Lauzun's Legion's Encampment in Wilmington DE in 1782-1783 

This is based on "The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route in the State
of Delaware 1781-1783" by Robert A. Selig (State of Delaware, 2003), pages 129-145.

Training | The Robbery | Going Home | Lauzun's Fate

Latest changes: 06Dec24 - move from DESSAR / 07Feb26 - go to new format / 08Oct26 - add those who died /

1782 Nov -- Lauzun's Legion was sent south from the main allied camp north of New York City to act as a mobile force to guard both the capital city of Philadelphia and the French siege artillery in Baltimore. The legion initially camped in Burlington NJ, but after six weeks there, Lauzun decided that Wilmington DE would provide better access to Baltimore.

1782 Dec 24 -- The Legion arrived at Wilmington and remained there for nearly five months. Training occupied much of the troops' time.

Hussar Training 

A great part of the time of officers and men in the hussar units was spent on taking care of their horses, maintaining equipment, guard and other military duties, and weapons drills and exercise. Numerous ordinances and regulations governed the set of exercises in which they were expected to become proficient.

For Lauzun's hussars that meant that the men were divided into three groups based on their riding skills. Within their groups they were to practice riding three times a week under the supervision of their officers and particularly skilled NCOs and enlisted men serving as riding teachers. The last and worst class of horsemen was to practice more often with times and frequency set by the commanding officer. Only the first two classes were to practice in gallop; all were to practice only in single file. At irregular intervals the colonel was to exercise each of the squadrons of his regiment separately.

In addition to these exercises, the troops during winter quarters -- which were defined as November through April -- were to exercise on a company level once a week in a hall or covered riding area and go through the manual of arms with the horses either walking or trotting. They were to be supervised and commanded in these exercises which were to last about a hour -- never more than one and a half hours -- by their officers and NCOs.

During the winter months officers and NCOs were to get theoretical instruction once a week, and the officers were to give particular attention to instruct their men in using their sword in combat which was to be practiced twice a week sitting on a wooden horse. In good weather the regiment was to mount every two weeks for a march of about 2 1/2 miles to get the horses and men used to riding in groups and in columns.

The legionnaires were good guests in Wilmington. Not a single incident of misbehavior during the Legion's four-month stay in Wilmington has come to light. This was surprising because "their pay is very Small, every five Days their pay is a quarter dollar." How small was that? The armies of France were at the very bottom of the pay-scale. Domestics in eighteenth-century France were paid on average 250 livres per year, several times the pay of soldier. Even though the salary was increased by 50% for the Expédition Particulière, a hussar made only 11 sols per day or 198 livres per year. From this 36% was taken to pay "stoppages" -- daily food costs at 2 sols for bread and 1 sol, 6 denier, for beef, plus 6 denier for the regiment's uniform and shoe fund.

A NOTE ABOUT CURRENCY: The French system of 1 livre = 20 sols = 240 deniers was paralleled by the British system of 1 pound = 20 shillings = 240 pence U.S. merchants kept their records in the British system or in Spanish dollars ("pieces of eight"). While exchange rates varied somewhat, a typical exchange rate was 1 Spanish dollar = 5 livres = 90 pence. So in order to buy a quart of rum that cost 3 shillings, 6 pence (which = 42 pence = 0.46 Spanish dollars) a hussar would have to save five days pay after stoppage (0.46 Spanish dollars = 2.3 livres = 46 sols; 46 sols divided by 9 sols/day = 5.11 days).

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The Robbery of the French Treasury 

Seven weeks after Lauzun's Legion departed Delaware's Attorney General, Gunning Bedford Jr., went before the Court of Oyer and Terminer to charge that around 8 PM on March 18, 1783, Richard Dowdle and John Clark of New Castle County "feloniously and burglariously did break and enter" into the home of Peter Brodelet and stole "ten thousand pieces of Silver Coin commonly called French Crowns of the Value of £ 4,168/13/4 lawful Money of the Delaware State," thereby acting "against the Peace and Dignity of the Delaware State." The case was so spectacular that the Pennsylvania Journal printed a letter outlining the case. NOTE: Spellings of Delaney's name vary and are given verbatim below.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . Wilmington, April 5, 1783

Agreeable to my promise, I have sat down to give you a full account of the robbery committed last spring on the French Treasury in this town -- the taking up of the villains, and recovery of great part of the money, two days since; and the little circumstances that fortunately lead to the discovery.

The morning after the fact was perpetrated, Martin Delaney, who occupied the house, in the cellar of which the money was lodged, Richard Dowdle, store keeper, of Christiana Bridge, and one Clark, near Bush Town in Maryland, were immediately suspected by every person who knew them. Delaney and Dowdle were apprehended, and very strictly examined. Both obstinately denied any knowledge of the crime.

