The early American Republic famously provided a haven for many a French refugee during the French Revolution and even into the Napoleonic period, notably Talleyrand and La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt. Less prominent refugees have largely escaped notice, particularly from within the French-occupied territories, which also stood to suffer from a revolutionary regime intent on pressing revenue from their new conquests, if not always sending them to the guillotine. In June of 1794 French revolutionary forces invaded what would in 1830 become the Kingdom of Belgium, pillaging as they came and manifesting a highly anti-clerical attitude towards the region’s deeply rooted Catholicism, provoking the hostility of the population. The territory, composed of the Austrian Netherlands and the Archbishopric of Liège, was annexed outright on 1 Oct 1795, along with some Dutch territory, and nine new departments created. The Franco-Austrian Treaties of Campo Formio (17 October, 1797) and Lunéville (9 February, 1801) confirmed ex post facto, in international law, the French acquisition of Belgium. Seeing the writing on the wall, one wealthy Belgian family decided to seek out the safe haven of the United States early on, not to return until after the 18 Brumaire, the Peace of Amiens and the Concordat brought a return to stability and order, under Napoleonic auspices.
This paper is based on the correspondence of the Stier and Van Havre family during their American sojourn, both between family members in the United States and with friends and business associates in Belgium, recently edited by Jacqueline Letzter and Margaret Law Callcott  Margaret Law Callcott (ed. and tr.), The Plantation.... The bulk of the originals are located in half a dozen noble Belgian family archives, several others in the United States. In addition to the correspondence itself, other extant sources include several daybooks, ship-board journals and some miscellanea. Together they constitute a rich source for the social, cultural and political realities of emigration during the Directorial and Napoleonic period, seen through the eyes of upper-class Belgians with a unique socio-cultural identity. The Stiers were also the only Belgians residing around the national capital at that time. Contrary to the French émigrés to America during this period, whose writings have been studied by Doina Harsanyi and Michel Huysseune, the Belgians’ outlook was not colored by a common colonial history, or strong economic ties, let alone a recent comradeship-in-arms.  Doina P. Harsanyi, “The Burdens of a Moderate Revolutionary... Nor had they fled under the same circumstances, for occupied Belgium after Thermidor was not Paris during the Terror. This could not fail to impact their experience in the United States, and their assessment of America and the Americans.
Chronologically, the correspondence extends from their arrival in October 1794 to their return to Antwerp in June 1803. Topically, several areas of concern dominate. Immediate family matters include the elder Stiers’ four changes of domicile, the health of family members, births and deaths, family business and financial matters, and the prospects of returning to Belgium. General issues of daily life are less prominent, and include socializing, the material realities of 18th century travel, ill health and medical treatments. Americans are perceived as quite distinct from Europeans, and slavery confronts the family with a socio-economic institution they have difficulties dealing with. As educated representatives of an urban elite, the Stiers also constitute intelligent and critical observers of political America and Europe – notably Napoleon – if not quite at the penetrating level of a Tocqueville or Beaumont. The American political system, the demise of the Federalists and rise of the Democratic-Republicans, and foreign relations between America and Europe are all on their political radar, as it were. All these topics are, of course, not treated equally by all correspondents, males tending a bit more towards the hard political and economic topics, females more towards the social, cultural and family topics. Still, it is noteworthy and a clear indication of the emancipated condition of the sophisticated Belgian women that they also frequently participate in political discourse and voice strong opinions. After sketching out the fundamental biographical and historical context of the family and their temporary emigration, I propose to explore the key social, cultural and political elements of their experience with particular attention to issues of identity and the creation of stereotypes, drawing on the theory and concepts of imagology, or image studies.
Henri Stier, paterfamilias, aged sixty-one when he left for America, came from an haut bourgeois Dutch family of bankers and merchants that had settled in Antwerp, and been recently ennobled through his mother’s side of the family. His Belgian real estate was considerable and included a fine Antwerp townhouse on the Rue de Vénus; a country château at Brasschaat, north of Antwerp, called “the Mick”; the 14th-century castle of Claeydael, plus other smaller properties leased out to various tenants.  Callcott 2. By the time of his departure, he had become a rentier aisé, living off his investments and rent. Small wonder then, given the early record of pillage of French troops in cities, countryside, and against church property, that he chose emigration during these uncertain times. His wife, Marie Louise (56), was from the Peeters family, who had made an equally impressive fortune as mill owners, by the 17th century also lived off their investments, also acquired a noble title, and began a major art collection during the 18th century, entrusted to the Stier family for safekeeping by Marie Louise’s widowed mother. This unique collection consisted of over sixty Flemish master paintings by, i.a. Rubens, Van Dyck, Bruegel, Titian and Rembrandt, and taking it to safety may have constituted part of the family’s motivation to emigrate. The Stiers had an adult son (Charles Jean, 26) and daughter (Isabelle Marie, 24); and a teenage daughter (Rosalie Eugénie, 16). They were linked by marriage to another noble Belgian family, the van Havres, Charles having married Marie Joséphine van Havre (24, nicknamed “Mimi”), Isabelle having married Jean Michel Antoine Louis van Havre (30). The latter couple had a daughter, Louise (3), completing the family composition at the time of their departure to America. The young Stiers benefitted from the finest education available at the time in Belgium. The men had read law at the ancient Catholic University of Louvain. Isabelle and Rosalie had attended an exclusive and highly international Liège convent school run by the English Canonesses of the Holy Sepulcher, attracting girls from as far away as England, Spain, Scotland, Germany, and even America. They were, in a word, of the highly cultured, highly sophisticated urban upper class of bourgeois wealth who had entered the nobility not by virtue of ancient pedigree, but by social climbing, and now lived off their income as befitted their noble status.
Those of their compatriots who had fled Belgium mostly opted for voluntary exile in places like Bremen, Hamburg, or Vienna, the former two constituting cosmopolitan trading partners of Antwerp, the latter the capital of the Habsburg monarchy, of which Belgium was a part, as the Austrian Netherlands. Why the Stiers chose America is not clear, though Letzter surmises it was because of Henri’s anti-conservative political persuasion, and because the U.S. “represented the ideals of liberty, individual rights, and self-government he embraced.” She infers this from Henri’s position during the Brabant Revolution, where he leaned towards the side of the moderate Josephinian administrative and religious reforms, against the radicals. This would have an impact on his assessment of American politics on the ground, as we shall see. Henri left a justificatory note behind for the French authorities, on his departure. No more than a paragraph in length and open to interpretation relative to its sincerity as against the expediency of trying to explain his flight to America, it is nonetheless revealing. In it, he maintains his “love” for the French people “as a friend,” but his fear of the “pillage and disorders of lawless men” [i.e. the soldiers]. Playing on the status of France and America as Sister Republics, he stresses that the Americans, to whose safety he is going, are “allies and friends” of the French. Finally, he invokes the “French loyalty to the principles of liberty” in the hope that they will, in Belgium, “respect the properties of a friend of liberty” such as he, himself is. He signed himself, “Baron J. de Stier, American citizen.”  Letzter, “The Political Exile of the Stiers,” 57. Stier, as I see it, clearly wanted to have three cakes and eat them, too. For he proposed to maintain his Germanic noble identity as a Habsburg baron, claim the protective status of the Republican American citizenship he doesn’t yet have, and protest his love for the French – all at the same time. He gives himself away, I believe, as regards his primary persona, by signing with “Baron,” first. For the elder Stier is a liberal noble, recently ennobled, proud of the new-found status and mindful of his wealth and background. He is not at all a democrat, and claiming “American citizenship” does not mean affirming democratic values. His family shared this political stance and it was to color their view of the American political scene decidedly.
The Stiers began planning their departure during the summer of 1794, i.a. by instructing family agents in the Netherlands and England to convert sufficient funds for travel into gold or U.S. currency. On 26 Aug 1794, accompanied by two servants and with considerable baggage – including their precious art collection – they left Amsterdam on board the “Adriana,” bound for Philadelphia, where they arrived on 12 October 1794.
