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By John Oliver, President, Historical Society

Last week we began the American adventures of future French king Louis Philippe, which took him to what would eventually be Trousdale County!

In 1797, Prince Louis Philippe and three companions undertook a tour of the American frontier, which back then included the new state of Tennessee, and the little community of Donoho’s Mill, the first name given to the settlement that would become Hartsville.

Our story begins when the French Revolution puts an end to the aristocracy and members of the French royal family flee their country to seek refuge elsewhere. Prince Louis would later become the king of France, but that lies ahead in our story.

Submitted photo
The younger brother of Prince Louis Philippe was Louis-Charles d’Orleans, Comte de Beaujolais. He accompanied his older brother, the future king of France, into Tennessee in 1797.

Now as our story progresses, the Prince and his two royal brothers, the Duc de Montpensier and the Comte de Beaujolais, along with one manservant, are traveling into the backcountry of early America.

One of their first adventures was to have the proprietor of an inn holler at them for requesting a private dining room for their lunch. The simple folk of the frontier did not take kindly to people who didn’t want to associate with them. But that little mishap would only prepare them for what was to come!

Almost immediately the travelers find confusion with the names used in our country for the local geography. The prince writes, “The Shenando flows between that intermediate range and the northern mountains, and is joined, a few miles below Strasburg, by a river flowing out of the southern valley, called simply ‘South river’. These names ‘South river’, ‘North river’, etc… are so common in America that great confusion arises. This confusion is not limited to that one example; when the country is more densely populated and its cities are no longer villages, people will realize how awkward is this constant repetition of cities’ and counties’ names, and no geography will prove more difficult to master than the American.”

The prince’s confusion at place names was soon forgotten as he began to meet some of the other travelers on the early road. Stopping at an inn for lunch, the prince commented on their behavior, “In Bott’s tavern we found ourselves among a large group of travelers…they were headed for Kentucky and uneasy about the latest massacre by the Indians. In their anxiety they wanted us to swell their number, but we ignored the plea, knowing too well the miseries such a crowd could cause in the region’s tiny inns. Also, every man has his own way of traveling and travelers are mutually annoying; and aside from that nothing is more boring than bored people who want to talk and have nothing to talk about. During the three hours they made us wait, as usual, for a few slices of fried ham and coffee with brown sugar, there were some who never shut up for a moment and others who never said a word but could not stop yawning, scratching, belching, etc.”

There were other things that impressed the prince that were more positive.

He noticed something unusual in the children of the frontier, “…I should like to mention the notable height of men and girls on this side of the Shenando Valley. It seems to be increasing still, for most of the young people seem taller than their elders.”

His observation was true. Americans have been progressively getting taller than their previous generations, mostly due to better nutrition in each successive generation.

The prince was also impressed by the upward mobility that was possible in America. A few nights later the diary records, “We slept at the home of James Campbell, an Irishman who came into the region twenty-three years ago without a penny and now owns a fine house and extensive lands he himself cleared. We fared famously at his place.”

The food may have been great at Mr. Campbell’s home, but the usual fare was less so. Not having cooking pots or a sack of flour of their own, the men have to buy their meals along the way or have the fortune of being the guests of men of wealth such as Campbell.

The very next day they have trouble finding dinner.

“On this road, however, Peter Morris turned us away saying he had no provisions and sent us along the way to the widow Wills. This widow told us the same story…we stopped at another house, and they sent us on again to Mr. Smith’s, where, they said, ‘We should get a good entertainment.’ The ‘entertainment’ consisted of what they call ‘hoecakes’, that is a pastry made of cornmeal and water which they cook on an iron sheet… We ate it with butter and milk and that was our dinner. And Mr. Smith has only an old log-house where he sells whiskey, which is the region’s favorite beverage.”

For men who grew up on French wine and French pastries, a hoecake and whiskey was a rude awakening. And the prince had more adventures ahead!

A reminder that the Trousdale County Historical Society will meet this Saturday, Jan. 13 at 2 p.m. at the county archives building. Our speaker will be Leah Verville, who will speak on her adventures visiting every state park in the state of Tennessee, all in the last year!