Peter De Lafontaine, fl. 1746-1762

Forger who Returned from Transportation

On 5 December 1746 Peter De Lafontaine was accused of forging and counterfeiting a promissory note, and of passing or "uttering" the same.

Early Life

According to The Tyburn Chronicle, Peter De Lafontaine was born into an ancient French family and was descended from the Marquis de la Fontaine. At the age of about twenty he joined the French army. He later became a captain in the Dutch army, and spent some time in Surinam, before moving to England.

His Crime

To obtain his release from imprisonment for a debt, he passed a promissory note for £220 from John Baptita Zannier a "Purveyor to the British Forces abroad", payable to a Mrs Mary Legrand, to his creditor. He claimed it had been given to him and endorsed by Mary Legrand, described as a French gentlewoman and widow. Several witnesses came forward to claim that it was not Zannier's handwriting. At De Lafontaine's trial for forgery, a witness for the defendant, Benjamin Stephens, gave contradictory and dubious evidence and was "very severely censured by the court, as he appeared to be notoriously perjured". Mary Legrand did not appear, even though the trial had been postponed from October to allow for her return from France.

Nonetheless, De Lafontaine was found guilty of feloniously uttering the note, knowing it to be stolen, though not of the forgery itself. This was still a capital offence, and he was sentenced to death. The sentence was then commuted to transportation for life. However, he was still in Newgate Prison nearly two years later. His wife Ann petitioned for a free pardon, claiming her husband was "very much mis Represented". She also asked that he be allowed to transport himself, or to be admitted a "private Centinel in his Majesty's Army".1

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Transportation and Return

The Tyburn Chronicle states that he remained in Newgate for four years. It is not clear when and to where De Lafontaine was subsequently transported. However, he had returned to London by 1762, when he was committed to Clerkenwell Bridewell for "feloniously returning from Transportation and being found at large in his Majesty's European Dominions after being Transported for the Term of his natural Life". His case was referred to Sir William Moreton, the Recorder of London, but it is not known what became of him thereafter. He was not tried at the Old Bailey for returning from transportation, possibly for the same reasons which had delayed the imposition of his initial sentence.

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External Sources

  • The National Archives (TNA), SP 36/150/3, 20.
  • Tyburn Chronicle: or, Villainy Display'd in all its Branches. 1768, vol. 3.


1 The National Archives (TNA), SP 36/150/3, 20.

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About this Biography

Created by

Mary Clayton 

Further contributions by