The Revolutionary War has more than its share of adventurers, rogues, soldiers-of-fortune, and risk-takers. Augustin Mottin De La Balme combined all these characteristics in his person. In November 1780, they brought the Frenchman and his soldiers to a horrible end outside the Miami Village of Kekionga, near the confluence of the Saint Joseph, Saint Mary’s, and Maumee Rivers in modern Fort Wayne, Indiana.
La Balme was born in France in 1736, entered the Gendarmerie in 1757, served in the seven Years War, gained experience in the cavalry, received an army appointment in 1763, and retired with a pension in 1773. He wrote several books on cavalry training and tactics, but finding his fortunes stalled, left for America in 1777 with a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin, just one more French officer seeking rank, advancement, and his fortune in the war against Great Britain.[i] Major General William Heath, who met him in Boston, wrote Washington, “We swarm with French Officers at this Place, Two arrived in the Ship on Sunday at this Place They are much Superior to any that I have as yet Seen, One is an Engineer The other a Captain of Cavalry, They are Gentlemen of Education, Sense and Genius, The Captain has with him Two Treatises on the Discipline and management of the Horse, written by himself, and much Approved by all the Generals in the French Service.”[ii] Despite a glut of would-be foreign officers, La Balme received a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel and then Colonel and Inspector General of Cavalry. Dissatisfied with the appointment, he resigned, focused his attention on mobilizing Frenchmen still living in North America, and kept petitioning Congress to find useful work for him. Eventually, Congress tried to pay him off and send him home, but the French officer stayed, trying his hand at various schemes to contribute, including mobilizing Indians in Maine to attack the British. That short-lived campaign accomplished nothing, but resulted in La Balme’s capture and eventual escape.[iii]
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