Joseph Bonaparte at Point Breeze


New Jersey's Ex-King and the Crown Jewels

Men are more easily governed through their vices than through their virtues.

- Napoleon Bonaparte

The history of New Jersey can be narrated with the stories of the lives of many people who served their country on the battlefield and in politics, but New Jersey also played host to an ex-king, who became a resident of the Garden State.  In Burlington County today may be found many effects of Napoleon's older brother Joseph Bonaparte, once King of Spain and known locally as Count de Survilliers in the period 1816 to 1839.

Joseph Bonaparte

A French law of 1816 banished the Bonapartes from France and confiscated their property, income and took away their civil rights.  Napoleon Bonaparte was deposed as ruler of his country and sent to the island of Elba in disgrace.

Joseph had held a series of diplomatic and administrative posts under Napoleon. Joseph's knowledge of America derived from his appointment in 1800, under the Consulate, to settle the differences between France and the United States.  In 1806 he was promoted to the position King of Naples, but proved inefficient and Napoleon removed him in 1808 - making him King of Spain instead.  Unsuccessful in defending the country during the Peninsular Wars, he reluctantly abdicated this position in 1813.  When Napoleon fell from power, so did Joseph.

Joseph and his family left Spain under an assumed name after the Battle of Waterloo, just one step ahead of the law; they found a safe haven in Switzerland.  However, many countries of Europe had placed restrictions on them, put them under surveillance and generally harassed them, so Joseph decided to book passage to the United States, accompanied by his trusted (male) secretary, and disguised as an ordinary passenger.  He 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 someone named Lazare Carnot.)  From New York, Joseph proceeded to Philadelphia, where Henry Clay offered him his hotel suite.

Joseph took only a suitcase of jewels with him, deciding it was safer to bury the remainder, with his gold, on the grounds of his Swiss hideaway.  Looking for a place to stay, one that would measure up to his social class, in early 1817, Joseph settled in New Jersey under the name of Count de Survilliers (though Americans tended to call him Mr Bonaparte).  The name was taken from his Mortefontaine estates.  While Napoleon was dying in forced exile on a faraway island, Joseph was acquiring title to over 1,000 acres of land near Bordentown, on the Delaware River.  The estate was known as "Point Breeze," but was popularly called "Bonaparte's Park."

At Point Breeze, Bonaparte proceeded to create a country estate in the English picturesque style.  He laid the property out with winding carriage drives and planted trees and shrubs lavishly.  Near the mouth of Crosswicks Creek, in a low, swampy area, he erected an embankment to create a lake about 200 yards wide and half a mile long, dotted with landscaped islands.  The upper, narrower end of the lake was spanned by an arched stone bridge.

Joseph Bonaparte built himself a mansion on a bluff overlooking the lake and Crosswicks Creek.  Its centre portion may have been erected on the foundations of an older house, but was considerably larger because of side pavilions.  The brick and wood mansion was connected to the creek's bank by an underground passage.  The count also erected a house for his daughter, Zenaide, and her husband, Prince Charles Lucien (son of Lucien Bonaparte), an amateur ornithologist, down the lake from the mansion.  Between the two was a covered passageway.  Near the Park Street entrance, in the position that would normally be occupied by a gate lodge, was a house for Joseph's trusted secretary, Louis Maillard.  Of these, only the tunnel to the river, now broken through in several places, and Louis Maillard's house survive.  This building, clad in scored stucco, is 3 bays wide and one room deep.  Covered by a shallow hip roof, it is a severe rectangular box, relieved only by the fanlight over the central entrance.

Perhaps the secret side to Joseph's home on the hill was due to his fear of attack by agents of France's enemies, England or Spain, or Americans unfriendly to his cause.  Joseph had constructed a tall outpost or belvedere which commanded a vast panorama of the adjoining countryside.  The tunnels were fortified with brick and were high enough for people to walk through standing erect.  (These tunnels raised all sorts of rumours locally.)

General Mina, the former guerilla leader visited Joseph and reportedly offered him 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 needed to recover his buried fortune to apply it toward completion of his New Jersey home.  He turned to his secretary and friend, Louis Mailliard.  Mailliard sailed to Europe from Philadelphia on 22 August 1817.  He carried letters representing as one Stephen Girard, a wealthy businessman (actually an American neighbour and friend of Joseph).  Louis' trip proved to be a dangerous one from the start.  His ship was wrecked off the coast of Ireland, but luckily he and the other passengers were rescued.  He finally arrived in Europe and travelled overland to Switzerland, keeping an eye open for trouble.

