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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Bonapartes in America

Clarence Edward Macartney and Gordon Dorrance

published by
Dorrance and Company,
Philadelphia, 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 3

 p43  II
Descendants of Jerome and Elizabeth

Jerome Napoleon, first American Bonaparte, son of Jerome, Napoleon's youngest brother, and Elizabeth Patterson, and their only child, was born at Camberwell, England, July 7, 1805. About three months later, the mother and young Jerome Napoleon returned to the United States, and once home she remained there for a decade, not leaving Baltimore until 1815, when again she crossed the Atlantic.

Meantime her son, called "Bo," received his early education at St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Maryland. His mother came back to Baltimore from Europe in the summer of 1816, and this time stayed at home, which she thoroughly disliked, until May 1, 1819. She then, with "Bo," went to Geneva, and the young man was entered in a school appropriate to the age of fourteen. The two apparently enjoyed most of the next eight years there, their time devoted to schooling, and during vacation periods delightful trips to Paris, Florence, Rome. In all these centers they were cordially welcomed and warmly treated by the French and Italians and by the "family."

In November, 1821, was a great occasion. Mother and son, Elizabeth and Jerome, went to Rome to visit Pauline, the Princess Borghese, and Grandmother Bonaparte, Madame Mère, who at that time resided  p44 together in the Eternal City. There they were greeted warmly and with the utmost cordiality, the Princess and her mother even going so far as to suggest that young Jerome offer his hand in marriage to the Princess Charlotte, daughter of Joseph. Apparently this caught the fancy of Jerome himself. He returned to America in the February following, and it was not long after before he called on his Uncle Joseph in Philadelphia. Although Joseph's family may have made the same suggestion to him, Joseph himself avoided any mention of the subject during Jerome's call, and when the young man came again, Joseph was "not at home." It is probable that Joseph even then wished to strengthen family ties and royal claims through an alliance with the European family rather than the American.

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Letizia Bonaparte

Madame Mère,
Mother of Kings and Queens

(From "The Napoleon Dynasty")

Concerning the proposed match the guileless youth thus writes his grandfather in Baltimore: "My grandmother and my aunt and uncle talk of marrying me to my uncle's, the Count of Survilliers', daughter, who is in the United States. I hope it may take place, for then I would return immediately to America, and pass the rest of my life among my relations and friends. Mama is very anxious for the match. My father is also, and all of my mother's family. So I hope that you will also approve of it."

It had been at the advice of his grandmother, Madame Mère, and of Cardinal Fesch and Louis Napoleon, that Jerome was sent to America to meet his uncle Joseph and his cousin Charlotte. But there must have been some hitch, for the young Jerome makes no mention of meeting his cousin, the proposed bride. As  p45 far as his mother was concerned, the projected marriage was a purely commercial matter. "His daughters," she writes to her father of Joseph's children, "are the best matches in Europe in point of both money and connection. They will have at least $500,000 from him each, and something besides from their mother."

Or perhaps Jerome was disappointed when he saw Charlotte. That may well have been the case, if what Madame Tousard, a close friend of Jerome's mother​a said of Charlotte was true: "I meet Joseph Bonaparte and his daughter very frequently in company. She is in size a dwarf and excessively ugly. Jerome is quite too handsome for her. It would be a great sacrifice." Charlotte finally bestowed her charms, or the lack of them, on Napoleon Louis, second son of Louis Bonaparte and Hortense, and a brother of Louis Napoleon, afterwards Napoleon III. Napoleon Louis took part in an Italian rising against Austria in 1831 and died from illness brought on by exposure in that campaign.

Jerome, his matrimonial plans thus summarily disposed of, repaired to Lancaster, Massachusetts, where he tutored for Harvard, to which in February, 1823, he was admitted. While in Harvard Jerome, as a devout Roman Catholic, was given a special dispensation exempting him from attending the Protestant service in the college chapel. Graduating from the University in 1826, he then sailed to meet his mother in Europe. While on the other side he once more saw his relatives in Rome, even his father. Of his father he had this to say when writing to Grandfather Patterson, January 17, 1827: "My father is very anxious for me to remain  p46 with him altogether, but I cannot think for a moment of settling myself out of America, to whose government, manners, and customs I am too much attached and accustomed to find pleasure in those of Europe, which are so different from my early education."1

In June, 1827, he sailed once more for the United States, where on November 3, 1829, he was married to Miss Susan May Williams of Baltimore, whereupon he was warmly congratulated by all the Bonapartes abroad, including Madame Mère, congratulations in which only his mother did not join. One would have supposed that Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, in view of her own experience, would have been a better and more complacent mother, since the young woman was in all ways worthy and the match desirable from every standpoint. Jerome's mother however dreaded the thought of having any son of hers "degrade himself" by marriage with an American woman, her own choice having been Charlotte.​b

Jerome was admitted to the Maryland Bar, but because of his family's considerable means, together with the fact that his bride was rich, he did not devote his life to the practice of his profession. Their estate was large and received most of his attention. He was regarded as one of the wealthiest and most worthy citizens of Baltimore, where early writers depict him as "devoting his life to books, to travel, to society, and to planting. For many years he has cultivated large tracts of land with great success, owing doubtless to scientific agriculture."