Once in America, like other emigrants before and after them, they faced the problem of acculturation. To a degree, the problem was linguistic. The Stiers, though from Antwerp, were essentially cosmopolitan Francophones, who also spoke Dutch – in the Flemish dialect – with their servants. The elder Stier’s English was poor; that of Charles (who aided his father in all business transactions) and Jean Michel van Havre fair; Isabelle, though schooled in English for a year, did not bring with her much knowledge nor liking of the language; Rosalie had learned English for almost six years by the time she arrived and was clearly the most proficient of the family in the language. It is fascinating to observe, through their correspondence, how the new environment impacted the family’s linguistic habits. Certainly 99% of the letters are in the most impeccable upper class, indeed sometimes even literary French, e.g. using the passé simple or the imparfait du subjonctif, and children and parents generally addressing each other with the polite appellative vous. Yet there is a smattering of code-switching to Dutch, e.g. food terms probably habitually used with servants, or proverbs. There is also some interference of English with French, e.g. when Isabelle, referring to Charles’ mother, writes “elle vous manque” which is incorrect in French, most likely through the influence of the English “she misses you” (or possibly Dutch “zij mist U”); or when Marie Louise uses “incliné” in the sense “inclined to do something” rather than the correct French “enclin” – a clear case of interference from English. But above all, the letters testify to a high degree of code-switching to English – I counted over 70 instances. Most often these concern American objects or terms that, while a direct French equivalent may very well exist, are so linked with American life in general or regional plantation life in particular that the English term just comes to mind more rapidly and is therefore employed, e.g. “corn”, “tobacco,” “stage coach,” “sulky,” “sorrel,” “mill race”; or simple terms of daily life doubtless used with slaves, servants, acquaintances, doctors who speak no French, e.g. “plates,” “punch,” “gallons,” “house keeper,” “countryside,” “low spirits,” “blue devils,” “castor oil,” “julap,” “cold,” “nurse her.” In this regard, the Stier’s experience appears rather universal.
Yet the problem of integration was primarily social and cultural. For the women this was mainly due to the gap between themselves as sophisticated European urban women who moved much more freely in society back home than did their American counterparts, themselves tied to the domestic sphere and largely ignorant of affairs beyond their immediate surroundings; thus the Belgians attributed to American women a narrow-minded mentality, a lack of cultured conversation, and found it difficult to communicate. The young men, for the first time in their lives, were enjoined by the elder Stier to work to earn money, not because the family actually needed this income to survive, but to help offset the financial damage incurred by the French taxation of their Belgian assets. As idle aristocrats not used to working, young Stier and van Havre had significant difficulties getting started – and never really succeeded – both from lack of experience as also due to their class-driven disdain for labor purely for material gain, as against philanthropy or community service. They also found it hard to compete with the aggressive business mentality that appeared to characterize the locals, which they decried as a sordidly materialist quest for the dollar – very much as did the French émigrés studied by Huysseune and Harsanyi. The elder Stiers lived a more withdrawn life of quiet retirement, mingled less socially and were thus not confronted with the “American-ness” of the environment as much as the younger generation, and therefore less frustrated. At their age, expectations were also lower than those of their children; they were content to have found a safe haven, and made no real effort at integration. Considering the whole period of the family’s stay, efforts at true integration were always half-hearted – except for Rosalie – for they were always watching out for events in Belgium to improve and enable their return.
Social acceptance did not pose a problem for the Stiers at all. They landed armed with letters of introduction from the American consul in Amsterdam and from the minister to the Court of St. James, and the Philadelphia “American Daily Advertiser” of 13 Oct 1794 even announced their arrival.  Callcott 1. The Stiers immediately made the social rounds, meeting the Binghams, Peters, Penns and Morrises, i.e. the Pennsylvania upper crust. On 26 Dec 1794, the wife of General Henry Knox introduced them to the Washingtons and on 1 Jan 1795 they attended the president’s New Year’s reception. They would maintain this association throughout their stay. The Stiers also made contact with the French émigrés Talleyrand, the Vicomte de Noailles, the Duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, and Omer Talon. The family’s ownership of a prestigious painting collection, moreover, could hardly harm their social status, and indeed attracted the admiration of many art connoisseurs who wanted to view the Flemish masters. One of these admirers was none other than Rembrandt Peale, whom Henri commissioned to do his portrait in the winter of 1799.  The artist was to visit Napoleonic France around the... In Maryland, one of their key social connections was Anne Tasker Ogle, who rapidly took young Rosalie under her wing. Ogle was the widow of the colonial governor and her son would soon become governor himself. The Stiers even leased a slave from her, and she seems to have had a very positive influence on Rosalie as regards social integration and the acceptance of her new home.
While in the beginning quite unhappy, and flatly stating, “I cannot abide the idea of staying here forever, not even for two years,” Rosalie’s youthful buoyancy and language skills quickly had her reporting she had “just about” fallen in love with a local beau.  Rosalie Stier to Isabelle Van Havre, 18 Jan 1796 (Letzter... Once in Maryland, the “just about” soon became the real thing, for George Calvert, scion of the colonial founding family, came a-courting. They were married on 11 June, 1799, a six-page marriage contract having previously been drawn up between her father, Rosalie, Calvert and attorney William Cooke of Baltimore, to protect Rosalie’s interests, given her family background and substantial financial prospects as an heiress. A celebratory dinner was held at Mt. Vernon on 20 June, as George Washington noted in his diary, and Chief Justice Oliver Wellsworth was one of several distinguished guests. Calvert brought into the marriage as his principal plantation a 2000-acre tobacco farm on the Patuxent river, with a two-storey brick house on a hill, and 76 slaves.  Callcott 19-22. Henri decided, on his return to Antwerp, to provide Rosalie with an annual stipend cum dowry of $2,000, noting that with this supplement to the resources of her husband she would be “comfortably off as to want for nothing.”  Henri Stier to Rosalie Stier, 26 Aug 1803 (Letzter... It is clear that, French taxation high as it might be, the Stiers were never in penury. Through Calvert, finally, the Stiers were now linked to the Washingtons (via Martha Custis Washington, through marriage) and their social position established in the New World as firmly as it had ever been in the Old.
Yet ever since their arrival, the family as a whole had always seen their stay as temporary. They were all relieved to have found safety in a free country, with sufficient funds to be happy, but clearly very much missed relatives and friends back home.  Henri Stier to Jean-Baptiste Cogels, 18 Oct 1795 (Letzter... Not they, huddled masses come with the intention of settling and staying forever. Everything was up in the air and subject to the shifting politics of revolutionary and Napoleonic Europe. As Henri put it, “For the rest, everything is temporary, nothing is fixed yet.”  Henri Stier to Jean Baptiste Cogels, 14 June 1796 (Letzter... Hard news was not always easy to come by, and rumors abounded, first raising, then lowering spirits, as Rosalie lamented, “We seem to have had high hopes the past several days, but the gazettes do not confirm all the good news. Oh well, we must still wait patiently for some time to see what our fate will be.”  Rosalie Stier to Isabelle Van Havre, 18 Jan 1796 (Letzter... In August, 1797, Henri wrote Charles that he had been informed by a friend in Belgium that his own and Charles’ name had now been stricken from the list of émigrés; thus they could go home and he had resolved to begin planning for a return in May or June 1798.  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 12 Aug 1797 (Letzter... By December, Charles reported on the content of a letter from their Amsterdam agent, Henri Lambert Louvrex, dated 23 Sept 1797, informing the family of a dangerous radicalization of the French regime and the negative impact on those émigrés who had been allowed to return, but who were now again expelled from Belgium, and non-compliance was threatened with court martial or even execution.  Daybook Charles Stier, 8 Dec 1797 (Callcott 16). Thus, the Directory dashed all hopes of an early return.
