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

By Frank R. Stockton

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

For whatever reason these passages were built, the spectacle of an ex-king, carrying a crown and his royal robes in a hand bag, slipping out from among some bushes to tramp along the dusty road to Trenton or Burlington, was never seen. Nobody ever thought it worth while to come to New Jersey to demand him or his property.

During his residence at Bordentown, which continued for about fourteen years, Joseph Bonaparte was very popular with the people of the neighborhood. They looked upon him as a friend and neighbor; but at the same time they did not lose sight of the fact, that although he was now a country gentleman of New Jersey, with his lawn and his flower garden to look after, he had sat upon two thrones, and had been a sovereign of Naples and Spain. They called him " king," and his house was known as the "palace;" and for this reason the people of other States made some mild fun of New Jersey, calling it a foreign country.

But if this ex-king had been a rich country gentleman of the neighborhood, he could not have made himself more popular. He was hospitable, and frequently gave entertainments, and he sent flowers and fruits from his gardens to his friends and neighbors. He made roads, and contributed in many ways to the improvement of the country round about his home. In winter time the boys of Bordentown came to skate upon his ponds; and at such times he nearly always offered them refreshments, which consisted of quantities of chestnuts, which he scattered on the ice so that the youngsters might scramble for them.

In many ways his kind and sociable disposition made him so much liked, that it is very probable that if the officers of the law had come to take him back to Europe, he would have received such timely notice of their approach that it would not have been necessary for him to hurry away through his underground passages. New Jersey is a reasonable and hospitable State, and when an ex-king comes to reside within her borders, he will be as well treated, so long as he behaves himself, as if he were a poor immigrant from Europe, coming with his wife and family to clear away the forest, and make himself a home.

Just before Joseph started for America, the affairs of his family were at their lowest ebb. His great brother, the emperor, had fallen from his high state, and could look forward to nothing but imprisonment by the European countries, whose thrones he had for so long been in the habit of upsetting or threatening. In his last interview with Napoleon, when on his way to the ship which was to take him to America, Joseph generously offered to change places with his brother, and to let the ex-emperor fly to America instead of the ex-king. It was very difficult for any one of the Napoleon family to get away from France at that time ; but Joseph had made a very excellent plan by which passports were provided for two persons coming to America on business, and his brother could have used one of those as well as himself.

But the great Napoleon declined to run away in this manner. He remained, and was sent to St. Helena. What would have occurred in the neighborhood of Bordentown, N. J., had Napoleon Bonaparte, conqueror of Europe, ruler of nations, and disposer of crowns, the hero of Austerlitz, Marengo, and Wagram, taken up his residence at Point Breeze, and established himself as a citizen of the State, cannot easily be imagined. The geniality, sociability, and hospitality of the ex-king could hardly have been expected from the ex-emperor; and, surrounded as he would have been in time by devoted followers who would have exiled themselves from their country for his sake, there might have been a little empire in New Jersey which would have been exceedingly interesting to tourists.

Moreover, if the allied powers of Europe had sent over a fleet to bring back their great enemy, who knows but that they might have found, when they reached Bordentown, not a tall lookout tower and underground passages for escape, but a fort with ramparts, redoubts, a moat, a drawbridge, and mounted cannon ready to sweep the Delaware and the surrounding country ? However this might have been, it is certain that Napoleon's refusal to take his brother's place must ever be a source of satisfaction to the people of Bordentown and the rest of the country.

As a proof that Joseph Bonaparte had had enough of royalty, and not enough of New Jersey, it is stated that a delegation of prominent men from Mexico, which country was then in a very disturbed condition, came to him during his residence at Bordentown, and offered him the throne of Mexico. In making answer to this proposition, our ex-king did not hesitate a moment. He told the delegation, that, having already worn two crowns, he desired never again to wear another. The old fable of the fox which had lost its tail did not probably come into his mind; but if it had, he might well have spoken of it to his Mexican visitors.

After years had elapsed without any attempt on the part of European powers to arrest him, our ex-king, Joseph, began to feel safe, and he made a visit to England. He returned to America, but went back again, and died in Italy in 1844, having given to New Jersey the peculiar and unique position of being the only State in the Union which ever numbered among her citizens the owner of a royal crown and regal robes.

To be sure, there is nothing in this for the people of a republican State to be proud of; but New Jersey may be allowed to say that there never was a royal person who was of less injury to the people among whom he dwelt than her ex-king at Bordentown, and she may add that there have been very few of his class who have been of as much advantage to his neighbors.

"Encyclopoedia Britannica."
"Historical Collections." Barber and Howe.
"Bordentown and the Bonapartes." J. B. Gilder.
"Joseph Bonaparte in Bordentown." F. M. Crawford.
"New Jersey Newspaper Clippings."


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