Blog category: American History
10 Fun Facts about John Quincy Adams
April 21, 2023
John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States, from 1825 to 1829. He was also a diplomat, a senator, a secretary of state, a congressman, and an antislavery advocate. Here are some things you might not know about him. 1) John Quincy Adams was a sloppy dresser.
Post-houses and Stage-houses in the Early 1800s
October 7, 2022
If you were taking a trip before the onset of rail travel, you’d likely be spending time at a post-house. Post-houses – often called stage-houses, especially in the United States – were essential stopping places in the days when vehicles were pulled by horses. Situated approximately every 10-15 miles (16-24 km) along routes known as post roads or stage roads, post-houses were houses or inns with stables where coaches could obtain a fresh set of horses for the next stage of the journey. Mail, packages, and passengers could be dropped off and picked up. Drivers could be swapped out. Travellers could get something to eat, and spend the night. If you wanted to travel in a private vehicle, rather than a public one, you could rent horses and a small carriage at a post-house, along with postilions.
San Antonio in the Early 1800s
May 27, 2022
When Napoleon fictionally arrives at San Antonio in Napoleon in America, he finds an insecure and impoverished outpost in the sparsely-populated Mexican province of Texas. In the early 1800s, San Antonio was made up of the military presidio of San Antonio de Béxar, the civilian town of San Fernando de Béxar, and the religious-Indian settlements of several Franciscan missions. What follows is a look at how San Antonio appeared to early-19th-century visitors and residents. But first, some background.
John Quincy and Louisa Adams: Middle-Aged Love
January 7, 2022
America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams, was not a romantic man. He was pedantic, sharp-tempered, domineering and generally hard to get along with. His wife, Louisa, was more charming, with a love of society and a desire to please, however she was also moody, inclined to self-doubt and depression, and a hypochondriac. They frequently exasperated each other. Looking back at their early years together, Louisa wrote, “Happy indeed would it have been for Mr. Adams if he had broken his engagement, and not harassed himself with a wife altogether so unsuited to his peculiar character, and still more peculiar prospects. When we were married every disappointment seemed to fall upon us at once. … [O]ur views of things were totally different on many essential points.” Despite John Quincy and Louisa Adams’s differences, there was a genuine affection and closeness between them. Their marriage lasted fifty years, until John Quincy Adams’ death in early 1848. In 1822, they marked their 25th wedding anniversary. Their correspondence that summer, at the midpoint of their married life, shows something of the companionable love that bound them together.
Currency, Exchange Rates & Costs in the 19th Century
June 11, 2021
What currency was used in France, the United States, and Britain in the early 19th century? What were the historical exchange rates? How much did things cost? Since Napoleon in America occasionally mentions financial transactions, these were questions I had to look into when writing the novel. Here’s what I found out.
Robert Fulton & the First Steam Warship
April 16, 2021
Robert Fulton, an American engineer and inventor best known for bringing steamboats to commercial success, also built the world’s first steam-powered warship. Although Demologos, or Fulton the First, heralded the conversion from sail to steam in naval warfare, she never saw battle and met a tragic end in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
A Sailor’s Easter in California in 1835
April 2, 2021
In 1834-35, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., sailed as a merchant seaman from Boston to Alta California, which was then a province of Mexico. The ship’s arrival in Santa Barbara coincided with the Easter holidays. Dana left a vivid description of the festivities on shore, including activities not usually associated with Easter.
Lafayette’s Visit to America in 1824-25
February 19, 2021
In 1824-25, the Marquis de Lafayette, one of the last surviving generals of the American Revolutionary War, made a grand visit to America. He toured all 24 states of the Union and received a hero’s welcome everywhere he went. The visit cemented his fame in America for a new generation and left a lasting impact in the names and monuments found around the United States.
Things People Were Thankful For 200 Years Ago
November 27, 2020
Although Thanksgiving traditions have changed over the years, giving thanks for life’s blessings has been customary for centuries. Here are some things people were thankful for 200 years ago.
Davy Crockett on How to Get Elected
October 30, 2020
American folk hero Davy Crockett, known for his hunting skills and his defence of the Alamo, was also a politician. “Endowed with a good measure of common sense, an uncommon streak of pure honesty, and a warm sense of humor, Crockett was a natural for the rough-and-tumble, down-home brand of backwoods electioneering.” In 1835, on his way to Texas, Crockett reportedly provided advice on how to get elected, based on his own experience.