Delaney's conduct in particular preceding the theft, was so artfully covered, and he gave such plausible reasons for every part of it, that the most embittered suspicion seemed to give up the charge. Dowdle's was rather thin to prevent doubts. His examination would scarcely bear a rehearsal. His answers were weak and embarrassed. However, the Justices and Burgesses thought it necessary to bind them over to the last May court. They then appeared, and the Judges continued to them bound over with new sureties until August next. From a few days after they were first apprehended, until Saturday last, suspicion seemed to have taken an (illegible), and a charge of guilt no more attented too, than the tedious rehearsal of an idle dream.

On Saturday morning then, a man who has latterly been deservedly neglected by his former acquaintances, on account of his intolerable appetite for liquor, waited upon his friend to request a small favour -- it was granted -- they sat down, and the conversation directly began about the robbery. He was particularly acquainted with Delany: he knew him well. As it continued, the laugh acted a principle part; and the superior skill of Delany to manage a point of such magnitude; the ingenuity he could make use of to cover the crime; and, the daring imputence with which he would brave it out, were, tolerably well painted.

He consistently mentioned Lallor (who was then in Wilmington) as the person, who changed the money for them. He had carefully watched their movements for some time, and, was fully convinced he was right. That little Negro girl of Delany's could give such information as would unravel the whole, if well managed. That Delaney had, that morning, taken a lock from one of the closets in the upper chamber, and put it on the box of a chair, which, he said, Lallor had made him a present of. That he intended setting out early next morning (Sunday) with his wife, for his plantation near Cantwell's Bridge; and had filed the chair-box with good old spirits to treat his friends when they came to visit him; and that he had (Delany' own expressions) "a dam'd good brace of pistols, well loaded a long time, family pieces, and he would take them with him.

Jacob Broom, who is one of the Burgesses of the town, and deserves the thanks of the community for his exertions in behalf of the public, soon had al this account laid before him; and, very judicially, concluded, that some of the transformed crowns would take an airing next day with the happy couple; and, accordingly, called a consultation of George Craghead, John Lea, and Thomas Kean, Esquires, stated the matter to them, and advised way-laying Delany at the Red Lyon, on his way down: This had not, for some reason, the desired effect, and the matter here rested until Tuesday morning, when Mr. Craighead and Broom accidently met in the street near to Capt. O'Flinn.

That something ought to be done, that night, was warmly urged by Mr. Broom, and chearfully agreed to by Mestrs Craighead, Kean, and Lea; and accordingly six persons were carefully selected, and orders given them to watch for that night. These persons, with an ingenious and meritorious address, secreted themselves about ten at night near Delany's house.

Expectation lengthened the time; but, take trust, servants of public virtue, they bore up against all the prevailing powers of sleep, till dawn of day, when they decried a man coming down the street in a sulkey -- saw him alight -- hitch his horse to a fence, and walk to Delany's house - taking up the latch of the door and letting it fall three times. Saw Mrs Delany open the door, with a candle in her hand, and let him in. Waited about fifteen minutes, and see Mrs Delany again open the door, and let him out; upon which the guard started up, ran, and seized Mr. Lallor.

They forced him back to Mr. Craighead's, and, in the presence of the Justices, found a pair of saddle bags across his right shoulder, the two ends curiously tyed round his waist, and his great coat on as common. Capt. Lea, one of the Justices, anxious to know the contents of the saddle bags, perhaps too hastily, thrust in his hand, and all besh-t his fingers; but, with his usual happiness of expression, humourously recounted the old adage, that shit-n luck was good luck.

Nine hundred and ninety crowns were found in the saddle bags, and, from the filth about them, no one doubted but they were brought out of the little-house. Lallor denied having any knowledge of them, and only said, he got about five hundred of them of Delany, and the rest he brought from Philadelphia to speck with. He was directly committed to prison.

A guard was immediately placed over Delany, messengers dispatched for Dowdle, and search took place in the little-house. The people crowded to the place, and a little time produced twenty-two bags, containing 4,400. Whilst this work was going forward, Dowdle was brought in, and both him and Delany had an opportunity of seeing the money produced from amongst the dirt.

Dowdle still denied, asserted his innocence, and told them if he was guilty he deserved no mercy. Delany, when he understood Dowdle was undergoing a severe examination, seeing the money lay scattered before him; and, afraid Dowdle might take the lead and speak first, as the facts spoke for themselves, his spirits began to fail, his resolution gave way, and in agony cryed out for Capt. Lea, to whom he made confession; that Dowdle, himself, and Clark was the only person concerned; that his wife was in the secret; that Clark and Dowdle took as many as they could carry away the night of the robbery, and that Lollar was to change them in Philadelphia for dollars or gold, having for his trouble a generous commission.

