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:
- 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.
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.