Fiction > Susanna Haswell Rowson > Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth
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Susanna Haswell Rowson (1762–1824).  Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth.  1905.
 
Historical and Biographical Introduction
V. Montraville
 
BUT who was Montraville? Mrs. Rowson and her biographer, as well as others whose statements have been generally current since the story was written, have represented that he was Colonel John Montrésor, of the British Royal Engineers. Colonel Montrésor belonged to a line of successful military men, and was of ancient Norman lineage. His great-grandfather, at the time of the English Restoration, commanded the troops of General Monk, which took the Seven Bishops to the Tower of London, and his grandfather was a captain of cavalry, serving in all the wars of Marlborough.  1
  Colonel James G. Montrésor, his father, was resident for many years at Gibraltar as an engineer, and was present at the capture in 1727. In 1747 he was made chief engineer, the defenses of the fortress being greatly improved by him between that year and 1754, when he returned to England, and was appointed chief engineer of the expedition to America under General Braddock. Having arrived with the expedition at Alexandria, Virginia, he set out in June, 1754, in command of a force which prepared the roads for Braddock’s advance westward over the Allegheny Mountains, through a country largely unexplored, and leading to what is now Pittsburg. He was present at the overwhelming defeat of Braddock, where he was wounded. He made his way back with the retreating army under Washington, and was ordered to Albany, where he remained seven months, preparing plans for a new campaign in the North. He made a survey of the military positions about Lake Champlain, reconstructing a fort on Lake George, and, in 1760, erected on Fort George a new fort with accommodations for six hundred men, to which the name of Fort George was given.  2
  Colonel John Montrésor was born in 1736, while his father was stationed at Gibraltar. He came to America with his father, and went with him on the expedition to Fort Duquesne, being wounded in the disastrous battle. For some time he continued to serve in the Colonies as an engineer, and then went to Nova Scotia, where he was active during the long siege of Louisbourg. In 1759 he took part in the siege of Quebec, carrying despatches to General Amherst, showing much personal bravery in doing so, and was present at the capitulation. His abilities as an artist enabled him to make an excellent likeness, in profile, of General Wolfe “in his camp at Montmorenci, near Quebec, September 1, 1759,” or eleven days before the successful assault on the fortress. This portrait was afterward reproduced in mezzotint and published in London. He was employed, during the troubles growing out of Pontiac’s conspiracy, in constructing a line of redoubts at Niagara seven miles long, and in completing a fort on the shore of Lake Erie. In doing this work he made a forced march to Niagara with a regiment of Canadians.  3
  Colonel Montrésor was married on March 1, 1764, to Frances Tucker, whose portrait, painted by Copley, still exists in England. She was the only child of Thomas Tucker, of Bermuda, and by her he had ten children, of whom eight were born in New York. 1 He purchased, in 1770, an island in the East River, which received his name and bore it for some years afterward. It is now known as Randall’s Island. Here he made his home during the British ascendency, until January 1, 1777, when his house and other buildings on the island were destroyed by fire.  4
  Mrs. Rowson departs from this marriage as a fact in Montrésor’s history in that she attributes his desertion of Charlotte in part to his having met and become enamored of one Julia Franklin, a rich New York woman, whom he married shortly before Charlotte died, Charlotte having been portionless. Mrs. Rowson, from her relation to Montrésor as an own cousin, is known to have depicted his conduct with whatever extenuating circumstances she could employ, including the discovery of Belcour asleep in Charlotte’s room—a circumstance in which Charlotte, as the reader can see, was innocent of any disloyalty to Montraville. To have represented Montraville as already married would have made the case against him darker still, and hence, at this point, it may be argued that she introduced the Julia Franklin incident in order to spare his name from unnecessary odium, her main purpose being to point a moral. Moreover, to have presented Montraville as already married would have been bad art.  5
  During the occupation of Boston and New York by British troops Montrésor was the principal engineer in charge, and in December, 1775, received the appointment of chief engineer in America. During the twenty-four years he spent in this country he says he took part in eighteen actions, made thirty-two voyages, and served under fourteen commanders-in-chief, among them Braddock, Shirley, Loudon, Abercrombie, Amherst, Wolfe, Gage, Haldimand, Howe, and Clinton. To these names might be added that of Washington, since it was Washington who led the army back from Fort Duquesne after the defeat and death of Braddock.  6
  Socially Montrésor was prominent in the best circles. While stationed with the Army in Philadelphia, in 1777, he became one of the managers of the Mischianza, the famous farewell entertainment given to General Howe just before his departure for England, another of the managers being John André.  7
  Among the engineers’ maps and plans drawn up by Montrésor in America were the following: “A Drawn Elevation of Part of the North Front of Albany”; “A Drawn Plan of Port Erie, 1764”; “A Drawn Plan of Fort Niagara, with a Design for Constructing the Same, 1768”; “Plan of Boston, its Environs and Harbours, with the Rebel Works Raised Against the Town in 1775”; “Plan of the Action of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, from an Actual Survey”; “Plan of the City of New York and its Environs to Greenwich on the North, or Hudson’s River, and to Crown Point on the Sound, or East River, Surveyed in the Winter of 1775”; “A Map of the Province of New York, with Part of Pennsylvania and New England, from an Actual Survey, 1775”; “A Drawn Survey of the City of Philadelphia and its Environs, 1777.”  8