Henri had also received news of the consequences for the family of the 18 Fructidor Coup (4 Sept 1797), that the recent “reintegrations” were now voided, and émigrés who had ill-advisedly returned, during the moderate Directorial phase, risked imprisonment and even their lives.  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 18 Dec 1797 (Letzter... These developments appear to have gotten him thinking in terms of possibly even settling – having so far leased the several houses the family lived in – so that he began a search for a proper plot of land on which to build a house of his own design.  Charles Stier to Jean Michel van Havre, [ND] Jan 1798... On 18 Sept 1800, he purchased a plantation of 729 1/4 acres plus six lots in the town of Bladensburg for 7,200 Maryland £ or about $20,000.  Callcott 25. Here he would build, in a real all-family project, his American dream-house, Riversdale and – just maybe – settle down for good to a well-deserved retirement and fulfil yet another dream, setting up a state-of-the art scientific farm inspired by Physiocratic principles, even if, unfortunately, staffed by slaves, of which he had purchased fifteen.
After 18 Brumaire, the European scene changed yet again and Bonaparte began moving towards a conciliatory policy of émigré rehabilitation. A first step was the decree of 28 vendémiaire Year IX (20 October, 1800), which removed women and children, and lower class males from the émigré list.  Clive Emsley, The Longman Companion to Napoleonic Europe,... Hopes for a possible return mounted in Fall 1800 or Spring 1801, when the Stiers heard that the French departmental prefect at Antwerp, the Marquis d’Herbouville, had requested their removal from the émigré list with the Paris authorities, though definitive confirmation of removal was not received. Family developments contributed to the urge to return for Charles and Mimi, whose mother was sick, and as usual, friends were applying pressure for the Stiers to finally come home. The young couple sailed from Baltimore in early September 1801, the first to return. Jean Michel returned in November, 1801, leaving behind the pregnant and therefore unfit to travel Isabelle (and the children), who moved in with her parents. Henri and Marie-Louise, yet again, began planning a possible return, hardly half a year after they had signed a contract with their new Riversdale house architect. Isabelle reported the vacillations of her parents regarding a return to Antwerp, “Sometimes they say: ‘Let’s go to Antwerp,’ then at other times they think it is better here.”  Isabelle van Havre to Charles Stier, 28 Dec 1801 (Letzter...
Meanwhile, on 27 March, 1802, the Peace of Amiens ended the war between France and Britain, the war on the Continent having already been ended with the Peace of Lunéville (9 February, 1801). Amiens stipulated the reciprocal restitution of most, if not all, colonies captured by the belligerents and there allies, but did not mention the left bank of the Rhine, Italy, or Belgium.  Jean Tulard, Dictionnaire Napoléon, 2nd ed. Paris:... Furthermore, while Napoleon had already begun a policy of tacit toleration of émigré return soon after Brumaire, the émigré amnesty law of 6 floréal Year X (26 April, 1802) formally provided a general amnesty for all émigrés – with the exception of Frenchmen who had born arms against France – provided the émigré swore an oath of fealty to France in the presence of the departmental prefect.  Tulard I: 717-719.
Charles informed his parents of the law, which however stipulated a deadline of 22 Sept 1802 for their return, and sent out ten copies of this letter through different channels to make sure they received one.  Charles Stier to Henri and Marie Louise Stier, 16 Apr... He also urgently requested they make a formal declaration in writing to the French minister plenipotentiary in the U.S. to enable their return, as follows: “I, Henri Joseph Stier, declare that I have not emigrated, but that I left Belgium before the inhabitants of the Municipality of Antwerp proclaimed their union with France – that I only came to this country for commercial and family reasons and that I promise fealty to the Constitution of the Year VIII. I also declare never having born arms against France, nor having accepted any position, pension, nor payment from a foreign government and I promise to never participate in any public assembly, body, [or] association which might tend to excite upheaval in France or change the present form of Government.”  Charles Stier to Henri and Marie Louise Stier, 16 Apr...
One can easily imagine the mixed feelings the receipt of this news caused in Bladensburg. Marie Louise reported having not only received Charles’ letter informing of the amnesty, but also having read of it in a gazette. Her letter was full of anguish at the pressure to return and the virtual impossibility of doing so within the allotted three months; finding a suitable vessel, packing and sending all their belongings on to the port, wrapping up business, paying debts, paying the workers, all had to be done. This was just too much to ask of a more than sexagenarian and tired man, a sick old woman, and a young mother with four small children, of which one an infant of four months. And all the children were on the verge of catching the measles. And given her own illness she was herself in no state to travel, having had numerous reoccurrences and even an inflammatory flux. Finally, it was out of the question that father alone should return first as this would leave a sick woman and a woman with four children alone in the countryside “at the mercy of the Negroes.”  Marie Louise Stier to Charles Stier, 25 June 1802 (Letzter...
Since they could not possibly comply with the deadline, the Stiers took pro-active measures to avoid continued proscription and went to the French legation in Georgetown to formally swear allegiance to the French Republic (1 and 19 July, 1802) and to provide medical attestations of Marie Louise’s poor health, rendering her unable to travel at this time. Even though this meant abandoning Riversdale and Rosalie, in November, 1802 Henri finally announced that “[...] we have taken the firm decision to return. Since there is no more hope in seeing my whole family reunited, I must join the greater number.”  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, NPND, Nov 1802 (Letzter... In January, 1803, Charles was still waiting for the formal declaration of fidelity, on the part of the ladies in America, to the French minister, which was required to formalize the end of sequestration of their property – although, as he pointed out, there was in fact no sequestration.  Charles Stier to Henri and M. L. Stier, after 24 Jan... And then, in the middle of the Stier’s final preparations for departure, news reached America that Britain and France had resumed hostilities (war was declared on 18 May 1803). Departure was scheduled barely two weeks later, the baggage was on the point of being loaded on board ship in Baltimore, and the Atlantic crossing would now be much more dangerous than during peace. This caused great concern regarding what to do with the precious paintings, which Charles said could be insured for 25,000-30,000 guilders, but his father believed should be insured for significantly more than 30,000, since the original coverage had been calculated during peace time, and now the risk of loss was significantly greater.  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 11 May 1803 (Letzter... Not willing to take the risk, Henri proposed to Calvert and Rosalie to move to Riversdale after the Stier’s return to Antwerp, run the plantation and safeguard the Peeters painting collection, which they gladly did. Henri and his wife, Isabelle and her four children, accompanied by a young slave girl Lucie to help out during the voyage, returned on board the American ship “Anthony Mangin” from Baltimore and arrived in Den Helder on 6 August 1803, after an absence from home of almost ten years.  Henri Stier to Rosalie Stier, 26 Aug 1803 (Letzter...
It is a universal of the immigrant experience that the immigrant is confronted, in his or her new home, with issues of identity, namely that of self, and that of other, i.e. of the host nation. Historically, the relatively young field of imagology, or image studies, has demonstrated that these images of self and other – respectively auto-stereotypes and hetero-stereotypes – relate to each other in a mutually re-enforcing dynamic and function according to several models. In the case of our Belgians, three concepts or models come into play. First, the “self-serving dynamic,” which is almost always at work when one group observes another. According to the self-serving dynamic, the spector (i.e. observing group, in this case the Belgians) typically attributes more negative characteristics to the spected (i.e. observed group, in this case the Americans – but also the French) than to themselves, in the process validating their own group identity. In social psychology, this is also known as the in-group/out-group model. Second, the “center-periphery” model, which posits a sophisticated, dynamic, modern “center” – typically a geographic center, but sometimes also a metaphorical center – vs. a backward, static, conservative “periphery.” Depending on the particular vantage point taken by the spector according to how the self-serving dynamic is invoked in a particular case, a country (or region, city, people, nation ...) can be either assigned to the center or to the periphery. In some cases it can even be both, depending on the characteristics being spected at a given moment. Finally, the “strong state – weak state” model, which posits that states (and their citizens), during times of heightened power or hegemony, are assigned negative stereotypes by foreign spectors, because strong states are perceived as threatening to their neighbors. These same states, in times of decline or weakness, tend to be assigned positive stereotypes.  For an introduction to the history and theory of imagology,... How then can these concepts and models provide insight into the experience of the Stiers in America?
