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Joseph Bonaparte of Point Breeze, Bordentown New Jersey, Napoleon's Older Brother And Former King of Spain.

Updated on June 4, 2015
Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain
Joseph Bonaparte as King of Spain | Source

From King of Spain to South Jersey Squire

In case you were thinking that Joe Bonaparte was a guy who hangs out with Tony Soprano or on a certain Reality TV show, let me assure you that Joseph Bonaparte, though he may have had some shady business dealings,was no mob guy and certainly would not be at home on the set of Jersey Shore. Joseph Bonaparte, KIng of Naples, King of Spain, was the older brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, aka Napoleon I, Emperor of France from 1805 to 1815.

Defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and forced to abdicate, Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France, was stripped of his power and exiled. After one unsuccessful comeback attempt, he spent the last six years of his life as a British prisoner, on the island of St Helena. When the going got tough for Napoleon, his big brother, Joseph, was forced to abdicate as King of Spain and hotfoot it out of the country fast. In 1813 he left Spain for France and later, Switzerland, taking the Spanish crown jewels and a sizable fortune in gold with him. In 1816, when he was exiled from France, it is said he buried the bulk of his horde of gold and jewels in Switzerland, where it was later retrieved by a trusted secretary, and hopped a ship to the New World.

"Josée Flaugier - Portrait of King Joseph I (ca. 1809)
"Josée Flaugier - Portrait of King Joseph I (ca. 1809) | Source
Philadelphia Marker
Philadelphia Marker | Source

Bonaparte in Bordentown

I have not got a clue why he chose to come to America, I was surprised when doing research for this hub to find that Joseph Bonaparte, like the Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and various other founding fathers of the United States, was a Mason.Perhaps Masonic brothers helped him decide and get settled. Or, perhaps he had other connections in America.

What is clear is that Joseph Bonaparte traveled under an assumed name, landed in New York and proceeded immediately to Philadelphia where Henry Clay offered him his hotel suite.

Styling himself the " Count de Surviliers " Bonaparte lived in several rented houses in Philadelphia while he amassed over 1800 acres of land in the nearby countryside. He ended up with a huge tract on the banks of the Delaware River near Bordentown, New Jersey.

While brother, Napoleon, languished in exile, Joseph was busy building a vast country estate on his newly acquired New Jersey land holdings. He erected a large, imposing mansion, which he dubbed " Point Breeze" on a bluff overlooking the river. By all accounts he was a gentle soul, who truly loved the land and the life of a country gentleman, preferring it to the intrigue and politics that surrounded the crowned heads of Europe. He loved Point Breeze and his American life. At Point Breeze in Bordentown, he created carriage drives, planted trees, gardens, and even created an artificial lake with several landscaped small islands. His library contained more volumes than the Library of Congress. His art collection was of a quality unknown in Philadelphia and his lifestyle was definitely fit for a king-- or at least a duke or an earl.

It is said that Joseph Bonaparte took a certain delight is shocking the sensibilities of the local Quaker ladies by showing them some of the racier paintings and nude statues that he was acquiring as part of his expanding art collection. By all accounts, Joseph was living large on the gold and jewels he smuggled out of Europe. His country estate was quite the oasis of sophistication in rustic America. It took three years to complete, and contained, in addition to the art gallery filled with works by the likes of Murillo, Rubens, Canaletto, Velasquez, Snyders, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Gerard and Vernet, a state dining room and an impressive grand staircase.

Though his wife remained behind in Europe, two of his daughters, Zénaïde Laetitia Julie Bonaparte (1801–1854) and Charlotte Napoléone Bonaparte (1802–1839). lived on the estate for several years. Joseph also had an American mistress, Annette Savage, who bore him two daughters. The older girl died young, but the younger, Catherine Charlotte (b. 1822, d. 1890) married Col. Zebulon Howell Benton of Jefferson County, New York and lived to a ripe old age.