The Wreck of the Schooner Lively
October 16, 2020
The Lively, a schooner that many 19th-century Texans believed had been lost with all its passengers, did meet its end in a shipwreck, but not with loss of life. Here’s how events got conflated in early Texas folklore.
When People Knew How to Speak: Oratory in the 19th Century
October 2, 2020
At a time when the quality of public discourse is often complained of, it’s interesting to look back to when people took oratory, or eloquence in public speaking, seriously. One such period was 200 years ago, in the early 19th century. Inspired by Greek and Roman ideals, politicians, lawyers, religious leaders and other public speakers sought to stir emotions, change minds and inspire action by speaking so masterfully that people would pack rooms just to hear what they said.
Taking the Waters at Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa
May 29, 2020
“Taking the waters,” the practice of drinking and bathing in mineral springs to treat illness and promote health, was a popular habit in 19th-century America. Two of the most renowned resorts were Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa in upstate New York.
Advice to Texas Settlers in the 1830s
February 7, 2020
In 1823, Stephen F. Austin received permission from the Mexican government to establish a colony in Texas between the Colorado and Brazos Rivers. By 1828, Austin’s colony contained about 8,000 inhabitants. In 1831, Austin’s widowed cousin, Mary Austin Holley, visited Texas with a view to settling there with her family. She was 47 years old, cultured, well-educated and adventurous. Austin described her as “this very superior woman.” Here is some of her advice to prospective Texas settlers.
The Humour of President James Monroe
May 3, 2019
James Monroe, president of the United States from 1817 to 1825, was hardly a barrel of laughs. His speeches and correspondence exhibit little playfulness. Yet James Monroe was said to be warm and good-natured in person, with a sense of humour that could surprise his acquaintances. Judge E.R. Watson of Charlottesville, Virginia, recalled: “I have several times seen [Monroe and James Madison] together at Montpelier, and, as it seemed to me, it was only in Mr. Madison’s society that Mr. Monroe could lay aside his usual seriousness and indulge in the humorous jest and merry laugh, as if he were young again.” Here are some quotes and anecdotes that illustrate the gentle humour of James Monroe.
Snake Tales from 19th-Century America
April 5, 2019
As a threat to life and as a spectacle, snakes were a staple of stories about young America. Here are some examples of snake tales from the early 1800s.
A Buffalo Hunt & Other Buffalo History Tidbits
January 11, 2019
One thing that early European visitors to the Great Plains commented on was the sight of vast herds of buffalo. Here is a description of a 19th-century buffalo hunt as well as some interesting facts about buffaloes.
5 People Driven to America by the Napoleonic Wars
November 16, 2018
Like the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars – which raged across Europe from 1803 to 1815 – caused a number of French people to flee to America. Some regarded themselves as Frenchmen living in exile and returned to France at the first opportunity. Others stayed and became part of American society. Here are five prominent French refugees who wound up in the United States during the Napoleonic Wars.
Does historical accuracy of place matter?
November 2, 2018
Does historical accuracy of place matter? By historical accuracy of place, I mean the concept that a specific physical location – a building, a piece of ground, a geographic coordinate – that is claimed to be of historical significance actually was the site of the historical event from which the claim is derived. The question is not ‘did the historical event happen?’ The question is ‘did the historical event happen here?’ In short, does it matter if historical markers are in the wrong place?
Joseph Bonaparte and the Crown of Mexico
May 25, 2018
When Joseph Bonaparte was King of Spain, he was also, by default, the ruler of Mexico, or New Spain as it was called at the time. The Mexicans didn’t like him. Did they then offer Joseph a crown when he was in exile in the United States and they were seeking independence from Spain?
John Quincy Adams and the White House Billiard Table
April 20, 2018
John Quincy Adams was the first president to install a billiard table in the White House. This “gambling furniture” in the “President’s Palace” exposed Adams to much unfair criticism, and was used against him by supporters of Andrew Jackson in the presidential election campaign of 1828.
