Did the Fox Valley host French royalty? For decades following the founding of the Fox Cities, there was a mystery at hand: was Eleazer Williams, the Episcopal priest from New York, really the son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI? Was he the rightful heir to the throne of France? And did his descendents in the Fox Valley create a lineage of French royalty in our very midst?
According to the “Hullets Current”, the story goes that after his parents were executed during French Revolution, second son Louis-Charles was placed in imprisonment with Antoine Simon, a shoemaker. (Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s first son died at the age of 7 in 1789.) Although official records indicate that the little Dauphin died at the age of 10 after years of cruelty at the hands of Simon, others believe that Louis-Charles was actually taken from France to New York where there was still a community of monarch loyalists.
In his account of Louis-Charles’ life, Reverend John Hanson theorized that Eleazer Williams of Deerfield, Mass., and later the Fox Valley, was in fact the Lost Dauphin. Hanson noted that Eleazer was born, without record, to Thomas Williams. Only adding to the mystery was the fact that he was the only of Thomas Williams’ ten children who not did show obvious Native American ancestry. And thus the mystery was born.
When the monarchy was restored in France in 1814, the tittering of royalty in New York was only exacerbated. Should Eleazer Williams take the throne and rule over France? Not quite.
Williams was now serving as an episcopal priest among Native Americans all while claiming that he was in fact the rightful heir to the throne. He bore an uncanny resemlance to members of the French royal family. No one is certain when he began making the claim, but what is known was that in 1841, when the Prince de Joinville, the younger son of Louis PhillipLouis-Phillip, visited New York that year, Williams claimed that the King requested that he renounce his claim to the throne in exchange for an estate. While Prince de Joinville refuted Williams’ tale, the community couldn’t shake the excitement of the possibility of royal blood in their midst.
In 2000, the autopsied heart of a little boy buried in the unmarked grave, considered Marie Antoinette’s and Louis XVI’s real son, proved to be a DNA match. So the myth of Eleazor Williams as French royalty was considered busted, although it’s more fun to think that even the heart was a part of a larger conspiracy.
So, although Eleazer Williams can’t be hailed as the Dauphin that never was, he does have an interesting connection to the Fox Cities. According to the Appleton Public Library’s chronicle of his life, in pursuit of expanding his own and the New York Oneida tribe’s land, he and other representatives moved West to Wisconsin. There they persuaded Winnebago and Monominee chiefs to trade land, in what now is Green Bay and Little Chute, for other goods. He later married a Menominee-French woman and settled in Green Bay. Eventually, Williams returned to New York where he died in poverty, though his lineage continued in the Fox Cities.
So, while Williams may not have blessed the Fox Cities with royal blood, he incites its founding with a fun mystery and provides a character unique in its history.