Spelled and referenced variously, Simon Desjardins spent time in Albany and its environs during the 1790s. He was among a newcomer enclave of those who fled France ahead of the so-called "Reign of Terror." However, he appears to have been sent to America by investors to pioneer what turned out to be an ill-fated settlement venture in northern New York. His subsequent life in America was lengthy and developed far beyond our parameters. This sketch will focus on his time in Albany.
He is said to have been "a gentleman of culture and learning, and had been a chamberlain of Louis XVI."
After a dramatic voyage from France, Desjardins and his family landed in New York in mid-September 1793. A number of logistical factors led him to Albany where he would be "156 miles closer" to the ultimate destination of Castorland in northern New York State. His move to Albany was not without drama of its own. Chronicling the trip in his journal, Desjardins arrived in Albany on September 23. His detailed impressions on reaching Albany are the observations of an articulate newcomer.
After meeting Albany's finest, Desjardins was not able to secure suitable lodgings for his family and associates. Thus, his party trekked to Schenectady but soon set off for their northwesterly destination - using the Mohawk whenever possible. That forty-day excursion is more completely chronicled in The Navigators.
By October 1794, Desjardins (1756-1841) was able to purchase a lot on Watervliet Street from Theodorus Van Wyck Graham.
One source has identified him and his cohort Pierre Pharoux as "emigre-architect-engineers" who may have influenced Philip Hooker.
In August 1797, a fire destroyed the house he occupied on Market Street which was owned by Cornelis Ten Broeck.
Unlike his other Catholic countrymen, he does not seem to have taken part in the formation of St. Mary's Roman Catholic church. We surmise that he was married but have yet to find information on his wife or family.
During the mid-1790s, he seems to have used Albany as his seasonal fallback residence while he attempted to establish the Castorland settlement. Following the accidental drowning of his partner in 1795, Desjardins carried on for a while but left upstate New York as the venture was destined to fail.
In 1809, his house and lot on Market Street was valued substantially although he was identified as a "non resident."
By that time, Simon Desjardins probably had left Albany. His subsequent life in America over the next thirty years has not been investigated. He is said to have died in Delaware in 1841.
Sources: The life of Simon Desjardins has no CAP biography number. This sketch is derived chiefly from family and community-based resources. The principal source for his out-of-Albany exploits is Castorland Journal: An Account of the Exploration and Settlement of Northern New York State by French Émigrés in the Years 1793 to 1797 kept by Simon Desjardins and Pierre Pharoux and translated by John A. Gallucci (Cornell University Press, 2010). More on Desjardins and his travails - and a worthy yet under appreciated window on the development of upstate. Google search for Simon Desjardins Albany - July 2017. From the Gazetteer of Lewis County
Albany's finest: Albany contacts made in 1793 included General Philip Schuyler, the French speaking Jacob Vanderheyden, "Major" (perhaps Robert) Wright, Abraham Cuyler, Stephen Lush, Surveyor General Simeon De Witt,
first posted 3/20/17; upddated 7/11/17