The micronationalist Benjamin Franklin loved


As great as Italian general and patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi was, he was probably greater in spirit, if not in magnitude. Unlike Garibaldi, however, he was not an imperialist, a builder of empires, but someone who just wanted to carve his own little place in the sun, out of the remote wilderness. He is the obscure micronationalist, citizen of the world, and global freedom fighter that Benjamin Franklin genuinely loved, whose micronation was overthrown by the French.

Count Maurice BenyovszkyHis name was Maurice Benyovszky (Slovak: Móric Beňovský), and he was a Slovak noble in the Kingdom of Hungary. He was also an adventurer, explorer, coloniser, globetrotter, chess player, writer, amateur linguist, trader, Austrian soldier, Polish military commander, French colonel, and also a micronationalist as the King of Madagascar, and developer of the village of Mauritania.

Benyovszky was born in Vrbové near Trnava in present-day Slovakia in 1741 or 1746. His career began as an officer of the Austrian army in the Seven Years' War, because Hungary was part of the Austrian monarchy at that time. However, his religious views and attitudes towards authority resulted in his leaving the country.

In 1768 he joined the Bar Confederation, a Polish national movement against Russian intervention. He was captured by the Russians, interned in Kazan, and later exiled in Siberia (Kamchatka Peninsula). Subsequently, he escaped from Siberia and started a discovery trip through the Northern Pacific.

In 1772 Benyovszky arrived in Paris where he met King Louis XV of France, and was offered the opportunity to act on behalf of France to colonise Madagascar. After establishing the fortified settlement of Louisburg (near Maroantsetra, in the Helodranon' Antongila or Bay of Antongila), in 1776 Benyovszky was elected by a group of local tribal chiefs as their Ampansacabe (ruler). During the ceremony of investiture, and after his speech, the local tribal chiefs cried out, «Velou Ampansacabe, velou Ramini», or "Long live our Lord, long live the descendant of Ramini." During this period, Benyovszky also attempted to introduce a transcription of the Malagasy language using the Latin alphabet, but these activities were curtailed, also due to a lack of support from Paris.

In 1776 he returned to Paris, and in appreciation for his services as Commander of Madagascar, he was awarded with promotion to the rank of General, and granted the military Order of Saint Louis, and a life pension by Louis XVI.

While in Paris in 1777, Benyovszky befriended Benjamin Franklin, the then American envoy to France, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, as well as Casimir Pulaski (Polish: Kazimierz Pułaski), Polish nobleman, soldier and military commander who has been called "the father of American cavalry".

Franklin became like an uncle to Benyovszky's two daughters, and the two men regularly played chess, often joined by Count Pulaski. The same year, Pulaski presented Franklin's letter of recommendation to the Continental Congress in favour of Benyovszky's proposal to use Madagascar as a base in the American struggle against England. The project was not approved because the Continental Congress did not want to risk alienating France, a US ally.

After two years of military service, Benyovszky decided to follow Pulaski to the American colonies in 1779, and offer his services in the American Revolution. He was approved to report to General Pulaski at the Siege of Savannah, where Pulaski died in Benyovszky's arms.

Upon his return to Austria in 1780, Benyovszky presented another project to the royal court aiming at promoting the maritime trade, but this proposal was rejected. Two years later, Benyovszky returned to the American colonies, and visited Philadelphia with a letter addressed to General Washington, from General Baron Steuben, to serve the American Revolution, and expressing his desire to become a citizen of the United States. His offer was declined.

A month later, through the French Minister to the United States, he submitted a plan to General Washington proposing to raise a body of German troops of three legionary corps, the whole made up of over 3,000 men. After their transport to America, he proposed that they should be subject to the order of the United States, and take the oaths of fidelity and allegiance. After further discussing the proposal with George and Mary Washington in the general's headquarters in Newburgh, New York, Benyovszky made a number of revisions before presenting it to the Continental Congress. The proposal was nonetheless rejected by Congress following a conciliatory change in British attitude under a new British cabinet.

In 1783, Benyovszky approached the British government to request support for an expedition to Madagascar. He also gave his memoirs written in French to Portuguese polymath John Hyacinth de Magellan, a member of the Royal Society, and a descendant of the famous Ferdinand Magellan, which described and somewhat exaggerated all his past journeys. That same year, Magellan had the documents translated into English under the title Memoirs and Travels, and published the memoir in four volumes in the United Kingdom in 1790.

Also in 1783, and with Benjamin Franklin's and J.H. de Magellan's assistance, Benyovszky entered into contact with the Baltimore businessmen Messonier and Zollikofer, who found an American-British company for trade with Madagascar. In March 1784, Benyovszky appointed J.H. de Magellan Plenipotentiary for the State of Madagascar, and authorised him to act as representative of all economic and political affairs of the island. He then left Baltimore for Madagascar on board the Intrepid provided by Messonier and Zollikofer. During the voyage the ship was blown off course, and was delayed for repairs along the coast of Brazil.

Upon arriving in Madagascar in 1785, Benyovszky captured the French trade settlement Foulpointe. He began building the trade settlement Mauritania (named after himself — Maurice) as the capital of his intended kingdom at the easternmost point of the island, Cape East (aka Cap Angontsy or Tanjona Angontsy). In the contract with his Anglo-American associates, parcels of land were guaranteed for all in the settlement. From Mauritania, Benyovszky traded with Maryland and Baltimore, principally in slaves.

The French Maritime Ministry (Ministère de la Marine), outraged by Benyovszky's cooperation with the United States, and the capture of Foulpointe, sent an expedition in 1786 from the Pondicherry colony in India to stop Benyovszky. The expedition mounted a surprise attack in May 1786. During the skirmish, Benyovszky received a fatal bullet wound to his chest.

He was buried at the village of Mauritania by his former lieutenant Jacques de Lassalle, together with two Russian fugitives who had accompanied him from Siberia (Kamchatka Peninsula).

HMRD Cesidio Tallini [1, 2]