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Stories of New Jersey
A Jerseyman And His Royal Crown
Joseph Bonaparte at Bordentown. (Period, 1815-39.)

Bonaparte House – Bordentown

By Frank R. Stockton

Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

WE have told the story of the lord who lived at Basking Ridge; now we will tell the story of a much more exalted personage, one who had sat upon a throne, and worn a crown and royal robes rich with diamonds and precious stones, and who lived on a breezy hill on the banks of the Delaware. What he was doing in New Jersey, and how he had come to wear a crown and royal robes, we will now proceed to tell.

This exalted personage was not a king when he was living in New Jersey, but he had been a king. In fact, if we may not say that he had been two kings, we can say that he had been a king twice. He was Joseph Bonaparte, the eldest brother of the great emperor, Napoleon, who, after having conquered a great many nations of Europe, and having deposed their kings, supplied them with new sovereigns out of his own family. Joseph was sent to Italy to be King of Naples. He did not particularly want to be king, and he knew that the people did not want him, and after he had been in Naples some time, reigning under his brother's orders with no great success, the emperor determined to transfer him to Spain, whose throne had just been made vacant. Having been informed that he was to go to Madrid, Joseph obeyed, but he did not like it.

Moreover, the people of Spain did not like it, and after a time they rose up in rebellion, and were assisted by the English and Portuguese, and forced the king to fly from Spain.

The ex-king of Naples and Spain had various adventures in France and Switzerland; and when the power of the great Napoleon came to an end, he was obliged to fly, or he also might have been sent to Elba or some other place equally undesirable, so he determined to come to America. In a little brig of two hundred tons, a very small vessel to sail on the ocean, he crossed the Atlantic in disguise, not even the captain of the vessel knowing who he was. He was accompanied by his secretary; and when the two reached America and made themselves known, they were treated with great respect and attention. In fact, America owed so much to France, that she was very willing to show her gratitude.

Now that he was well out of Europe, Joseph Bonaparte gave up all idea of returning, and in deciding to settle here it was not surprising that he chose to make his home in New Jersey. He bought a place near Bordentown, on a high wooded hill called Point Breeze, and built a house, which was truly splendid for those days. It had grand halls and staircases and banquet halls, and it must have been larger and more imposing than Lord Stirling's. His estate, which covered more" than a thousand acres, was beautifully laid out in drives and gardens and lawns, and everything on the place was arranged in a style of beauty and grandeur.

It was three years before this great house, with its surroundings, was finished, and ready for the ex-king's residence; and when at last he went there, he lived in ex-regal style. His wife was not with him, having remained in Italy on account of ill health, and her physicians would never allow her to come to America. But he had two daughters who were with him during part of his residence in New Jersey, and there were persons who asserted that he had also brought with him the crown of Spain and the royal robes of Italy.

It generally happens, when a sovereign is obliged to abdicate and to fly from his kingdom, that he arranges matters so that he shall not become a pauper when he arrives at the place of refuge. If he is not able to carry away anything more than a valise, he is much more likely to put his royal jewels into it than to fill it up with night clothes and hairbrushes ; so when Bonaparte came to New Jersey, he came as a very rich man.

When his kingly mansion was ready to be supplied with art treasures, such as ornamented the palaces of Europe, the ex-king sent across the ocean for costly paintings and beautiful sculpture with which to fill his new house ; and if any crowned heads had happened to visit him, he would not have been ashamed to welcome them beneath his roof. People of royal blood – that is, the same kind of royal blood that he had – did come over to visit him. Louis Napoleon, afterward Emperor of France, came, when a young man, and spent some weeks with his uncle. While there, it is said, this young man went out shooting on the estate, and, finding the birds near the house easier to hit than those at a distance, he blazed away at any feathered creatures he saw, in the garden, so that the gardener made a complaint.

But even then this young Louis Napoleon had begun to have dreams in regard to his succession to the imperial throne of France, and he did not like to be snubbed and scolded by an uncle who had had all the regal honors he was ever likely to get, and who therefore had no right to put on airs in his dealings with the prospective wearer of a crown. So there was a quarrel between the two, and there are reports to the effect that Louis Napoleon took revenge upon his uncle by cutting his fruit trees with a hatchet, without, however, imitating Washington in regard to subsequent truthfulness.

Besides , visitors from abroad, many distinguished Americans visited the ex-king. Among these were Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Quincy Adams. General Lafayette, also, when he came to this country, was received with great state by the Count de Survilliers, the title under which Joseph Bonaparte lived at Bordentown.

This ex-king never became an American citizen by taking out naturalization papers; but the Legislature of New Jersey treated him very well, and passed a resolution which enabled him to hold property in this State, and to thus become, in fact, a Jerseyman.

But although our ex-king was now established on the free soil of America, he did not feel altogether safe. His family had come to grief; and there was reason to fear, that, as a member of that family, England, or France, or Spain, might demand him as a prisoner, to be taken across the ocean to answer the charge of unlawful occupation of a throne.

It is quite possible that the people of the neighborhood imagined that the ex-king was in greater fear of molestation from his former royal brethren than was really the case. Their reasons for supposing that he was anxious to defend himself against surprise and capture had some ground, for there were some strange things about that ex-royal estate, – things that were not known in any other part of New Jersey. There was a tall building called a belvedere, from which the country and the river might be surveyed for a long distance in every direction; but, stranger far than that, there were subterranean passages which led from the house to unfrequented parts of the grounds. These passages were well built, arched with brick, and high enough for people to walk upright in them; and although persons of quiet and unimaginative minds thought that they were constructed for the purpose of allowing the occupants to go down to the lake or to the other portions of the grounds without getting wet if it should happen to be raining, there were many people who believed that for sudden showers a good stock of umbrellas would be cheaper and quite as useful, and that these costly passages could be meant for nothing else than to give opportunity for escape, in case foreign emissaries or officers of the law should come in search of an ex-king who was wanted on the other side of the Atlantic.


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