Monday, November 26, 2018

Jerome Bonaparte and Betsy Patterson

From Geri Walton:
In 1800, Jerome joined the navy at the age of fifteen, and as a relative to the First Consul, he was promoted rapidly. He was commanding a brig of his own and was a lieutenant de vaisseau by the end of 1802, and, by 1806, an admiral. However, it was not always smoothing sailing for the young man because some escapades on shore at Brest resulted in a rebuke from his older brother Napoleon: 
“I am waiting with impatience to hear that you are on board your ship, studying a profession intended to be the scene of your glory. If you ever mean to disgrace your name, die young; for if you live to sixty without having served your country, you had better not have been born.”[1] 
On 16 August 1801, Jerome received another note from his brother about life in the navy. 
“I’m glad to hear you are getting used to the life of a sailor. There’s not a better career in which to win a name for yourself. Go up aloft, get to know every part of the ship; and when you come back from your voyage, I hope to hear that you are as active as any powder-monkey. Don’t let anyone dictate your profession to you. Make up your mind that you are going to be a sailor. I hope you already have learnt to keep your watch, and box the compass.”[2] 
In the summer of 1803, when a British Blockade occurred, Jerome traveled to the United States and was soon invited to Baltimore by Commodore Joshua Barney. He had served in the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War and would also later serve in the War of 1812. The 19-year-old Jerome arrived in Baltimore in September, and, a month or so later, he accompanied Barney to Washington where he met President Thomas Jefferson on the 25th. Jefferson invited him to return the next evening to dine with him, and the President received confirmation stating, “Mr. Bonaparte will have the honor of dining with the president of the United States tomorrow, 26 Oct.”[3] 
While in Baltimore, Jerome met 18-year-old Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson, the daughter of a prosperous Baltimore ship-owner and merchant named William Patterson. Jerome first saw her in the fall at the horse races and was “fired at once.” A few days later, the couple were formally introduced at a ball given by Samuel Chase, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Although Jerome’s English was rudimentary, Elizabeth was fluent in French.
Elizabeth Patterson. Triple portrait by Gilbert Stuart 1804. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Jerome found himself so fascinated by her wondrous beauty and charm that he forgot about France and his brother Napoleon. He then became intent on marrying the stunning beauty and the wedding was planned a few weeks later on 3 November. However, after Elizabeth’s father received an anonymous letter stating that Jerome had “ruined” other young ladies, he withdrew his support for the marriage. Elizabeth was just as much in love with Jerome as he was with her and being unwilling to give him up, she threatened to elope. Her father thus gave in and the pair were married on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1803. 
The Mayor of Baltimore performed the civil ceremony, and a religious one was sealed by John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States. To further seal the deal a marriage contract was drawn up by Alexander J. Dallas, afterward Secretary of the Treasury, and witnessed by M. Sotin (the French Consul at Baltimore), Alexander Le Camus (Jerome’s secretary), and other leading citizens.  
At the wedding, one gentleman who was shocked by what the bride wore and noted: “All the clothes worn by the bride might have been put in my pocket. Her dress was of muslin, richly embroidered, of extremely fine texture. Beneath her dress she wore but a single garment.”[4] 
When Napoleon learned of Jerome’s marriage, he was unhappy because he had plans for his brother and they did not include an American wife. He commanded Jerome to return immediately and to do so by himself. Jerome set sail from the United States in March of 1805, but aboard was his pregnant wife. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, Napoleon refused to allow her to set foot on French soil. Jerome decided it was best if he went alone to try and change his brother’s mind, and, so, she sailed for England, where she gave birth to their son (Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, nicknamed Bo) on 5 July at 95 Camberwell Grove in London. (Read more.)

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