Lafayette as a lieutenant general, in 1791. Portrait by Joseph-Désiré Court
The letter was written from Lafayette to the General of Engineers, Baron Simon Bernard (1779-1839) who at the time was part of the U.S. Board of Engineers. Like Lafayette he would return to France in 1830 and assist in the “Second French Revolution”. In the letter Lafayette asks Bernard if he could assist a M. de Büren and a M. Zehender who along with other Swiss who are eager to found an agricultural concern in Florida, with the principal intention of planting wine grapes.
Letter original © Raab Collection
The transcribed French text and English translation follow below:
Paris, 29 avril 1829
Je ne sais, Mon cher Général, quand et ou cette lettre vous parviendra; mais je voudrais bien vous présenter M. M. de Büren et Zehender qui vont avec quelques vignerons en Floride pour former un établissement. C’est d’après les renseignements qui me furent envoyés de Tallahassee que ces messieurs ont pris parti. Ils sont liés avec M. Morlot de Crousaz, riche citoyen de Berne, qui souhaite lui même porter des capitaux en Floride. Il paraît que le gouvernement helvétique s’occupe d’encourager l’émigration Suisse vers les Etats-Unis; cela vaudrait bien mieux que ces capitulations au service des monarques européens, dont les nations ne veulent plus, et dont la Suisse elle même est fort d’égouttée. M. de Büren était officier dans les troupes Suisses des Pays Bas, c’est le seul des deux qui est passé à Paris. Ce jeune homme est Républicain à la manière Américaine; Il veut établir en Floride, en nommément sur mes propriétés, une habitation cultivée par des mains blanches et libres. Il s’agit d’introduire en Floride la culture de la vigne, de l’olivier, du ver à soie. Si cet essai est bien accueilli dans le pays, et que ces messieurs en vendent de bons comptes chez eux, j’espère qu’il en reviendra à la Floride un accroissement de capital agricole et l’introduction de bons cultivateurs. Vous savez combien l’état de l’Ohio a profité des emigrations. Pourquoi ne rendrait-on pas le même service aux belles salubres et fertiles parties de la Floride? Je donne à ces M. M. une lettre pour mon ami et fondé de pouvoir Graham; et je vous prie de leur rendre les services qui dépendront de vous. Recevez, mon cher Général, l’expression de la tendre amitié que je vous ai vouée pour la vie. Lafayette.
Paris, April 29, 1829
I do not know, my dear General, when or where this letter will reach you; but I would like to present to you Messieurs de Buren and Zehender, who are traveling to Florida with some winegrowers to form a business concern. These gentlemen have undertaken this course of action based upon the information I received from Tallahassee. They are associated with M. Morlot de Crousaz, a rich citizen of Bern, who wishes to personally invest in Florida. It appears that the Helvetic government is encouraging Swiss immigration to the United States; which is far better than surrendering to the service of European monarchs, which the nations no longer want, and with which Switzerland itself is wholly disgusted. M. de Buren was an officer in the Swiss guards in the Netherlands; he is the only one of the two to have come to Paris. This young man is a Republican in the American fashion; he wants to establish himself in Florida, principally on my land, a property cultivated by free whites. It concerns introducing grape vines, olive trees, and silkworms into Florida. If this effort is well received, and if these gentlemen do well financially, I hope that Florida will see an increase in its agricultural capital and the introduction of good farmers. You know well how the state of Ohio has profited from emigration. Why would we not give the same assistance to the healthy and fertile areas of Florida? I am giving to these gentlemen a letter for my friend and Commissioner Graham; and I bid you to give them the help they need. Accept, my dear General, my warmest expressions of devoted life-long friendship. Lafayette
On the Raab Collection page devoted to the letter, they deduce that the de Büren in question was none other that Albert de Büren (1791-1873), Baron de Vaumarcus and my great-great-great-grandfather. While it makes sense in certain respects, given that Albert was a pre-eminent botanist, to connect him to an agricultural concern in the new world, the timing does not jibe.
I came to the startling realization that the family member is question is in fact Louis Amedé de Büren (1802-1879), the first family member to emigrate to the United States and found the renamed Van Buren branch. Louis had served in the Swiss guards in Holland as indicated in the letter. He was also deeply disenchanted with European society and was looking for a fresh start in the United States. The same could not be said of Albert who had young children, had served the Swiss guards in France, and was still enjoying the privilege his title afforded him. As lovely as Florida is, I don’t think he would have wanted to leave the Castle of Vaumarcus overlooking Lake Neuchâtel for it.
Louis did emigrate to the United States in 1829, passed through Baltimore and arrived ultimately in Madison, Indiana where he settled down. The letter from Lafayette poses many new questions for me however. Did Louis go to Florida first? Did he go to Indiana with other Swiss emigrants, with plans on moving onto Florida but never go? Did his fellow Bernese compatriot, Zehender go to Florida in his place?
Beyond the importance to my family history, I find the link to the wine fascinating. The first american commercial winery has its roots in Indiana thanks to Swiss emigrants who left Vevey on the lake of Geneva at the end of the 18th century and settled in Vevay, Indiana, the seat of Switzerland county. To commemorate the wine heritage of the region, Vevay holds the Swiss Wine Festival every year in late August.
Whatever the reason, Louis not making it to Florida to grow grapes was for the best. Given the tropical climate and grapevine diseases, viniculture in the sunshine state is very difficult, and would have certainly been a losing proposition in 1829.