Whaler, traitor, coward…spy?, Part 10 of 13

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As the war grew closer, the Rotches decided they could no longer risk their lives and their business by remaining in France. They sailed to Milford Haven in Wales, arriving the day after the execution of King Louis and Marie Antoinette and the very day that Great Britain declared war against France.  As they explored the area, they met with suspicion from their new neighbors. According to family tradition, the Rotch’s Quaker dress and their conversation in French was enough to convince an overly-zealous neighbor that they were French spies. He published a warning in the local newspaper, cautioning town residents to keep their distance. The Rotches managed to clear up the misunderstanding, but the family was understandably unnerved.

The Rotches had chosen Milford Haven precisely because it was a small, remote port far removed from political and military affairs. But the wars between Great Britain and France transformed Milford Haven into one of the largest ship-building centers for the Royal Navy.  The town soon filled with officers and sailors and the Rotches watched with horror and trepidation as the war arrived at the shores of their new home.  William Rotch decided to leave war-torn Europe and return home, but his son Benjamin ultimately decided to stay in Wales but leave the Religious Society of Friends.  Benjamin retained his Quaker speech and dress and remained opposed to war for the rest of his life, but he drifted away from many other core principles of the Society. Most notably, Benjamin over-extended himself financially and forced to declare bankruptcy in 1819. This caused the entire Rotch family a great deal of shame and forced the Welsh Rotches to remove to a small, shared, rented flat in London while sending their children abroad. William sent his son every spare cent he had, trying to pay Benjamin’s creditors. William, Jr. remarked in a letter that the affair had taken a great toll on his father. Benjamin would eventually recover his business, but father and son would only meet once again before his death in 1839.

Published as part of a series

  1. Before the Rockefellers, there were the Rotches
  2. For those who fail at business…there’s always politics
  3. The Tea Party: bad for business
  4. A different kind of sunken treasure
  5. The Falkland gambit
  6. “No step between being clear, and death”
  7. Patriotism…and false flags?
  8. America’s first trade war: bad for business
  9. You can run but you can’t hide (in France)
  10. Whaler, traitor, coward…spy?
  11. Can you ever go home again?
  12. Post-script: Jefferson’s accusations and Adams’s
  13. Adams’s revenge

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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