When the Stiers arrived they were variously held by the locals for French, German, or Dutch. This is hardly surprising, for Belgium had not yet existed as a country, historically. Thus “Belgian,” as a label of “national character,” was as yet non-existent – unless one looked to Caesar’s Gallic commentaries, in which he described the Belgae as a particularly ferocious tribe of Celtic warriors, as every schoolboy who has ever translated De Bello Gallico will remember. For American spectors, all three labels appeared reasonable. The Stiers spoke French, after all, and to an American their general culture appeared more French than anything else. They were even French citizens, de iure, after French annexation. But they also presented themselves as Germanic nobility from within the Habsburg Empire, as we have seen. At the same time, their cultural background was also very much Dutch and Antwerp, their home town, was a Dutch-speaking city in Flanders, far north of the linguistic boundary between the Francophone and Flemish parts of Belgium. Not surprisingly, the family was at pains to make their identity clear, i.e. they were “none of the above” – they were Belgian.
Throughout their stay in America, the Stiers consistently made a point of not being French, but demonstrating their unique identity as Belgians from Antwerp. This was mainly a cultural statement and tended to manifest itself in areas where they were significantly different from their hosts. For one, they were devout Catholics in a predominantly Protestant America. Thus soon after their arrival in the tolerant Quaker Philadelphia they sought out the most fashionable of the three available Catholic churches, St. Mary’s, which was also the church of choice for the Francophone émigrés. Indeed, it even had special pews for the ambassadors of France, Spain, and Portugal. Joining this congregation, therefore, constituted at one and the same time a religious, cultural, but also a class statement. For, as the elder Stier would remind his son, they were “German barons, who possess nothing but our genealogical and financial titles” (French “titres,” as also in “deeds”), alluding to the Holy Roman Empire of which he had once been a proud member, in the now defunct Austrian Netherlands.  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 12 Dec 1798 (Letzter... Noble titles aside, the Stiers were even direct descendants of the famous painter Peter Paul Rubens, some of whose masterpieces they could proudly exhibit in their magnificent collection. One can readily imagine the impression this weighty cultural lineage made on the provincial locals.
On a day-to-day basis, however, the maintenance and expression of their cultural identity took slightly more mundane forms, i.e. in the importation of Belgian luxury goods such as lace and textiles, furniture and fashions; the cultivation of Belgian flowers and vegetables; and Belgian home-cooking. Thus, Marie Louise ordered anchovies pickled in sauce and stockfish to prepare for fasting during Lent, fine woolen stockings and matching wool for darning, large needles for carding, and seeds for the vegetable garden.  Marie Louise Stier to Charles Stier, 28 Dec 1801 (Letzter... And when Charles had returned to Antwerp, she wrote how much she missed the “good fish” and “bon stews” of home, wondered how he was enjoying them when he had himself missed them so dearly while in America; in closing she ordered a small cask of fresh anchovies, as proper ones, in her opinion, could just not be had in America.  Marie Louise Stier to Charles Stier, after 17 Apr 1802... Part of the interior of their new plantation house, Riversdale, was also to be furnished with imported Belgian luxury articles, e.g. custom-made marble mantelpieces for the several fireplaces throughout the house.  Marie Louise Stier to Charles Stier, 16 Oct 1801 (Letzter... The devout Marie Louise wanted her own chapel, too, and sent away to Antwerp for all the ornaments, chalices and fine cloths she needed to celebrate mass properly.  Marie Louise Stier to Charles Stier, 28 Dec 1801 (Letzter... After her parents’ and sister’s return to Antwerp Rosalie, now “the last of the Belgians,” as it were, saw an increased necessity of affirming her identity, and the whole family on the other side of the Atlantic collaborated in this project, by sending cultural news, luxury articles, etc., that Rosalie could use, wear or show off in the diplomatic circles she frequented with her husband. In this, the maintenance of material habits of food, externals like clothing, and in religion, the Stiers’ experiences mirrored that of other immigrants. Distinct from most immigrants by class and wealth, of course, the Stiers could indulge themselves much more in attempting to re-create a Belgian environment in Maryland.
In terms of the Stiers’ image of American society, and by extension their construction of an American hetero-stereotype, Charles probably summed it up in its most simplified form as, “You don’t have to come here to live agreeably, but tranquilly, that is without fear of loss of liberty, life, or property.”  Charles Stier to Unknown, 12 Dec 1798 (Letzter 78).... Thus, as an adherent of economic and political liberalism, he was drawing up a balance sheet for America, which guaranteed the three fundamental Lockean liberties in their classical form, but did not provide the social and cultural amenities of Belgium, for in America all one found was superficial material luxury of the shallowest kind. Young Rosalie complained of being deprived of the “charms and pleasures” of sophisticated Antwerp society, which she found all the more painful as she, given her age and just on the cusp of being able to fully enjoy them, was thrown into a provincial exile.  Rosalie Stier to Isabelle Van Havre, 18 Jan 1796 (Letzter... Rosalie dearly missed the Old World refinement of Belgium, considering America and the Americans unsophisticated. “[...] truly,” she wrote, “I would prefer living in mediocrity in a pretty town in Europe than to live here in the midst of abundance.”  Rosalie Stier to Isabelle Van Havre, 18 Jan 1796 (Letzter... Indeed, in the beginning, the shock was so great that she could hardly reconcile herself to the prospects of staying. As Rosalie put it, “In one word everything is so disorganized here and the people of this country are so strange that we just don’t know what to do anymore. This hope of returning to Europe will always complicate everything, but I think that I would be too unhappy if it were taken from me.”  Rosalie Stier to Charles Stier, June 1795 (Letzter... Adding a class element to this discourse, her older sister Isabelle agreed with their father in that America, as against Belgium, was just not a country for the propertied, but rather, “in a word, a charming country for those who have nothing and who earn today what they will spend tomorrow and sometimes have spent yesterday.”  Isabelle van Havre to Charles Stier, ND end Feb ear...
Letzter has argued that a lot of the social-cultural identity issues raised with the young women Rosalie and Isabelle are attributable to the differing gender-role expectations of America and Belgium.  Letzter, “The Political Exile of the Stiers,” 61-62.... The Belgian women were raised as sophisticated, cultured, urban women and this brought with it, in the Stier family, an excellent education, equal rights and significant responsibilities for financial decisions and the management of the family fortune. As independent women, they expected to move freely in society. In contrast, American women appeared relegated to the domestic sphere. I would agree and have demonstrated this assessment elsewhere, for upper-class French visitors – culturally close to our Francophone Belgians – later in the 19th century.  William L. Chew III, “Jean-Marie Meets Mary-Jean: 19th-Century... Thus young Rosalie, soon after her arrival, offered this summary evaluation: “The women, I believe, are in general false, lacking in wit, talent and education; this is quite natural since they are always amongst themselves, without men, and thus their conversation revolves solely around their household, children, and toiletries.”  Rosalie Stier to Isabelle Van Havre, 18 Jan 1796 (Letzter...
Nor could provincial Maryland or Virginia offer the sophisticated cultural amenities of an urban Old World setting like Antwerp, founded a millennium before the discovery of America. Charles listed some of what America lacked, and Antwerp offered: “balls, concerts, spectacles, [...] museums, lyceums, botanical gardens, lending libraries [...],”  Charles Stier to Henri and M. L. Stier, after 24 Jan... not to mention a sophisticated “taste in furniture, carriages, fashion.”  Charles Stier to Isabelle van Havre, 30 May 1802 (Letzter... America also lacked social amenities, Charles stressed: “To help in one’s work you have foresters, clerks, businessmen, workers, domestics. At an advanced age, in case of illness, of infirmity, one has all sorts of help to be found in a country for long well-arranged.”  Charles Stier to Henri and M. L. Stier, after 24 Jan... Above all, proper domestic service in America – and reliable tenants – were just not to be had. Charles wrote, “I know by experience that [in Belgium] I can have a clerk, coachman, servant, cook, nun, farm tenant, house tenant who pays his rent.”  Charles Stier to Isabelle van Havre, 1 Nov 1802 (Letzter... Once again, we hear the propertied, urban, leisured Old World Catholic speaking.
