Allen County Indiana Cemetery Project|
Augustine Mortin de La Balme
Augustin Mortin de La Balme
Probably the most colorful, yet controversial of the veterans of the American Revolution buried in Allen County was the French volunteer, Augustin Mottin de La Balme.
He was born in the year 1736 at St. Antoine in the former province of Dauphine, now Isere Department, in Southeast France. He began his military service in 1757 and took part in the Seven Years War. In June, 1763, he received an appointment in the French Army and the following year became inspector of the academies at Lyon. He had attained the rank of Major when he retired with a pension in 1773. His specialty was cavalry training, and two of his books on that subject were considered basic authorities.
However, when the American Revolution broke out, he attempted to participate on behalf of the Colonists against England, the hereditary enemy of his native country. On January 29, 1777, he applied for a passport but was refused on the grounds that France was still officially neutral and that it would be improper to allow one of its officers to engage in a war against a nation with whom they were at peace. La Balme then contacted the American agent for the colonies in Paris, Silas Deane, and through him secured a letter of recommendation addressed to John Hancock. This letter introduced La Balme as an able cavalry officer who could be a valuable asset to the American Army in forming this branch of the service. He also had a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin, dated January 20, 1777. With these impressive credentials he set out from Bordeaux with two other officers, as one source describes it, “Masquerading as a doctor”.
In spite of some resentment on the part of a number of American officers against preferential treatment being given French officers, La Balme was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of Horse on May 26, 1777, and in July of the following year was promoted to Colonel and Inspector-General of Cavalry. However, he was dissatisfied with a commission which deprived him of direct action against the enemy, so on October 11, 1777, Congress accepted his resignation as Inspector-General, leaving him with his commission as Colonel but without command, assignment or pay. He made plans to return to Paris and, after repeated requests to Congress, received funds for travel.
Apparently he abandoned that idea because he again wrote to Congress about a proposed conquest of Canada and offering his services. By this time the Congress was becoming increasingly impatient with his repeated communications, and in February of 1778 passed a resolution giving him $910.00 as final payment again all of his demands and advising him that “Congress have no further occasion for his services”. At this time he was in Philadelphia where he planned the opening of a workshop for the unemployed, particularly servicemen. From here he also issued notices in French, German and English calling for volunteers for the American army.
In May of 1789 he is believed to have taken part in an unsuccessful move to march against the British with a group of Indians that he helped organize in the Penobscot area of Maine.
By June of 1780 La Balme was at Fort Pitt attempting to raise volunteers for the American cause. His aim was to invade the Indian country at Vincennes and Kaskaskia in the west and attack and capture Detroit. He felt confident of assistance from the Indians who, for the most part, disliked the English. Having collected a few recruits at Kaskaskia in the Illinois country, he moved on to Vincennes, in Indiana, where he picked up reinforcements. The exact number of men engaged in the undertaking is not known, but authorities place the figure at around one Hundred.
Towards the end of October, 1780, La Balme and his small army began their move to the Miami Towns, now the site of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Located here at the British trading post was a store operated by the traders Beaubien and LaFontaine. On November 3, 1780, having successfully taken the village, La Balme’s men proceeded to plunder Beaubien’s store, and the party then encamped for the night on the banks of the Aboite River a few miles southwest of the town. In retaliation for the sacking of Beaubien’s store, the traders incited a party of Miami Indians to attack the unsuspecting French, many of whom were killed in the ensuing fight. La Balme himself was among those massacred. It was a tragic ending to a brave but ill-advised attempt to seize the important outpost of Detroit for the Americans.
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