The Other Bonaparte

In 1815 Napoleon's brother Joseph fled to the United States, where he lived regally. Archaeologists have been investigating his estate to learn about his life here.

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Early nineteenth-century caneware teapot with putti involved in a bacchanalian scene from a kitchen associated with the first mansion. Credit: Richard F. Veit.

Winter 2018-19: By Gayle Keck

Napoleon should have listened to his brother. Joseph Bonaparte, the defeated emperor’s older sibling, had offered to trade places as the English closed in on them in 1815, hoping their captors would mistake him for Napoleon. The two did look remarkably similar. Joseph had organized a ship to the U.S., but Napoleon chose not to trade places, believing the British would simply exile him to an estate in the English countryside. As we now know, Napoleon would have fared far better by accepting the offer of the loyal brother he’d cajoled, controlled, and made a king of Naples and Spain.

So Joseph took that ship, along with an entourage including his interpreter, chef, and secretary, who had sewn emergency cash into his clothes. Napoleon ended up on the remote island of Saint Helena—”this cursed rock,” as he called it—in a damp, leaky house infested with rats and buffeted by relentless winds.  Joseph, on the other hand, soon acquired a country estate near Bordentown, New Jersey. The estate, known as Point Breeze, included a house that was purportedly removed so that he could build a mansion. He bought more and more land, until his property sprawled over roughly 2,200 acres.

Point Breeze is the subject of an investigation by Monmouth University archaeologist Richard Veit, who conducted field schools there from 2006 to 2008. “Our project was to see if anything had remained of his grand estate,” Veit said, “the most famous landscape in the early nineteenth-century Mid-Atlantic region.” The project’s co-director, Michael Gall, added, “We wanted to know how the king was living in New Jersey, particularly in an area that was Quaker-dominated.”

 

Excerpt, Read More in our Winter 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 22 No. 4. Browse Contents: WINTER 2018 .

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