What happened to the Bonapartists in America? The story of Louis Lauret
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.
A Guard of Honour
Lauret was born in 1797, the son of a police commissioner in Orthez, in southwestern France. Around age 17, he enlisted in the Guards of Honour. These were four regiments that Napoleon created in 1813-14 to reinforce his Imperial Guard cavalry, which had been decimated in Russia. They consisted of volunteers, largely from wealthy families that could equip and mount their sons at their own expense, as the French treasury was empty.
Though initially ill-prepared for combat, the Guards of Honour learned quickly in campaigns in Germany and France. They distinguished themselves in battle at Hanau and Rheims. In 1815, 87 of the Guards of Honour joined Napoleon’s army for the Hundred Days campaign. (1) Coincidentally, Louis Vallin – who appears later in Napoleon in America in command of French soldiers on the Spanish border – served as a second colonel in the 2nd Regiment of the Guards of Honour.
After Napoleon’s final abdication, Lauret and many other Napoleonic soldiers emigrated to the United States. Lauret was a devoted admirer and friend of the Lallemand brothers, who also feature in Napoleon in America. Lauret served as an aide-de-camp to Charles Lallemand, and was the best man at Henri Lallemand’s wedding to Henriette Girard in October 1817.
Vine and Olive Colony
With the Lallemands and other Bonapartists, Lauret joined the Society for the Cultivation of the Vine and Olive. The Society petitioned the US Congress to grant the French exiles land in Alabama, near the present site of Demopolis. In March 1817, Congress passed an act giving them 92,000 acres and a 14-year grace period. During this time they had to plant a “reasonable” proportion in grapes and olives before having to pay for the land at $2 per acre.
Lauret was in Alabama for only a brief time. By December 1817 he – and half the other Bonapartist soldiers of the Vine and Olive Society – had sold his 160-acre allotment (at $1 per acre) to speculators, in a scheme concocted by Charles Lallemand to raise money for a planned invasion of Texas, then under Spanish control. Rafe Blaufarb has written an excellent article about the Vine and Olive Colony for the Encyclopedia of Alabama website.
In 1818 Lauret joined Lallemand’s expedition to Texas. Some 150 Bonapartists built an armed encampment called the Champ d’Asile (Field of Asylum) on the banks of the Trinity River, at or near the present site of Moss Bluff, south of Liberty. Within months the colony collapsed under the pressures of infighting, lack of food, Indian attacks and news of Spanish troops enroute from San Antonio to eject them. The settlers retreated to Galveston, where Jean Laffite helped them return to New Orleans. In France, the liberal press idealized the Champ d’Asile, spreading false, romanticized accounts of the colony. The French newspaper La Minerve raised funds for the colonists, which were eventually dispersed to the survivors. For more about the Champ d’Asile, see the article by Kent Gardien and Betje Black Klier in the Handbook of Texas Online.
In New Orleans, Lauret joined his uncle Paul Lanusse, a prominent merchant. Early in 1819 Lauret married Josephine Rousseau, the New Orleans-born daughter of deceased French-born naval captain, Pierre George Rousseau, who had served in the American and Spanish navies. Lauret and Josephine had one daughter, named Nicida.
Lauret bought land upriver from New Orleans. With a few slaves, he got it under cultivation. In 1820, at Charles Lallemand’s urging, Lauret agreed to advance $860 to Mathieu-Ferdinand Manfredi (another Champ d’Asile veteran) to invest in a warehouse on the Mississippi. Manfredi fled to Havana and died, leaving Lauret in the lurch. Lauret also endorsed a note of Lallemand’s for $2,327, on which Lallemand then defaulted. Lauret said he was “victimized by my complaisance and obliged to pay.” (2)
Lauret must have been quite the idealist, since – even as Lallemand was defrauding him – he generously followed Lallemand’s example in refusing his share of La Minerve’s Champ d’Asile funds, wishing to leave more for the other survivors.
Wandering in the woods
Things went from bad to worse for our gallant Bonapartist. In 1823, four of Lauret’s slaves died. The next year brought floods that inundated his fields. Though Lauret is listed as a “syndic” (representative) of the Upper District during the New Orleans administration of Mayor Louis Philippe de Roffignac (1820-1828), he probably did not serve that long. By 1826 Lauret had given up farming and gone to Philadelphia, where he visited Henriette Lallemand. Later that year he was in Savannah. In 1830, he wrote to Henriette from Bethel, Georgia, where he was apparently living without Josephine:
I have become a man of the woods, wandering in the forests of Georgia. I found a fisherman’s cabin on the banks of a great bayou, and there I passed my summer…. This retreat is inhabitable only until the approach of winter, and I have just left it taking with me all that I possess…. I am on my way to Florida, where I plan to camp out this winter and write my life…. How pleasant I should fine it, Madame, to receive your news. (3)
Although “difficult and disgusting,” this lifestyle allowed Lauret to “avoid the sight of the world, which fills me with horror.” There is no further record of what happened to him. His daughter Nicida eventually married a man named Pierre Jorda and had five children.