 p47  When Napoleon III ascended the throne of France, Jerome visited him in Paris, where he was well received by his relative, the new Emperor. Napoleon addressed him as his cousin, and "Cousin Jerome" was made, by a Council of State decree, a citizen of France. In spite of Jerome's own efforts, and he seems to have been sincerely interested in the subject, he never was recognized as of the Imperial family or as having place in the line of their succession. The decree of the State, however, did entitle all Elizabeth Patterson's descendants to the Bonaparte name. The only objection to this concession, seemingly trivial to an American, was registered by the father himself, ex‑King Jerome of Westphalia. Following this Jerome Bonaparte's death, 1860, his American son Jerome appealed through the French courts for the right to share his properties. Of course, in a sense the granting of such an appeal would have recognized the Imperial status of the American branch, and so doubtless through the influence of Napoleon III himself this appeal, which Elizabeth probably inspired though her son made it, was denied. Whereupon Jerome Napoleon made his protest to the Emperor, which accomplished nothing, and then returned to Baltimore to live and die. We fear that if he had got what he wanted he would have remained a Frenchman. Let us be thankful that he did not, for in Baltimore were borne to him and his good wife two sons, one destined to become a great American.

Jerome himself pre‑deceased his mother, the aged and never-tiring one, for he died in Baltimore June 17, 1870, the same year as died the hopes of his "dear  p48 Cousin," Napoleon III. Jerome, who in his appearance resembled the great Napoleon, died of cancer of the throat — not the first Bonaparte to succumb to this dread disease nor indeed the last so destined. It had struck before in the Bonaparte family and it was to strike again, for generations. Indeed, cancer is reported to have killed both the father and the grandfather of Napoleon.

Jerome and his wife had the two sons, born twenty‑one years apart: the elder, named for him, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, born November 5, 1830; the younger, Charles Joseph, born June 9, 1851, and christened Charles for his great-grandfather, father of Napoleon and his own father, and Joseph for his great-uncle Joseph, the King of Spain.

Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, the third Jerome, and the second Jerome Napoleon, spent one year at Harvard, then entered West Point, where he was graduated in 1852, eleventh in a class of forty-three, with Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry Slocum, Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.George Crook, and others of Civil War fame. It is related that at his graduation his brother Charles, aged one year, was present. This Jerome served for a time with the Third Cavalry on border or frontier duty in Texas, but after two years of chiefly garrison life the new Second Lieutenant resigned from the United States Army August 16, 1854, accepting a commission as Second Lieutenant in the Seventh Dragoons of the French Army. His French commission from Napoleon III was dated September 7, 1854. For many years he saw active service, commencing with the Crimean War, the first of three conflicts in which he  p49 was to engage. For distinguishing himself at Inkerman, and famed Balaklava, as well as in the Sebastopol siege, he received from the Queen of England the Crimean Medal; from the French, Chevalier of the Legion of Honor; from the Turkish Sultan, the Order of Medjidie. He was as French as his soldier ancestors and he could not help himself.

In June, 1855, Jerome had been promoted to First Lieutenant, later serving in the Algerian campaign of 1856‑57. In May, 1859, he was transferred as Captain to the First African Chasseurs and in 1859 participated in the Italian campaign and the battles of Montebello and Solferino, as well as many outpost clashes. He was on the staff of the Emperor part of this time and again was decorated by the Emperor, this time with the Medaille d'Italie, and by the King of Sardinia with a decoration of Military Valor. In February, 1860, Captain Jerome transferred again, to the First Carabiniers. Five years later, in August, 1865, he was promoted to Major, this time in the Third Cuirassiers. Next came a most important step, March, 1867, when he was transferred to the Dragoons of the Empress. He was commissioned their Lieutenant Colonel in August, 1870. French historians attest that he was not a palace soldier but an active-duty officer, since he had participated in many famous campaigns and had earned his promotions wherever awarded him. We are told that when Napoleon III left for the front in 1870, as the Franco-Prussian War commenced, he left Colonel Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte in effect Commandant of the Tuileries. Later Jerome was on his way to the  p50 front with his regiment when the disaster at Sedan turned him back. He accompanied the Empress Eugenie to safety. He participated in the siege of Paris and the fall of the empire, and barely escaped with his life during the Commune.

Jerome returned to his part-time homeland in April of 1871 and on September 7 of that year married Mrs. Caroline Le Roy Edgar, née Appleton, a granddaughter of Daniel Webster. His grandmother, Mme. Elizabeth, was still alive and still able to feel disappointment and irritation over the non‑royal mating of another of her descendants. Jerome was to pay one more visit to France, as he and his wife went to Paris in 1873, and indeed remained there for six years. Following that they returned for good to this country, where the family led a quiet and respected life at its home, Pride's Crossing, near Beverly, Massachusetts. The Colonel was a stockholder in the Newport Casino, and socially prominent in Baltimore as well. He entertained distinguished French visitors and was said to believe in rule by divine right. His grandmother in fact had hoped to see him become Regent or Emperor upon the fall of Napoleon III, and it was the failure of this dearest wish that caused Elizabeth, heartbroken, to go home to Baltimore for the last time. Nevertheless, save for occasional disappointments with him, Colonel Bonaparte was his grandmother's favorite, and this was not strange, for to the background and deeds of a hero and a Bonaparte he added a bearing as appropriate. "Tall, distinguished, with a military air, long dark moustache, goatee, and handsome features," it was  p51 agreed that he resembled his family in appearance and "air," as well as in his way of life, and it was natural that Elizabeth Patterson should have been impressed affectionately by one who so reminded her, impressionable as she had been once, of the Bonapartes of old. She thought he would make "a very presentable Emperor of the French."

