Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
A Short History of Asylum by Ingham
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA
A Short History of Asylum

by J. W. Ingham, 1916

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(The writer of this sketch has deemed it proper to give here, as preliminary thereto, the following brief review of the events which led up to the French Revolution, and drove these exiles to the wilds of Northern Pennsylvania.)




In the year 1754 the King of France, Louis XV, died after a long reign of 58 years. The latter part of his private life was disgraceful; his administration of public affairs was feeble, and his death was not regretted. He was succeeded by his grandson, Louis XVI. In the four years previous to his succession to the throne, he had lost by death his father and elder brother, both of whom had stood between him and the Kingship. His mother had died about the same time. This unusual mortality in a healthy family was, by some suspicious people, unjustly attributed to poison.

Louis was a good man morally and no doubt earnest in his endeavors to reform abuses and promote the happiness of his people, but unfortunately the existing state of affairs in France precluded any gradual change of government for the better. The church, the nobility, and privileged classes, controlled the government and dictated its policy. At the very commencement of his reign, Louis, though with some sacrifice of his feelings and opinions, complied with the general wish of having the old parliaments, which had not been assembled for a hundred years, restored. Accordingly, a measure was adopted for the restoration of this ancient legislative assembly. The King had taken into his service two ministers favorable to the wishes of the people, - Count de Maurepas and M. Turgot, - both men of ability and desirous of satisfying the people so far as the King was able to do so.

Unfortunately, they were lacking in that important gift of statesmanship called "Tact" or conciliation. They did not say to the priests, bishops, dukes, counts, and landed gentlemen: "The common people are clamoring loudly for reforms in the government. It would be to your interest to grant some of the things they are demanding, which would satisfy them. Otherwise they might bring on a revolution, proclaim a republic, and take away all your just rights, as well as privileges." This kind of management might have done real good and prevented the Revolution and could have done no harm. Instead of this, Turgot declared: "The only remedies to correct the ills of France were economy, and the abolition of privileges so that all people should be taxed alike." For this truthful declaration he was forced to resign.

The American Revolution had been successful. News of the Declaration of Rights (or Declaration of Independence) had crossed the ocean and had been circulated in France, where it was well calculated to encourage revolutionary movements. The Catholic Church, which was supported by the government, with taxes levied on all the people whether they belonged to it or not, created a great deal of angry discussion. Philosophers attacked the Jesuits, the monastic orders, the priests and the Pope of Rome. Tytler, in his history, says: "The errors of Catholicism, upheld by a bigoted, infatuated clergy at variance with the only assemblies in the nation capable of any constitutional remonstrance (against tyranny) naturally hurried the wits and free-thinkers of that lively nation into extremes, which every sober-minded man could not fail to lament. In a very short course of time, from railing at the regular clergy, they proceeded to rail at religion, and even atheism was propagated."

Both in the Parliament, when assembled, and the States General (another legislative chamber that had been called into existence) there were exciting debates, and furious contentions. At this memorable period an infatuation, the most surprising, seemed to hurry on the privileged orders to their ruin and destruction, and with them the monarchy. Instead of bending in any manner to the force of popular opinion, they, more strongly than ever, stood on their privileges, and appeared to treat with contempt that powerful and enlightened majority that was opposed to them.

The descendents of the ancient aristocracy did not number more than two hundred families, but the numbers of those who had bought their titles of Dukes, and Counts, amounted to several thousand. The parliament, the States General, and another body called the "Commons" combined their powers and took the name of "The National Assembly" in which the nobility and clergy distinguished themselves by wearing robes of rare richness and beauty. They did not seem to know that their imprudence would injure them. In 1789 an act was passed for the abolition of the privileges of the nobles and clergy; and persons of every rank and description were declared to be eligible to all civil, military, and ecclesiastical appointments.

The royal family were (sic) exposed to horrible insults and indignities at Versailles, where the royal palace was located, and almost forced to remove to Paris. Measures were adopted by the Assembly to place all church property at the disposal of the nation; dissolve all monastic establishments; feudal privileges and rights, and to suppress the Provincial Parliaments, (or local rule). Every law was voted by acclamation and scarcely any debate allowed. There were several important grievances, all working together, which brought on the French Revolution. The common people had no voice whatever in the government under which they lived, or in the enactment of the laws which they were forced to obey. The taxes were exorbitant, and those collected from the common people greater in proportion than those paid by the land owners and wealthy classes. It was "Taxation without representation" against which the American colonists rebelled.

The Bastile (sic) was a strong fortress armed with cannon, and used as a state's prison, mainly for the incarceration of political offenders. Owing to the natural clemency of the King it was now almost empty, holding fewer convicts than every before.

On the 14th of July, 1789, a false rumor was circulated that the commander of the old prison had received orders to turn the guns on the city. A furious mob rushed to attack it, and was fired on by the guards, killing several of the assailants, and the guards themselves were killed in the fight. Their heads were stuck on pikes and carried through the city. The building was completely demolished. When the news was taken to the King he said: "It is an insurrection!" "Sire," said the messenger, "it is more than that, - it is a terrible revolution!"