If you would like to read more about the Bonapartists in America, I highly recommend Rafe Blaufarb’s Bonapartists in the Borderlands: French Exiles and Refugees on the Gulf Coast, 1815-1835 (2005), as well as Kent Gardien’s article in The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, cited below.
You might also enjoy:
General Charles Lallemand: Invader of Texas
General Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes: Unhappy in Alabama
Narcisse & Antonia Rigaud: Survivors of the Champ d’Asile
Josephine Lauret: Namesake of a New Orleans Street
What did Americans think of the Napoleonic exiles?
- Ronald Pawly and Patrice Courcelle, Napoleon’s Guards of Honour: 1813-14 (Oxford, 2002), p. 42.
- Kent Gardien, “Take Pity on our Glory: Men of Champ d’Asile,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 87, No. 3 (Jan. 1984), p. 260.
- Ibid., p. 264.
18 commments on “What happened to the Bonapartists in America? The story of Louis Lauret”
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I have become a man of the woods, wandering in the forests of Georgia.... [I] avoid the sight of the world, which fills me with horror.
Je suis très intéressé par la vie Louis Lauret.
Cordialement du Béarn-
Association de l’Ossau à Katahdin
64870 Escout France
Born WASP in Birmingham, 1929.
The Attempted vineyard settlement along the “White Cliffs” near Demopolis, AL were never mentioned in our elementary and high school textbooks. Moreover, I believe that most residents of Demopolis and environs didn’t know about the attempt.
(Specifically, my two all white schools, Central Park Elementary and Ensley High. However we were well grounded in mathematics, chemistry, physics, English grammar, literature and other aspects of history.)
That’s interesting, Luther. I guess the French settlement was considered to be too minor a blip in the context of Alabama’s larger history to be worthy of mention. You might enjoy my post about Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes, the Vine and Olive colony’s wealthiest settler. There’s a plaque to his memory on the site where he lived, and one of the streets in Demopolis is named after him. See: http://shannonselin.com/2014/06/general-charles-lefebvre-desnouettes-unhappy-alabama/.
Have you run across anything about Gen Lafitte who was with the French 8th LI at Waterloo? I’ve been searching but haven’t been able to find anything more about his biography or whatever happened to him. I’d appreciate any leads that you know of. Thank you for your very interesting work.
Thanks Paul. I don’t know anything about this General Lafitte. Will keep my eyes open and let you know if I come across something.
Wonderful article I have ancestor that I’m led to believe was a escaped Bonapartist by the name of Gottfried Kohl that lived in Shaferstown PA. Much research we’ve run into a dead end trying to identify him. Alias? To come to the United States? The genealogy search has come to a halt at him, no father no mother. Here is a example of his gallantry as a “Justice of the Peace” located in the Lebanon Historical Society Arcives. If anyone may have more information to find out more about individuals who fled. Please feel free to reach out. Attached is the write up.
Thanks, Dane. I haven’t come across Gottfried Kohl in any of the sources I’ve read. I hope someone reading this post will have more information about him.
Thanks Shannon, I hope so to. Past family research has halted at old wise tails. At a very high frequency, to say the least. There was a mention he was in the Imperial Guard, but his name is not on the Arc de Triomphe. After reaching out to a Arc historian and scanning Guard records myself. As mentioned in the attached link above on my last post. “He has been long since gathered by his fathers.” Mystery novel in its truest forms still searching for answers.
Fingers crossed that you’ll find them!
I’ve read a couple of books in this subject which I found interesting, by all accounts they had it tough trying to create this colony without a positive end as well as being ripped off by the Allemands brothers. Thank you for your article.
You’re welcome, Paul.
Hunting down my ancestor, Pierre Joseph Tonglet, who we know was with Napoleon’s forces in 1813. We suspect he was among the ones who landed in Philadelphia and did not go on to Alabama. By 1820 he was in New York City having children with Mary Copp. I’ve been unable to find him on any list of Bonapartist in America. I don’t know of a list of the ones in Philadelphia. Any information or suggestions are greatly appreciated. Thank you.
I haven’t come across his name in my research, Rita. Good luck with your search.
What can you tell me about Joseph’s friendship with Dr. James Gardette ( originally a family friend of the Bonaparte’s in France) and settled in Philadelphia?
I regret I don’t know anything about this friendship, Kristine.
I’ve since visited Shafferstown Pennsylvania to further my research into Gottfried Kohl. Front and center. The mentioned references in my last post. To find a local artist that resided in Shafferstown around the same time Gottfried. His name was Jacob Maentel. Maentel worked as a mercenary and entered Napoleon Bonaparte’s Army during the War of the Third Coalition where, according to tradition, he served as Napoleon’s secretary in Westphalia.
Family writings spoke of an artist that came over with Gottfried to the port of Philadelphia. No names, no former soldier references just folk lure.
The pieces are coming together. I’m under the impression they not only knew each other, but also had dealings with one another. Then came to America to start a new life as Bonapartists. More to unravel.
Thanks for the update on your research, Dane. I’m so glad you’re making progress.