An Early Erie, Pennsylvania Elopment
In 1838, the citizens of Erie buzzed with the story of Captain Richard C. Bristol and his foiled elopement with Miss Josephine Hamot, the lovely daughter of wealthy Frenchman Pierre Simon Vincent Hamot. The stir over the elopement led to a sensational trial at Pittsburgh and involved some of the leading pioneers in Erie.
All Captain Bristol had set out to do was to marry Josephine Hamot and he was her accepted suitor in early 1838. Then on the eve of the wedding, Josephine's father, P.S.V. Hamot, ordered Captain Bristol not to communicate with Josephine any longer. Someone had told Father Hamot unfavorable stories about Captain Bristol and he would not listen to any of the Captain's attempts to clear his good name and be reinstated in the good graces of his bride's family. To his dismay, Captain Bristol learned that his Josephine was to be married to a Mr. Stephen C. Walker of New York City, an old roommate of his. Despite her father and his plans for her, Miss Josephine still loved Captain Bristol. When he asked her to elope with him during the last ball of the 1838 season, she eagerly agreed. Whispered directions, a coach, and a rapid drive took the couple and a few friends aboard the James Madison in Erie harbor at any early hour of the morning.
Captain Bristol, who would later become a vessel owner, sailed the James Madison which was one of the first steamers on the regular line between Buffalo and Chicago. The crew slipped the moorings and the James Madison glided through the twisting channels of Presque Isle Bay and out into Lake Erie. Then Captain Bristol had to make a difficult choice. Heavy ice fields blocked the way to the New York ports where marriage licenses were not required. Instead, Captain Bristol decided to head the James Madison up Lake Erie. She steamed her way through great mountains of floating ice and at daybreak she lay off Ashtabula, Ohio. She was short of fuel and her small crew rested, exhausted from her strenuous labors.
Captain Bristol consulted the others and decided to land at Ashtabula and take on a fresh supply of fuel. He sent a boy to Jefferson, the seat of Ashtabula County, for a marriage license. If the boy learned of any legal obstacles, the Captain planned to sail full speed ahead for Detroit.
As Captain Bristol headed into Ashtabula to discover what he could about local marriage customs, on the horizon he spotted a large steamer that appeared to be loaded with people . He knew the steamer's identity immediately. It was The Jefferson, sister ship of the James Madison, both owned by Colonel Seth Reed of Erie.
When Captain Bristol spotted the pursuing steamer, he decided to take Miss Hamot ashore. He directed his crew to pull off up the lake and deceive the Jefferson party into thinking that Miss Hamot was still aboard. This would give them time to get their license and be married.The bride went ashore, but before The Madison could escape, The Jefferson appeared under her stern. Captain Dobbins of the revenue cutter ordered The Madison to return to Erie under penalty of seizure, as she had no ship's papers aboard. The Madison sailed back to Erie, with Captain Bristol very uncertain of her fate.
The bride's venture ashore was not successful either. The pursuers on the Jefferson had observed Miss Hamot going ashore and followed her to her hotel. They used their powers of persuasion to convince her to return with them to Erie. A few hours after the Madison arrived in Erie, the Jefferson arrived with Josephine Hamot aboard.
Excitement ran high at Erie. People took sides. Some of the officers of the Madison were arrested. Captain Richard Bristol was charged with criminal abduction and put in prison at Pittsburgh to await trial. The trial proved to be an event of great interest and merriment. The United States Court ruled that it held no jurisdiction in the case and Captain Bristol was triumphantly acquitted.
Josephine's father, rejected suitor, and other participants in the elopement drama figured importantly in Erie history as well. Pierre Simon Vincent Hamot had been born on November 28, 1784 in Paris, France. His father was a captain in the French army and a Royalist who left France for Russia and lived there during the French Revolution's reign of terror. Instead of accepting a lieutenancy in the army of he new French Republic, P.S.V. Hamot decided to try his luck in America. He arrived in Philadelphia with the French Counsel in 1802, with a passport stating that he was "L'homme de confidance." Soon after Pierre's arrival, the counsel died, leaving him a friendless youth who did not speak English well.
Pierre did not give up, but started west to be a clerk in the charge of a stock of merchandise at a French house. His ship was wrecked on Lake Ontario on the way to his new employment, but Pierre recovered the goods. With the recovered goods he opened a store at Niagara, Canada, and from there he moved to Erie in 1805. In 1810, he and his partners went into the salt business and for many years he was also engaged in general mercantile business. He was one of the first and most successful merchants of Erie, the first cashier of the Erie Bank and one of its principal stockholders. As a businessman he was noted for his drive and sound judgment.
P.S.V. Hamot was also an enthusiastic democrat and held the office of Canal Commissioner and Superintendent of Public Works at Erie. His politeness and hospitality won him many friends. He married two times. First, he wed Adeline Woodruff of Lewiston, New York in 1818. He foiled the attempt of their only daughter Josephine Mary to elope with Captain Bristol. Adeline died in 1821 and in 1825 Pierre married Elizabeth Coltrin, the widow of Dr. Asa Coltrin, and a native of Ontario, Canada. They had five children: Eugene Charles, Emily Elizabeth, Catharine Cecila, Mary Adeline and Hortense Louise.
P.S.V. Hamot died on October 17, 1846, eight years after he successfully foiled his daughter's elopement. Daniel Dobbins, the "Captain Dobbins of the revenue cutter," came to Erie with a party of surveyors in 1795 when it had more trees than people. He served in the Navy as a sailing master and also was in the merchant service. In 1826 Captain Dobbins was ordered to sea in the vessel fitted out to bring home the remains of Commodore Perry. In 1829 General Andrew Jackson appointed him to the command of the revenue cutter Rush, and President Polk reappointed him to this command in 1845. Captain Dobbins died in Erie at the age of 80 on February 29, 1856.
After Captain Richard Bristol's acquittal on the kidnapping charges, he got married, but not to Miss Hamot. Under the patronage of his good friend, General Charles M. Reed of Erie, he later became a wealthy and successful grain dealer of Chicago and was also identified with various marine interests. His only unsuccessful venture seemed to be his elopement with Miss Josephine Hamot of Erie.