Blog category: American History

  • What did Americans think of the Napoleonic exiles?

    What did Americans think of the Napoleonic exiles?

    December 8, 2017

    In writing Napoleon in America, it was easy to find French exiles in the United States in the early 1820s who could fictionally help Napoleon carry out his schemes. From Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte to scoundrels like Louis-Joseph Oudart, many Bonapartists fled to the United States after Napoleon’s 1815 defeat, to avoid persecution by the government of Louis XVIII. What was the American attitude toward the Napoleonic exiles in their midst?

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  • When John Quincy Adams met Madame de Staël

    When John Quincy Adams met Madame de Staël

    November 24, 2017

    John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States, met the French writer Madame de Staël in Russia in 1812, and again in France in 1815. Though Adams admired her eloquence more than her logic, he found that on the subject of Napoleon, there was “no difference of sentiment” between them.

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  • Natchitoches, Louisiana: Glimpses from History

    Natchitoches, Louisiana: Glimpses from History

    November 10, 2017

    Founded in 1714 – four years before New Orleans – the city of Natchitoches, Louisiana is the oldest permanent settlement located within the area covered by the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. The settlement was named after a local Native American tribe that is part of the Caddo Confederacy. As for how to pronounce Natchitoches, though locals now say “Nakadish,” in the 19th century people said “Nakitosh.”

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  • John Quincy Adams’ Report Upon Weights and Measures

    John Quincy Adams’ Report Upon Weights and Measures

    October 13, 2017

    John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States, liked to measure things – the width of a river, the distance between two points – by counting his steps. When Adams became Secretary of State in 1817, his fascination with measurements coincided with the desire of Congress to establish a uniform standard for weights and measures across the United States. After three-and-a-half years of obsessive work (which frustrated his wife Louisa), John Quincy Adams produced a Report Upon Weights and Measures that he believed would be his most important literary accomplishment.

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  • Advice on Settling in New York in 1820

    Advice on Settling in New York in 1820

    September 15, 2017

    What was life like for a foreigner in the United States in the early 1820s? This was one of many questions I looked into when writing Napoleon in America. Fortunately, many early 19th-century writers provided answers. One of them was William Cobbett, a farmer, journalist and politician described by historian A.J.P. Taylor as the second greatest Englishman (after Samuel Johnson) ever to have lived. Cobbett resided in the United States from 1792 to 1800, and again from 1817 to 1819. In 1820, a farmer asked Cobbett about emigrating from Britain to America. Here’s the answer Cobbett gave.

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  • The Texas Hurricane of 1818

    The Texas Hurricane of 1818

    September 1, 2017

    In September 1818, a hurricane struck the coast of Texas. It destroyed pirate Jean Laffite’s settlement on Galveston Island and visited fresh horrors on the Bonapartists who had taken refuge there after abandoning their attempt to establish a colony beside the Trinity River. Though Spaniards had reported hurricanes along the Texas coast as early as the 16th century, the 1818 Texas hurricane was one of the first to be recorded in detail.

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  • A Summer Night in New York City in the 1800s

    A Summer Night in New York City in the 1800s

    July 28, 2017

    Do you find it hard to get a good night’s sleep in the summer? It’s just as well that Napoleon – who visits New York City in the summer of 1821 in Napoleon in America – was not a great sleeper. Here’s a description of a night in New York City in the summer of 1822.

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  • John Quincy Adams’ Swimming Adventures

    John Quincy Adams’ Swimming Adventures

    July 14, 2017

    From the age of 50 until two years before his death at age 80, sixth US President John Quincy Adams went swimming almost every summer in the Potomac River in Washington, DC. Sometimes he swam with one of his sons, or with his valet Antoine Giusta (a former Napoleonic soldier from Piedmont), or with whatever acquaintance he could rope into the activity. Often he would swim on his own. John Quincy Adams swam for exercise and for enjoyment. Despite the protests of his wife and his friends, he refused to give up swimming, even after he nearly drowned.

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  • When the Great Plains Indians met President Monroe

    When the Great Plains Indians met President Monroe

    May 26, 2017

    In 1821, a delegation of Great Plains Indians travelled to Washington, DC, where they met President James Monroe. The trip was organized by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and Indian agent Benjamin O’Fallon. The aim was to impress the tribal leaders with the strength and wealth of the United States, and to persuade them to keep the peace.

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  • The American Habit of Spitting Tobacco Juice

    The American Habit of Spitting Tobacco Juice

    May 12, 2017

    When Emily Hopkinson complains to Napoleon Bonaparte about the habits of young American men in Napoleon in America, she says, “If a young lady should happen to accost one of those elegant figures, it is a considerable time ere she can be answered, as the gentleman must first dispose of the mouthful of delicious juice he has been extracting from a deposit secreted in one of his cheeks.” The “deposit” to which Emily refers is chewing tobacco. Disposal of the juice involves spitting – a practice early 19th-century Americans lustily engaged in, often without benefit of a spittoon. British visitors to the United States were appalled.

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  • The Wreck of the Packet Ship Albion

    The Wreck of the Packet Ship Albion

    April 21, 2017

    The packet ship Albion, sailing from New York to Liverpool, was wrecked on the coast of Ireland on April 22, 1822. Of the 54 people on board, only 9 survived. Napoleonic General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, who appears in Napoleon in America, was among the dead. As this was the first loss suffered by a North Atlantic packet line, the disaster horrified people on both sides of the ocean. Survivors left harrowing accounts of the Albion’s final hours.

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  • A Skeleton City: Washington DC in the 1820s

    A Skeleton City: Washington DC in the 1820s

    March 31, 2017

    During the time in which Napoleon in America is set, Washington DC exhibited “more streets than houses.” Visitors commented on the dirt roads, the distance between buildings, and the generally unimpressive appearance of America’s national capital. They also noted Washington DC’s beautiful setting, its potential for grandeur, and the city’s social life, which revolved around Congressional sittings.

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  • The First Texas Novel

    The First Texas Novel

    March 17, 2017

    Two books vie for the honour of being the first Texas novel, and both were written by Frenchmen. One of the books has a connection with Napoleon and includes several of the characters in Napoleon in America. The other – set during the Texas Revolution – was written by a disaffected Catholic priest who played a role in the early church in the United States. Though Texas was described in non-fiction books as early as 1542, with the publication of La relación of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, it was not until 1819 that the first novel set in Texas appeared.

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  • The John Quincy Adams Portrait by Gilbert Stuart & Thomas Sully

    The John Quincy Adams Portrait by Gilbert Stuart & Thomas Sully

    March 10, 2017

    In researching John Quincy Adams for Napoleon in America, I came across a portrait in which Adams’ head was painted by Gilbert Stuart and his body by Thomas Sully. The story of how that painting came about is an interesting one, involving two of America’s great artists, the perseverance of Adams’ cousin Ward Nicholas Boylston, and the intervention of Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, the first doctor to test the smallpox vaccine in the United States. It also tells us something about John Quincy Adams’ dress sense.

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  • When Louisa Adams met Joseph Bonaparte

    When Louisa Adams met Joseph Bonaparte

    February 10, 2017

    In Napoleon in America, Louisa Adams – the English-born wife of then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams – listens with interest as Elizabeth Hopkinson talks about travelling with Napoleon and his older brother Joseph to upstate New York. That vignette is set in April of 1822. In real life, Louisa Adams met Joseph Bonaparte in September of that year. Joseph was a ladies’ man who had already fathered two illegitimate children in the United States. Louisa was an elegant woman, comfortable in the courts of Europe, who liked to charm and be charmed. Here’s how the two of them got along.

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  • The Inauguration of John Quincy Adams

    The Inauguration of John Quincy Adams

    January 20, 2017

    America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams, was inaugurated on March 4, 1825 at the age of 57 years and 7 months. Adams, who was Secretary of State in the outgoing administration of President James Monroe, finished behind Andrew Jackson in the number of popular votes and electoral votes received in the 1824 presidential election. However, since no candidate reached the 131 electoral vote majority necessary to win, the election was decided by the House of Representatives, which voted in favour of John Quincy Adams. Aware of his lack of popularity, Adams tried to heal electoral divisions in his inaugural address.

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  • The Extinct Karankawa Indians of Texas

    The Extinct Karankawa Indians of Texas

    January 6, 2017

    The Karankawa Indians were a group of now-extinct tribes who lived along the Gulf of Mexico in what is today Texas. Archaeologists have traced the Karankawas back at least 2,000 years. The tribes were nomadic, ranging from Galveston Bay to Corpus Christi Bay and as far as 100 miles (160 km) inland. During much of the 18th century, the Karankawas were at war with the Spaniards in Texas. They then fought unsuccessfully to stay on their land after it was opened to Anglo-American settlement in the 1800s. The last known Karankawas were killed or died out by the 1860s.

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  • The New Year’s Day reflections of John Quincy Adams

    The New Year’s Day reflections of John Quincy Adams

    December 30, 2016

    Of all the characters who appear in Napoleon in America, John Quincy Adams wins the prize for most diligent diarist. Besides giving readers a first-hand look at 19th-century American politics and diplomacy, Adams’ diaries reveal the habits and mindset of America’s sixth president. Every New Year’s Day, John Quincy Adams was prone to offering his reflections on the year that had just passed and his wishes for the future. To help ring in the New Year, here is a sample of his New Year’s Day musings.

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  • Celebrating Thanksgiving in the 1800s

    Celebrating Thanksgiving in the 1800s

    November 25, 2016

    Thanksgiving did not become a national holiday in the United States until 1863. In the early 19th century, Thanksgiving was celebrated on a state by state basis, with each state scheduling its own holiday on dates that could range from October to January. What began as a New England tradition gradually spread to other states, although not without resistance.

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  • The Presidential Election of 1824

    The Presidential Election of 1824

    November 4, 2016

    There were five candidates in the United States presidential election of 1824, which was held to determine the successor to President James Monroe. Three of the candidates – Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House of Representatives – appear in Napoleon in America. The other two candidates were General Andrew Jackson and Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford. All of them were members of the Republican Party. Although there were differences among the candidates on issues such as the tariff, internal improvements and slavery, the election was also a personality contest.

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  • Drinking cold water & other 19th century causes of death

    Drinking cold water & other 19th century causes of death

    October 21, 2016

    Given the rudimentary nature of medical care in the early 19th century, Napoleon is probably right when he complains to Dr. Formento in Napoleon in America that “you kill more men than you save.” Disease was thought to be caused by imbalances within the body. There was little understanding of how infections began and spread, or of the importance of hygiene. Treatments included bloodletting and mercury. Many people died young, and some causes of death were unusual.

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  • José Antonio Díaz de León, the last Franciscan missionary in Texas

    José Antonio Díaz de León, the last Franciscan missionary in Texas

    July 29, 2016

    Father José Antonio Díaz de León, the last Franciscan missionary in Texas, was an ardent defender of the Spanish mission system. In the 1820s, he waged a long campaign against secularization of the Texas missions. Brave and pious, Father Díaz de León came to a bloody end. Was he murdered or did he kill himself?

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  • Achille Murat, the Prince of Tallahassee

    Achille Murat, the Prince of Tallahassee

    June 24, 2016

    Napoleon’s nephew Achille Murat was one of the more eccentric Bonapartes. After growing up as the Crown Prince of Naples, he became a colourful Florida pioneer known as the “Prince of Tallahassee.” Achille was independent-minded, restless and adventuresome, always seeking an elusive fortune. Though he claimed to be a democrat, he remained at heart an aristocrat, pining for his family’s lost throne and inherited wealth.

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  • Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Anglo-American Texas

    Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Anglo-American Texas

    June 17, 2016

    It’s hard to avoid the name of Stephen F. Austin in Texas. The state capital is named after him, as are Austin County, Austin College, Stephen F. Austin State University, Stephen F. Austin State Park and numerous schools, buildings and associations. He has been called the father of Texas and the founder of Texas. Austin led the Anglo-American colonization of Texas, paving the way for the state’s independence from Mexico, although this was not something he initially wanted.

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  • Presidio Commander Francisco García

    Presidio Commander Francisco García

    June 3, 2016

    Captain Francisco García was the military commander of Presidio La Bahía (present-day Goliad, Texas) from 1821 to 1823. He is thus the commandant who parleys with Napoleon outside La Bahía in Napoleon in America. In 1821, American filibuster James Long captured La Bahía while García and his men slept.

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  • Texas Pioneer Josiah Hughes Bell

    Texas Pioneer Josiah Hughes Bell

    April 8, 2016

    Josiah Hughes Bell, the founder of East and West Columbia, Texas, was one of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists and Austin’s trusted friend. Austin left Bell in charge of the colony when he had to go to Mexico City in 1822 to confirm his empresario grant with the new Mexican government. Thus Napoleon and his men meet with Bell, rather than Austin, when they arrive at the Brazos River in Napoleon in America. At the time, Bell was finding it hard to keep the colonists’ spirits up.

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  • The charmingly deceptive Baron de Bastrop

    The charmingly deceptive Baron de Bastrop

    March 11, 2016

    Felipe Enrique Neri, the Baron de Bastrop, was a prominent resident of Texas in the early 19th century. Charismatic and enterprising, Bastrop brought some pioneers into northern Louisiana and encouraged the Anglo-American colonization of Texas when it was part of Mexico. He also lied about his past and left a trail of litigation involving questionable land titles that lasted for over 20 years after his death.

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  • Last Words of Famous People

    Last Words of Famous People

    February 19, 2016

    Though not as well-known as Napoleon’s last words, here are the reported last words uttered by some of the other famous historical figures who appear in Napoleon in America. King Louis XVIII died suffering from obesity, gout and gangrene at the Tuileries Palace in Paris on September 16, 1824, at the age of 68. He had a long, slow decline, and many of the things he is claimed to have said in his dying days sound like official propaganda. The most credible account is from his good friend Madame du Cayla.

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  • Valentine’s Day in early 19th century America

    Valentine’s Day in early 19th century America

    February 12, 2016

    The custom of celebrating St. Valentine’s Day came to America with English and German settlers. Though mass-produced valentine cards did not appear in the United States until the mid-19th century, handmade valentines were exchanged as early as the Revolutionary War. Here’s a peek at how St. Valentine’s Day was celebrated in the early 19th century, as gleaned from American newspapers of the time.

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  • Texas Priest Francisco Maynes

    Texas Priest Francisco Maynes

    February 5, 2016

    Francisco Maynes was a Spanish-born Catholic priest and occasional military chaplain who served in Texas in the early 19th century under Spanish, and then Mexican, rule. Maynes proved quite successful in petitioning the San Antonio town council for land that belonged to the former Spanish missions, thus establishing a precedent for local clergymen to become land speculators. In Napoleon in America, Father Maynes insists he is ready to give his life to prevent Napoleon from entering San Antonio.

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  • Texas Revolutionary José Francisco Ruiz

    Texas Revolutionary José Francisco Ruiz

    January 22, 2016

    José Francisco Ruiz was a Mexican soldier who fought for Mexico’s independence from Spain and later supported Texas’s struggle for independence from Mexico. He is most noted for being one of only two native-born Texans to sign the 1836 Texas Declaration of Independence, even though he was “horrified” by the idea. Ruiz spent considerable time among the Texas Indians, most notably the Comanches. He was well thought of by the Indians and was influential in brokering peace agreements with several Texas tribes. Ruiz thus appears as the Mexican Indian administrator in Napoleon in America.

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  • Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios

    Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios

    January 8, 2016

    José Félix Trespalacios, an insurgent who fought for Mexico’s independence from Spain, became the first governor of Texas in newly-independent Mexico in 1822. As such, he has to deal with the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte on the Texas frontier in Napoleon in America. Trespalacios was a hard-working and optimistic governor. He established the first Texas bank, negotiated an agreement with the Cherokees, supported Stephen Austin’s colony, and introduced the first printing press to Texas. His term was short, however, and most of his innovations came to naught.

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  • Cherokee Indian Chief Bowles (Duwali) and his tragic quest for land

    Cherokee Indian Chief Bowles (Duwali) and his tragic quest for land

    December 18, 2015

    Cherokee Indian Chief Duwali or Di’Wali, also known as John Bowles or Bowl, was born around 1756, possibly in North Carolina. He is thought to have been the son of a Scotch or Scotch-Irish trader and a Cherokee woman. It is claimed that Bowles’ father was killed by white settlers when Bowles was a boy, and that the son killed his father’s murderers in revenge when he was 14. Bowles never learned how to read or write, and could not speak English. Late in his life, he was described as being “somewhat tanned in color,” and having “neither the hair nor the eyes of an Indian. His eyes were gray, his hair was of a dirty sandy color; and his was an English head.”

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  • Caddo Indian Chief Dehahuit

    Caddo Indian Chief Dehahuit

    December 4, 2015

    Dehahuit was the great chief of the Caddo Indians who lived in what is now southwest Arkansas, western Louisiana and eastern Texas in the early 19th century. As his tribes were positioned on the disputed border between Spanish-held Mexico and the United States, Dehahuit became a shrewd diplomat, skilful at playing the Spaniards and the Americans off against one another. He aimed to gain the best gifts, trading terms and protection from each, as well as respect for the independence and integrity of traditional Caddo lands. In Napoleon in America, Dehahuit hopes to obtain the same concessions from Napoleon.

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  • Indian Interpreter Gaspard Philibert

    Indian Interpreter Gaspard Philibert

    November 27, 2015

    Gaspard Philibert, Napoleon’s Indian interpreter in Napoleon in America, appears in the historical record thanks to Dr. John Sibley, a Massachusetts-born physician who moved to Louisiana in 1802, the year before Napoleon sold the territory to the United States. Sibley settled in Natchitoches, where he worked initially as a surgeon on contract with the Department of War to care for the new US troops stationed in the area. In 1805, Sibley was commissioned as the Indian Agent for Orleans Territory and the region south of the Arkansas River. Sibley’s job was to keep the Indians at peace among themselves and with the white settlers in Louisiana. He hired Philibert to interpret for him.

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  • Fanny Fern on marriage in the 19th century

    Fanny Fern on marriage in the 19th century

    November 20, 2015

    When I was researching Napoleon in America character James Many, I came across an amusing piece of satire in the March 9, 1852 edition of the Richmond, Virginia Daily Dispatch. It appeared on the same page as the description of Many’s Mardi Gras funeral, under the headline: “Aunt Hetty on Matrimony.” Further digging revealed that the author was Sara Payson Willis, writing under the pen name of Fanny Fern. I had stumbled onto the work of the first female newspaper columnist in the United States, and one of the most highly paid authors in mid-19th century America. Before I talk about Sara, here’s the article that caught my attention – and there’s even a mention of Napoleon.

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  • Frontier Colonel James B. Many

    Frontier Colonel James B. Many

    November 6, 2015

    Colonel James B. Many spent most of his career on America’s western frontier. His life was typical of that of many frontier officers during the first half of the 19th century: protecting settlers, dealing with Indians, guarding against foreign intrusions, and charting a vast territory in which transportation and communications were difficult, all the while making do with few resources from Washington.

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  • Arnaud Texier de la Pommeraye: French soldier, American teacher

    Arnaud Texier de la Pommeraye: French soldier, American teacher

    October 30, 2015

    Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Texier de la Pommeraye was a Bonapartist who, after 30 years in the French army, wound up scraping a living in the United States after 1815. He taught languages and wrote grammar texts in Philadelphia. In Napoleon in America, Texier de la Pommeraye has a chance to exercise his military talents once again.

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  • Texas entrepreneur Ben Milam

    Texas entrepreneur Ben Milam

    October 23, 2015

    Ben Milam is primarily known for his role in the Texas Revolution, particularly his leadership and death in the capture of San Antonio in December 1835. In Napoleon in America, Milam hitches up with Jim Bowie in the hopes of taking advantage of Napoleon’s activities in Texas. Milam’s motives are related to his hostility towards another Napoleon in America character, Texas governor José Félix Trespalacios. To fully understand what that was about, we need to look at Milam’s earlier Texas adventures.

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  • John C. Calhoun: War Hawk

    John C. Calhoun: War Hawk

    October 2, 2015

    As a planter from South Carolina who never doubted the necessity of slavery, 19th century American politician John C. Calhoun has often been judged harshly. TIME put him on the list of the worst vice presidents in America’s history. That is a glib assessment. Calhoun’s career was long, complex and accomplished. He served in the House of Representatives (1811-1817) and the Senate (1832-1843, 1845-1850), in the Cabinet as secretary of war (1817-1825) and secretary of state (1844-45), and as vice president (1825-1832). Calhoun was a vigorous promoter of states’ rights and a strong advocate for the South. In Napoleon in America, he appears as the US Secretary of War, with a hawkish interest in Napoleon’s activities.

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  • James Monroe and Napoleon

    James Monroe and Napoleon

    September 25, 2015

    When Napoleon Bonaparte lands in New Orleans in Napoleon in America, James Monroe is president of the United States. Imagining how he might have reacted to Napoleon’s request for asylum required looking into what he thought about Napoleon. Monroe met Napoleon when he was in France to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. He later became alarmed at Napoleon’s “overweaning ambition.”

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  • Jim Bowie before the “gaudy legend”

    Jim Bowie before the “gaudy legend”

    August 7, 2015

    Before Jim Bowie became one of the most mythologized figures in American history, he was a con artist. One of his partners in crime was the pirate Jean Laffite, who introduces Bowie to Napoleon in Napoleon in America. James Rhesa Bowie was born nine miles northwest of Franklin, Kentucky in the spring of 1796. He was the eighth of ten children, four of whom died young. His father, Rezin Bowie, Sr., was a planter who had fought in the American Revolutionary War.

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  • Napoleon & New Orleans in 1821

    Napoleon & New Orleans in 1821

    July 24, 2015

    The New Orleans in which Napoleon lands in Napoleon in America was fertile ground for Bonapartists. In 1821 New Orleans was the nation’s fifth-largest city (after New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston), with a population of approximately 27,000. French speakers accounted for some three-quarters of that total. About 1,500 of these were actual French citizens, fresh from Europe. Another 10,000 or so were refugees from Saint-Domingue who had arrived in 1809 and 1810. The remainder were other Creoles, American-born descendants of the Europeans. But the predominantly French character of New Orleans was changing.

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  • Soldier, lothario, filibuster: General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert

    Soldier, lothario, filibuster: General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert

    July 17, 2015

    General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert is one of those larger than life characters thrown up by the French Revolution. A passionate republican who led a failed invasion of Ireland, a ladies’ man who romanced Napoleon’s sister, an aide to Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, a would-be invader of Mexico, and an associate of the pirates Laffite – there are so many tales about Humbert that it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. This, as best I can determine, is his story.

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  • Louis-Joseph Oudart, a downright scoundrel

    Louis-Joseph Oudart, a downright scoundrel

    July 10, 2015

    Louis-Joseph Oudart (Houdard) was born on November 22, 1788 in Versailles, to Joseph Oudart and Marie Joseph Flahaut. He served as an infantry corporal in Napoleon’s Grande Armée. Oudart became a chevalier of the Legion of Honour on October 3, 1814, during the First Restoration. It’s not clear what he did during the Hundred Days, but he remained loyal enough to the king to obtain the commission of sub-lieutenant during the Second Restoration. Unfortunately, Oudart used his new position to steal tableware from the officers’ mess, as well as items from his corps’s master tailor.

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  • Celebrating July 4th in early 19th century New Orleans

    Celebrating July 4th in early 19th century New Orleans

    July 3, 2015

    On July 4, 1821, in Napoleon in America, Mr. Renault puts on a balloon and fireworks display to honour Napoleon’s presence in New Orleans, and to celebrate “the liberty of our country.” Such a display took place – or at least was planned – for Independence Day in New Orleans in 1821. On May 28 of that year, Mr. Renault advertised in the Courrier de la Louisiane / Louisiana Courier as follows: “Mr. Renault has the honor of informing the inhabitants of New Orleans and its vicinity that on Sunday the 3rd of June he will start a Balloon 70 feet in circumference, with a gondole carrying off two figures of natural size.”

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  • George Schumph and the death of Pierre Laffite

    George Schumph and the death of Pierre Laffite

    April 17, 2015

    George Schumph, who meets with Napoleon in Charleston in Napoleon in America, is one of those shadowy historical figures about whom little is known. A native of Quebec, he is remembered in the historical record because of his association with the New Orleans-based pirates, Pierre and Jean Laffite. Thanks in part to Schumph’s testimony, we have the details of Pierre Laffite’s death.

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  • Louisa Adams, social charmer

    Louisa Adams, social charmer

    February 27, 2015

    Louisa Adams, the English-born wife of US president John Quincy Adams, was indispensable to her husband’s political career. Though not a great beauty, she was literate, a fashionable dresser and had Continental polish and charm from many years spent in Europe. Most importantly, she understood how to use her social skills to make up for her husband’s inadequacies, as we see in Napoleon in America. In 1815, Louisa made a dangerous journey across Europe to join her husband in Paris, in which she encountered the effects of the Napoleonic Wars firsthand.

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  • Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon’s American nephew

    Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, Napoleon’s American nephew

    February 20, 2015

    Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte was the son of Napoleon’s youngest brother Jérôme and Baltimore socialite Elizabeth (Betsy) Patterson, the subject of last week’s post. As Napoleon had broken up his parents’ marriage before Jerome was even born, Napoleon never acknowledged the boy as a Bonaparte. Despite Betsy’s best efforts to raise her son as a European of rank and fortune, Jerome was not convinced that Europe was the place for him. He preferred life in the United States. Though Jerome ultimately married well, he lacked ambition and was content to be an American gentleman farmer.

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  • Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, Napoleon’s American sister-in-law

    Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, Napoleon’s American sister-in-law

    February 13, 2015

    Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte wrote in 1815 that “nature never intended me for obscurity.” A belle of Baltimore, Elizabeth became an international celebrity when she married Napoleon’s youngest brother Jérôme. When Napoleon convinced Jérôme to abandon her, Betsy (as she was known) became America’s most famous single mother. A hustler with a high opinion of herself, Betsy had a brilliant social career and a very long life, though her letters do not leave the impression of a kind or a happy person. As an early biographer wrote, “This Baltimore girl, married at eighteen and deserted at twenty, seems to have possessed the savoir vivre of Chesterfield, the cold cynicism of Rochefoucauld, and the practical economy of Franklin.”

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  • Charlotte Bonaparte, Napoleon’s artistic niece

    Charlotte Bonaparte, Napoleon’s artistic niece

    January 16, 2015

    Though not considered beautiful, Charlotte Bonaparte – the daughter of Napoleon’s brother Joseph – was intelligent and cultivated, with a romantic temperament. Known for her talent as an artist, Charlotte lived with her father in the United States for three years, where she drew and painted a number of landscapes. In Europe, she studied with Jacques-Louis David and with Louis-Léopold Robert, who killed himself when his passion for her was not requited. Constrained by Napoleon’s will to marry her cousin, Charlotte made the best of the situation, though her short marriage ended in sorrow. She herself died in sad circumstances at a relatively young age.

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  • Napoleon’s policeman, Pierre-François Réal

    Napoleon’s policeman, Pierre-François Réal

    December 26, 2014

    Pierre-François Réal was an ardent French Revolutionist who helped Napoleon seize power and then served in key police positions throughout Napoleon’s reign. His supporters called him a champion of liberty who defended the rights of the falsely accused. His detractors regarded him as a hypocritical monster, responsible for many deaths. After Napoleon’s fall, Réal found exile in the United States. He built a “cup and saucer” house in Cape Vincent, New York, and may have sought to rescue Napoleon from St. Helena.

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  • Simon Bernard, Napoleon’s general in the US Army

    Simon Bernard, Napoleon’s general in the US Army

    October 17, 2014

    In an illustration of Napoleon’s “career open to all talents,” Simon Bernard rose from modest origins to become an engineering general in the Grande Armée. He attracted Napoleon’s personal attention when, as a young officer, he had the nerve to give the Emperor unsolicited advice about campaign plans. After Napoleon’s 1815 defeat, Bernard spent 15 years as a military engineer in the United States Army, where he had a huge impact on America’s coastal defences and roads and canals. Later in his career, Bernard served as France’s Minister of War.

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  • Napoleonic General Henri Lallemand: Improving the US artillery

    Napoleonic General Henri Lallemand: Improving the US artillery

    October 10, 2014

    Though overshadowed by his hotheaded older brother Charles, Henri Lallemand was a skilled Napoleonic officer whose influence on artillery practice was felt in the United States, which is where he sought exile after Napoleon’s 1815 defeat. Henri did not accompany Charles to the Champ d’Asile in Texas, but was keenly involved in planning and equipping the ill-fated expedition. His much younger wife Henriette was the niece of America’s richest man, Stephen Girard.

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  • Stephen Girard, America’s Napoleon of commerce

    Stephen Girard, America’s Napoleon of commerce

    October 3, 2014

    Stephen Girard was a French-born, Philadelphia-based merchant, banker, land speculator and philanthropist who became one of the richest Americans of all time. The leading business titan of his day, he personally saved the US government from financial collapse during the War of 1812. Girard was a friend of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, who dined with him regularly. One of Napoleon’s generals, Henri Lallemand, married Girard’s niece, Henriette. Thus Girard makes a small but important appearance in Napoleon in America, where his money is of use to the former French emperor.

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  • Charles Jared Ingersoll, a dinner-party delight

    Charles Jared Ingersoll, a dinner-party delight

    September 26, 2014

    Charles Jared Ingersoll was a prominent 19th century Philadelphia lawyer, member of Congress and writer. A good friend of Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte, Ingersoll was known for his lively conversation, his admiration for the United States, and his eccentric dress. He thought that Napoleon, “apart from rabid ambition, was a model of domestic, particularly matrimonial virtues, far exceeding most of not only the royalty, but the aristocracy of Europe.”

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  • Joseph Hopkinson, Joseph Bonaparte’s great friend

    Joseph Hopkinson, Joseph Bonaparte’s great friend

    September 12, 2014

    A 19th century lawyer, musician, writer, politician and judge, Joseph Hopkinson was one of Joseph Bonaparte’s closest friends and neighbours in the United States. He also composed America’s unofficial national anthem. Hopkinson’s wife Emily was a sharp wit with a talent for art and writing. The Hopkinsons moved in America’s highest political and social circles and ran a lively Philadelphia literary salon. John Quincy Adams and his wife were very fond of their daughter, Elizabeth Borden Hopkinson.

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  • Nicholas Biddle, proud American

    Nicholas Biddle, proud American

    September 5, 2014

    Nicholas Biddle, a friend of Joseph Bonaparte, was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, politician, man of letters, gentleman farmer and the president of the Second Bank of the United States. As a young man, he encountered Napoleon in person, leaving us vignettes of Napoleon reviewing his troops and of the Emperor’s coronation. Biddle’s time in Europe persuaded him of the superiority of his own country. Biddle came to ruin in the 1830s Bank War with President Andrew Jackson.

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  • Henry Clay, a perfect original

    Henry Clay, a perfect original

    August 29, 2014

    Named one of the greatest senators in US history (by a committee chaired by John F. Kennedy), Henry Clay was a formidable 19th century American politician. He served as Speaker of the House of Representatives longer than anyone else in the 1800s. Though he never held the country’s highest office, Clay had as much impact on the United States as most presidents of his era. Clay was a strong supporter of Latin American independence and was also a friend of Joseph Bonaparte, which is how he winds up in Napoleon in America.

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  • Charles & Delia Stewart: An ill-assorted match

    Charles & Delia Stewart: An ill-assorted match

    August 22, 2014

    Among the guests at Napoleon’s Point Breeze birthday party in Napoleon in America are Commodore Charles Stewart and his wife Delia, neighbours of Napoleon’s brother Joseph. Stewart was a national hero – the commander of the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”) during the War of 1812. Delia was the belle of Boston, with a talent for spending other people’s money. They had one of the worst marriages in early 19th century America.

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  • Achille & Joseph Archambault: Napoleon’s grooms on St. Helena

    Achille & Joseph Archambault: Napoleon’s grooms on St. Helena

    August 8, 2014

    Achille and Joseph Archambault are two more names to add to the category of Napoleon’s faithful servants. They joined the imperial household around 1805 and stuck with Napoleon when he went into exile on Elba and on St. Helena. Achille was known for his fast and furious driving. Joseph wound up in the United States, where he ran a hotel in Pennsylvania and became a cavalry major during the American Civil War.

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  • Joseph Bonaparte’s Secretary, Louis Mailliard

    Joseph Bonaparte’s Secretary, Louis Mailliard

    August 1, 2014

    When Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, arrived in the United States in August 1815, he was accompanied by four people, including his secretary Louis Mailliard. Mailliard served Joseph faithfully for 36 years and became his closest confidant. In 1817 Joseph sent Mailliard on a hunt for buried treasure in Europe.

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  • Jean-Guillaume Hyde de Neuville, a 19th century knight-errant

    Jean-Guillaume Hyde de Neuville, a 19th century knight-errant

    July 25, 2014

    Jean-Guillaume Hyde de Neuville, France’s ambassador to the United States from 1816 to 1822, was a staunch royalist with a heart of gold. A counter-revolutionary who was exiled by Napoleon, he became a doctor, a farmer, a diplomat and a politician who was generous to his opponents. His wife was a noted watercolourist who left many sketches of early 19th century America.

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  • John Quincy Adams and Napoleon

    John Quincy Adams and Napoleon

    July 18, 2014

    As an American diplomat in Europe during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, John Quincy Adams had ample opportunity to observe the effects of Napoleon’s military adventures. Though critical of Napoleon and pleased to see the end of his rule, Adams developed a sneaking admiration for the French Emperor, especially compared to the hereditary rulers of Europe.

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  • Joseph Bonaparte: From King of Spain to New Jersey

    Joseph Bonaparte: From King of Spain to New Jersey

    July 4, 2014

    Amiable and obliging, Joseph Bonaparte was in many respects the opposite of his younger brother Napoleon. Joseph was fond of literature, gardening and entertaining, and Joseph perfectly happy to spend his days pottering about his estate. Napoleon, however, had grander plans for his brother, most notably the Spanish throne. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, Joseph fled to the United States, where he is credited with bringing European culture to the locals.

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  • Narcisse & Antonia Rigaud: Survivors of the Champ d’Asile

    Narcisse & Antonia Rigaud: Survivors of the Champ d’Asile

    June 27, 2014

    Narcisse-Périclès Rigaud and his sister Antonia were the children of General Antoine Rigaud, one of Napoleon’s officers. They joined their father in the 1818 Bonapartist attempt to form an armed colony in Texas called the Champ d’Asile (Field of Asylum). Narcisse’s distaste for Charles Lallemand in Napoleon in America stems from his experience at the colony.

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  • General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes: Unhappy in Alabama

    General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes: Unhappy in Alabama

    June 20, 2014

    Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes was a loyal and gifted Napoleonic cavalry commander. Sentenced to death after Napoleon’s 1815 abdication, Lefebvre-Desnouettes fled to the United States where he settled on the Vine and Olive colony in Alabama. Despite his wealth, he was miserable and longed to return to France. He finally received permission to do so, only to meet a tragic end on the journey home.

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  • Voodoo queen Marie Laveau

    Voodoo queen Marie Laveau

    June 13, 2014

    Like Jean Laffite, Voodoo queen Marie Laveau is a New Orleans character whose life is shrouded in legend. She was born on September 10, 1801, daughter of the free persons of colour Marguerite Henry D’Arcantel and Charles Laveaux. In 1819, Marie married Jacques Paris, a quadroon. They had two daughters: Felicité, born in 1817, and Marie Angèlie, born in 1822. Both are presumed to have died young. Jacques died or disappeared sometime between March 1822 and November 1824. Thereafter Marie went by the name the Widow Paris and supported herself as a hairdresser, going to the homes of wealthy white women to style their coiffures.

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  • Slavery in New Orleans, and Napoleon’s view thereof

    Slavery in New Orleans, and Napoleon’s view thereof

    June 6, 2014

    Nicolas Girod’s slave Rose is the only character in Napoleon in America for whom I had to invent a name. The 1820 US census lists Girod as having a female slave age 26-44, which means she was born before 1795. I decided to give her a Saint-Domingue origin. This connects her with Napoleon’s view of slavery, which can best be described as pragmatic. While Napoleon condemned the slave trade, he had no strong opposition to slavery. He based his policies on what would most benefit him and France.

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  • Pirate consorts: Marie and Catherine Villard

    Pirate consorts: Marie and Catherine Villard

    May 30, 2014

    Sisters Marie and Catherine (Catiche) Villard were the mistresses of the New Orleans-based pirate brothers Pierre and Jean Laffite. Pierre had at least seven children with Marie. His relationship with her also proved handy for shielding the Laffites’ property from creditors. There’s a sad coda to their story, involving descendants who tried to pass for white.

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  • Josephine Lauret: Namesake of a New Orleans Street

    Josephine Lauret: Namesake of a New Orleans Street

    May 23, 2014

    Though not much is known about her life, Napoleon in America character Josephine Lauret has a New Orleans street named after her. Quite a lot is known about her parents and grandparents, providing glimpses into the French-Spanish-American dynamic of the late 18th century, particularly in Louisiana. Josephine was the daughter of Revolutionary War officer Pierre George Rousseau, and the granddaughter of Joseph Milhet, one of New Orleans’ Frenchmen Street’s original Frenchmen.

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  • General Charles Lallemand: Invader of Texas

    General Charles Lallemand: Invader of Texas

    May 16, 2014

    Soldier, adventurer and conman, Charles Lallemand had a distinguished career as a Napoleonic officer. He was a member of Napoleon’s inner circle in the days following the Emperor’s 1815 abdication. Under a French death sentence and unwilling to settle for a quiet life, Lallemand turned to Texas filibustering, Spanish insurgency and a Greek ship-building fiasco before eventually becoming governor of Corsica.

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  • Vincent Nolte: Reminiscences of an extraordinary businessman

    Vincent Nolte: Reminiscences of an extraordinary businessman

    May 9, 2014

    A 19th century businessman with an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, Vincent Nolte had a long career on both sides of the Atlantic. He was a merchant, financier, caricaturist, medallion maker and writer. He made and lost more than one fortune, encountered Napoleon, Andrew Jackson, the Marquis de Lafayette, Queen Victoria and other luminaries, and left a highly entertaining book recounting his adventures.

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  • François Guillemin: Spying and scandal in 19th century New Orleans

    François Guillemin: Spying and scandal in 19th century New Orleans

    May 2, 2014

    François Guillemin was the French consul in New Orleans during the time in which Napoleon in America is set. As part of his job consisted of spying on Napoleon’s followers, Guillemin has his hands full in the book when Napoleon himself arrives in the city. In real life, much of what we know about Guillemin is thanks to his encounters with two other well-known figures: Alexis de Tocqueville and Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba.

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  • Félix Formento and medicine in 19th century New Orleans

    Félix Formento and medicine in 19th century New Orleans

    April 25, 2014

    An Italian immigrant who served in Napoleon’s Grande Armée, Félix Formento became a prominent medical practitioner in 19th century New Orleans. He fathered a son who similarly became a doctor and worked for a Napoleon on the battlefield. Formento also holds the distinction of being the Napoleon in America character who lived the longest non-fictional life.

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  • Nicolas Girod and the history of Napoleon House in New Orleans

    Nicolas Girod and the history of Napoleon House in New Orleans

    April 18, 2014

    Napoleon in America was inspired by the story that Nicolas Girod built or furbished Napoleon House in New Orleans as a residence for Napoleon, and organized a group of pirates to rescue the former Emperor from exile on St. Helena. Though unsubstantiated, this tale first appeared in print in the late 19th century, was commonly recounted in the press in the early 20th century, and remains popular today.

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  • What happened to the Bonapartists in America? The story of Louis Lauret

    What happened to the Bonapartists in America? The story of Louis Lauret

    April 11, 2014

    One of hundreds of Bonapartists who went to the United States after Napoleon’s final defeat, Captain Louis Lauret ended up defrauded, disillusioned and probably wistful for the days of glory with his Emperor, with whom he is reunited fictionally in Napoleon in America.

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  • Jean Laffite: Mexican Gulf pirate and privateer

    Jean Laffite: Mexican Gulf pirate and privateer

    April 4, 2014

    To romantic minds, Jean Laffite could have been a model for Pirates of the Caribbean. Variously called the “gentleman pirate,” “the terror of the Gulf” and “the Hero of New Orleans,” his life is shrouded in myth. Napoleon in America is based on one of many unsubstantiated tales about Laffite.

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We must confess that fate, which sports with man, makes merry work with the affairs of this world.

Napoleon Bonaparte