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Bonapartists in the Borderlands

French Exiles and Refugees on the Gulf Coast, 1815-1835

Written by Rafe Blaufarb

Publication Year: 2005

The ill-fated Vine and Olive Colony within the context of America’s westward expansion and the French Revolution.

Bonapartists in the Borderlands recounts how Napoleonic exiles and French refugees from Europe and the Caribbean joined forces with Latin American insurgents, Gulf pirates, and international adventurers to seek their fortune in the Gulf borderlands.  The U.S. Congress welcomed the French to American and granted them a large tract of rich Black Belt land near Demopolis, Alabama, on the condition that they would establish a Mediterranean-style Vine and Olive colony.

This book debunks the standard account of the colony, which stresses the failure of the aristocratic, luxury-loving French to tame the wilderness.  Instead, it shows that the Napoleonic officers involved in the colony sold their land shares to speculators to finance an even more perilous adventure--invading the contested Texas borderlands between Spain and the U.S.  Their departure left the Vine adn Olive colony in the hands of French refugees fromthe Haitian slave revolt.  While thay soon abandoned vine cultivation, they successfully recast themselves as prosperous, slaveholding cotton growers and gradually fused into a new elite with newly-arrived Anglo-American planters.

Rafe Blaufarb examines the underlying motivations and aims that inspired this endeavor and details the nitty-gritty politics, economics, and backroom bargaining that resulted in the settlement.  He employs a wide variety of local, national, and international resources:  from documents held by the Alabama State Archives, Marengo County court records, and French-language newspapers published in America to material from the War Ministry Archives at Vincennes, the Diplomatic Archives at the Quai d'Orasy, adn the French National Archives.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

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pp. vii-ix

This project has taken me down historical pathways I never expected to tread. Trained as a historian of early modern and revolutionary France, I had always assumed my research would focus on the metropole. And it surely would have had I not accepted a position at Auburn University and met Wayne Flint, then the department’s preeminent historian of Alabama. Wayne told me about the Vine and Olive colony, the short-lived French settlement founded ...

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pp. xi-xix

In 1817 the Congress of the United States granted four townships— 144 square miles of recently conquered Indian lands near the confluence of the Tombigbee and Black Warrior rivers—to a group of several hundred French expatriates based primarily in Philadelphia. In return, the group was to plant the grant with grape vines and olive trees, thereby forming (it was hoped) the nucleus of a domestic American wine industry. The story of this settlement, ...

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1. The New Atlantic France

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pp. 1-32

The news spread quickly across New York City that August morning in 1815: the distinguished Frenchman who had just disembarked from the Commerce after a monthlong Atlantic crossing was Lazare Carnot.1 The military engineer who, as a member of the Committee of Public Safety, had saved revolutionary France from the monarchical armies of Europe was a hero to republicans the world over. But as admiring Americans flocked ...

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2. The Society for the Cultivation of the Vine and Olive

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pp. 33-60

The post-1815 exiles from France were welcomed as heroes by the American population at large. Bonapartist sentiment, however, had little to do with the enthusiastic reception. While citizens of the United States recognized Napoleon as one of the great figures of the age, they also understood that his regime was based on principles antithetical to their own. So why were the exiles, who included prominent servitors of that alien regime, received so warmly? ...

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3. Double and Treble Treachery

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pp. 61-85

The European diplomatic corps in the United States followed closely the activities of the French expatriates.1 The French ambassador feared that, unless occupied in some wholesome enterprise like the Vine and Olive colony, the exiles might give in to the temptation of adventurous or revolutionary pursuits. Other European ambassadors shared his concern that men such as ...

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4. Ultra-Quixotism: The Bonapartist Invasion of Texas

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pp. 86-116

The discovery of the Lakanal papers effectively killed the plot to put Joseph Bonaparte on a Mexican throne—if such a plot ever really existed.1 But not all the French exiles abandoned the idea of intervening in the turbulent affairs of New Spain. In the summer of 1817 the recently arrived Gen. Charles Lallemand set in motion an audacious plan to establish a fortified camp in the ...

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5. The Vine and Olive Colony [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 117-147

While Lallemand had been engaged in his fool’s mission, the Society for the Cultivation of the Vine and Olive persisted with its plans. By 1822 close to 70 of the original grantees had spent some time on the grant—a figure nowhere n ear the 3 47 who had received allotments. Conditions there also fell short of the settlers’ expectations. The difficulty of clearing the forested terrain, shortage of labor, lack of infrastructure, oppressively hot climate, and ...

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6. The Fate of Vine and Olive

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pp. 159-174

What became of the grantees of the Vine and Olive colony? Some would lead lives of action and adventure; others would enjoy the comforts of family and wealth; and still others would pass the remainder of their days in laborious obscurity. But whatever course their lives took, for only a few did it lead to western Alabama. To be sure, many Vine and Olive shareholders remained in the Gulf South, but they ...

Appendix: The Grantees and Their Allotments

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pp. 175-227


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pp. 229-275


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pp. 277-296


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pp. 298-302

E-ISBN-13: 9780817382612
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817314873

Publication Year: 2005