III. JBB Comes to America

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JEAN BAPTISTE BEZONA (BISOGLIO)
Part Three of Four

Wars, Conscription and Desertion Settle
JEAN BAPTISTE (BISOGLIO) in the USA

JEAN-BAPTISTE BESOGNO (BISOGLIO) (John Baptiste Bezona) is believed to have come to the United States during the War of 1812 as an invading soldier with the Swiss mercenary Regiment De Meuron which was in service to the British Army. The regiment was engaged in battle at Plattsburg, New York in the fall of 1814 when John Baptiste Bezona and other soldiers deserted and joined the American Forces.

Born in northern Italy circa 1785 Jean Baptiste BEZONA (BEZONI) (BISOGLIO) came from the province of Alessandria in the Duchy of Piedmont.  Located in the northwest part of Italy; Piedmont finds Switzerland to its north and France to its west. The capital city of the Piedmont, at that time, was Torino /Turin.  From 1798 to 1814, Piedmont was held by Napoleon of France.  In the Nineteenth Century, Stendhal wrote of Piedmont,

“The distance between an Italian and a Piedmontese is greater than that between a Frenchman and an Englishman”.

“On April 2, 1796, Bonaparte led his army forward into Italy. He was badly outnumbered. His 38,000 French soldiers faced 38,000 Austrians and their allies, 25,000 Piedmontese. Bonaparte’s plan was to isolate the Austrians from the Piedmontese, then conquer each separately. He would strike first at Piedmont.  In just two weeks, he broke the back of Piedmont’s army, crushing their troops with lightning attacks at the battles of Montenotte and Mondovi.”  One Piedmontese officer would later complain: “They sent a young madman who attacks right, left, and from the rear. It’s an intolerable way of making war.” (Click here for link)

Andrew Jacob BEZONI, JBB’s youngest son, reportedly said John Baptiste had blond hair and blue eyes.  The obituary of Andrew J. BEZONI reads:

 “Mr. Bezona’s father was born in the northern part of the Italy and was forced into the (French) army at the age of 15 years. He served under Napoleon Bonaparte.”

As the story goes, Jean Baptiste BEZONA was conscripted into the French Army as a conquered soldier of Piedmont. At the end of the Napoleonic War, he is thought to have served in the French Army in Spain when his unit was captured or surrendered to the British Army.  Very likely Jean Baptiste became part of the Swiss De Meuron Regiment, which was serving the British. (Click here for more information about the De Meuron Regiment.)

A Brief History of the Swiss DeMeuron Regiment and its Participation in the Battle of Plattsburgh written by Richard and Mary Ducharme states:

“Over the next three years, after arriving in Gibraltar in 1807, however, the Regiment slowly increased its enrollment. In a role muster on 1 January 1807, the rank and file were only 120, two years later they were at 278. In 1809, over 500 recruits were obtained among German and Swiss prisoners of war taken by the Spanish in the South of Spain. Also, a number who had deserted Napoleon’s armies joined the ranks. These included in on count 120 Piedmontese, from northern Italy, 23 Spaniards, 6 Poles, 7 Russians, Hungarians, Croatians, Austrians, Flemish (Begrimes) and French, 246 Allamagne (Germans), 3 Portuguese; and some Dutch.”

“The Regiment left Malta 5 May 1813 and assembled at Gibraltar from 27 May to 4 June. From there they sailed for Canada on 5 June in three ships, Regulas, Melpomese, and Dover, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia between July 6th and July 8th. They stayed in Nova Scotia for four days, then sailed on to Quebec City where they disembarked.”

Supporting Reference: Notice the wording in this reference is almost exactly the same as that quoted from Richard and Mary Ducharme’s book.

“List of Soldiers and Officers of the De Meuron Regiment who came to defend Lower Canada in 1813 against the American Invaders.” “120 Piedmontese, from northern Italy, 23 Spaniards, 6 Poles, 7 Russians, Hungarians, Croatians, Austrians, Flemish (Begrimes), and French, 246 Allamagne (Germans), 3 Portuguese; and some Dutch.”

“The Regiment left Malta 5 May 1813 and assembled at Gibraltar from 27 May to 4 June. From there they sailed for Canada on 5 June in three ships, Regulas, Melpomese, and Dover, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia between July 6th and July 8th. They stayed in Nova Scotia for four days, then sailed on to Quebec City where they disembarked.”

Marianne Purdy  supplied additional information on April 20, 2001 that confirmed information provided above by Fred Kenneth Bowen.

Source: Repertoire du Controle General du Regiment Suisse de Meuron, ou Regimental Book, sait par cang d’anciennete, a commercer dejouis le’svoque du 14 Octobre 1795, avec les Numeros dudit Controle.? ceuse des Comagnies.

Jean Baptiste Bezona is listed on the muster roll of the Swiss DeMeuron Regiment as: BISOGNO, Jean Baptiste: soldier, native of Piedmont (Italy).  The Regiment Book reports Jean-Baptiste Bisogno, as being in Company 8, that he was from Cassamorra, Piedmont and his profession was that of a carpenter. He was Five feet -three inches, and that he enlisted on October 24, 1808 until October 24, 1815. [Enlistment in 1808 would have made JBB (born 1785) 23 years old at the time of the enlistment with DeMeuron Regiment.]

[Editor’s note:. In this article, information is given for a certain Jean-Baptiste Besogno of Cassamorra, Piedmont, Italy.  The spelling of Besogno may be close enough to that of JBB.  However, David Henry Bezona could find no historical village called Cassamorra, or anything quite like it. Because records were so inaccurately kept, this could have been our JBB; we’ll never know for sure. At least, we know he was a BISOGLIO at birth.]

Marianne Purdy reports the date of John’s enlistment in the DeMeuron Regiment, as October 24, 1808, to further validate this scenario. Information was obtained from the web site: Land Forces of Britain, The Empire and Commonwealth, Le Regiment de Meuron and in the book,  A Brief History of the Swiss DeMeuron Regiment and It’s Participation in the Battle of Plattsburg, New York.

This history of the De Meuron Regiment is fascinating and may help readers understand the conditions the brought JBB to the USA. Click here for more information about the Regiment.]

Pension Applications Provide Additional Information:
Compiled by Fred Kenneth Bowen, Marianne Purdy and David Henry Bezona

1. The Pension Application of John Baptiste BEZONI states that while the British army was engaged at Plattsburg, John Baptiste BEZONI and several other soldiers crossed the Saranac River under fire and surrendered to the American forces.

“He joined the New York State Militia. He served with Captain Septa, Fillmore’s Company, Company B, in Robert’s Third Battalion for a period of eight months.”  Two American soldiers, John Beagle and Ezekiel (or Ezkiel) Douglas signed statements that they knew John and “testified he served in Captain Septa Fillmore’s Company B, Robert’s Third Battalion”.

A Brief History of the Swiss DeMeuron Regiment reports:

“that at least four companies actively engaged in the battle in Plattsburg and succeeded in occupying the lower half of the town, north of the Saranac River. Remaining in town, exposed to heavy fire day and night, the Regiment lost eighteen men.  Judge Julius Caesar Hubble of Chazy, an eyewitness of the retreat, found massive confusion during the march towards Sampsons (now named Ingraham)”.  A history of Chazy relates: “…that at the Brick Tavern at Sampsons, Hubble observed a reckless and enraged DeMeuron Regiment.  Their fury with [The British General] Prevost, seems to be expressed in the number of deserters recorded in the DeMeuron regimental rolls: seventy-five men deserted in the month of September, most of these desertions occurring at Sampsons on the 12th and 13th. What became of the deserters after the battle is not known at this time.”

2. The pension application document includes a statement signed by John Beagle, it reads:

“He [JBB] was in service on the northern frontier during the months of September, October, and November 1813. This John BEZOLIA was of French origin.” “His name was so much like my own that I remember him well…”

3. In the same application for pension, Ezekiel [or Ezkiel] Douglas stated:

“He remembers John BEZOLIA from his acquaintance with him”: “He was in service on the northern frontier during the months of September, October, and November 1813.”

4. The pension application submitted by his [JBB’s] wife, Maria Lown Bezona, reported that

“…during the War of 1812 at the Battle of Plattsburg, New York, John Baptiste Bezoni and others soldiers, weary of war and of British Service, swam the Saranac River and escaped to the American Forces.”

The History of the DeMeuron Regiment states, “Based in Gibraltar and later again in Malta, the regiment was swollen by the addition of 500 recruits. They were mostly Swiss and German soldiers, conscripted into Napoleon’s army, who deserted at the first opportunity to join the British. There is no doubt that there were also some Italians [The Piedmontese (or Savoians) spoke French.  Italy was not unified to include Savoy and the Piedmont until 1861] who joined the DeMeuron ranks. The DeMeuron Regiment fought in the Peninsular War, in Spain. This was also known as the War of Independence, by the Spanish”.
5. According to the pension request by Maria Lown BEZONI on April 17, 1855:

John was known as Yohon [Johann] BEZONI or BEZOLIO or BEZONA. He was a native of Italy who left the British service as a soldier in the British army of Plattsburg and volunteered into the army of the United States in September 1814.” [Records actually show that JBB joined the New York State Militia]

 John died on March 3, 1851. George A. BEZONI and Rosetta Bristol BEZONI affirmed they viewed the body after his death, as did Anna LOWN and Elizabeth COLBY. A note in the pension request says, “the correct spelling of the name is BEZOLIO”.
[Editor’s Note: In French and Italian, the “i” is pronounced “e”; the “z” and “s” sound similar.  If one adds the missing “g”, the name becomes BISOGLIO. One separates the syllables pronouncing the name: Bi-so-gli-o.  BISOGLIO has been verified by DNA results as JBB’s family’s surname.]

Another document signed by Royal LOWN, age 60, and Sarah SMITH, age 37 [believed to be Sarah Bezona Smith a JBB daughter who was married to Darwin Smith], states,
“They knew Maria LOWN for 45 and 35 years, respectively.”

Service Pension for Maria

Maria received a pension for JBB's service in the War of 1812. Click to enlarge.

Maria received a Land Warrant for 160 acres of land and Grant No.10638; and she received a Pension No. 25.113 for JBB’s service in the War of 1812. Click on photo at right to enlarge an image of the pension.