Charles, the first of the family to return to their beloved Antwerp, looked back on his stay and attempted to summarize the salient differences between America and Belgium. American houses were smaller, of poorer quality than in Belgium, less well decorated, but more expensive. The furniture might very well be elegant, but the Negroes would not take care of it. The food was quite good – he opined in a dissenting view – if one didn’t miss the multitude of refined ragouts you just couldn’t get in America; in fact, he “preferred American cooking above all others due to its simplicity,” in the process confirming the stereotype of healthy abundance, but lack of finesse. The carriages were “charming” when brand new but they were not made with the same care as those in Belgium. The horses were “excellent.” Domestic servants? – “Oh God, let’s not speak of those.” The climate: “Excellent, if you can take it (I admit that all the while it was killing me, I pardoned it for its serenity...)”. The countryside, acceptable. Society? “A delicate subject: I knew some people with quite some merit and likeable qualities; I knew others who did me good by the excessive tedium they inspired in me.”  Charles Stier to Henri and M. L. Stier, after 24 Jan... In imagological terms then, culturally, America emerged as the periphery, Belgium the center, and Americans were stereotyped as unsophisticated provincial yokels.
America also emerged as the periphery, quite expectedly, as regards a socially controversial institution, but quite unexpectedly, due to a surprising reason. The institution in question is slavery. The Stiers had chosen to make their new home in Maryland – for the elder Stiers and Rosalie, and Virginia – for Charles and Mimi, Jean Michel and Isabelle (until her brother, husband and sister-in-law left). The choice had been made for business reasons, as Henri felt the location was the best possible one to set up some kind of commercial operation, i.e. unrelated to the existence there of the peculiar institution, with which they were soon confronted. Not only were they living in slave country, but the lease of the Strawberry Hill farm and the later acquisition of the Riversdale plantation necessitated a substantial slave labor force, fundamentally the only agricultural labor available in the South for genteel white planters or farm owners. As tenants in town, as well (i.e. during their stay in Annapolis and Bladensburg) they also required several house-slaves for the daily tasks of cleaning, cooking, taking care of the stable, etc. The family’s experience and discourse surrounding their own slaves and slaves in general is illuminating and markedly different from that of the French émigrés, as also of Frenchmen like Tocqueville and his friend Beaumont, traveling in ante-bellum America a few decades later.
Soon after the move from Philadelphia to Maryland, Henri surveyed the surrounding property of Strawberry Hill, decided it was suitable for cultivation, but would necessitate the purchase of black slaves which, as he simply said, “disgusted” him, without however elaborating on the cause of his aversion.  Henri Stier to Jean-Baptiste Cogels, 18 Oct 1795 (Letzter... He never did exploit the farm in a big way commercially, but the household did number five leased slaves: a cook, washerwoman, gardener, house servant, and groom.  Henri Stier to Jean Baptiste Cogels, 14 June 1796 (Letzter... From a purely financial point of view, he considered investing in slaves risky, claiming that “Finding a good one is a matter of luck. If you do find one, you never can tell if he might not change his behavior. Simple chance can deprive you of the value of your property [...]”  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 7 Aug 1797 (Letzter 63)....In spite of this reluctance, as a would-be planter, one had no choice. And Henri Stier’s ambitious project for Riversdale was to set himself up on the cutting edge of modern scientific farming, as widely practiced throughout the Low Countries back home, and in true Physiocratic tradition. Indeed, while making plans for the purchase of a lot and construction of a large house, Henri was already despairing about the possibility of getting proper servants, and neither slaves nor freemen would do.  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 28 Sept 1798 (Callcott... Eventually, according to the 1800 U.S. census, he owned fifteen slaves.  Callcott 25. Yet when his son Charles proposed to buy a house in Alexandria, as Jean Michel van Havre had done, Henri advised strongly against the project because of the possibility of a slave uprising that would not only threaten the family but also destroy the investment.  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, July (?) 1798 (Callcott... In response, Jean Michel maintained that his father-in-law’s anxieties were exaggerated, because “one white was worth three blacks.”  Jean Michel van Havre to Charles Stier, 17 Feb 1797...
Young Rosalie’s first written reaction to slavery was a bland report that a good acquaintance had “just leased us a negress for $3 a month whom she had promised us for $2, which is the ordinary price,” the sole point being that the Stiers had been overcharged.  Rosalie Stier to Isabelle van Havre, 8 Jan 1796 (Callcott... Her big sister, Isabelle, who by the time they returned to Belgium had four children on her hands, constantly complained about her slaves. Used to having sophisticated child care in the form of nurses or servants in Europe, she was very unhappy at being “at the mercy” of her slaves, for “It is not possible to leave them [i.e. the children] with the blacks for one instant, especially with those we have here.”  Isabelle van Havre to Charles Stier, ND end Feb ear... The children were not only spoiled by the slaves and played with them too much, which was not proper; even more, Isabelle felt threatened, since for a mother with children, alone among the slaves, life was hard to endure. “A man in good health could love this country, I suppose,” she argued, “but for a woman, especially with children, it is hell; it is as if one were constantly surrounded by wolves.”  Isabelle van Havre to Jean Michel van Havre 5 Apr-26... Slaves were hard to manage, or as she put it, “Maybe you need to be raised here to know how to get these black machines to work, which we’ll just never know how to do.”  Isabelle van Havre to Charles Stier, 1 and 5 July,... Her poor old father, too, she said, had so much trouble due to the constant “household annoyances we have with these accursed blacks.”  Isabelle van Havre to Charles Stier, ND end Feb ear... As someone who grew up in a slave-plantation environment, and routinely managed over a hundred slaves himself, Calvert expressed concern with his father-in-law’s problems: “I fear he finds the management of negroes more troublesome than he expected; it certainly requires a large stock of patience.”  George Calvert to Charles Stier, 20 April, 1803 (Callcott... The blacks “torment us often,” Isabelle wrote elsewhere.  Isabelle van Havre to Charles Stier, ND end Feb ear... You had to keep them in line, and Isabelle reported mother Stier having taken a housekeeper but having to sack her after two months, since she “spoiled the Negroes.”  Isabelle van Havre to Charles Stier, 28 Dec 1801 (Letzter...
Rosalie, who as the future wife of a wealthy planter would have to help manage many slaves, at one point reproached her sister Isabelle for treating her own slaves too harshly, citing the fact that Isabelle would not permit her female cook to have a lover. Rosalie advised, “I believe that one does not have to treat these people harshly to get good service; one must only be firm.”  Rosalie Stier to Isabelle van Havre, 18 Jan 1796 (Letzter... Indeed, Rosalie appears to have adapted well enough to a slave society, writing from her new home on the Calvert plantation, “I am very charmed at having bought the cook. He cooks very well and will learn easily what he doesn’t know as he is of good will. He makes excellent stews.”  Rosalie Calvert to Henri and Marie Louise Stier, 21... Reporting to her parents on the state of Riversdale, after their return to Antwerp, she drily noted that five carpenters were engaged in building “houses for the Negroes” and that she had sold two slaves her father had left: “The old witch Sara and her little girl are sold for 100 $. We tried to sell her in Baltimore but couldn’t. Afraid of being sold to some Georgian, she threatened to run away. Finally she made such pretty promises as to convince Ben Lowndes [an acquaintance of the Calverts] to buy her.”  Rosalie Calvert to Henri and Marie Louise Stier, 12... The slave Sara was apparently afraid of being sold down South into the back-breaking labor of cotton country, preferring to stay in the presumably better conditions of Maryland.
At one point in the family’s deliberations on when to return to Antwerp, in terms of trying to meet the deadline of the émigré amnesty law, the plan was discussed that Henri might first return alone. Marie Louise vetoed the idea, arguing that it was out of the question that father should return first as this would leave her, Isabelle and the four children alone in the countryside “at the mercy of the Negroes.”  Marie Louise Stier to Charles Stier, 25 June 1802 (Letzter... On their transatlantic journey home, finally, as a simple matter of course the Stiers took along a young slave girl, Lucie, as their servant for the passage, primarily to help Isabelle with the four children. Henri sent her back on board the same ship destined to return after a two-week layover, having paid her passage and provided money for her stage coach trip back to Bladensburg from Baltimore.  Henri Stier to Rosalie Stier, 26 Aug 1803 (Letzter...
