December 2, 2000
Approaching the Wisconsin city of Green Bay, at the southern end of that bay, I can't help wondering if the locals weren't a bit apprehensive at the last year's news item regarding the French Revolution. And that spoiler of pleasant fictions, DNA. I mean it doesn't rank up there with being tied in the last 13 seconds of a home game, with an inferior team on your twelve yard line, having three downs to go. Nothing like that. But still.
This story begins elsewhere. New York State, actually. In the year 1821 Eleazar Williams, a part French, part Mohawk, Episcopalian preacher began visiting the Oneida in the center of the state. Speaking their language fluently, he began efforts to reunite the two Christian groups of the tribe. He was not successful in these efforts. But he also believed that the tribe needed to move further west and get away from the influence of whites. He turned up in northeast Wisconsin the following year and began negotiating for land with the local Winnebago, Menominee and Ho-chunk. They resisted the idea at first but eventually the Menominee and the Ho-chunk agreed to the sale of over 65,000 acres for use of the Oneida. As several hundred York state Indians resettled near Green Bay, Williams was on his way to his ultimate goal, a new Iroquois Confederacy, west of Lake Michigan, with himself as its leader. It would not happen. Winnebago resistance to the idea continued and the Menominee began having second thoughts. Williams was unable to convince other Iroquois to make the move. He spent the next 25 years futilely waiting for the resurrection of his plans. Then, in 1853, he made one last stab at personal glory, a confession. He announced that in 1841, when France's Prince de Joinville toured the U. S. and visited Green Bay, they had met. According to Williams the nobleman had revealed a secret out of the past. Flashback time.
Late in the evening of July 3d, 1793, Marie Antoinette prepares for bed in her prison cell. Officials of the Revolution arrive suddenly to take her young son, the dauphin, away from her. In spite of her desperate, tearful pleading the boy is removed and set up in another part of the prison. He will spend almost the next two years there before dying miserably at the age of ten, probably of tuberculosis. The Committee of Public Safety decides word of the death must not get out. (If you've ever heard of Anastasia Romanov, read A Tale of Two Cities, or seen movies based on Alexndre Dumas, you know where this is going.) Once news of the dauphin's death is uncovered, the rumors begin flying. He didn't really die. Or someone did, but they had been substituted for the dauphin. It was said he had been spirited off to Yankeeland and was waiting quietly for the restoration. Now, in 1853, according to the preacher, the prince had revealed to him that he, Williams, was the Lost Dauphin. He claimed to have humbly kept his secret for 12 years, until a magazine had revealed the "truth". He died in 1870, his claims unproven. But it's not over yet. Just a year ago French geneticists announced they were going to compare DNA from Louis XVII's heart with that of his mother's hair. Should be interesting.
For Classical 91.5 and 90.3, this is David Minor
Chronicle of the French Revolution (London, Chronicle Publications, 1989) - French version (Paris, Editions Chronique, 1988)
Schama, Simon - Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (New York, Vintage/Random House, 1989)
URL OF THE WEEK
Did young Louis XVII escape from a French cell several years after being separated from his mother Marie Antoinette? Did he flee to America and call himself Eleazar Williams? Or was he in a witness protection plan under the alias of John James Audubon? Did Anastasia Romanov escape a rebel firing squad during the Russian Revolution? And who _is_ buried in Grant's Tomb? The answer to the first two questions can be found in Robert Neubecker's article "The End of Mystery" .
Searches on "Eleazar Williams" or "Audubon", combined with "lost dauphin" will take you to other sites that tell in greater detail the stories of these two "found" dauphins.
The Game's Afoot ! !
© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte