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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

Joseph Bonaparte's Sojourn in the United States

By Alan Hills

Joseph arrived in New York on the 29 July 1815, or the 27 August 1815 ( some difference in the sources) on the ship Commerce under the pseudonym of the Comte de Survilliers and stayed at the City Hotel. From here he went to Philadelphia where he rented a house in the city centre (260 South Ninth Street). I believe it is still standing. He also rented a house in Fairmount Park called Lansdowne House, built by John Penn.

On 16 June 1816 he found a property at Bordentown, situated between the Delaware River and Crosswick Creek, called Point Breeze. The state of New Jersey passed a special law to enable Joseph to purchase the estate. It consisted of 211 acres with the house and cost $17,500. He enlarged the estate to 1,800 acres. The park was laid out with 12 miles of bridal paths and drives, and a lake a half mile long was made. The main house was in the federal style, and another house was also built for his daughter Zenaide and her husband Prince Charles Lucien Bonaparte. The two houses were connected by a tunnel with a branch which led through the bluff to a landing stage. Both his daughters Charlotte and Zenaide stayed there at sometime during his sojourn in America. All told Joseph spent some $300,000 on the estate. The house burnt down on Sunday 4th January 1820.

Whilst in America he was offered the Mexican throne but turned it down. He also bought some 24,000 acres on the Black River between Lake Ontario and the Adoirondacks. He rebuilt Point Breeze in the colonial style on a site a little lower down than the original house. One of his grandchildren was born there on 13 February 1824 and christened somewhat unoriginally, Lucien Charles Napoleon. He had a mistress called Annette Savage from a Quaker family. She bore him two daughters in 1821 and 1822. One daughter died young, the other married a Colonel Zebulon Howell Benton. Shortly after this, Annette left America with a handsome pay-off from Joseph not to publish her memoirs.

Joseph left America in June 1832. He returned on 23 August 1837 and for two years he fought the railways who wished to run the track through his estate. He won the case. He returned to Europe in 1839 and died on 19 July 1844. In 1847, Joseph's'grandson sold the American property to a Mr Thomas Richards of Philadelphia who in turn sold it to an Englishman Henry Beckett, who razed it to the ground and rebuilt the house in a less grand style. The house changed hands many times over the years finally being bought in 1970 by the Divine World Seminary. Only 242 acres of the estate remain, the only original structure is the gardener's lodge at the entrance to Park Street. Joseph's final resting place is in the Hotel des Invalides in Paris where his body was laid on 14 June 1862 at Napoleon III's request ( Joseph's nephew).



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