Looking back at the Stier’s account, the stark absence of any critical discourse concerning the morality of slavery is striking. Nor do any of the family enter into the prevalent discourse of French observers then and later regarding the contradiction between the egalitarian rhetoric of American society and the reality of slavery.  For émigré and early 19th-century French discourse... This may be partially attributable to the absence of slavery in Belgian history up to that point, as against that of France. Belgium, so far, had no colonies and was not confronted with slavery, and Belgians had not been prominent in the slave trade. Nor had Belgium, as had France, pioneered the first black slave code in the New World, the Code Noir, and subsequently engendered a vocal abolitionist society, in the Société des Amis des Noirs, modeled on the English Society of the Friends of the Blacks, with prominent Frenchmen like Condorcet or Lafayette as charter members.  See William L. Chew III, “Code Noir” and “Société des... Indeed, Lafayette had even made it a point to single out and honor black American veterans of the American Revolution, during his 1825 farewell tour, much to the chagrin of Southern slave-holders.  See Sarah J. Purcell, “Lafayette, Memory, and American... In fact, the Belgian never really overtly discuss slavery as a social institution at all, and references to the institution are exclusively limited to pragmatic aspects such as the slaves’ shortcomings as servants, compared to the sophisticated butlers, nannies and man-servants of Belgium; how to treat them on a daily basis to get the most work out of them; the real or implied fear of a revolt; and lastly their value as an investment, as simple property. The system as such, the institution is not criticized. America, therefore, again emerges as peripheral – like in the émigré accounts – but not because it maintains an inhumane and immoral system in which human beings are property, but just because the system provides poor servants and poor investments to a sophisticated Belgian upper class of urban wealth.
As avid spectors of American society, determined by their particular class, complex identity and Belgian culture, the Stiers also voiced robust opinions on American politics. Their own European experience, their family political baggage, as it were, strongly influenced them in their assessment of political America during the early Republic. For one, the Stiers shared the French émigré aversion to the French Revolution and the Jacobins, and not only due to their immediate impact as occupiers of Belgium. For the Stiers were certainly not in any sense of the word “democratically” inclined, as Letzter has implied, writing of Henri: “Like many other enlightened Europeans, he espoused ideals of liberty and a secular and democratic government.”  Letzter, “The Political Exile of the Stiers,” 57. Liberty and secular, yes; democratic, no. While it is correct, as she maintains, that during the Brabant revolution such a political attitude would have put him on the side of Joseph II, this is not because Stier was democratically inclined, which he wasn’t, nor was Joseph II a democrat, but because Joseph espoused liberal reforms targeted at limiting the powers of the Belgian ultra-conservative landed nobility and the Catholic Church. The Brabant Revolution was in fact a conservative reaction against Josephinian modernization.  An excellent essay collection linking the French and... But none of this was “democratic.” It was the overly reactionary element which Henri disliked. Of the younger Stier, Letzter also writes: “Charles was even more enthusiastic than his father was about the United States, which he saw as democratic in the noblest sense of the world.”  Letzter, “The Political Exile of the Stiers,” 58. Yet Charles was soon to become a fervent admirer of Bonaparte – which hardly speaks for his supposed democratic values. Indeed, when describing the U.S. constitution, Charles wrote that it was an expression of the “will of the nation,” [my stress] choosing a key expression from the lexicon of liberalism, as distinct from the democratic term “will of the people.”  Charles Stier to Unidentified, 1 Oct 1798 [draft] (Letzter,... The Stiers were doubtless liberals, both economically and politically, in the 18th-century sense of the word, i.e. in favor of free trade (cf. Stier’s Physiocratic leanings) and strong proponents of the Lockean triad of life, liberty, and property.  Charles Stier to Unknown, 12 Dec 1798 (Letzter 78).... Liberty, it will be remembered, for 18th-century liberals, meant freedom from despotic monarchs, limited in their powers by a constitution endowing citizens with passive and active suffrage determined by property. It did not entail suffrage for the lower classes, who should know their place in society and defer to their betters. Henri wrote of suffrage in America that it “could not be greater” (“ne peut être plus étendu”).  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 12 Dec 1798 (Letzter,... This was no democracy, as the franchise was limited by property requirements to white male freeholders, though it did provide the most extensive suffrage in the world at the time, much more than did Britain or France, which both had a high census. Women, blacks and Indians could not vote, of course. So not even the United States was yet a democracy, the Founding Fathers themselves were liberals, and even basic universal white male suffrage still lay several decades in the future, during the Jackson administration.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that the Stiers, during their stay in America at a time of major political transition, described by many as the “Revolution of 1800,” when power passed from the Federalists to the Democratic-Republicans, came out as staunch supporters of the former. For the Federalists, whose constituency was predominantly composed of well-off merchants, financiers and early manufacturers, and who had pushed for a strong executive and a powerful Federal bank to ensure the prosperity of the nation, most closely matched the Stier’s own social-political profile. Had not Henri, having met William Bingham, founder of the Bank of America, soon after the family’s arrival in Philadelphia, subsequently invested a considerable part of his assets in Federal bonds, a clear indication of his trust in the U.S. – Federalist – government?  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 12 Dec 1798 (Letzter... The Democratic-Republicans, the party of small farmers, artisans and labor, were equated by the Stiers with the Jacobins, and Jefferson himself was execrated as their leader. Jefferson’s well-known francophilia, given the Stier’s own antipathy for the French, further strengthened their hatred for the party of the people. Isabelle complained about the rise of the Republicans as follows: “The turn that government is taking here is not encouraging. Jefferson and his followers are behaving like real illuminates and their party seems to be winning and spreading everywhere.”  Isabelle van Havre to Charles Stier, 28 Dec 1801 (Letzter... She was of course referring to the Illuminati, associated by conservative Catholics with the Freemasons, together responsible, in an evil conspiracy led by the grinning atheist Voltaire, for the outbreak of the French Revolution.  See Amos Hofman, “The Origins of the Theory of the... Her brother denounced the Republicans as “partisans of a sect.”  Charles Stier, Draft, Jan 1803 (Letzter 188 n. 2). The significance of the decline of Federalism, Isabelle believed, along with her father, was that it gave the people “a feeling of equality or indeed of superiority.”  Isabelle van Havre to Charles Stier, ND end Feb early... Marie Louise also lamented the rise of the Democratic-Republicans: “Democracy does not make people easier to get along with [“plus traitables”]. Jefferson promised them a life of abundance without work.” And so, she argued, the people were getting inflated ideas of themselves and becoming pretentious, e.g. at “the democratic clubs of the lower classes, where they drink and pretend to speak like the rich. [...] You would not believe how the public spirit has been perverted and how over-mighty the ‘Demos’ have become.”  Marie Louise Stier to Charles Stier, 23 Mar 1802 (Letzter... “Jacobinism and democracy are growing stronger every day,” she wrote, and agreed with the Federalist gazettes’ attacks on Jefferson, noting that “They target Jefferson with ridicule who, after all, is really just a vain beast who wants to pass for a philosopher or great man.”  Marie Louise Stier to Charles Stier, ND Jan 1802 (Letzter...
