Saving William Jauncey

It was common knowledge that Old William Jauncey did not approve of his niece’s choice of husband. As I mentioned in an earlier post, he had planned for her to wed the son of his friend, Colonel Barclay. The old man was so furious about their elopement in 1810 that he refused to ever speak to Herman again.

Yet, according to the story below, despite the bad blood between them, Herman did save his uncle-in-law from a house fire. However, I have not been able to verify it with any news reports, so far.

A couple of other interesting pieces of information came from this anecodote. It seems that William Jauncey Thorn Jr was considered Old William Jauncey’s favourite (perhaps simply because he was the firstborn male heir), and that it was on his great uncle’s insistence that young William be educated in England at Oxford University. When young William died from a hunting accident while away at college, it’s quite possible that Herman held Old Jauncey responsible.

Young William’s sad and untimely death also left the bequest of his large inheritance unclear. Because Old William had never considered his great nephew might predecease Herman, no legal contingency was in place. Young William’s estate then became a bone of contention between Herman and another relative Elizabeth Hait. Their battle over the inheritance turned into a long court case that outlived both of them.

What I am now finding is that what first seemed like a jumble of facts about unknown ancestors, has begun to slowly reveal the human story. I’m beginning to be able to piece together the emotional trajectory of the Thorn’s lives: jealousies, heartbreak, celebrations and tragedies.

Though American residents were not numerous in Paris during the reign of Louis Philippe, there were two who attained social eminence and have not since been forgotten. One of these was Colonel Thorn. Colonel Thorn had been in the marine service of the United States where he had acquired an experience that afterwards proved to him of great value. He was a man of handsome person and prepossessing manners. While still young he married clandestinely the daughter of an Englishman of enormous wealth, who though he consented to live separately in the same house with his son-in-law, and furnished him with sufficient means to maintain a handsome establishment refused to be reconciled to him to the end of his days.


This lack of recognition appears to have been attended with bitterness of feeling on one side only. On one occasion a fire occurred in the dead of night. Colonel Thorn at considerable danger to his own life picked up his aged and helpless relative and carried him out of the house without the subject of the gallant act being even aware of the identity of his preserver. He did not even relent when informed that his own son-in-law had risked his life to save him. There are those like Captain Cleveland in Scott’s romance, “The Pirate,” who can forgive injuries more readily than benefits. In due time, children were born and grew up in the Thorn household. The eldest son became the favorite of his grandfather who stipulated in his will that the young man should be sent to Oxford to be educated. The unrelenting sire was gathered to his fathers while the young man was at the university, and the latter was not long afterwards killed by a fall from his horse while hunting.

Colonel Thorn became his son’s heir and came to Paris to spend his income, which amounted to a hundred thousand dollars a year a much larger sum in those days than now. He spent it all and something more. His style of living was magnificent. His turnouts were the finest in France the royal equipages of the King not excepted. He entertained the nobility at his house in Paris, and at the chateau which he leased in Normandy, he had always about him as numerous a company of guests as can be found at the country-seat of an English nobleman. There his rural hospitality was on almost as lavish a scale as that of the earls and barons of the times of Queen Elizabeth. His public display sometimes bordered on eccentricity. His turnout of the afternoon was entirely distinct from that of the morning. His horses had other trappings, and his carriage other armorial bearings. The livery of his servants including the buttons was of quite another color and pattern. This was about the period when that social explorer, Mrs. Trollope, found such a bewildering lack of refinement in the western wilds of the United States. She observed Colonel Thorn in Paris and made his turnouts the subject of some strictures conceived in the spirit of her books of American travel.

Mrs Frances Trollope

Though leading an extravagant life, Colonel Thorn seems to have had the esteem of the higher classes in France. It is quite certain that he had their society whenever he desired it, which was often. After having lived a quarter of a century in France, and having somewhat diminished his colossal fortune by his expenditure, Colonel Thorn returned to New York where he built and occupied a large brown-stone front house near Fourteenth street. Hère he died a few years later. He left a large family of children among whom was divided the large fortune which had corne into his possession in such a romantic manner. Many years after his death, one of his grandsons in a fit of intoxication fell down an area and was so badly injured that he was taken to a hospital in an adjacent street where he died. This hospital chanced to be the building that had served as the Thorn mansion in its better days.

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