Monday, January 16, 2017

Other Gutiérrez-Magee Participants

There were a number of participants who had unique and revealing histories both before and after the expedition, including Samuel Forsyth. Forsyth (sometimes spelled Forsythe) was a surgeon’s mate in the U.S. Army, and appears on the promotion rolls of the Second Regiment in 1807.[1] He was a rare loyal supporter of Gutiérrez and left the filibuster with him after he was ousted for Toledo. He then practiced medicine in Rapides, Louisiana. His passion for revolution must have been strong because he then appears in Venezuela in 1816 as a doctor in service to Simón Bolívar. Bolívar wrote a letter on Feb. 13 of that year to a merchant in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, stating, “The bearer of this letter is Dr. Forsyth whom I beg leave to recommend to your notice and protection. I understand there are two boxes of medicines in the possession of Westenfeldt disposable at invoice price. I have commissioned him to examine them and if they are agreeable to his gusto to purchase them.”[2] When Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry visited Venezuela on a mission to Bolívar, Forsythe was there, and indeed, became the treating physician at the death of the American naval hero. A history of naval medicine describes the event:
Dr. Forsyth, an expatriate former U.S. Army surgeon now resident in Angostura, accompanied Perry’s return. According to contemporary sources, Perry himself had a chill, but remained well until [USS] Nonsuch anchored at the mouth of the Orinoco on the evening of the 17th. That night, in his cabin shared with Dr. Forsyth, Perry began to feel fevers, chills, headache, and myalgias…Dr. Forsyth’s experience with tropical fevers led him to apply the lancet and administer cathartics.[3]

In 1820 Forsyth returned to the U.S. in the service of Bolívar, buying arms for the revolution. On March 30, he met President James Monroe and later with Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in Washington, who noted in his diary, “Visits from…Dr. S.D. Forsyth, the ambidexter personage who is a sort of Agent here from Venezuela, and has been winding up-stairs here to get appointed Agent from the United Sates to that country.” Later, Adams wrote a note indicating this may not have been the first time he had heard from Forsyth: “He spoke of the new Republic of Colombia and General Bolivar in a manner suited to give a high opinion of them; and as he had not always expressed the same opinions, at least of the man, he now accounted for the change…Dr. Forsyth thinks that he has greatly improved by his experience; that he has learnt virtue in adversity; that he is another and now quite a great man.”[4]
Back in Columbia, Forsyth managed to stir controversy with the musket sale. Upon delivery of the 4,350 French muskets to Bolivar’s forces from an American arms merchant, Forsyth examined them, declared them of poor quality and discounted them, benefiting the rebels. This minor event created a decades-long claim against the government of Venezuela by the party that sold the muskets, a case that would ultimately necessitate U.S. government interference before relations between the republics could be put on a stable footing.[5]
Among the many participants in the Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition, there were several Frenchmen, which was of great concern for William Shaler, who was constantly fearful of French agents hijacking the filibuster. Most of these men, when examined, are little more than Louisiana natives with no Bonapartist or Bourbon connections. This is not the case of a member identified in the literature as a 27-year-old “Native of New Orleans” known only by the last name LaTour, “formerly known as Calinette,” who accompanied Toledo into Texas.[6] This man was almost certainly Arsène Lacarrière-Latour, not a native but a French-born military architect who studied at the Paris Academy of Fine Arts and likely participated in the French Revolution. In 1793, he moved to Haiti, but left due to the ongoing revolution there. He established himself in New Orleans but frequently traveled to north, where he joined Toledo’s group.
The proof that this Latour is the correct one is through his associations. In Philadelphia, he became close with fellow Toledo traveler and long-term Spanish revolutionary Juan Mariano Bautista de Pincornell, who was also among Toledo’s retinue. Indeed, following failure of the Gutierrez-Magee filibuster, the remnants gathered in Natchitoches to plot, and Pincornell took advantage of Toledo’s temporary absence from the scene to have himself chosen as president. He gave command of his imaginary army to a former French general, Jean Joseph Amable Humbert, who had a history of filibusters, including a failed invasion of Ireland on behalf of Irish rebels in 1798. Humbert in turn appointed Latour to his staff. This would-be reborn Republican Army of the North never materialized, primarily because the Spanish/French leaders could not convince Henry Perry and his American followers to join their cause.[7]
The fact that some of the details of this person are sketchy – his age is given incorrectly and there is the alternative last name – are evidence strongly supporting the claim. Gene A. Smith, in a biographical sketch of Latour explains, that the Frenchman in the New World “adopted many personas” including an advance agent for Napoleon’s new empire in the Caribbean, businessman and, in his most prominent role, an engineer on the staff of Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. After the battle, Latour wrote the first detailed history of the conflict, with interviews from dozens of sources. He was a man who “wore many social masks and spoke in a variety of cultural dialects,” a man of shifting loyalties, but for whom the ultimate loyalty was to himself. “Propelled by the same self-interest that obsessed the sober-minded, this French adventurer exploited the competing empires and rival nationalities in the Gulf Coast to achieve personal success if not eternal glory.”[8] For all this ambition, Latour appears to have left Toledo’s group before it entered Texas in 1813, as there is no record of him in the Spanish province. It is possible that Toledo left him behind to avoid arousing Shaler’s suspicions. Nonetheless, Latour is an example of another archetype of the man attracted to the expedition, though he was probably more selfish adventurer than French agent. Nonetheless, French influence, either due to Shaler’s vision or a lack of manpower, ultimately never did obtain the control over the expedition that so troubled Americans all the way up to President Madison.

[1] Henry Dearborn to Thomas Jefferson, 23 November 1807,” Founders Online, National Archives (accessed Sep. 23, 2016).
[2] Simón Bolivar, Escritos del Libertador IX (N.p., 1973), 26.
[3] Capt. James R. Bloom, “Why We Vaccinate Sailors” Military Medicine. Vol. 181, (April 2016), 297.
[4] John Quincy Adams, Diary Entry for March 30, 1820, in Charles Francis Adams, ed. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams, Containing Portions of His Diary from 1795-1848 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1875), 5:48.
[5] Jane Lucas de Grummond, “The Jacob Idler Claim Against Venezuela 1817-1890” The Hispanic American Historical Review 34, 2 (May, 1954): 131-157.
[6] Schwartz, 57.
[7] William C. Davis, The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf (Orlando: Harcourt, 2005), 145.
[8] Gene A. Smith, “Arsène Lacarrière-Latour: Immigrant, Patriot-Historian, and Foreign Agent,” in Michael A. Morrison, ed., The Human Tradition in Antebellum America. (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 2000), 83.

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