Dowdle and Delany were committed to goal, and are now in irons. Clark is not yet come to hand, though hourly expected and much wished for.

The first trial resulted in acquittal, but the state appealed the case, and the second jury found Dowdle and Clark guilty. Their punishment was severe. The court ordered them to restore to the French crown four times what had been stolen but not recovered. In addition, the court ordered that

"that they be whipped at the public whipping Post of the County, on Thursday the twenty first Day of this present Month August between the Hours of one and three o'Clock in the Afternoon with twenty one lashes each, on their bare Backs, well laid on, that they respectively, wear a Roman T as a Mark or Badge of their Crime of a red Color not less than four inches in length and one in breadth, on the outer part of the left Arm between the Shoulders and the Elbow at all Times that they shall travel or appear from their Habitations for the Space of six Months, and that they be committed to the public Goal until Restitution is made, Punishment inflicted, and costs of Prosecution be paid."

After the whipping Dowdle and Clark pleaded with the court that they had restored all the money they had stolen but that they still owed thousands of livres, so continued imprisonment would be tantamount to a sentence of death while costing the state money. They asked to be sold into indenture for up to 7 years and the money be used to cover cost of prosecution and restitution to the French crown. This was granted.

Lallor was tried before the Supreme Court, found guilty of a felony, and fined £ 375. Oddly enough, the ringleader Delany seems to have gotten away without even being charged with a crime.

Going Home at Last 

1783 May 9-11 -- Most of the Legion (over 530 troops) embarked from Wilmington on five vessels -- very short of sailors -- la Goire (90 hussars), la Danae (90 hussars), l"Astree (90 hussars), l'Active, and Le St. James (260 infantry), arriving at Brest, France about June 11. The Legion's two artillery companies marched to Baltimore under the command of Capt. François X. Christophe, baron de Hell.

1783 Oct 05 -- The last French unit left Baltimore on the U.S. transport Lauzun (loaned to France by the Continental Congress for this voyage) and the Pintade. The cargo consisted of the siege artillery and the artillery from Lauzun's Legion, with its guard force of 85 soldiers. The ships, guarded by two French frigates, arrived in Brest on November 10.

Some Did Not Go Home

Some mustered out and remained here: The French controles note the names of those who completed their enlistments while in the U.S., but it has been hard to find any of them seven years later in the 1790 U.S. Census. Perhaps many returned home.

One officer who remained in the U.S. is well-documented. Joseph Philipe Capelle, the assistant surgeon for Lauzun's Legion, sailed back to France with the Legion in May of 1783, but he soon returned to Delaware to marry, to help found the Delaware Medical Society, and to father several children. He is buried at Old Swede's Church in Wilmington DE

Some deserted: The French controles note their names, but it has been hard to find any of them in the 1790 Census. Perhaps many returned home. It is likely that there were changes in spelling of the names, and the deserters were likely reluctant to admit their true identities.

Some died: Five soldiers in the French Army died in Wilmington, Delaware, while Lauzun's Legion was stationed there from December 1782 to May 1783.

  • Jean Frederic ADAM from Saargemünden (Lorraine) died on 1783 Feb 15.
  • Christophe HERIOCK from Schwape (Hesse) died on 1783 Apr 12.
  • Conrad NEISSE from Saarbrücken (Nassau) died on 1783 Mar 09.
  • François REINEVILLE from Guibling/Lorraine (Sarregemuin) died on 1783 May 01.
  • Nicholas REMY from Berthelemy (Lorraine) died on 1783 Apr 24.
One soldier from the Hainault Regiment came here with Gen. d'Estaing's expedition in 1778-79 to relieve Philadelphia and died aboard the transport Lorraine while it was located in the Delaware River or Bay.
  • Mahieux LÉGER (called du Pont) died on 1778 Aug 06.
We do not know where they were buried.

Lauzun and the French Revolution 

After Lauzun returned to France he transformed his unit into a regular hussar regiment. He remained its proprietor until French Revolution started and the army was reformed in the summer of 1791. Within a year the revolutionary government in Paris had declared war on Austria and the regiment had fallen completely apart as the majority of its officers deserted and its chief administrative officer -- American War veteran quartier-maitre Sirjacques -- handed the regiment's funds, supplies, and records over to the enemy.

As the war with Austria went from bad to worse, the revolution turned on itself. Among the victims was Lauzun, who had initially welcomed the revolution. Despite faithful service in the Vendée, he ascended the scaffold on December 31, 1793. Flamboyant to the end, he shared his last meal with his executioner, encouraging him to drink by saying, "You must need courage in your profession."

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