Research Subjects: Biographies



Point Breeze: Joseph Bonaparte's Home in America

By Tom Holmberg

A French law of 1816 banished the Bonapartes from France and confiscated their property, income and took away their civil rights. Many other countries of Europe also placed restrictions on them, placed them under surveillance and generally harassed them. Joseph Bonaparte sailed incognito aboard the American brig "Commerce" to New York. Captain Misservey, who'd been paid 18,000 francs to carry Joseph's party, thought he was carrying Lazare Carnot. From N.Y. Joseph proceeded to Philadelphia, where Henry Clay offered him his hotel suite.

Joseph Bonaparte finally settled in New Jersey under the name of the Count de Survilliers (Americans tended to call him Mr. Bonaparte)--taken from his Mortefontaine estates—in early 1817. He acquired title to over 1000 acres of land near Bordentown, on the Delaware River. In part the money came from more than 5 millions in jewels Joseph had had the foresight to bury against just such a contingency. The estate was known as "Point Breeze", but it also acquired the name "Bonaparte's Park". Trees were planted and carriage drives laid out. A substantial house of brick and wood was built.

Point Breeze

Joseph Bonaparte's House at Point Breeze, New Jersey

This house was partly destroyed by fire in 1820 (local rumor had it that a Russian lady set the fire)and a new house was erected with an art gallery (with paintings by Murillo, Rubens, Canaletto, Velasquez, and Da Vinci, as well as Gerard and Vernet), library, state dining room and grand staircase. A large lake with a causeway and arch was constructed. A building nearby housed Joseph's daughter Zenaide and her husband Charles Lucien (son of Lucien Bonaparte), an amateur ornithologist. Reportedly underground passages linked various parts of the property which raised all sorts of rumors locally.

In 1817, Gen. Mina, the former guerilla leader visited him and reportedly offered Joseph the crown of Mexico. French adventurers also offered to win him the Mexican throne. Joseph refused. Many other famous figures from Napoleonic Europe visited Joseph in America.

Joseph also purchased a large tract of "wilderness" in upstate New York on the Black River. There is still a Lake Bonaparte there. His neighbors for a time included Marshal Grouchy, Comte Pierre-Francois Real, General Clausel and Lucien Murat. As his wife did not accompany him to America (he did not see her again for 25 years) Joseph took at least one mistress named Annette Savage, who bore him a daughter. In 1832, Joseph, now the Bonapartist pretender, moved to London to be closer to France.

In 1850, Point Breeze was purchased by the British consul at Philadelphia who had the house pulled down and built another to replace it.

Bibliography

Lee, Francis Bazley. "The Residence of Joseph Bonaparte in New Jersey" American Historical Magazine March 1906 vol. 1, no. 2; Pp 178-188

Connelley, Owen. The Gentle Bonaparte New York : Macmillan; 1968.

 

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