Mailliard finally arrived in Switzerland at Joseph's hideaway chateau.  He found Monsieur Veret, Joseph's valet.  In the darkness of night, the two went to the secret hiding place, and, much to their relief, found that the treasure remained.  Placing many of the jewels in a reinforced belt that he wore around his waist and taking the rest of the gold on his person, Louis headed on to Brussels, Belgium.

In Brussels, Louis visited Joseph's wife, Queen Julie.  Heeding her doctor's orders not to travel, she remained in Belgium.  It was at that time that the couple's two daughters, Zenaide and Charlotte, returned with Louis, to reside with their father in New Jersey.  Louis Mailliard's five months of journey and danger ended and Joseph was reunited with his fabulous treasure at his Bordentown home.

As the house neared completion, the Emperor's brother began to receive guests.  Not only did his Bordentown neighbours come to say hello and spend a quiet afternoon (Joseph proved to be a friendly and generous neighbour) but other Americans, men who were household names, came to pay their respects.  Among those who stopped at Point Breeze were John Quincy Adams, later to become the sixth President of the United States, and also Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.

Bonaparte's Point Breeze home took three years to complete.  The effect was splendid, with its exquisite landscaping and statuary.

In Philadelphia, where he spent the winters, Joseph had struck up companionship with French-speaking Stephen (Etienne) Girard - himself once a resident of Burlington County.  Etienne designed for the ex-King an elaborate river-boat for travelling back and forth to Bordentown.

Point Breeze was partly destroyed by fire shortly after its completion in 1820 (local rumor had it that a Russian lady set the fire) and a new house was erected on the site of the former stable east of the lake.  Joseph lived in the new house off and on until 1839.  The new house had an art gallery with paintings by Murillo, Rubens, Canaletto, Velasquez, Snyders, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Gerard and Vernet.  There was a library, a state dining room and grand staircase.

While Joseph Bonaparte never became a naturalised citizen of the United States, the New Jersey legislature passed a bill allowing him to own land, in effect making him a Jerseyman.  Joseph also purchased a large tract of "wilderness" in upstate New York on the Black River.  There is still a Lake Bonaparte there.  His neighbours there for a time included Marshal Grouchy, Comte Pierre-François 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.  This mistress's name was Annette Savage, and she bore him a daughter.

Joseph Bonaparte (1771-1845)
Roi de Naples, puis Roi d'Espagne
Par ti de un et coupé de deux : 1, de Castille; 2, de Léon; 3, d'Aragon; 4, de Navarre; 5, de Grenade; 6, des possessions américaines; sur-le-tout de Napoléon. 

In 1832, Joseph, now the Bonapartist pretender, moved to London to be closer to France.  He briefly returned to the United States, then, on what would prove to be his final journey, went to Italy.  In 1839, he had been given permission - in view of rapidly failing health - to visit his family in Florence.  Never was he permitted to return to France, concern there being great that another Bonapartist uprising might occur; nor did his health permit a return to the United States.  In Florence, Italy Joseph Bonaparte died at the age of 76.  The year was 1844.

Joseph's grandson, also named Joseph, disposed of the Point Breeze estate and its contents in 1847.  The furnishings and art collection were sold at auction.  The art collection, at the time, was one of the finest in America.

Thus ended the life of the first "king" of New Jersey.

Henry Beckett, the British consul in Philadelphia, purchased Point Breeze in 1850.  He demolished the house Bonaparte had built, replacing it with an Italianate villa with such amenities as gas and hot and cold water.  In 1924 a subsequent owner, Harris Hammon, had the house remodeled in English Georgian Revival style.  The Divine Word Mission purchased the property in 1941 and began to operate a seminary in 1947.  In 1963 the seminary erected three modern school buildings near the mansion.  However, the mansion burned in 1983.

Source: by Tom Holberg;, and Peter Kross writing in New Jersey History published August 1987 © Peter Kross

Additional 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

Napoleon Body Swap Claim Arouses French Antipathy

by Catherine Field

Paris - The new neo-Gaullist Government in France has reacted with imperial disdain to a plan by a maverick historian to disinter a body buried in glory in the heart of Paris and make DNA tests to check if it really is the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The unusually swift refusal to give scientists access to the corpse that has lain in state since it was returned to France in 1840 follows a request from amateur historian Bruno Roy-Henri.

Unlike previous theories which centre around whether Napoleon died of a perforated stomach ulcer which turned cancerous, as his British captors claimed, or if he was poisoned, Roy-Henri's scepticism focuses on whether it was indeed the body of "The Little Corporal" that was returned to Paris.  "A DNA test is the best way to resolve this.  The refusal is very suspect - it only reinforces my doubts," Roy-Henri says.  "I have a feeling the French authorities are very troubled."

Roy-Henri bases his theory of a body switch on what he says are discrepancies between eyewitness accounts of Napoleon's burial in exile in St Helena in 1821 and his exhumation and return to France 29 years later.  The anomalies, Roy-Henri claims, include Napoleon's silver spurs, which were fastened to his boots when he was buried in St Helena but were strangely missing when the coffin was opened in Paris, and whether he was wearing his Legion of Honour badge.  Also, witnesses at the exhumation say the body was in a remarkably good state and noted "extremely white" teeth - despite them being notoriously yellow and rotten during his lifetime.

One theory is that the emperor's remains were swapped with those of his butler, Jean-Baptiste Cipriana, and that Napoleon was buried in London's Westminster Abbey.  That would be a perfect fit with traditional French suspicions that their Anglo-Saxon neighbours are perfidious.  But entombing one's arch enemy in the holiest site in Britain would be an odd thing to do.

The presumed body of Napoleon lies in a huge polished granite sarcophagus beneath the dome of the Invalides military hospital on the Left Bank, where it is viewed by hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

Roy-Henri says a test could be carried out on a piece of facial skin taken by doctors just before burial in 1840 and still kept at the Invalides' museum.  "We wouldn't even have to open up the tomb.  It would be a relatively simple operation," he says.

But France's Defence Ministry says there is insufficient evidence to warrant the test and authorisation to remove any sample would have to come from Napoleon's descendants.  "To our knowledge, it is the emperor lying in the tomb," says spokesman Yann Trehin.

Historians are increasingly turning to scientists to solve mysteries of the past.  Last year, Ben Weider, a millionaire businessman and founder of the International Napoleonic Society, commissioned three French forensic scientists to analyse samples of what were thought to be Napoleon's hair.  They claimed the follicles contained higher than normal levels of arsenic.

Other historical puzzles have been solved thanks to the highly accurate technique of DNA fingerprinting.  Scientists in Russia used these methods to identify the remains of Tsar Nicholas II and other members of the Romanov family shot by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Russian Revolution.  And two years ago DNA tests carried out on a scrap of mummified heart, preserved in a crystal urn in France's royal chapel, confirmed it came from the uncrowned King Louis XVII, who died in prison at the age of 10 at the height of the French Revolution.

But the idea that Napoleon should undergo the same test touches a nerve that goes beyond historical curiosity.  Opening up the issue for DNA analysis is akin to demanding the British check the remains of Winston Churchill.  For one thing, Napoleon can be regarded as the founder of modern France, setting down an administrative structure and legal code whose outlines persist to this day.  An enigmatic figure who shaped world history, he is best remembered for the military glory he brought, carving out the biggest empire in continental Europe since Charlemagne.

French schoolchildren are still treated to big doses of his victories, such as Austerlitz, Jena and Borodino, whose roll call is carved in the stone walls of the Arc de Triomphe.  But they hear virtually nothing about the Battle of the Nile, Trafalgar and Waterloo.  And the 20 years of relentless bloodshed that he unleashed across Europe to satisfy his own ego barely rate a mention.

Not for nothing do the British have a wry joke: "What's the definition of a Frenchman?  Someone who can tell the difference between Napoleon and Hitler".

Catherine Field is a correspondent for the New Zealand Herald

Source: Tuesday 20 August 2002

------- Original Message --------
Subject: Request for more information
Date: Mon, 27 Oct 2008

Great information on your website regarding Joseph Bonaparte's time in Bordentown, New Jersey.  My wife grow up near one of the old buildings still standing of the Bonaparte complex.

Always wondered what was the ultimate fate of Annette Savage?  We know she went with Joseph Bonaparte to upstate New York then fell in love with one of the builders of the New York village Bonaparte created and moved back to Philadelphia where she had originally come from.  Any information as to when she died or where she is buried?  What of her daughter?  Is that the little girl that was killed by a falling object while living in the Bordentown/Trenton, New Jersey complex?

Please advise.  Thank you...

Lance & Carol Kounitz

I don't know the answer.  Can anyone help?  Thanks.

-------- Original Message --------
Date: Sat, 24 Jan 2009

Hello there,

I found this website as I was looking for my family history.  My parents told me that our family descended from Joseph and his American mistress.  Until now, I never knew anything about her.

So, thanks so much for the info!

Kristen Bonaparte

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