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Historic Houses

Frenchmen’s Place
Where the great statesman Talleyrand enjoyed the delights of Jersey’s garden-spot

From Historic Houses of New Jersey by W. Jay Mills, 1902
Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2002

Almost across the way from the Parsonage was a long, two-storied dwelling, shaded by several old trees, of which very little has been written, although for about six months it was the home of no less a personage than his Princely Highness the Bishop of Autun, better known in America as Monsieur de Talleyrand.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Peigord, destined to become one of the world’s most renowned diplomatists, was at the time a member of the large fraternity of France’s expatriates living in America. In February of the year 1794, the passage of the Alien Bill forcing him to leave England, he sailed for New York City, where he engaged in a mercantile business for a short period. John Barker Church, Alexander Hamilton’s brother-in-law, then a prominent figure in the London social world, furnished him with the money to reach our shores and keep him while here. At Down House, on the Thames near Windsor, and at the Churches’ London residence in historic Sackville Street he had been a welcome guest, and was something of a lion at the card-parties given by the fashionable Mrs. Church. It is related of him that he enjoyed sitting at a table where his slight deformity of a club-foot could not be noticed, and on such occasions his wif and repartee were always more brilliant.

Frenchmen's Place, Newark, In About 1830

Talleyrand won the regard of the hospitable Churches, and when he left London the following letter, written by Mrs. Church, introducing him to her friends Mr. and Mrs. Breck of Philadelphia, reposed in his portmanteau:

LONDON, Feb. 4, 1794

An absence of ten years has not impaired the memory of Mr. and Mrs. Breck’s civilities nor the hospitality with which they received me when a stranger at Boston, knowing them to be what I describe I request that Mess. de Tallyrand and de Beaumer may be of the number of those admitted to the pleasure of their acquaintance. Europe has seldom parted with persons of more information, and who go more inclined to appreciate the merits and manners of your countrymen. I am, therefore, anxious that they should have admittance to your family. These gentlemen intend to reside in America till France is at peace, when they may be restored to that eminence from which the unfortunate events in that country have deprived them. They were members of the constituent assembly; the advocates of Moderate Liberty, and friends of our suffering friend, Lafayette.

Will you excuse my taking this liberty, but I really so well know the goodness of your heart that I fear an apology would displease you. Mr. Church unites in compliments with me. Your old friend and acquaintance.


Pray recall me to Mrs. Breck’ s remembrance. I wish I could be useful to her here and that she would command me.

After giving up his business in New York City he proceeded to the capital, then the genial City of Brotherly Love, ever kind to foreigners, and established himself in Oellers’s famous tavern on Chestnut Street, where he made himself known to the leading citizens, who lost no time in their haste to entertain so great a celebrity.

William Cobbett wrote of him at that time as being on intimate terms with Thomas Jefferson, the head of the French faction, and all the Frenchmen in the city. He became somewhat of a meddler in our national affairs, and his liking for political controversy brought him only the poor reward of ostracization from the government circles. In the fall of that year he arrived in Newark, where he was destined to remain for some time. Who knows but that the peaceful town, bright with summer garniture, may have brought to the mind of the ci-devant bishop pictures of early days at St. Sulpice, or Rheims, and so lured him to stay awhile.

The house which he there occupied was near the southeast corner of Broad and Fair Streets, and subsequently became known as the David Alling house, where fine furniture was made, especially that “beautiful sofa and most elegant sideboard of an entirely new pattern,” designed for Lafayette’s rooms in the home of Judge Elisha Boudinot on the occasion of the old Revolutionary general’s farewell visit to Newark.

In the thirties, according to a local paper, it was a two-story-and-a-half brick structure, surrounded by a garden which extended to a small Revolutionary shanty on the corner, and a portion of it remained standing until quite recently. During the period Monsieur de Talleyrand spent there it was kept by a French emigre, whose name is lost to posterity. All that is known of him being the fact that he boarded several of his exiled countrymen and that his house was designated by the townspeople as Frenchmen’s Place.

Newark in 1794, from the accounts which have come down to us, was a very different place from the little village of Revolutionary days, with its few primitive and scattered dwellings. It was the chief market center of the State, and was rapidly becoming noted for the number of wealthy and cultured families drawn there by a charmingly rural situation, coupled with many of the advantages of large towns and cities. Travelers who passed through it and recorded their experiences in diaries dwelt with rapture on its wide roads, its orchards and gardens, and, above all, the advanced state of its society.