This negative assessment of the American party landscape stands in marked contrast to a generally positive evaluation of the state of the union during the family’s early years in the country, i.e. up to the election of 1800, and largely parallels French émigré discourse. Charles painted a very positive picture of the U.S. constitution, highly conducive to liberty, public tranquility and business: “The constitutions [sic] are truly the expression of her national will. [...] The subscriptions for the creation of a navy, the public debt and the taxes are nothing compared to Europe. The difference between the State and the fortune of divers citizens [is] so small that they can all see themselves as part of one single family – in one word – the Union is their supreme interest. That is the situation of this country, which assures it of domestic tranquility, while its distance from Europe constitutes a guarantee against invasion.”  Charles Stier to Unknown, 12 Dec 1798 (Letzter 78).... Henri was also optimistic about the long-term future of America, which on a daily basis witnessed the growth of “improvements” (he used the English word) and population; the public debt was moderate and he saw no reason to fear a default, although for the time being, due to the international situation, in particular the decline in foreign trade, the prosperity of the towns would decline, paper money would be suppressed and specie rise dramatically in value.  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 12 Dec 1798 (Letzter... These temporary problems, attributable to the current international conjuncture, aside, he was convinced that the U.S., as against contemporary Europe, was in a very stable political situation [“ce pays-ci n’est sujet à aucune convulsion”]; in Europe, politics were revolutionary; in America, evolutionary.  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 12 Dec 1798 (Letzter... The economy was fundamentally sound, and “The national debt rests on an endless fertile land and a growing population, [and] the banks are buttressed by houses and industry.”  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 20 Jan 1800 (Callcott... Indeed, Henri’s confidence in the Federalist-run government was so firm as to advise his son to invest in Federal bonds, especially in view of the stagnation of commerce and possible declining values of commodities and real estate.  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 12 Dec 1798 (Letzter... Thus, while America, before Jefferson, compared to Belgium – under French revolutionary domination, notabene – in imagological terms was culturally on the periphery, it could be characterized as politically central, given its stable liberal political system and robust economy.
The political frame of reference for our Belgian spectors was, at first, France and Belgium under the Convention and Directory, later under Napoleonic. The Stiers kept a close watch on European, French, and Belgian affairs, as far as this was possible from across the Atlantic, subject to the frustrations of delayed news or dubious news in the form of rumors.  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 17 Dec 1799 (Letzter... Their interest was naturally a vital one, for on the turn of political events hinged the possibility of their return, as we have already seen with regard to specific émigré legislation. In general terms, once again, an examination of the Stier’s political discourse with reference to politics back home reveals more about the spector, than about the spected.
In June of 1795, Henri heard about the Treaty of Basel (5 April 1795), between France and Prussia, in which Prussia ceded her territories on the left bank of the Rhine to France, and for which France, in a secret article, promised to indemnify Prussia, at a later date, with territory on the river’s right bank.  Jean Tulard, J.-F. Fayard et A. Fierro. Histoire et... Europe, in his view, was in a “singular crisis,” and he heard reports that the Americans expected an overall peace settlement soon, since Basel had dismembered the anti-French coalition and “revolts everywhere in Europe and above all impending famine” would “force” the conclusion of peace.  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 19 June 1795 (Letzter... Yet his outlook on the effects of Basel on the Belgian situation were pessimistic. He predicted falsely, regarding her impending annexation by France (1 Oct 1795) that “the Belgian nation will accept extermination rather than amalgamation with France.”  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 19 June 1795 (Letzter... A major concern for every citizen of Antwerp, as also for Henri, had to be the issue of the re-opening of the Scheldt, closed at the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. According to the Franco-Dutch Treaty of the Hague of 17 May 1795, the restoration of free navigation on Meuse, Rhine, and Scheldt was promised. By October, Henri voiced divided views on future prospects. On the one hand, he based his hopes on Basel, which might provide a new basis for stability, on the other he expressed pessimism given the ravages of war and widespread shortages, in particular the “infinite” sufferings of Belgium.  Henri Stier to Jean-Baptiste Cogels, 18 Oct 1795 (Letzter... He could hardly have been reassured by the reports coming in from home. One correspondent reported that under French occupation all classes of the population had suffered and everyone was unhappy with the occupiers; those few Belgians who had refused to believe in the downturn predicted with the French arrival had been convinced of its reality by the assignats; those who profited by the occupation were the object of hatred of the patriots; many prominent houses of leading families had suffered damages at the hands of the occupiers, notably that of Henri’s mother (estimated at 6,000 FL) and of an acquaintance; in closing he agreed that it was right that he and the Stiers had left the country and noted that if Robespierre had survived a few months longer, the notorious Joseph Le Bon (the bloody ex-représentant en mission at Arras) would have been sent to the Low Countries and have doubtless imported the Terror.  Philippe De Pret to Charles Stier, 17 Dec 1795 (Letzter...
Later, in the lead-up to Campo Formio, Henri noted the link between the fortunes of war and Atlantic commerce, for with the anticipated peace American businessmen were beginning to speculate on the actual opening of the Scheldt and a possibly lucrative trade with Antwerp. Indeed, he was even asked by a Baltimore merchant for a letter of recommendation to an Antwerp businessman, which he gladly provided.  Henri Stier to Jean Baptiste Cogels, 14 June 1796 (Letzter... Henri himself refused to let his hopes get too high, for even if there were a general peace “after this [current] campaign which I believe will be the last because it will be terrible and bloody,” Belgium would still remain a part of France.  Henri Stier to Jean Baptiste Cogels, 14 June 1796 (Letzter... He described the expected ruinous fiscal impact of the French revolutionary regime installed in Belgium on families of fortune, like his, in stark terms: “You will see [...] that they will tax personal property, real estate, [and] income in such a fashion that one will even be levied on funds from which one derives no interest.”  Henri Stier to Isabelle van Havre, 31 Nov 1796 (Letzter... Stier was of course accustomed to the privileged status of the nobility under the Austrian Ancien Régime and was horrified at actually being taxed in a more or less equitable manner, to include his American property. In the summer and fall of 1797, reports came in on the failed Anglo-French peace talks, English preparations for the Second Coalition, and the reorganization of Italy under Bonaparte’s auspices.  L.G. [?] to Charles Stier, 13 July 1797 (Letzter 60).... Much more disturbing, however, was the news of the Fructidor Coup, and Henri expressed his anguish at the deterioration of the political and religious state of affairs in Belgium due to the radicalization of the Directory: “[...] more than a thousand [émigrés who had returned during the moderate Directory] must leave the country. [...] Many families are in a state of desolation, the churches are closed down, the priests who have refused to take the oath required of them are deported. Consternation is extreme; it is no longer allowed, on pain of death, to correspond with the émigrés. [...] there is no knowing where all of this will end.”  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 18 Dec 1797 (Letzter... Along with his devout Catholic wife, he was especially shocked at the manner in which the French occupiers were repressing the Church in his country: “I have heard from Antwerp that, following an order from Paris, all the churches have been closed and that no more services are being held. The French are apparently removing all statues of the Virgin from the streets, all statues of Christ from the public squares. God only knows how this will end.”  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 18 Dec 1797 (Letzter... By the end of 1798, Henri was plumbing the depths of pessimism over the political and commercial state of European affairs. The apparent successes of the coalition and reverses of the French notwithstanding, nothing had been decided, and in the end “everything will end in desolation and [...] the total destruction of commerce.”  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 12 Dec 1798 (Letzter... Charles also expressed pessimism as to the state of affairs, peace having been announced now for two years, and nothing come of it; the war continuing and no end to revolutions in sight; the great powers still squabbling over spheres of influence while commerce and industry were suffering.  Charles Stier to Unknown, 12 Dec 1798 (Letzter 78).... The news of the Brumaire Coup appeared to settle things, and the elder Stier wrote of Napoleon’s accession to power: “If he intends to usurp power for himself, he will be another Robespierre, detested by all. I think the fate of this revolution is probably being decided as I write – it will either be a monarchy or a reign of terror and massacres. [...] We should abandon Europe to its fate and devote our attention to the country in which we are living.”  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 4 Feb 1800 (Callcott... Just a few weeks later, he expressed his frustration at Bonaparte’s impact on the new French constitution and the dizzying pace of political change as follows: “I shall no longer reflect on [the state of] France for I am convinced of the uselessness of forming theories about a government that is daily exposed to change. Will Bonaparte take over sovereign power or will he never be seen again? Nobody can predict the outcome. Therefore we must wait until his power becomes manifest. As for the new constitution, I have not yet made the effort of reading a single line of it, because I know it is but a farce, and that every day will produce a new one.”  Henri Stier to Charles Stier, 22 Feb 1800 (Letzter...
