You can run but you can’t hide (in France), Part 9 of 13

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Summary:

William Rotch dispatched his son Benjamin to Dunkirk to begin relocating the family business in 1787. Rotch himself would follow in 1789 with Benjamin’s young wife.1 Incredibly, the family now found itself caught in the storm of another revolution! A fact Rotch couldn’t resist dwelling on in a rueful letter to his son-in-law: “Never did I imagine I would find myself in the middle of another Revolution,” he wrote with what we can only imagine was a combination of incredulity and fear. The Rotches’ fortunes would once again rise and fall with a revolution, and before it was over, William would once again be called in front of a legislature to answer for his disloyalty.


In what he must have considered an absurd, distressing, and maddening situation, Rotch was once again summoned to explain himself to Revolutionary authorities. This time, it was Mirabeau and the National Assembly who grew suspicious of the Friends for refusing to join the war effort. Friends would not join the army, sign petitions, don liberty caps or adopt the tri-color. Rotch once again defended his pacifist principles in the name of religious freedom. The committee was once again decidedly unimpressed, although they too eventually (though begrudgingly) dismiss Rotch – albeit with a warning similar to that issued by the Massachusetts committee that they could not be held responsible for his safety. Understandably distressed and dejected, Rotch headed back to Dunkirk, but immediately after his return, Rotch and his son Benjamin landed in hot water for refusing to illuminate their windows in celebration of French victories. An angry mob gathered in the center of town where one of Rotch’s servants overheard their plans to march on the Rotch homestead and burn it to the ground.  Dunkirk’s mayor caught wind of this plot and begged William and Benjamin to leave town, but both men refused. Disaster was only averted when the mayor rallied a few of the Rotch’s neighbors to erect a scaffolding-like contraption with lanterns strategically placed to make it appear as though their windows were lit. The crowd, placated for the moment, dispersed


1 There is a longer, attendant story here – the Barneys, Benjamin’s wife’s family, had only consented to the marriage after B Rotch promised to never take his wife away from Nantucket. They became so angry upon his relocation to France that they offered to send a coffin along with their daughter. I can include this story if you thought it useful.


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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