Theobald Wolfe Tone (Dublin, 1763 - Dublin, 1798) arrived in the U.S. on August 1, 1795 with the stated intention of earning a living from farming. But the revolutionary bug was too strong. He quickly contacted the French minister to the U.S., Pierre Auguste Adet, who arranged Tone’s passage to Le Havre under the assumed name of James Smith on January 1, 1796. Wolfe Tone arrived alone in Paris on February 12, 1796, where he was to stay until the following September. On the boat from the US, he had fallen in with a penniless French aristocrat called Aristide Du Petit Thouars. Wolfe Tone lent Du Petit Thouars some money, and in return, the latter showed him the main sights in Paris, including the Pantheon. The two men climbed to the roof of the newly-secularised monument on March 1, "from whence we could see all Paris, as in a ground plan, together with the country for several leagues around...there being a foot of snow on the ground...It was the most singular spectacle I had ever seen."
Having left wife and children in the U.S., how did Wolfe Tone spend those seven months in Paris, after this initial introduction to the city by Du Petit Thouars? If his diaries are anything to go by, he balanced his time between listlessness, increasing impecuniousness, battles with French officialdom and visits to the opera and theatre. He also visited the Louvre, newly converted into the Museum Central des Arts, and spent time browsing among book stalls.
After having contacted the U.S. ambassador, James Munroe, the foreign ministry and a couple of local United Irishmen (most notably Nicholas Madgett, who worked as a translator at the foreign ministry), Tone seems to have had plenty of time to frequent the opera. But Tone quickly grew lonely. From February 18 to February 20, 1796, he notes that he “dined alone every day”. By mid-March, many entries in his diary begin with the word “blank”. On March 16, for example, he writes: “Blank! Dined alone in the Champs-Elysées." The following day, the one-line entry reads “Patrick’s Day. Dined alone in the Champs Elysées. Sad! Sad!” And the day after, “Blank – theatre in the evening.”
On July 6, he notes that he is down to his last two louis. But help was as hand: after much dilly-dallying, the French finally found him a military commission as chef de brigade, and at the end of July they provided him with three month’s advance pay. He left for Brest shortly afterwards and partook in General Lazare Hoche’s hapless Bantry Bay expedition in December 1796. In 2012, the original
By this time, his wife and family had arrived in Europe from the United States. In Paris, they first stayed with an Irish colonel called Henry Shee in Nanterre, then moved to 139, cul-de-sac de Notre-Dames-des-Champs (street no longer exists, situated in present-day 6th arrondissement). But after falling out with the landlady, they moved to no. 29, rue des Batailles in the Chaillot district on the Right Bank (street no longer exists, situated in present-day 16th arrondissement).
After some time in Holland wistfully preparing for another Irish expedition, Tone was back in Paris in October 1797 and met Napoleon for the first time two months later. On March 25, 1798, Wolfe Tone received orders to join the Armée de l’Angleterre in Rouen. Just over six months later, the ship that was meant to disembark him in Lough Swilly was apprehended by the Royal Navy. Tone died of self-inflicted injuries in prison on November 18th, 1798. After his death, Tone’s family is recorded as living at 751, rue Plumet in the modern-day 15th arrondissement. The French government granted Tone’s widow an annual pension of FF1,200, increased to FF2,400 in 1811. His son, William, trained at the Imperial Cavalry School in Saint Germain outside Paris, and won the Légion d’Honneur for his courage during the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813. He, like his mother, supported Napoleon during the 100 Days, which perhaps explains why they both left France for the U.S. in 1816.
Service Historique de la Défense
Wolfe Tone files, Dossiers 16y(d), 17y(d)14, 11B(2) and (3)
Partners in Revolution: The United Irishmen and France (1989)
Wolfe Tone, Prophet of Irish Independence (1989)
The Autobiography of Theobald Wolfe Tone, 1763-1798 (1893)
Ed. R. Barry O’Brien
Life of Theobald Wolfe Tone, written by himself and continued by his son (1826)
Ed. William Theobald Wolfe Tone
The Writings of Theobald Wolfe Tone, volumes II and III (2001-2007)
Ed. T.W. Moody, R.B. McDowell, C.J. Woods
"A Rough Guide to Revolutionary Paris: Wolfe Tone as an Accidental Tourist"
Sylvie Kleinman in History Ireland, March/April 2008 (vol. 16, no. 2)
"Un brave de plus: Theobald Wolfe Tone, alias Adjutant-general James Smith—French officer and Irish patriot adventurer, 1796-8"
Sylvie Kleinman in:
Franco-Irish Military Connections, 1590-1945 (2009)