Bonaparte in America
Nothing came of Joseph’s plan to rescue his brother, and when he heard that Napoleon had surrendered to captain Maitland of the British Royal Navy’s HMS Bellerophon, he finally sailed off to the United States, leaving his wife and daughters in Paris. They would eventually move to Frankfurt, and then to Brussels. En route to the United States, Joseph’s ship was boarded and inspected twice by the Royal Navy, but he had fake identity papers, and they passed muster with the British inspectors. He made it to the safety of New York in late August of 1815, accompanied by a Spanish officer who remained loyal, an interpreter, a personal secretary, and a cook.
Joseph left New York for Washington, DC, hoping to meet president Madison, but he was intercepted en route by a messenger informing him that the American president would not be meeting him. So Joseph turned around, and set about getting comfortable and making the best of his new life in America. He managed to transfer a big chunk of his fortune, much of it in the form of Spanish royal jewelry he had managed to snatch on his way out of the country, and invested it in his new country.
In his first few years in the US, Joseph lived in New York City and Philadelphia, where his house became a hub for French expatriates. He also purchased a large tract of land in Upstate New York, containing a 1200 acre lake that he named Lake Diana, and that is now known as Lake Bonaparte. He eventually bought an estate, Point Breeze, in Bordentown, New Jersey, and spent significant time and effort expanding and landscaping it with extensive gardens in the picturesque style. However, the mansion was destroyed by a fire in 1820, so Joseph converted its sizable stables, which had survived the blaze, into a new mansion. There, he hosted and entertained many of the day’s leading intellectuals and politicians, including the Marquis de Lafayette, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, and Henry Clay.
Another visitor to Point Breeze, albeit a less welcome one, was the Jersey Devil – a mythical cross between a kangaroo, bat, and goat, that, according to local legend, lives in southern New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. Joseph claimed to have been out hunting in the woods near his estate, when he came across some weird tracks, and following them, came face to face with the Jersey Devil. As the former king put it, the duo looked at each other for about a minute, neither moving, before the creature finally gave a hiss and flew away. Joseph Bonaparte’s stay in the US was eventually cut short by declining health, and he returned to Europe. He died in Florence, Italy, and was buried in the Les Invalides in Paris.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading