Since March is Women’s History Month, and March 8 was International (Working) Women’s Day, I developed a character sketch on Madame Rosalie Bacler, a French émigré who came to the United States during the French Revolution, and who was a “working” woman, a “noble” who planned a French refugee colony in the Massachusetts Territory of Maine. Whenever I “introduce” this historical female to people, they become fascinated. Madame is the main character in the historical romance novel that I am attempting to write.
Frederick S. Allis, Jr.* suggests that Madame played a minor chapter in the larger story of the French Revolutionary War emigration from France to the United States. I contend she plays a major role, if not in land speculation and emigration, in the fact that Madame, within two months of arriving in the United States, and minimal knowledge of the English language, was dealing in land speculation with two of the major American land speculators, Henry Knox and William Duer. In less than two years, she was negotiating with William Bingham and Alexander Baring. Although her dreams were not realized, it was not due to her ineptitude in business and skill, but due to the financial over-extension and financial irresponsibility of both Henry Knox and Henry Jackson.
Madame Rosalie Bacler de la Val, a French émigré who came to the United States to escape the atrocities of the French revolution, was an independent land speculator/settler in what is known today as Hancock County, Maine. In the 1790s, this region was the Maine Territory of the State of Massachusetts, part of the Penobscot Land Tract purchased from the State of Massachusetts by land speculators Henry Knox and William Duer.
Only about ten percent of the post-American Revolution land speculators worked independently, outside a company. None, as far as I have encountered, were women—much less foreign émigrés. This identifies Madame as a strong and unique woman.
The novel I am working on is historic romance. Madame the heroine in the first half of my work, will be placed in and developed through the context of actual historic documents. It is my task to demonstrate that her identity is not an extension of the men in her life, but is a result of both her gifts and her flaws.
The truth be known, Madame was not “into” romance, needing neither marriage nor a relationship with any man to determine her identity. Men were simply a means to an end. However, in her culture, in her times, they were also necessary evil if a strong women wanted to achieve her goals.
Whether she was married in France or simply had a relationship with the man identified on documents as “her husband” is unclear. What is clear is that she had a relationship with Jean Antoine Gontran Marzel de Leval, one that provided her with a power of attorney which enabled her to purchase land in the United States and may have provided her with an ultimately worthless deed for twelve hundred acres of Scioto (Ohio) land.
He was also likely the father of her daughter, Saraphine.
In the United States, the persons Madame connected with were necessarily male, since that was the gender of the land speculators. Within three months of arriving in the country, she had developed a relationship with William Duer, Henry Knox and Henry Jackson, all major players in the Scioto Land grant fiasco and the Penobscot Tract purchase. She was also involved with the Netherlands ambassadors to the United States, father Herre Van Berckle and his son and Franco Van Berckle.
That she had plans to enter land speculation prior to her leaving France is implied by her intelligence, business acumen, and the speed with which she entered the playing field. After inspecting the land with her partner, Jean Baptiste de la Roche , she completed a contract to purchase land they had viewed from atop Schoodic Mountain, laid out the plans for a colony where French émigrés find refuge, and successfully sought settlers. All her actions awaited her receipt of the deeds. These actions were outside the images and ideas of what women were expected to be in the 1790s.
Throughout the material available on Madame, little reference is made of her Continue reading