At this time, and for some time afterwards, General Lafayette was in sympathy with the revolution and acting with them. He sent the key of the Bastile (sic) to General Washington, under whom he had served inn the American Revolution.

In 1792 Prussia and Austria had intervened to assist the King of France. Their intervention wa harmful, instead of beneficial to the King. He was accused to calling in the enemies of France to sustain his power against the people. This false charge sealed his doom. The regular army was sent to the frontiers to repel the advance of a Prussian army under the command of the Duke of Brunswick. An army of militia was organized and placed under the command of General Lafayette to make it appear more respectable. It was well known to Robespierre and his lawless gang, that the militia would not fire on the Parisian mobs. In the month of August a furious attack was made on the King's palace, and in its defence (sic) his guards fired on the mob, killing several, and were themselves killed. The reign of terror was now supreme. The execrable and unscrupulous Robespierre was at the head of affairs. Space would not admit the description of the atrocities of his merciless career. Lafayette resigned from the army, unwilling to serve under the monster. Many who were suspected of favoring the royalists were thrust into prison, and there assassinated without trial, unseen. The number thus put to death in private was computed at five thousand. The King, after the mockery of a pretended trial, was condemned to death and beheaded. Not long afterwards, his Queen, an amiable woman, and the daughter of a great queen (Maria Theresa) suffered the same fate. In his trial before the national assembly, the King defended himself with great firmness, and simplicity of language. He said: "I had no wish to injure my subjects. No intention of shedding their blood." He declared that his conscience fully acquitted him of the things laid to his charge. His declaration was true. He was in no way responsible for the sufferings of the common people from unjust laws and institutions established long before he was born. He had favored every measure for reforming abuses that had been proposed in the Assembly.

The men like Lafayette, who had at the beginning taken a part in the revolution, had not the faintest idea that it would be transformed into the awful thing it had become in making the finest city in the world a human slaughter house. They were few in numbers as compared with the rabble that rallied around the standard of Robespierre, and the other unprincipled demagogues who acted with him.

Refusing to join in the wholesale carnage of crimes, Lafayette and his friends were imprisoned. During this period of anarchy, seventy thousand Frenchmen fled from their homes, mainly to other countries in Europe. A few rushed to Haiti, or San Domingo, unconsciously into still greater danger. It was like "jumping out of the frying pan into the fire." The island belonged to France and Spain, the former owning about one-third of the western end, where the French had several towns, and large plantations well stocked with negro (sic) slaves. The situation was dangerous in the extreme. When the sharp ears of the slaves heard of the revolution in France, and that the people had been successful in obtaining their just rights, they revolted against their masters and fought for their freedom. This bloody conflict was termed the "Horrors of San Domingo." Many of the exiles came to America, taking up their residence in Philadelphia, at that time the largest city in the United States, and the capital of the nation. All were cordially received by the citizens of that place, who entertained very friendly feelings towards the French, on account of the assistance given by their country to the American Colonies during the Revolutionary War.

General Lafayette, Viscount Louis de Noailles, and other French officers, had come over and volunteered to serve in the army under General Washington. The houses of native Americans were opened to the exiles, as were the houses of their own countrymen, like Stephen Girard, the wealthy merchant, who had long been a resident of the city. However, so great was the number of the refugees it was deemed by their leaders and themselves necessary that some provision should be made for their settlement as a colony in the country where it was expected more refugees would come and where they would not be burdensome to their entertainers, and where they could enjoy more comfort and independence.

The two most active and influential promoters of the colony scheme were the Viscount Louis Marie de Noailles, and the Marquis Antoine Omer Talon. The former, who was generally called "The Count" by Americans, was born in Paris, April 17th, 1756. Early in life he entered the military service of his country as an officer, and had received promotions for good conduct. In 1779 he resigned his commission in the army and came over with Gen. Lafayette and other French officers to assist the United States in obtaining their independence. He was several times mentioned for bravery by Washington in his general orders, and was one of the officers appointed by him to receive the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.

At the conclusion of peace he returned to France, and though he belonged to the nobility himself, with a long line of titled ancestors, he became one of the most zealous and active advocates of the popular cause. He was a deputy of the nobility to the States General in 1789, and subsequently a member of the National Assembly, where on the 4th of August of that year, he proposed the celebrated acts by which the whole federal system, with its abuses and class privileges, was abolished. He was active in the re-organization of the army, colonel of a regiment, (the highest position he would accept), and Field Marshal of Sedan. At length, like many other zealous Republicans, he fell under the displeasure of Robespierre, because he would not sanction his policy of murder, was condemned to death and his property confiscated. He managed to escape to England and from there came to America, and took up his residence in Philadelphia, where he found many of the friends and acquaintances he had met when serving in the army of the United States.

Mr. Wansey, and Englishman who resided in Philadelphia during the time of the settlement at Asylum, wrote in his journal as follows:

"June 8th, 1794. I dined this day with Mr. Bingham, to whom I had an introduction. There dined with us Mr. Willing, president of the Bank of the United States, (the father of Mrs. Bingham), Monsieur Callot, the exiled Governor of Guadaloupe, and the famous Viscount de Noailles, who distinguished himself so much in the first Constituent National Assembly, August 4, 1879 (sic). He is now engaged in forming a settlement about sixty-five miles above Northumberland town. It is called "Asylum" and stands on the eastern branch of the Susquehanna. His lady, the sister of Madame Lafayette, with his mother and grand-mother, were guillotined without trial by that arch villian (sic) Robespierre."

A French biographer states that "Noailles has become discouraged at the condition in France. The revolution had not been carried out as he expected and desired, and he resigned his commission in the army and went to England and thence to America of his own free will and accord." Then why did he not take his wife and two young sons along? Mr. Wansey lived at Philadelphia at the time of the French flight to that place (and as he stated) had his information at first hand. (Mr. Wansey removed from Philadelphia to Towanda, Pa., previous to 1842.)

At the accession of Napoleon Bonaparte as First Consul, de Noailles estates were restored to him, but he did not return with the other exiles. He was in partnership with William Bingham in the banking business, had probably sold his estates as he needed cash in hand in his business more than land. Bingham was the first United States senator from Pennsylvania. A Mr. Douglas states that de Noailles in 1803 went to Haiti on business and was there persuaded by Rochambeau, (the French General) to take the command of a fort besieged by an English squadron. When summoned to surrender de Noailles answer was: A French general who has provisions, munitions and devoted soldiers, could not surrender without shame." He then got his men on board a ship in the night without being discovered, and went to Cuba. Soon afterwards he embarked in a small ship with a company of grenadiers. They fell in with a British sloop of war - the "Hazzard" - whose captain he deceived by displaying the British flag, and speaking excellent English. The British captain asked if he had seen anything of de Noailles, whom he was commissioned to capture. De Noailles replied he was on the same errand. They sailed together and in the middle of the night de Noailles rammed the British vessel and then boarded it. After a long, bloody fight, in which he received a mortal wound, he captured the vessel. He died a week later, off the harbor of Havana, Cuba. There is a doubtful story that his soldiers, by whom he was greatly beloved, enclosed his heart in a silver box and attached it to their flag.

About 1791, Madame Laval, (whose husband had been executed) accompanied by her daughter, landed at Philadelphia. From thence, accompanied by their mechanics and laborers, she removed to Trenton Point, now known as Lamogne. She had considerable money, bought land, and endeavored to induce French exiles to settle there, but the Asylum project of settling in the woods on cheap land, was now being so well advertised and so attractive, that Madame Laval's colony at Trenton Point did not increase much in numbers.

Marquise Antoine Omer Talon was born in Paris, Jan. 20th, 1760. He belonged to one of the most illustrious families of the French magistracy, or law judges. He was Advocate General, (or Attorney General) when the revolution of 1789 broke out and where he did his duty as an able lawyer, and was distinguished for his fearless defense of the royal prerogatives. In 1790 he was compromised in the flight of the King, Louis XVII, was arrested and imprisoned for a month. His loyalty to the King angered Robespierre and his conclave, and his arrest for the second time was ordered. Knowing what his fate this time would be, he kept himself secreted for several months and fled to Marseilles, where he lay in hiding for several weeks. Here a young Frenchman (Bartholomew Laporte), who had been a wine merchant at Cadiz in Spain, and had his property confiscated, was desirous of getting to America, as was the case with Talon. They had become acquainted. There was an opportunity to embark in an English ship and Laporte and some friends put Talon into a large wine cask and carried him on board, where he kept concealed until the vessel sailed. On reaching England Talon engaged a passage for himself and Laporte to Philadelphia, where they arrived early in 1793, and where he was afterwards naturalized as a citizen of the United States.

He had brought money, and his hospitality to his less fortunate countrymen was unbounded. When the settlement at Asylum had been determined upon he became one of its active promoters, and general manager. Talon and de Noailles had been political enemies in France, one on the side of the people, and the other on the side of the King. Both were now companions in exile and misfortune. They soon became warm personal friends and co-workers in the colony enterprise. They joined heartily in the plan to buy lands on the Susquehanna and secure a home for their unfortunate countrymen, who had fled from the terrors of the guillotine, with but little money, and whose estates had been confiscated.

The first land purchase company with which Noailles and Talon had been connected, after having been once altered, was entirely dissolved on account of the financial failure of Robert Morris and John Nicholson, after which Noailles and Talon formed a new company, retaining a large body of land in Bradford, Sullivan, Lycoming and Luzerne counties. Unimproved lands in Pennsylvania were cheap in those days, only a few cents per acre, but land titles were very insecure, owing to the conflicting claims of Pennsylvania and Connecticut for Jurisdiction. In the organization of the new company, October 26th, 1801, Noailles was to manage its concerns in Philadelphia, and Talon was to superintend the affairs at Asylum, for which he was to receive three thousand dollars a year as his salary.

The building, and other necessary expenses of the establishment, were to be paid by the company.
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Published On Tri-Counties Site On 9/20/99
By Joyce M. Tice