American History and Genealogy Project


When the King of France Visited Sanford

The harvest season of 1797 found Col. Emery's tavern, in the little town of Sanford, in a great stir and bustle of preparation for guests of noble birth. No less a personage than Louis Philippe of France, accompanied by his two brothers, the Duke de Montpensier and the Count de Beaujolais, and by the Duke of Talleyrand, would pass through South Sanford, on a certain day, on their way to Portland, and it was expected that they would tarry there and "put up at the ordinary," for a night, at least.

At that time South Sanford was the business center of the town and not the busy manufacturing village we know as such.

As you may think, much butchering and baking was going on. The old Colonel had the best of the provisions carried over from his store, just across the way, and he even made a special trip to Portland to get such luxuries as white sugar and coffee, which he did not always keep in stock, they were so little used by any but the wealthy. It wasn't the custom to decorate in honor of famous guests, but every-thing about the tavern was made spick and span.

None were more interested in these preparations than the three small boys of the tavern. They were the grandsons of Col. Caleb Emery, who was still owner of the tavern, though the active management had been passed over to his son, William, father of the boys. Caleb, his grandfather's namesake, was ten years old; Thomas was nine years old and William six.

These boys, in after years, took great pride in telling how Louis Philippe, King of France, visited at their home, although, at the time of his visit, he wasn't king at all, but the Duke of Chartres; and no one could know that he was destined for the throne of France.

But you are wondering why this distinguished personage should be visiting the "wilds of Maine," which were very much wilder then than they are now. He had taken part in the revolution going on in France at that time, and he and his family were among those who had incurred the wrath of royalty, so that their great estates had been seized by the crown and they had been obliged to flee for their lives to other countries. As it was, the father of Louis Philippe was executed four years before the time of this story and Louis and his brothers and sister judged it wise to stay away until French politics should become more settled.

Before the death of his father Louis had dropped his title of Duke and adopted the name of plain M. Egalite.

Unrecognized, he had lived for a year in Switzerland, teaching French and mathematics. Now, for nearly a year, he had been traveling in America. If the Sanford people did not know that they were entertaining a future king of France, neither did Louis Philippe know that he was visiting the future State of Maine, for it was then a part of Massachusetts.
Although more than twenty years had passed since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, forever banishing titled nobility from America, the people still felt a wholesome respect for dukes and counts and no little curiosity concerning them. You may be sure the Emery boys were the envy of all the village lads, who would be lucky if they got a glimpse of the great visitors through the coach windows or as they alighted in the tavern yard, while Caleb and Thomas Emery were to spend the night under the very roof with them!

For hours the boys watched the post road for the private coach, in which the Duke and his party were travelling. And, after all, he wasn't so much to see! "Just a man," and a young man at that, plain and respectable looking enough, with a serious face. Where were the velvets and gold embroideries which they had supposed nobility always wore? This young man was enveloped in a long, dark traveling cloak and carried an umbrella. One of his companions was pointed out to the boys as the Duke of Talleyrand, who, at that time, was more celebrated and regarded with more interest than the king-to-be. He walked with a limp, which he tried to conceal, and altogether was not prepossessing to boyish eyes, looking for dash and military bearing.

The Emery boys were frankly disappointed in the future king of France. He had, to be sure, a certain air of distinction and polish, but it was quite lost on them. Caleb and Thomas thought him decidedly inferior in appearance to their grand-father, who was larger and looked quite imposing, dressed for the reception of the ducal party in his swallow-tailed, cutaway coat resplendent with brass buttons and a wide white collar, his silver watch chain, with its heavy fob, dangling across the wide expanse of his buff vest.

Col. Caleb Emery was, indeed, a man of importance in Sanford. He was the first postmaster of the town (the post-office having been established two years before this memorable visit), he was the village merchant and tavern-keeper, a justice of the peace, colonel of the militia and deacon of the church. He was on all committees of importance, for South San-ford never thought of doing anything without the Colonel at the head of it. In politics he always had been prominent. He had been selectman, town clerk and deputy sheriff in turn and he was sent as the first representative of his district to the General Court in 1785. He had a military record, too, for he had taken part in the Lake George Expedition at the time of the French and Indian War, and in the Expedition to Rhode Island during the Revolution.

All the children of the neighborhood liked Col. Emery. Although an austere man, he had ever a kindly greeting for children and his capacious pockets and saddle-bags were always full of apples (a great luxury in those days) from his big orchard. These he distributed with a lavish hand among the children wherever he went.

His small grandsons adored him. He was still a handsome man, despite his years and his large nose, for it was a common joke, made all in good nature, that the Colonel was obliged to turn his nose one side while eating.
Of course the boys were not allowed in the dining-room on this important occasion, but they could peep in as the door opened and shut when the serving maids passed in and out.

The meal was not served in courses, but the guest table was loaded with good things, according to the New England fashion. Probably never before nor after did Louis Philippe of France partake of just such feasts as those he got in New England. There were haunches of venison, spareribs of the choicest porkers, huge roasts of beef, stuffed turkey, Indian bannock baked over the coals on the kitchen hearth, baked beans and Indian pudding which had baked for a day and a night in the great brick oven, pancakes with maple syrup and pumpkin pies. The tables were flanked with big pitchers of cider, a beverage entirely new to the guests from France, besides the luxurious tea and coffee.

The Colonel himself escorted his honored guests to their places and saw that they were assiduously served from Grandmother Emery's best dishes, spread on snowy homespun linen. It is said that the Duke and his party enjoyed their meals at the Emery tavern.

The boys got a better look at the visitors on their way from the dining-room to the front parlor, but their wild hopes of slipping in unobserved were shattered by their being sent off to bed as soon as their supper was eaten. Morning found them up with the sun in order that they might not miss the departure of the ducal coach. They need not have troubled themselves. The future King of France was not an early riser and perhaps he found Grandmother Emery's best bed of live goose feathers particularly grateful after the hard journey of the previous day. Anyway, he had his breakfast served to him in his bedroom.

Louis Philippe and his party remained a day or two at Col. Emery's tavern. And what do you suppose pleased Louis most, among all the new and to him strange things, in this part of the new country! The pictures that hung on the walls of the ''spare room" which he occupied. They were by French artists, their titles in the French language, and these reminders looked wonderfully good to the exiled duke.

Twenty-eight years later another distinguished guest from France was entertained at this same tavern, one who was largely influential in putting Louis Philippe on the throne of France. It was the Marquis de Lafayette, on his memorable visit to America in 1824-5. He stopped there, so it is claimed, on his way to Portland and for this reason the old house, which was quite a palatial one for those days, was for many years known as the Lafayette Tavern. This old landmark, a square, rambling, two-storied house, could be seen in South Sanford, until a very few years ago, when it was torn down.

Another notable occasion in the boyhood of Caleb, Thomas and William Emery came two years after the visit of Louis Philippe, at the death of George Washington. On the day of the funeral the town's militia paraded the streets of South Sanford.

With thrills mingled with awe, the boys watched the company under command of Major Samuel Nasson march, with arms reversed, to the muffled beat of drums, toward the tavern.

The Lafayette Tavern, Sanford

There they were received by Col. Emery and given refreshment, as was the custom of the day.

Washington did not seem such a far-away and shadowy personage to the Emery boys as he does to the boys and girls of our day. He was as real to Caleb and Thomas as Theodore Roosevelt today is to you.

Several Sanford veterans had been With Washington, two of them through the terrible winter at Valley Forge, and they spoke quite familiarly of Gen. Washington, when, around the blazing fire at the Emery Tavern, they related their hardships and sufferings.

Only ten years before his death (Thomas was a baby then) Washington actually had visited Kittery Point. It was the one and only time the Father of his Country was in Maine and he considered the visit of enough importance to mention in his diary.

The boys frequently rode with their grandfather to Kittery, which was but a few miles from their home. This town was the birthplace and old home of both the Colonel and his wife. It had been related to the lads, many times, how Washington, on that visit, went fishing with Parson Stevens and a party of friends. Caleb wished he had been born a few years sooner, so that he might, perchance, have gone to Kittery to see the great man; and he never could understand why his grandfather had neglected to find out what luck President Washington had when he went fishing in Kittery.

Emmie Bailey Whitney

Source: Maine My State, The Maine Writers Research Club, The Journal Print Shop, Lewiston, Maine, 1919

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