The New Orleans Riot of 1817
March 16, 2018
New Orleans, where Napoleon lands in Napoleon in America, was an accommodating place for his supporters in the years after 1815. French speakers constituted about three-quarters of the city’s population of some 27,000. Many of the French and Creole inhabitants were sympathetic to Napoleon. They disliked England, their opponent in the Battle of New Orleans. Something of the feeling of the time can be gathered from a riot that took place in the city over a French flag on a British ship in March of 1817.
A Murder and Hanging in Louisiana in the 1820s
February 16, 2018
In doing research for my novel Napoleon in America, I came across the following sad tale of a murder committed by a Frenchman in Louisiana in 1824. It was written by clergyman Timothy Flint, a native of North Reading, Mass., who visited Natchitoches in early 1825.
Visiting Niagara Falls in the Early 19th Century
January 26, 2018
What would Niagara Falls be like without all of its tourist trappings? To get an idea, we can look at the accounts of people who visited Niagara Falls before tourism became the area’s main industry.
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?
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.
Natchitoches, Louisiana: Glimpses from History
November 10, 2017
Founded in 1714, Natchitoches is the oldest permanent European 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.”
John Quincy Adams’ Report Upon Weights and Measures
October 13, 2017
In 1821, after years of obsessive work (which frustrated his wife), John Quincy Adams produced a Report Upon Weights and Measures for submission to Congress. He thought it would be his most important literary accomplishment.
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 19th century? Journalist William Cobbett provides a hint in his advice to an Englishman on settling in New York in 1820.
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.
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? Pity the inhabitants of New York City in the summer of 1822.
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. Despite the protests of his wife and his friends, he refused to give up swimming, even after he nearly drowned.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Karankawa Indians of Texas
January 6, 2017
The Karankawa Indians lived along the Gulf of Mexico in what is today Texas. Calling them cannibals, American settlers tried to exterminate them.
The New Year’s Day Reflections of John Quincy Adams
December 30, 2016
Every New Year’s Day, 6th US President John Quincy Adams offered his reflections on the past year. Here is a sample of his New Year’s Day musings.
Celebrating Thanksgiving in the 1800s
November 25, 2016
Thanksgiving did not become a national holiday in the United States until 1863. What began as a New England tradition gradually spread to other states, although not without resistance.
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. The outcome had to be decided by the House of Representatives.
Drinking Cold Water & Other 19th-Century Causes of Death
October 21, 2016
Many people died young in the 19th century. Here’s how even drinking cold water could kill you.
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?
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.” Though he claimed to be a democrat, he remained at heart an aristocrat, pining for his family’s lost throne and inherited wealth.
Stephen F. Austin, Founder of Anglo-American Texas
June 17, 2016
Stephen F. 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.
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. In 1821, American filibuster James Long captured La Bahía while García and his men slept.
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.
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.
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 other famous historical figures, including Louis XVIII, John Quincy Adams, the Duke of Wellington, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
Valentine’s Day in Early 19th-Century America
February 12, 2016
Here’s how St. Valentine’s Day was celebrated in the United States in the early 19th century, as gleaned from newspapers of the time.
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 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.
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.
Texas Governor José Félix Trespalacios
January 8, 2016
José Félix Trespalacios, who fought for Mexico’s independence from Spain, became the first governor of Texas in newly-independent Mexico in 1822. 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.
Cherokee Indian Chief Bowles (Duwali) and his Tragic Quest for Land
December 18, 2015
Cherokee Indian Chief Bowles (1756-1839), also known as Duwali or Di’Wali, led his tribe into Texas, where he repeatedly tried to secure land for them.
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.
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.
Fanny Fern on Marriage in the 19th Century
November 20, 2015
Sara Payson Willis Parton, writing under the pen name of Fanny Fern, was the first female newspaper columnist in the United States and one of the most highly paid authors of her time. She satirized marriage and other aspects of life in the mid-19th century.
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.
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.
Texas Entrepreneur Ben Milam
October 23, 2015
Ben Milam is known for his role in the Texas Revolution, particularly the capture of San Antonio in 1835. His earlier adventures in Texas are even more interesting.
John C. Calhoun: War Hawk
October 2, 2015
John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina planter and politician who never doubted the necessity of slavery, has often been judged harshly. TIME put him on the list of the worst vice presidents in America’s history. Calhoun’s career was long, complex and accomplished. He was a vigorous promoter of states’ rights, a strong advocate for the South, and an effective US war secretary.
