Mottin de La Balme, Augustin

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Mottin de La Balme, Augustin

MOTTIN DE LA BALME, AUGUSTIN. (1736–1780). French volunteer. Though of noble ancestry, he was the son of a bourgeois father and a mother who was the daughter of a conseiller du roi. He entered the Scottish company of Gendarmerie in 1757 and became quartermaster with the rank of cavalry captain in 1765. Having been employed at the school of horsemanship, he wrote two books on the cavalry. Deane wrote to Congress recommending him in October 1776, but La Balme was unable to get out of France. He approached Franklin in December about an American command. Masquerading as a doctor, he embarked at Bordeaux with two other officers on 15 February 1777 carrying Franklin's introduction of 20 January 1777. It recommended him as an able cavalry officer who might be valuable in forming that branch of service.

On 26 May 1777 La Balme was commissioned lieutenant colonel of cavalry in the Continental army. Continuing to promote himself among the members of Congress, he presented copies of his two books to John Adams in June. On 8 July he was promoted to colonel and inspector general of cavalry, but he submitted his resignation to Congress on 3 October because Pulaski had been preferred to command the cavalry. La Balme proposed to Henry Laurens a Canadian project for exciting a "revolution," which Laurens referred to the Board of War. When it finally recommended an "irruption … into Canada," it was to be under the command of Lafayette; Congress approved the proposal on 22 January 1778. On 13 February 1778 Congress accepted his resignation with "no farther occasion for his services." Henry Laurens complained to his son John—perhaps tongue in cheek—that La Balme had not left him any books.

In 1778 La Balme received authority from Gates in 1778 to take part in the operations around Albany. He organized a bureau twenty-eight miles from Philadelphia and issued manifestos in French, English, and German calling for volunteers to join the cause of liberty.

On 13 May 1779 he left Boston with others to rally support in the frontier settlement of Machias. Arriving on the 19th, he established contact with Indians who traded at the village and was warmly received by the former subjects of the French king. Because of events described in connection with the Penobscot expedition, La Balme's timing was unfortunate. He organized a body of Indians and marched toward the British, but their force was crushed by superior numbers. La Balme was captured, but he escaped or was exchanged.

In reply to his 5 March 1780 request, Washington declined to give him a certificate of service. The commander in chief had earlier complained that La Balme never entered into his inspector duties. James Lovell on 17 April 1780 returned copies of La Balme's European letters of recommendation to him, adding his regrets that "America did not longer than seven months enjoy the benefits of your exertions as inspector general." On 27 June 1780 he was at Pittsburgh, and for the next three months he conducted recruiting operations in the direction of Vincennes, Cahokia, and Kaskaskia. With about one hundred French and American volunteers, he started on his own an advance through Kaskaskia toward Detroit. La Balme was killed on 5 November 1780 by Indians under the orders of Little Turtle. About forty of his men died in the massacre.

SEE ALSO Canada Invasion (Planned); Deane, Silas; Franklin, Benjamin; Laurens, Henry; Penobscot Expedition, Maine; Pulaski, Casimir.


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Mottin de La Balme, Augustin. Essais sur l'equitation; ou principes raisonnés sur l'art de monter et de dresser des chevaux. Amsterdam: Jombert fils ainé, 1773.

――――――. Elemens de tactique pour la cavalerie. Paris: Jombert, 1776.

――――――. Avis au public … to the Public … Offentliche bekanntmachung. Philadelphia: Henri Miller, 1778.

――――――. Papers. Additional MSS 21, 844. British Library, London.

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                             revised by Robert Rhodes Crout