Bollman, who wasn't ready to take anyone into his confidence, said nothing to Huger of his plans to free Lafayette, although he felt more secure after discovering Huger to be a fellow Mason. As for being a traveling companion, Bollman said he had to make a short side trip to Hungary, and that on his return they might talk of their return to England.
Huger waited eight days and then made plans to purchase a carriage and
leave for England alone, but Bollman showed up the day before he planned
to leave. Bollman said he would join Huger, but on obtaining a promise of
secrecy, told Huger of finding Lafayette in prison in Olmutz and of
Bollman revealed that every day the imprisoned Lafayette was driven
into the country under close guard, ostensibly for his health.
Accordingly, Bollman and Huger would use two horses, as a third might
arouse suspicion; the horse upon which Dr. Huger would ride had been
trained to carry two
The general made the rest of the plan sound easy. He would be in a
phaeton; the driver, an over-large, clumsy man, would be no problem.
Lafayette would have no trouble frightening the cowardly little corporal
with his own sword. The other two guards were seen as no threat at all, as
they were but a pair of crippled old soldiers, no longer good for anything
except guard duty and other non-physical "light work."
Huger and Bollman returned to Olmutz on November 5, 1794; the following day they sat on their horses, watched the route taken by Lafayette, and signaled to the general of their presence and that his escape was planned for just two days later.
On Saturday morning, November 8, 1794, Drs. Huger and Bollman paid
their inn bill and sent a servant ahead with the custom-made coach to wait
for them at Hoff, a village twenty-five miles down the road. The two men
then set watch for Lafayette's carriage. Soon the carriage stopped by
At that point Huger and Bollman spurred their horses, galloping up as Lafayette pulled the corporal's sword out of its sheath, but the supposedly cowardly little corporal failed to be frightened; instead, he grabbed the sword blade, cutting his hands, and began to yell for help.
Peasants working in the nearby field looked up but merely watched the struggle. The driver also failed to answer the call. Only the other two soldiers took action-they headed back toward the fortress shouting and waving their hats to attract the attention of the sentries on the walls of the prison, which was some distance off but still visible across the flat plain.
Lafayette's miscalculation of the character of the corporal led to a series of complications in the plan. Instead of being able to hold the corporal at bay with his own sword, the general was struggling for its possession. Bollman rode up to help Lafayette; he leaped form his horse and tossed the reins to Huger-who missed them! The horse, frightened by the clamor, lurched and took off down the road, Huger watching helplessly as it galloped away.
Bollman pulled the corporal off Lafayette, but the corporal gave up the sword only to seize Lafayette by the cravat. The general cried weakly, "He is strangling me!" At this point Huger joined the fight, this time first passing his arm through his mount's bridle. Failing to intimidate the corporal by drawing a pistol, Huber stuffed it back into his pocket and managed to pull the bloody hands away form the general's throat. Lafayette, tired out form his encounter, fell to the ground, and Bollman dragged the corporal down, pinning him to the ground and pushing a handkerchief into his mouth.
Huger helped Lafayette to his feet and shouted to him to take his horse, which had been trained to carry two men, and "get to Hoff," the village where the servant waited with the carriage built to conceal the general. Lafayette mounted and started to trot away, then stopped, apparently unwilling to leave the two behind. Waving him on, Huger again called out, "Get to Hoff!" and Lafayette rode off.
Huger and Bollman conferred for a moment and then released the corporal, who took off after Lafayette on foot. A peasant boy had stopped Bollman"s horse and returned it. When Huger spotted the horse he ran to it, helped Bollman up behind, and trotted off after Lafayette. Unfortunately, Bollman's horse was not trained for a double load and, when urged to go faster than a trot, bucked both riders off.
They remounted, but the horse bucked them off once more. Finally Huger told Bollman to take the horse and he would follow on foot. After Bollman rode off, Huger ran along the road leading to the mountains. Just when he thought he was safe, he heard shouting and looked back to see three men running after him. Huger began to run again, hoping to reach the mountains and slip across the Prussian border, but he was overtaken by a peasant on horseback who had joined the chase.
Seeing that it was impossible to escape, Huger gave up to the horseman;
the three escorted back to Olmutz, where he was turned over the soldiers.
He was immediately taken before General D'Arco, the
Huger answered the often pointed questions truthfully and in some
detail, telling of his meeting with
This argument did nothing to help Huger's case; D'Arco noted at the end
of this transcript of examination: "The culprit was turned over by the
military authorities to the Olmutz court, put in irons, as a criminal, and
held in the strictest custody." All Huger's possessions were taken from
him; an iron was put on his ankle, another around his waist, and he was
chained to a staple in the wall over a wooden
Lafayette, meanwhile, was alone in a unfamiliar area, as Hoff was
twenty-five miles form the prison at Olmutz. Complicating matters further,
Bollman had not told Lafayette of the escape route they would follow.
