Lucie Dillion. From Lady-in-Waiting to Cider Maker
While researching Johnny Appleseed and all of his cider trees, I came across the story of Henriette –Lucy “Lucie” Dillon, Marquise de la Tour du Pin Gouvernet. Quite the name, for quite the woman.
Born into an aristocratic family in France on February 25, 1770, Lucie a lady-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette by the time she was 16. Unfortunately, Lucie was in the court of Louis XVI at the most turbulent time in France. Out of fear, Lucie (24), her husband Frederic, and their two young children left France for America in 1794. Lucie lobbed off her beautiful long hair, tossed out her fancy clothes, and rid herself of her cherished possessions as she boarded the cargo ship, Diane, for America. When she arrived in Boston, the other French immigrants assumed that the humble looking family had suffered as they had in their beloved former country . Even assumed that her hair was unwilling chopped off by the government. Lucie was able to successful shed her former life, to begin a new one in a new country. The family would spend the next 15 days traversing the picturesque landscape of Massachusetts, eventually settling in Albany, New York as it was close to Canada, where their language and culture was understood. It was there, in the Hudson River Valley, that the family purchased a dairy farm where they tended the cows, made cider, and grew crops. This dramatic lifestyle change made Lucie the happiest she had ever been, according to her own personal memoir.
The idyllic 250-acre farm is where the family created a wonderful reputation for making cider. Lucie and Frederic used the techniques they knew from their homeland to tend to the orchard, resulting in one of the finest in the area. Using a traditional wine growers technique from Bordeaux, they turned over a 4 or 5-foot section of the earth around the base of the apple trees with a spade. The other orchard owners had never seen a farmer do such a thing and thought the young couple were mad. However, when the spring came, and each tree glistened in blossoms, the other farmers looked at the family as if they were “sorcerers”. The blossoms produced an abundance of apples, “we could count upon the trees as many apples as there were leaves”. Another sound decision they made was how they stored their cider. Not in new casks made of porous wood, like the others, they found old barrels in Albany that had once contained Bordeaux and Cognac. They cared for the cider as if it had contained wine of the Medoc. The family was able to reserve much of the cider for their own use, but due to the abundance of apples, they were able to sell 8-10 barrels of the beverage. The decisions for making and storing cider brought them quite the good reputation in the area as cider makers, honest cider makers. Labeled ‘honest’ was a significant advantage, as there were no concerns from the buyers that there would be water mixed into the barrels. As such, they were able to offer the barrels at double the asking price, and consumers were willing to pay it. Referring to the families’ own personal reserves, Lucie stated, “we treated it exactly as we would have done with our white wine at Le Bouilh”. This meant that the cider was fit for a King. For you see, Chateau du Bouilh was the home built for Louis XVI in Aquitane, France, a place that Lucie knew well from her days as a lady in waiting for Marie Antoinette.
Sadly, in 1795, Lucie’s only daughter Seraphine suffered and died from a brief illness, infantile paralysis, was buried in an unmarked grave near the family home. Shortly after the death, Lucie, her husband and son returned to France. Frederic was able to return to a position of wealth and importance, and Lucie found her place once again in the elite social world. At the request of Napoleon, she returned to the position of lady in waiting, this time for the Emperors wife Josephine. The family stayed in France for some time, and later moved to Switzerland after their son was accused of a political plot. Eventually Lucie made her way to Italy, where she passed away peacfully in Pisa on April 2, 1853.
The beautiful farm the family loving tendered in Albany is sadly gone, however the house is still standing. Lucie’s memoir, written in the form of a letter to her son over the course of thirty years, was published in Paris in 1906. Her first hand account of the life and times in France and America, ‘Recollections of the Revolution and the Empire’, is available online.