After the treaties of Lunéville and Amiens however, Charles’s reports from Antwerp took on a very different tenor, at first cautious, but increasingly positive, ending in virtual adulation for Napoleon. In April 1802 he wrote, “The peace treaty [i.e. Amiens] and the concordat demonstrate at first sight that the revolution is over, and Bonaparte all powerful. It is he who invites you to return and the French people will also, before your arrival, quickly (as rapidly as they can) make work of re-establishing the old ways even better than they had destroyed them during their revolutionary excess.”  Charles Stier to Henri and Marie Louise Stier, 16 Apr... In May he was positively enthusiastic about Napoleon and the new regime, painting it in the rosiest colors. He had witnessed the public ceremonies and mass in Notre Dame celebrating the ratification of the Concordat, and described with fascination the pomp and circumstance, carriages, uniforms, and the French Guards lined up from the Tuileries to Notre Dame. In his assessment, the “public spirit” had changed dramatically for the better: “Spectacles, new books, even caricatures, all of these proclaim a different regime, a complete regeneration, a new era, and all of this the work of one single man.”  Charles Stier to Henri and Marie Louise Stier, 6 May... Of that man, Charles proclaimed: “He is truly great! What improvements shall we not await from the domestic regime after, having disengaged himself from the war and diplomatic concerns, he can turn his full attention to the care of the household. The Civil Code [and] a bill on public education have already seen the light of day; finances are on the table; manufacturing and commerce are being given the highest priority, and the fine arts are never forgotten by the French... Nothing equals the Museum of paintings and antiquities [i.e. the Louvre].”  Charles Stier to Henri and Marie Louise Stier, 6 May... One could even see the impact of the new regime on the streets of Paris with the blessed end of the horrid revolutionary egalitarian fashions, and at the Napoleonic court the good old fashions were back in style.  Charles Stier to Henri and Marie Louise Stier, 6 May...
His elders did not at all agree with this assessment. Marie Louise considered her son quite naive in his appreciation of Napoleon, of whom she had no high regard, writing, “For you are blinded by this brilliant aurora that has appeared after a time of storms. It is nothing more than parties, games, pleasures, but as yet I fail to see anything solidly established: neither government, for it is the will of one man who makes law and can change it at will; nor justice, for all tribunals have been destroyed and no-one knows on the basis of which law to render judgment; nor finances, for there are new and arbitrary levies every day; nor commerce, for everything hinders rather than promotes it. Being exposed, in the smallest things, to the despoiling hands of thousands of agents who must fill their pockets; and to suspicion, from all quarters and from everybody, for one is surrounded by a million spies, this is not an agreeable picture.” She closed on an ironic note: “I am charmed that you take it all so lightly over there [...]”  Marie Louise Stier to Charles Stier, 25 June 1802 (Letzter...She also very much mistrusted the supposed return, under Napoleon, to the old pre-revolutionary values, echoing her daughter Isabelle’s earlier fears of a freethinking mentality and their purported negative social impact: “In spite of all the external trappings of the old system [adopted in Paris], the new [system] continues to reign in everyone’s mind and Illuminism continues to advance, secretly, through its agents sent out in all the world; there it saps all the principles of religion, morality, order, and society. At the beginning of the Revolution it was through the Terror that peoples were enchained, today it is with parties and pleasures.”  Marie Louise Stier to Charles Stier, 25 June 1802 (Letzter... Characteristically, Marie Louise was also very much afraid that the impact of Jacobin ideas might have spoiled the lower classes, prompting her to ask: “And how is service now over there? Is it still like before or do they [i.e. the servants] take more liberties?”  Marie Louise Stier to Charles Stier, after 17 Apr 1802...
Unswayed by these reservations, by November, 1802 Charles wrote that of the two continents and various countries, Belgium was still the best to live in, and this not only for reasons of family, friends, habit and property interests, but now also politically: “We doubtless left it with good reason. The Revolution threatened everything, but came to a stop and even though it could return, I do not believe that this would mean a return to Jacobinism. All the rest never gave any reason to frighten us: the patriots, the emperor, nor Dumouriez [...]”  Charles Stier to Isabelle van Havre, 1 Nov 1802 (Letzter... He breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the revolution: “After we had believed everything to be in disorder, everything lost, the return to order, the restoration of property are true gains and we enjoy them as such.”  Charles Stier to Isabelle van Havre, 1 Nov 1802 (Letzter... By January 1803 he could write with confidence that “[...] all the reasons that made us leave have ceased to exist. The country is not ruined, our friends are by no means dispersed or reduced to penury, as we had imagined. Everyone is getting up courage under a government whose character improves daily [...]”  Charles Stier to Henri and Marie Louise Stier, after... In contrast, given the decline of the Federalists in America, “everything is improving here, everything worsening where you are. [...] You will be better off here.”  Charles Stier to Isabelle van Havre, 30 May 1802 (Letzter... On his return, Henri was perhaps more realistic in his assessment of the Napoleonic regime for Belgium, summing things up succinctly as: “I believe that since the present regime has the power to take everything, we are happy to have the satisfaction of seeing it only take in moderation.”  Henri Stier to Rosalie Stier, 26 Aug 1803 (Letzter... Imagologically then, for most of the Stiers, France continued to remain a threatening neighbor even after Napoleon restored a semblance of order, but without granting Belgian independence. France therefore suffered from the negative dynamic of the strong-state / weak state model and was ascribed negative characteristics on the political-economic plane, Charles holding the dissenting opinion.
The Stier family’s experience then, and their correspondence as a historical source, emerge as both singular and universal in terms of the realities of emigration during their own unique period in history and beyond. Given their Old World wealth, they were far from typical for the majority of emigrants to the United States at any time. They had not come to the New World to seek their fortune, but rather to preserve it – from the threat of French depredation. Once that threat had subsided, they were set on returning to their beloved Belgium, ending a temporary – even if decade-long – emigration. America never became their new home, with the exception of Rosalie. Their high social status, again distinct from that of the majority of emigrants, also impacted their degree of integration and acculturation. On the one hand, it gave them immediate access to and acceptance by the local upper classes, on the other, it enabled them – as did Henri and Marie-Louise – to withdraw to their farm and plantation and distance themselves, when they so desired. These same fortunate material realities also militated against a rapid acculturation along linguistic lines, because there was no economic necessity to integrate.
In terms of the challenges posed to the emigrant’s identity in the context of the host society, the Stiers also emerge as both singular and universal. Universal, because they took pains to maintain and exhibit their identity through classical external material and cultural signifiers such as dress, food, religion, habits et al.; and because the local language rapidly began to make inroads into their own family language. Singular, because their wealth allowed them to cultivate the materiality of their identity to a much greater extent than your average emigrant, but also because their identity was much more complex and layered than that of a modal emigrant from an established and recognizable Old World nation or ethnic group. For what did it mean to be a Stier? A Stier was a wealthy, recently ennobled and highly educated liberal urban aristocrat whose primary tongue was French, secondary language Dutch; he was officially a French national, but detested the French; he considered himself a German baron but lived in an ancient trading port where the population spoke the Flemish dialect.
As spectors of America and the Americans, finally, the Stiers shared many – but not all – of the attitudes of the French émigrés and later French travelers, to whom they were most comparable in terms of class, language, religion and sophisticated cultural background. Culturally, they placed America on the periphery, and they stereotyped the country as lacking the refinement, wit, high culture and amenities of the Old World. Americans were perceived as provincial materialists prone to irresponsible speculation. At the same time, the Stiers cherished the country’s liberty, safety and the financial stability of a strong Federalist government. They denounced the Republicans not only as Francophiles – for France was at the origin of Belgium’s misfortune – but also as democrats and Jacobins, which for the Stiers was the same thing. Thus, they could never celebrate the United States as a Sister Republic. Like the French during the later course of the 19th century, our Belgians also observed how distinct gender roles distinguished American from Belgian (or French) women. As regards the plight of enslaved black Americans, however, the Stier’s discourse departed dramatically from that of their cultural and class compatriots from France, as we have seen. Neither sensitized to slavery by a colonial past, nor receptive to the manifest contradictions between American egalitarian rhetoric and the realities of slavery, the Stiers only saw their own slaves as a poor investment and unreliable, inferior and potentially threatening servants. All told, America just did not offer enough sophistication to make it a permanent home. Belgium, even if under Napoleonic domination, was much to be preferred.