Among the families then most prominent were the Burnets, Ogdens, Plumes, Boudinots, Morrises, Lawrences, Ten Broecks, Brownes, Bruens, Huntingtons, Coes, and Johnsons. Captain Porter, the father of Admiral Porter, spent a summer about this time with the Gouvemeur family at their homestead on the Passaic, and becoming so enamored with the village, came there for several succeeding summers, braving the fat mosquitoes, which Washington Irving wrote of so wittily and later, Peter I. Van Berckel, Minister Plenipotentiary from the states of Holland, became one of its inhabitants. There were several distinguished English residents, notably a youth visiting the Farren family, who is said to have been a near relative of the famous actress of that name, and Colonel Hawke, a descendant of Admiral Hawke. Francis Rabineau, a miniature-painter of some note, also resided there. Fox-hunts and dances were the principal amusements of the gentry; and we must not forget theatricals, for several times the boys of the Academy, assisted by the young ladies of the town, essayed the roles of Mrs. Ichabod’s comedies, which in the latter years of the eighteenth century won so much applause at the old Greenwich Street Theatre in New York City.
In Washington Irving's “Memorandums for a Tour to be entitled ‘The Stranger in New Jersey, or Cockney Travelling,’” included in the “Salmagundi Papers,” Newark is mentioned as follows:
Newark-noted for its fine breed of fat mosquitoes-sting through the thickest boots -- Archy Gifford and his man Caliban - jolly fat fellows -- a knowing traveller always judges everything by the innkeepers and waiters-set down Newark people all fat as butter-learned dissertation on Archy Gifford’s green coat, with philosophical reasons why the Newarkites wear red worsted nightcaps, and turn their noses to the south when the wind blows -- Newark Academy full of windows -- sunshine excellent to make little boys grow.

One quaint custom, often bringing provincial France to the mind of Talleyrand and his fellow-boarders at Frenchmen’s Place, was the keeping of a town shepherd, who could be seen almost any day with his many flocks of sheep and guardian dogs in Orange Grove, Lover’s Walk, or on the common in the heart of the village. History has left us no record of what the brilliant grand seigneur thought of the fox-hunting Newarkers, but he must have been as well received there as in Philadelphia, for George Washington wrote to the Marquis of Lansdowne, in the latter part of August of that year, “I hear that the general reception he has met with is such to compensate him, as &r as the state of our society will permit, for what he has abandoned on quitting Europe.” No doubt the dowagers and maids of Newark of that time were glad of Monsieur de Talleyrand’s presence among them, for then, as now, a title carried a certain amount of lustre, and many a fair Jersey daughter could have sung with the country girl in a comic song of the time, called “The Marquis Ragadouz,”-

“Oh, mind your p’s and mind your q’s,
Here comes the Marquis Ragadouz.
Of all the dandies whom I know,
I much prefer him for a beau.”

But whatever heart Monsieur de Talleyrand possessed was safe in France, and while the Newark citizens were paying court to him his mind was no doubt dreaming and planning the future coups of statesmanship which made him so famous in after years as the chief adviser of many a regime.

While in Newark Monsieur de Talleyrand most likely prosecuted those studies of American institutions and commerce which resulted in his widely read essay, “Une Memoire sur les Relations Commerciales des Etats Unis Vers, 1797,” published in France when be was one of the shining lights of Madame de Stael’s famous salon. It is said he invested some of his meager wealth in a commercial enterprise when in America, by taking shares in a trading vessel’s cargo going to the West Indies. It is to be hoped that the vessel was not the “Black Prince,” fitted out by a Mr. Camp, a merchant of Newark, which sailed away about this time with so many Jersey fortunes to be swallowed up by the treacherous sea.

Before Monsieur de Talleyrand bade good-by to Jersey’s garden-spot, it is traditionally asserted that the picturesque dreamer and explorer Francois Auguste, Viscount de Chateaubriand, came over from Philadelphia to see him, but it seems doubtful that a man of Talleyrand’s crafty nature, of whom Napoleon once said that “he treated his enemies as if they were one day to become his friends, and his friends as if they were to become his enemies,” could have been pleasing enough to the young and poetical Chateaubriand, to draw him from the fascinating Quaker City.

It is said that Monsieur de Talleyrand taught a French school during his stay in Newark; but this does not seem to agree with the fact that he and his friends at the Frenchmen’s Place kept a stable of horses, and, according to a Newark Frenchman known to the last generation, that Talleyrand wore a diamond in his shirt-front as large as a pea. At any rate, he was a fascinating figure in the city’s early history, when Broad Street was truly the garden-spot of New Jersey.

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