James D. Le Ray De Chaumont

James Donatien Le Ray De Chaumont, was born November 13, 1760, at Chaumont, on the Loire, between Blois and Tours. He was educated partly in his family by a preceptress, and partly at the celebrated college of Juilly, near Paris. When he left this, he found himself in the circles of Paris, and of the court, which the birth, and official places of his father gave him a right to enter. He was seduced by neither; and his views were early bent towards serious subjects, by the course which his father pursued with regard to American affairs. The commissioners sent by the united colonies, could not be received openly by the French Court. M. de Chaumont, Senior, espousing warmly the cause of American Independence, determined to abandon public life (although at that moment his friend and neighbor in the country, the Duc de Choiseul, offered him a seat in the ministry which he was about forming), in order, as a private individual, to serve as intermediary between the government and the commissioners. He lent to them a house situated in his park at Passy, and Franklin particularly occupied it several years. From that house were written all his letters dated Passy.

This created a great and agreeable intimacy between the American Philosopher and M. de Chaumont's family. Young M. de C. improved this to learn English and acquaint himself with American affairs. His father gave more substantial aid to the Americans. He sent a cargo of powder to Boston to the care of the French consul general, Mr. Holker, to whom he wrote to claim nothing, if the Americans were not successful. He afterwards sent large equipments to La Fayette's army, and in various ways consecrated a great part of his large fortune to the American cause. He equipped ships to join Paul Jones' squadron, and was appointed by the French and American Governments to superintend the equipment and management of the combined fleet. His son went with him to L'Orient on that business, and seconded him throughout the expedition.

But these high advances required the settlement of accounts, which the different currencies of the states, the depreciation of the paper money, etc., rendered difficult and complicated, M. de Chaumont, then (1785) only 25 years of age, saw that this business required personal attention. He obtained, with great difficulty, from his father, leave to go to America. He tore himself from the seductions of the most elegant court of Europe, and even from the prospect of a brilliant marriage, and sailed for America.

Franklin, whose friendship and esteem he had gained, in a high degree, gave him warm letters. All his energy, and early-displayed talents, however, could not master so many impediments. Year after year, he was detained by new difficulties. Franklin helped him with all his power. It was not, however, until 1790 that he could obtain a settlement, and he arrived in France just in time to save his father from the most painful consequences of those long delays.

During this stay in America, M. de Chaumont became acquainted with the first men there, and particular]y with two, who had a great influence upon his subsequent course. One Was Count de La Forest, consul general of France; the other, Gouverneur Morris. They both spoke to him with great warmth of the great speculations, which might be made, in wild lands, in the state of New York. He bought, with the former, a small tract in Otsego County, where he built the first saw mill, and where he sent, as his agent, the celebrated Judge Cooper, father of the great writer. With Gouverneur Morris he made large purchases in the state or New York.


In 1790, having lately married a daughter of Charles Coxe, Esq., of New Jersey, he returned to France with his wife. He had previously been naturalized. After having been most painfully engaged in endeavoring to arrange the difficulties in which his father had been drawn, he was appointed to go to Algiers, to negotiate a treaty of peace and commerce with the dey; but having learned in Switzerland, that the life of his father was threatened, he returned, post haste, to Paris. He proceeded without stopping to the sitting of the committee, and there, by his firmness, and even by a bold threat to the president, he obtained on the instant the liberty of his father, whom they had put in jail as an emigre, although he had never quitted his chateau.

In 1799, M. de Chaumont accompanied his wife to Hamburg, who returned to America, on account of her health, with her two youngest children, in company of Gouverneur Morris, late ambassador. The cure of Chaumont, was of the party; he had refused the oath prescribed by the revolutionists, and M. de Chaumont, in order to save him, and to provide for his support, had appointed him to an agency in America. He remained there several years, and became the object of the veneration and love of the numerous persons, with whom he had relations.

In 1802. M. de Chaumont sailed from Havre, for America, in company with William Short, late minister to France. He went upon his lands in Jefferson County, where settlements were begun by the agency of Jacob Brown, who so highly distinguished himself afterwards. He returned in 1804, and left France again in May, 1807, with his oldest son, who, from that time, assisted him in the management of his business. He had, the year before, sent a French doctor, of considerable ability and experience, whom he had engaged, for several years, to reside with him on his lands, and had confided to him the choice of the particular spot. This was very difficult and delicate, from the large range open to him, and from the conflicting interests and interference of the different persons residing on various parts of the tract. He acquitted himself however, of this trust with wonderful foresight and skill, and chose a retired spot in the town of Le Ray.

M. de Chaumont went, in 1808, to make a final settlement in the house built by the doctor, and entered it before it was finished, and with the logs of the clearing yet burning at his door. There he spent the greater part of the time till the spring of 1810, when he left for France with his family, leaving only his oldest son to manage his affairs with an agent, Moss Kent, brother of the chancellor. In France he busied himself with the settlement of his lands. He sent French gentlemen of talents, to establish various factories. The events of 1815 caused him to sell a large tract of land to Joseph Buonaparte, with whom he had long been acquainted; and smaller ones to Count Real, the duc de Vincence Marshal Grouchy, etc. During his stay in France, he had the misfortune of losing his wife, whose health had always been poor, and had been kept up only by the indefatigable care and attentions of M. de Chaumont.

