During the Battle of Plattsburgh Commemoration Open House at KDH, I fielded a number of questions of who Henry Delord was and how did he come to be in Plattsburgh. Due to time and people’s attention spans, I give the short version of his history, that is: Henry immigrated to the U.S. from France by way of the Caribbean; settled first near the Quaker Union in Peru; bought this house (now museum) and moved to Plattsburgh where his business interests were flourishing. Then the story usually focuses on his part in the Battle of Plattsburgh—how he and his partner William Bailey allowed the troops to buy supplies on credit in their business, the Red Store. Then we sort of skip over to the part where he went bankrupt due to the U.S. Government not making good on those I.O.U.s and consequently Henry’s house and household items being sold in a sheriff’s auction.
The longer story is fascinating especially since we can read it in his own words!
Since he left Nimes , France in 1784 at age twenty to seek his fortune in the Caribbean, Henry had no contact with his family. The following is an excerpt from a letter Henry wrote on May 14, 1820, to his sister after finally finding that she was the last of his family surviving in his homeland. This part of the letter, written in French (Henry’s native language), documents those early events of his life as Henry saw them. The original letters are in SUNY Plattsburgh Special Collections. The translation of the letters was done sometime in the 1990s by a dedicated Museum Volunteer, Denise Debevec. Even though Henry’s penmanship was precise, age and deterioration of paper and ink made some words unreadable/illegible.
My dear sister,
To inform you of all what happened to me at Ste. Lucie and of the causes of these events, I start with the year 1789; the troubles and misfortunes/calamities of the revolution [French Revolution] started to be felt in the island because of the (illegible) of the National Assembly—a Colonial Assembly was elected by the inhabitants—to which Assembly I was elected every year until 1794. The island had been spared the (illegible) which were threatening it. To tell you all the (illegible), horrors and (illegible) that were perpetrated would make you blood freeze from fright and would renew for me that (illegible). It is better to pass over it in silence/to ignore them.
The island was conquered by the English in April of the same year —a few days after several inhabitants who were considered dangerous or (illegible) were arrested and sent to London. At that time I was chosen against my will Commissar for the district of the Old Fort, where I lived—after 6 months of peaceful possession by the British, a general rebellion occurred in the island, caused by the (illegible) of a certain Victor Hughes who had already taken over the island of Guadeloupe. At that time everything was in an appalling condition and I cannot describe you the terror and dismay which were (illegible). Arson (illegible) in the streets everywhere, the farms burning. Under these terrible calamities I was caught by those cannibals who invented (illegible) unknown to (illegible)—my properties were confiscated; I lost everything which was dear to me and was reduced to the most miserable condition—and every moment expecting to be murdered. They took the island from the English and organized it according to their ferocious system. A certain (illegible) was dispatched, from Guadeloupe to administer the island—their treasurer being sick, I was then taken away from the (illegible) of slavery I was in and put in charge of the Treasure [Treasury?].
In May 1796 the English under the Generals Albercromby and John Moor took the island back from these murderers. I was again detained and forced to act under General Moor. My health being at that time very poor because of the miseries, cruelties and sufferings I had sustained—exhausted by fatigue and pain I decided to leave the island forever—which was difficult—nevertheless I was lucky enough to be granted permission upon my word of honour—that I would remain in the United States during the war which was prevailing between England and France and having accepted these conditions I left this fateful island in September 1796 and landed/docked in New York the following October.
Bored by the confusion which prevails in big towns, after recovering, I came to the location where I now reside there after learning about the people and the language I rented a store and in less that 16 years I was able to earn enough to look forward to returning home with at least 500,000 pounds in gold.
In June 1812 unfortunately a war was declared between England and this country–Plattsburgh was invaded by the English in July 1813 [Murray’s Raid]—everything was (illegible). The loss of that day was only 30,000 pounds. The English retreated. Our American government had the place fortified and garrisoned. The members in the Congress did not agree concerning the war expenses, the government had financial difficulties and was short of money. The large army we had here did not receive their pay and became (illegible). The Generals told me their difficulties and fears and I felt it my duty under so (illegible) circumstances to help them providing for the troop what was necessary. On September 11, 1814 Plattsburgh was again attacked by the English (with their hordes of savages) by land and by the waters of that Lake Champlain on which shore the city is located. The English took a part of Plattsburgh, they commandeered the house in which I am now. My loses that second time were heavier that the first time. The English were [illegible] to retreat with the loss of their fleet and the land army was [illegible]. You cannot [illegible] my dear Julie the awful events I eye-witnessed and so often, that I believe it is astonishing that I am still alive.
On February 10, 1815 I had [illegible] an attack of rheumatism that they feared for my life, I suffered a great deal, I was 18 months weak and convalescent to the point that I could not take care of my businesses. Thanks to God it is the only malady I suffered since in this country—since then my health has always been good. Unluckily for me during my sickness, of the troops to which I had lent so much money, half was discharged without pay—the other half was kept in service but in New Orleans. My losses during the war amount of 4000,000 pounds—what I own here is in real estate land and houses (in this town) the interest is enough, so that without being rich, we live comfortably if we are thrifty. The house we live in is ours, it is large and eminent, the garden covers about 5 acres. How happy we would be to have you and my Aunt Catherine here with us.
In July 1817 the President of the United States came to visit Plattsburgh. He stayed 2 days here and spent most of his time in my home. He is well learned and has an excellent heart. He is esteemed and respected like a good King. My letter is already so long. My dear Julie, that I am afraid to annoy you but let me ask you to send me a memorandum with the age of our father, mother, brothers, sisters as well as our Aunt Susan Delord—that will give me great satisfaction—would make my wife and my dear Francoise [Frances Henrietta] very happy too.
President James Monroe’s invitation to dine with “Judge de Lord”
Henry’s correspondence to France began in 1819 with a letter to a judge in Nimes requesting information on his family. Early the next year, Henry was thrilled to get a letter from his sister, Julie. Over the next four years the siblings exchanged letters detailing their lives. Even Betsey wrote to her newly discovered sister-in-law, which Henry translated into French. After Henry died in 1825, Betsey continued the correspondence, when she could find someone to translate for her, with the last letter we have dated 1830. Julie died in 1832, which necessitated Frances Henrietta to hasten her wedding date in order to go to Nimes, France and collect her inheritance, as she was the last of the Delord family.
Portrait of Henry Delord
by Abraham G.D. Tuthill