  In 1778 Montrésor retired from service in America, and in the autumn of that year, with the British fleet of one hundred and twenty-two ships, sailed for England, whence he never returned. He speaks in his journal of his health as extremely bad. “Very ill,” says he, “and a fistula coming on peu-á-peu.” Again he writes: “My wounds breaking out, and the old ball lodged in me ready to start; besides, a dreadful hydrocele—-in short, my existence rather doubtful should my complaints increase for want of proper assistance.” The following passages from the journal as relating to his services in America are of particular interest. They were written on shipboard during the voyage home:
          “My timely securing Lieutenant-Governor Colden and the stamps within Fort George at New York, in 1765, by temporary … defense, there being no parapet to the works, and commanded by the neighboring houses.”
  “In 1769 I divided the line between the Provinces of New York and New Jersey, by astronomical observations, so long a bone of contention, and in chancery so many years.”
  “I attended Lord Percy from Boston toward the battle of Lexington. My advancing some miles in front of his troops with four volunteers and securing the bridge across Cambridge River, 19th April, 1775, the town of Cambridge in arms, and I galloped through them.”
  “During part of General Gage’s command at Boston the garrison were distressed for want of specie, and also cartridges, which I undertook to remedy by supplying it £6,000 in gold, and got it sent on board the Asia, and so to us in Boston, Government insuring it.”
  “I was twice attempted to be assassinated for supporting the honor and credit of the Crown during my command in the course of the Rebellion—first near Brattle Square, at Boston, and second near the south end of Boston.”
  “My proposals to Sir William Howe for the landing on the Sound at New York, at Kip’s Bay, 2 contrary to the opinion of Lieutenant-General Clinton and the success that attended it. My landing from General Howe under the fire of five frigates.”
  “The 16th of September, 1776, the action on Vandewater’s Heights, near Harlem; no horses being near Mr. Gown’s, where the guns were, had them hauled by hand, and brought into action to face the enemy.” 3
  “At the Battle of Brandywine, 11th September, 1777, I directed the position and attack of most of the field trains.”
  “I gave the first information of the enemy’s abandoning the works near Brooklyn, and was the first man of them, with one corporal and six men, in front of the piquets.”
  “My hearing that the rebels had cut the King’s head off the equestrian statue (in the center of the Ellipps, 4 near the fort) at New York, which represented George III. in the figure of Marcus Aurelius, and that they had cut the nose off, clipped the laurels that were wreathed around his head, and drove a musket bullet part of the way through his head, and otherwise disfigured it, and that it was carried to Moore’s Tavern, adjoining Fort Washington on New York Island, in order to be fixed on a spike on the truck of that flag-staff as soon as it could be got ready, I immediately sent Cordy, through the rebel camp, in the beginning of September, 1776, to Cox, who kept the tavern at Kingsbridge, to steal it from thence and bury it, which was effected, and was dug up on our arrival, and I rewarded the men, and sent the head by the Lady Gage to Lord Townshend, in order to convince them at home of the infamous disposition of the ungrateful people of this distressed country.”
  “I lost two brothers in the service of this country, and a father who broke his heart in his retreat for being neglected and deceived by his Majesty’s deceitful servants, and my wife lost her father and a brother in this cause.”
  “I did honor to my corps (at least) by keeping an open table during the Rebellion, when provisions were so excessive scarce, and my house during it, the hospital for wounded officers, and my wife the matron from her indefatigable attention.”
  “I six times lost my baggage and as many times wounded. I never had any restitution from Government for my losses, as house and property on the island, dwelling and storehouses on Cruger’s Wharf, by the fire at New York.”
  9
  Colonel Montrésor remarks that “should the Colonies (after all) be lost to Great Britain, it may be attributed to a variety of unfortunate circumstances and blunders, etc.,” among which he names these:
          “General Gage having all his cabinet papers, ministers’ letters, etc., and his correspondence all stole out of a large closet or wardrobe, up one pair of stairs, on the landing at the Government House in Boston, 1775.”
  “Taking Post at Boston—a mere libel on common sense—being commanded all round—a mere target or man in the almanac, with the points of the swords directed at every feature.”
  “Not purchasing the rebel generals; even Israel Putnam, of Connecticut, 5 might have been bought to my certain knowledge for one dollar per day, or eight shillings New York currency.”
  “The sending of Burgoyne on a route where he never had been nor knew nothing of. Commanding officer of the artillery a parade man; neither knew American service; clogged with a needless heavy train of artillery; no engineer that had ever been there before; no plans, etc. Of all absurd things, dividing that little army, one division with St. Leger and the other with Skene—two madmen.”
  10
 
Note 1. “Dictionary of National Biography,” vol. 38, page 329. [back]
Note 2. Now the foot of East Thirty-fourth Street. [back]
Note 3. The Battle of Harlem Heights, fought near the present grounds of Columbia University, and McGown’s Pass, in the northeast part of Central Park, are here referred to. [back]
Note 4. Now known as Bowling Green. [back]
Note 5. Putnam was at Niagara with Montrésor in 1764. [back]
 
 
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