In 1812, the board of internal navigation-Gouverneur Morris and De Witt Clinton, president and vice president-appointed M. Le Ray de Chaumont, to negotiate in Europe a loan of six millions of dollars, for the contemplated Erie Canal. Mr. Le Ray went to Switzerland, where the declaration of war by the United States, against England, deterred the capitalists. He then sent, to feel the Belgian bankers, his friend Mr. J. B. de Launay, whom the commissioners had sent out to assist Mr. Le Ray, and also to procure in England the services of the eminent engineer, Westou. The report having been favorable, Mr. Le Ray went to Belgium. The hopes of peace, however, were vanishing. The reelection of Mr. Madison made the continuance of the war certain, and the bankers gave a definitive refusal.


In 1810, he married his daughter to a French gentleman of great distinction, the Marquis de Gouvello; and they both came with him to America, where they spent a year, and returned to France. M. de Chaumont now resided mostly on his lands, spending a part of the year in New York. He went on with increased force with thc settlement of his lands and the improvement of the country, building saw mills, making roads, carrying on his iron works, etc.

In 1832, M. de Chaumont returned to France, leaving to settle his business, his son, who joined him next year. He made a last voyage to America in 1836, spending the summer there, and returned to France, where he was called by his daughter settled there, and by two sisters who had no children. Surrounded and cherished by his family, he spent his time partly in Paris, partly in the country or in traveling, his mind still bent towards America, and seizing every opportunity of being useful to his adopted country. At the age of 50, full of health and vigor, his mind unimpaired, he was suddenly taken ill with an inflammation on the chest, which caused his death in five days--December 31, 1840.

M. Le Ray de Chaumont had a strong mind, a sound judgement, great penetration of men and things, a warm and affectionate heart, a noble soul: he was guided through life by those high and chivalrous feelings of integrity, which were so shrewdly discovered in him by Robert Morris, when, at the age of 25, he was chosrl1 by him as umpire between himself and M. de Chaumont, Senior, in a contested business. He never meddled actively in politics, which, added to the other traits of his character, made him respected and beloved by men of all parties, both in France and in America. He received warm proofs of these feelings at various times, and particularly from the citizens of Jefferson County, during the last years of his stay among them. The counties of Jefferson and Lewis owe much of their prosperity to his liberal and enlightened management.

He greatly improved thc breed of sheep, by bringing Merinos from his flock in France, which was picked in the celebrated sheep fold of Rambouillet, where the original Spanish breed had been greatly meliorated.

He also paid great attention to improving the breed of horses, and labored to diffuse a taste for the rearing of ornamental plants, to promote the culture of the vine in gardens, and of hemp and the mulberry. The care which he bestowed in the selection and adorning of his villa at Le Raysville, which for many years was the seat of a refined hospitality bespeaking the affluent and accomplished French gentleman, prove him to have possessed on these matters a judicious and correct taste. His household, including agents, clerks, surveyors, and employees, formed of itself a small community.

He will long be gratefully remembered by the citizens of Jefferson county, for his public spirited improvements, his dignified and courteous manner, and the sympathy he never failed to express in whatever concerned the public welfare.


Correspondence from a Reader: I'm placing here partial contents of a letter received from reader, Karen Benton, (address in my personal files) because what Karen writes might be helpful to someone else, especially in light of the paucity of information out there on the LeRay family: "I am a decendant of Jacques (James) Le Ray....I am currently in the process of completing my family's tree that my grandmother was unable to finish before her death. Most of the history is complete with the exception of a few "holes" that I have been unable to find any resolve to......My question is: Do you know about the Le Ray family enough to maybe assist me in finding infomation in the areas I am lacking?"

In another letter from Karen......"The one link you sent me.... mentions Madame Juhel as MRS. V Leray's mother. Which confirms my suspicion of two Cornelia's. Cornelia Livingston Juhel AKA Madame Juhel, and Cornelia Juhel Leray. As for Grace Coxe, she was married to Jacques (James) Donatein Le Ray DOB 13 Nov 1760, and the mother of Alexander, Theresa, and Vincent. She died in 1812, and rumor is that Jacques married her after she was widowed by her husband John. I have no proof of their marriage though. My suspicion tells me that using the name Madame Juhel, she possibly was not married to Jacques."

A third letter...."My question is about Vincent Le Ray and his wife, Cornelia Juhel. When and where were they married and is this the same Cornelia that was involved with Jacques (aka James) 1760-1840. Or is this a daughter of the senior? If so, her date of birth and where? I have searched the web and have been unable to find anything to clarify this. I would be thankful for anything you can provide."

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