James Monroe and Napoleon
September 25, 2015
President James Monroe met Napoleon when he was in France to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. He later became alarmed at Napoleon’s “overweaning ambition.”
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.
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.
General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert: Soldier, Lothario, Filibuster
July 17, 2015
Jean Joseph Amable Humbert was a French Revolutionary general who led a failed invasion of Ireland, romanced Napoleon’s sister, fought in the Battle of New Orleans, and tried to invade Mexico.
Louis-Joseph Oudart, a Downright Scoundrel
July 10, 2015
Louis-Joseph Oudart (Houdard) was a Napoleonic soldier who disgraced himself during the Bourbon Restoration. He then joined the Champ d’Asile, a Bonapartist invasion of Texas.
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.
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.
Louisa Adams, First Foreign-Born First Lady
February 27, 2015
Louisa Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams, was the first foreign-born First Lady of the United States. A native of London, she had Continental polish and charm from many years spent in Europe. In 1815, Louisa Adams made a dangerous journey to join her husband in Paris, in which she encountered the effects of the Napoleonic Wars firsthand.
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. Despite Betsy’s efforts to raise her son as a European, he preferred life in the United States.
Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, Napoleon’s American Sister-in-Law
February 13, 2015
Baltimore belle Elizabeth Patterson became an international celebrity when she married Napoleon’s youngest brother Jérôme Bonaparte. When Napoleon convinced Jérôme to abandon her, Betsy (as she was known) became America’s most famous single mother.
Charlotte Bonaparte, Napoleon’s Artistic Niece
January 16, 2015
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. She herself died in sad circumstances at a relatively young age.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. Girard was a friend of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte, who dined with him regularly.
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 his country, and his eccentric dress.
Joseph Hopkinson, Joseph Bonaparte’s Great Friend
September 12, 2014
A 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 the lyrics to America’s unofficial national anthem. Hopkinson’s wife Emily had a sharp wit and a talent for art and writing.
Nicholas Biddle, Proud American
September 5, 2014
Nicholas Biddle was a Philadelphia lawyer, politician, man of letters, gentleman farmer and president of the Second Bank of the United States. As a young man, he encountered Napoleon in person. Biddle came to ruin in the 1830s Bank War with President Andrew Jackson.
Henry Clay: A Perfect Original
August 29, 2014
Henry Clay served as Speaker of the House of Representatives longer than anyone else in the 1800s, and was named one of the greatest senators in US history by a committee chaired by John F. Kennedy. Though he never held the country’s highest office, he had as much impact on the United States as most presidents of his era.
Charles & Delia Stewart: An Ill-Assorted Match
August 22, 2014
Commodore Charles Stewart and his wife Delia were neighbours of Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte in Bordentown, NJ. 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.
Achille & Joseph Archambault: Napoleon’s Grooms on St. Helena
August 8, 2014
Achille and Joseph Archambault joined the imperial household around 1805 and remained with Napoleon when he went into exile. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Joseph Bonaparte: From King of Spain to New Jersey
July 4, 2014
Joseph Bonaparte was in many respects the opposite of his younger brother Napoleon. Amiable and obliging, Joseph was fond of literature, gardening and entertaining. He was 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.
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).
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.
Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau
June 13, 2014
Marie Laveau was a 19th-century New Orleans Voodoo queen whose life is shrouded in legend. Her magic relied in part on trickery.
Napoleon’s View of Slavery & Slavery in New Orleans
June 6, 2014
While Napoleon condemned the slave trade, he had no strong opposition to slavery. This makes it interesting to imagine how he might have reacted to the slavery he encounters in New Orleans and the other places he visits in my novel Napoleon in America.
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. There’s a sad coda to their story, involving descendants who tried to pass for white.
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 in late 18th-century Louisiana.
General Charles Lallemand: Invader of Texas
May 16, 2014
Charles Lallemand was a soldier, adventurer and conman who 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jean Laffite: Mexican Gulf Pirate and Privateer
April 4, 2014
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. Here is some of what’s known about him.
We must confess that fate, which sports with man, makes merry work with the affairs of this world.