History Bytes: Theophilus North’s Nine Cities of Newport, Part 2

February 6, 2019

The following History Byte is the second of a nine-part series. Click here to read them all.

Front and back of silver spoon presented to Jabez Bowen by French General Rochambeau in 1780. NHS, 63.4.

Thornton Wilder’s Second City in Theophilus North features the 18th century town “which played so important a part in the War of Independence.” The role of France in aiding the Americans in their fight for independence is well known. Perhaps less known is that officers from other European countries joined the French army stationed in Newport in 1780. Axel von Fersen was a Swedish Count serving as aide-de-camp to General Rochambeau. He was quartered in a home on Clarke Street, just across from where Rochambeau had set up his headquarters. Prior to coming to Newport, von Fersen had spent time in the French Court where he was a very close acquaintance of Marie Antoinette. It was von Fersen who would spear-head the failed attempt to smuggle Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI out of Paris in 1791 during the French Revolution. Also in France at the time of their revolution was Billy Vernon, the son of William Vernon who owned the Newport home Rochambeau lived in. Billy Vernon is thought to have been smuggling goods for the aristocracy out of France.