During the confusion resulting form the corporal's resistance, Lafayette
had misunderstood Huger's frantic advice for him to "get to Hoff." Not
recognizing the name of the city, Lafayette
Separated from his guides, the general reached a fork in the road-and
picked the road which led him away form Hoff and the waiting coach.
Covered with mud and blood form the fight, he rode into a
He kept a cool head and gave a plausible explanation for his appearance, and was about to be released when someone in the crowd recognized him. The general at first denied the identification, but when the mayor insisted he be taken to Olmutz to make certain, he admitted that he was indeed Lafayette and was escorted back to his cell.
Bollman was the only one to reach Hoff. Not finding Lafayette there, he guessed that the general had gotten lost and set out to try and find him, believing Lafayette might have tried to cross the border into Prussia by a different route. Bollman tried to pick up his trail, but a week later he too was arrested and taken to Olmutz to join Huger. The civil examination of Huger had begun and, since Huger spoke no German, a Professor Passi living in the vicinity was employed as interpreter.
For three months Huger and Bollman were kept in solitude and brought separately before the tribunal for examination. The early investigation centered on a suspected political plot involving Austrians. Finally the judges determined the two had worked independently of any local help and for the sole purpose of freeing Lafayette. The charges were reduced to "forcing a military post"; after that they were allowed a little more freedom and better food.
However, the examinations continued. There were efforts on many fronts
to help the two. Huger
At home, Huger's family wrote to George Washington, asking that the
President intervene to obtain Huger's freedom. Secretary of State Timothy
Pickering informed them that the President was concerned, but "...the
cause of Mr. Huger's confinement would render any application delicate
However, the Olmutz prisoners had more influential help closer to them in Austria. Mr. Passi, the interpreter who had been in on all the examinations of Huger, was a close friend to a Count Mitrowsky, who also became interested in the prisoners Huger and Bollman. Count Mitrowsky supplied money, which Passi used to bribe the judges, and when Huger and Bollman were found guilty they received a very light sentence of one month's labor in irons, followed by banishment form Austria.
With a little more money, the judges saw fit to reduce the sentence to fourteen days of confinement and banishment form Austria. The crown lawyers had reported to vienna, and a directive came back upbraiding the judges for their leniency and demanding the trial be reopened, but the demand came too late. The fourteen days had passed and the two prisoners were on their way to the United States.
Lafayette continued to be held prisoner until Bonaparte invaded Austria in 1797, forcing the emperor to sue for peace. The Directory asked Bonaparte to demand the release of Lafayette and the others in the Olmutz prison as a condition to the peace settlement. At last the famous general was freed September 19, 1797, just five years after his arrest on the Austrian frontier.
But the story does not end there. Bollman arrived in America and, failing repeatedly in business, became a land agent for Aaron Burr in 1805, which entangled him with the Burr plot to establish a western empire in the Louisiana Territory. Bollman was caught delivering some papers from Burr to General and Brother James Wilkinson and for the second time in twelve years was imprisoned.
However, he regained his freedom when the case did not hold up in court. Bollman died in Jamaica in 1821, just three years before Lafayette made his last trip to America. What was not publicly known was that Washington had been trying to make contact with Lafayette ever since the beginning of the French Revolution without success.
All of Washington's friends were of the nobility, and they had all fled to England-those who had not been imprisoned or executed. It may be well that Washington's search for Lafayette and his press for information contributed to the fact that Lafayette was held incognito, and so out of the reach of the French revolutionaries, thus saving his life!
As for Huger, on his return to America he married the daughter of Thomas Pickney. Finding the life of a medical man not to his liking, he divided his time between his plantation on the Santee River and a summer home in Statesburg, South Carolina, choosing the life of a rice farmer. Huger also served two terms in the South Carolina legislature.
In 1824 Lafayette arrived in America to revisit old familiar places and friends. He got in touch with Huger and heard of Bollman's death. Lafayette asked Huger to join him in New York and be one of his traveling companions for his stay in America.
Auguste Levasser, a member of Lafayette's party, wrote: "At a dinner, at the theatre, and the ball - in short, everywhere - the name of Huger was inscribed with that of Lafayette." There was even a play written entitled LAFAYETTE, OR THE CASTLE OF OLMUTZ, which the party attended in Philadelphia.
Huger, a very modest man, though willing to tell his story, said of himself, "I simply considered myself the representative of the young men of America, and acted accordingly."