Manor House of Joseph Bonaparte near Bordentown
Manor House of Joseph Bonaparte near Bordentown | Source

Joseph Bonaparte's Fascinating American Exile

Return to Europe

Joseph Bonaparte built a happy and prosperous life for himself in his beautiful house by the Delaware River. For seventeen years he enjoyed his gardens and the quiet life of a country gentleman. But in 1832, after his brother's death, duty called and he left it all to move to London, in order to be closer to France. The death of his both his brother, Napoleon, and Napoleon's son,made Joseph the Bonaparte pretender to the throne, and Joseph wanted to be close by just in case the monarchy should be restored. He was forbidden by French law to enter the country, but London was much closer than America.

In 1839, Joseph Bonaparte rejoined his wife and family in Florence, after an absence of more than a quarter of a century. One wonders how they all got along after such a long separation. In any case, Joseph Bonaparte died in Florence, in the arms of his wife in 1844 at the age of 76. He has a very grand tomb and monument in Paris among France's heroes at the Hôtel des Invalides' Église du Dôme

The family's American idyll ended when Joseph's grandson, also named Joseph, disposed of Point Breeze and its contents in 1847. The furnishings and art collection were sold at auction. A pier table from the house was eventually purchased during the Kennedy Administration for the White House and is there to this day. You can get a glimpse of it in the video below.

The art collection, when it went under the hammer, was one of the finest in America. There are still families in Bordentown who have Bonaparte stories to tell and pieces of furniture or bric a brac handed down as family treasures given to them by Joseph Bonaparte or purchased from the estate auction held years later.

In an ironic turn of events, Henry Beckett, the British consul in Philadelphia, purchased Point Breeze in 1850. He demolished the house Bonaparte had built, replacing it with an Italianate villa with such amenities as gas lighting and hot and cold running water. That mansion burned to the ground in 1983 and with it went the last vestige of Joseph Bonaparte's vision for the property. The land is currently owned by Divine Word Missionaries, a Catholic monastic order, whose seminary now sits on the property

I think many, both in the United States and Europe, would be surprised to know that Joseph Bonaparte, former KIng of Naples and former King of Spain, happily lived his own American dream for seventeen years on the banks of the Delaware River, near the town of Bordentown, in the State New Jersey, in the United States of America.

Joseph Bonaparte's Tomb in Les Invalides


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    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 2 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks for reading and sharing alancaster149... and for such an informative comment.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Give yourself a pat on the back each for research and presentation, Roberta. This was worth reading, not too much and not too little.

      Freemasons know no boundaries or nationality. They stick together, come what may. Maybe we all should look after one another like that, there might be fewer wars.

      However, even as king of Spain (The Kingdom of Naples was a Spanish 'holding' on the Italian peninsula) he wasn't entitled to take their ton treasure. Spain wasn't a rich country, having endured French occupation for ten years or so.

      'Boney' made kings of all his brothers in order to control Europe politically where the natives didn't fight back, like Sweden and Denmark. Spain offered resistance after Trafalgar. The writing was on the wall for him there and a Spaniard was put back on the throne.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      I was really amazed to, Theophanes and I wish I could have been a fly on the wall at that auction-- it must have been quite something.

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes 6 years ago from New England

      Fascinating! I had no idea... would have loved to have been able to check out that art collection or library before it was auctioned off, that seems like it could have been amazing.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Thanks, Carmen, for adding a little Spanish insight into Joseph Bonaparte-- I'm not surprised he wasn't popular. He was, after all, a foreigner imposed from above and it seems he robbed the Spanish treasury bigtime on his way out of the country-- not a reicipe for success. Good to see you and thanks for taking the time to read and comment

    • profile image

      Carmen Ferreiro 6 years ago

      I had no idea. Thank you so much for the article.

      I'm sorry to say in Spain, when king, he was not very well liked. People called him "Pepe Botella" (Pepe is a nickname for Joseph, Botella means bottle). Actually historians say now that he didn't drink and was not such a bad king. Better than Fernando VII who came afterwards and was a disaster.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Yes, history is always written from the point of view of the powerful, or the victor, or the nation. As I said earlier, I was surprised when I went to France to find the French think of Napoleon as a national hero while I was taught he was the butcher of Europe. There are always two( or more) sides to every story. The institution of slavery is experienced very differently by slave and slave owner and most of us see only a very narrow slice of life indeed.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I'm not sure we are all forgotten...the squeaky wheel gets the grease, when all is said and done. Some of us are not squeaking loud enough.

