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Napoleon’s 200-year-old US link to be highlighted in New Jersey museum

·3 min read

Nearly two hundred years after the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, Point Breeze, the former US estate of his older brother, Joseph, is to become part of New Jersey’s state's park system. The estate will also be home to a museum dedicated to the French emperor’s older brother and his life and relationship with his younger brother, the emperor Napoleon.

The move follows the purchase of the estate, which now consists of buried bricks, an old bridge, and a gardener’s cottage on 200 acres, by the City of Bordentown and preservation nonprofit D&R Greenway Land Trust for $4.6 million (€4 million) in the state of New Jersey.

Joseph Bonaparte and Point Breeze

According to NJ.com, the museum could open as early as this autumn. The site’s new caretakers hope to install audio tours and historic signage throughout the area.

The estate most recently served as a home for the Catholic group Divine Word Missionaries.

The original Point Breeze included sculpture gardens, coach trails, brick bridges, stables, and a lake Bonaparte made by damming a nearby creek.

“There’s a real opportunity to celebrate the history and at the same time make this very relevant to people today who want to come and walk on the trails, learn about the land and possibly even garden on the property,” said Linda Mead, the president of D&R Greenway, told the New York Times in a recent interview.

Joseph and Napoleon

Joseph was born in 1768 and trained as a lawyer. In that role and as a politician and diplomat, he served in the Cinq-Cents - the lower house of parliament after the revolution - and as the French ambassador to Rome. On the 30th of September 1800, as Minister Plenipotentiary, he signed a treaty of friendship and commerce between France and the United States at Morfontaine.

On the 30th of March 1806, Napoleon issued a decree installing Joseph Bonaparte as King of Naples and Sicily. Joseph ruled Naples for two years before being replaced by his sister's husband, Joachim Murat. Joseph was then made King of Spain in August 1808, soon after the French invasion.

After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, British forces sentenced the former emperor to live out the rest of his days—most of which were spent in poor health - on the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic.

The US Link

Joseph, however, had a better time of it than his younger sibling. In the period 1817–1832, Bonaparte lived primarily in the United States (where he sold the jewels he had taken from Spain) in New York City and Philadelphia.

In 1832, Bonaparte moved to London, returning to his estate in the United States only intermittently. In 1844, he died in Florence, Italy. Bonaparte‘s body was returned to France and buried in the Les Invalides building complex in Paris.

The early relationship between Napoleon and the US is often overlooked. The friendship between France and the young US ended with the Quasi-War.

The Quasi-War was an undeclared war fought from 1798 to 1800 with most of the fighting taking place in the Caribbean and off the Atlantic coastline of the United States.

However, the loss of the rich colony of Haïti and the strategically useless Louisiana next to the growing American republic, as well as US animosity towards the British, pushed Napoleon to restore Franco-US relations.

Napoleon was also hoping to manipulate the US government into favoring him in a duel with Britain by pushing the US into war with Britain. In sum, the US was just another useful piece in Napoleon's chess game for the future of Europe.