Colonel Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, as he was known to his Massachusetts neighbors, died September 4, 1893, from a cancer of the stomach. He left behind him two children, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, who was born in Paris February 26, 1878, and a daughter Louise Eugénie, born in Baltimore February 7, 1873.

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Lieutenant Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte

United States Army

(From "The Napoleon Dynasty")

Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte
of New York

Last of a great family in America

(Photo by Rochlitz, N. Y.)

With the passing of Colonel Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte and the coming of the last Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, Harvard '99, we meet the first "moderns" of this Franco-American family, as will appear. The son, with his mother, spent much time in Washington, D. C., and, rich by inheritance from grandmother and father, this great-grandson of the youngest brother of the "Little Corporal" also journeyed to Palm Beach, New York City, and Narragansett Pier.

His mother until her death in 1912 was a Washington grande-dame, and he the first Bonaparte who really enjoyed society. Let it be said, moreover, that he always has been proud of being an American citizen and that in 1921 he is reported to have received and refused an offer to occupy the throne of Albania. Further, Jerome, although he spent some time in the courts of Berlin and Brussels, consistently refused to join the ranks of the "pretenders" to the French throne, though senior to  p52 those who did aspire. The fortunes of the New York Appletons and the Newport Edgars enabled him to live where he pleased and do what he liked, and he liked America. He was married to Mrs. Blanche Pierce Strebeigh in New York, April 8, 1914.

Tall, slender, moustached, well-dressed and alert, this Jerome exercised as swordsman, boxer, golfer, fisherman and motorist. Well regarded in Washington, where he had resided as a bachelor, he and his wife frequently visited Europe, where they were made much of and called "Prince and Princess" by the Paris journals, a decided improvement on the "Patterson-Bonaparte" appellation patronizingly bestowed in his father's day to distinguish them from the European line. He had no children, she twin daughters, and they had an apartment on Park Avenue, a villa at Palm Beach, and a summer place at Newport. From there they would travel to Europe to see perhaps his sister Louise, who had become the Danish countess Moltke Huitfeldt. There were frequent visits to Biarritz and Deauville, and many Atlantic crossings.

Finally, his health failed in 1922. Although subsequently fully recovered, less of late has been read of this Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, the last of his line in the United States and last living American Bonaparte. The New York "Social Register" shows Mr. & Mrs. Jerome N. Bonaparte still to be residents at 15 E. 69th Street. The Countess, his sister, died in 1923 at Biarritz.

The Authors' Note:

1 Bishop, Charles Joseph Bonaparte, pp18‑19. Scribner's Sons, N. Y. 1922.

Thayer's Notes:

a Well, not exactly. Her husband is the key here, and in a much more official rôle: "The Forgotten 'Founder' of West Point" (Military Affairs 24:188).

b From "Madame Bonaparte's Letters from Europe", Scribner's Monthly, XVIII.289‑297 and 381‑388 (1879) :


Immediately after her son's marriage, Madame Bonaparte made her will, leaving her entire property to her son, saying she felt that "no parent had a right to disinherit a child"; that she would have left him everything had he attempted to cut her throat and failed in the attempt.

Florence, 26th April, 1830

Dear Sir:

I shall leave this on the 1st of May, and return here in September. My spirits, never good, are now dreadfully broken, but I shall drag on the load of life many years. My income, I shall in future spend. The miserable economy I was obliged to practice has been a great disadvantage to me. * * *

The thought of my son's marriage makes me sick for days at a time. I shall never know a day of peace; all his projects and mine are now ended.

Florence, December 22, 1830

Dear Sir:

The fifty dollars per month, which I had been enabled by retrenchments on my table, fire, lights and dress to pay my son, were discontinued when he married, because it would be folly to starve myself any longer for a child whose conduct has convinced both the public and myself of the disregard in which he holds me. I willingly made sacrifices for him and would have deprived myself of anything to place him in the position which both his name and birth had marked out for him. * * *

Placed by my marriage in a rank of life which I have hitherto resisted every temptation to disgrace, I feel it incumbent to appear with decency in those societies where alone I will appear, and my whole income is too small for this purpose. Had my means been more ample not even the comtemptuous, unnatural, unjust and disingenuous conduct adopted toward me during the whole process of this marriage could have made me stoop to the mean revenge of suppressing a pecuniary allowance to a child, but I believe that every one who has not made hatred and contempt of me a systematic proceeding must confess that the time has now arrived for me to attend more closely to my interest than my relations have done for me. * * *

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