      I'm reminded of the many memoirs I've read through the years of midwives and pioneering women; their view of history is not the mainstream. It's the reality.

      It's Hubs / articles like this one that shift the accepted understanding of history to another plane. If we continue to suck up, and allow our kids to suck up the pablum shoved down our throats about where we come from, then phooey on us.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Food for thought, indeed ST-- as always you get right to the heart of the matter. I find it absolutely fascinating-- just goes to show you that,in the end, we are all forgotten after all:-)

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      This is amazing. I grew up in New Jersey, not far from Bordentown, and never knew this. It makes me think how history is slanted, put into books for the future by people who had only one point of view...the one that preconditioned our perceptions for their own benefit. Much food for thought here, Robie.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      thanks shea-- yeah I've lived in New Jersey for 12 years and even been to Bordentown and had no idea.

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 6 years ago from new jersey

      Wow, I never knew. This is so interesting, especially for someone who lives in Jersey!

      Great hub!

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      HI Livelonger-- sorry to be so late in replying to your comment. I've been offline for two days, courtesy of Hurricane Irene who just paid a visit to New Jersey and really tore the place up-- but thanks for stopping by and isn't this a hoot?

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 6 years ago from San Francisco

      This is really cool, and as a former NJ resident, I also had no idea. Thank you for sharing this!

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Well, Napoleon gave all his siblings powerful positions, but Joseph,his elder brother, got the best perks of all but from what I can tell, he really was a gentle soul who preferred his gardens to the halls of power :-)

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 6 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Robie, I love historical articles like this and this one is particularly interesting. Really enjoyed finding out about Joseph...not much emphasis put on him with a brother like Napoleon Bonaparte.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      There is much to know, and most of it can be found online. Nice to see you KS. Hope you are feeling well these days:-)

    • profile image

      KSCharles 6 years ago

      This is so interesting, robie2! Thank you! I had never known anything about Napoleon Bonaparte's parents, siblings, either, and your hub makes me want to know much more about the whole family!

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      and the way European History is taught in American schools, Jama :-)

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Yep, it's the influence of my English roots! ;D

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Glad you liked it Jama and thanks for the comment-- I see you learned European history from the British POV. The French think of Napoleon as a national hero. It all depends on whose ox is being gored dontchaknow:-)

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      First off, it never occurred to me that Napoleon had parents or siblings. Far as I knew, he crawled out from under a rock. Not surprised, tho, that brother Joe would seek refuge in our young country. Or New Joisy, either, since it would be many years before New York City became more than just a sleepy port on the Hudson. Philadelphia was the American city where great minds gathered during Joe Bonaparte's time. May be only a coincidence that so many were Masons, but again, maybe not.

      Great hub. ;D

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Hello Frieda-- glad you liked it and thanks for stopping by.

      SeLeonn-- Mapoleon was quite a guy, wasn't he?

      Thanks Pam-- it was fun to research and write. I am particularly amazed by all the Masonic connections.... makes you wonder about all those conspiracy theories LOL

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      This is a fascinating hub that I very much enjoyed. Rated up!

    • SerLeon profile image

      SerLeon 6 years ago from Pakistan

      Awsome article dude !!! Napoleon being 1 of my fav historical figures . . . . So thank u 4 dis hub

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 6 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Fascinating stuff here, robie2. I don't believe I even knew Napoleon had a brother. Well, I thoroughly enjoy your writing in this hub. Always a pleasure. Thumbs up!

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Exactly, Steph-- who knew indeed? I've even been to Bordentown and had no idea until very recently.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Wonderful hub, and so fascinating! My husband in particular loves historical biographies/stories, so I'm forwarding this hub to him. Who knew that Napolean's brother was practically your neighbor so many years ago?? :)


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