Joseph Bonaparte is best known for two things, firstly he was the brother of one of Europe’s most famous Emperors, Napoleon I, and secondly, he was himself King of two European nations, Spain and Naples. What is not so well known is what happened to this monarch after the end of Napoleon’s reign. That he ended up moving to the United States is a story that is not well known.
After being King of Naples from 1806 to 1808, Joseph became King of Spain from 1808 until 1813. After Napoleon’s final fall shortly afterwards, there was no longer any place for Joseph among Europe’s royal families. He travelled around Europe for a few years before finally deciding in 1817 to immigrate to the United States.
After settling in the United States, he sold many of the jewels he taken brought from Spain to live a pleasant life. From 1817 to 1832, he lived in New York and Philadelphia, where his house became a centre for French immigrants.
For a long period, he lived at the Point Breeze Estate in Bordentown, New Jersey. He expanded the mansion considerably and planted magnificent and picturesque gardens. When his first home was destroyed by fire in January 1820, he rebuilt the stables of his second magnificent house. In Point Breeze, Joseph was entertained by many of the leading intellectual and political figures of the day, including John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and the Marquis de Lafayette.
Point Breeze included sculpture gardens, coach trails, brick bridges, stables, a gardener’s house and a lake that Bonaparte had made by damming a nearby creek. The centrepiece was the palatial, three-story, nearly 38,000-square-foot mansion that contained an extensive wine cellar, an extravagant art collection and a library that contained 8,000 volumes, more than the Library of Congress at the time, and Bonaparte employed hundreds of people at the Estate.
Some Mexican revolutionaries offered to crown Joseph Bonaparte as Emperor of Mexico, but he declined. In 1832, Bonaparte moved to London, returning to his estate in the United States every now and then. In 1844, he died in Florence, Italy. Bonaparte‘s body was returned to France and buried in the Les Invalides building complex in Paris.
In January of this year, it was announced that the state of New Jersey, together with Bordentown City council and a land preservation trust, had bought Point Breeze from the Society of the Divine Word, which had owned the property since 1941. Their plan is to preserve New Jersey’s connection to royalty and the Bonaparte family, and turn the 60 acres estate into a public park and museum. It is not known when the restoration will be completed and one can visit the property, but it will probably take a few years.