Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Napoleon's Soldiers Retired in Southeast Louisiana

 In June of 1974, historian Simone de la Souchere Delery presented to members of the St. Tammany Historical Society a talk about the area's interesting encounter with troops from Napoleon's army. Here is an article from the St. Tammany Farmer detailing her comments.

Historian Discusses Napoleon Before Historical Society

Simone de la Souchere Delery spoke to the St. Tammany Historical Society Friday night about the settlement of Napoleon's soldiers in south Louisiana. Author of "Napoleon's Soldiers in America," Mrs. Delery has traveled throughout the southern part of the state, including St. Tammany Parish, researching the places and people involved with the mass movement of former troops of Napoleon following the general's defeat at Waterloo.

She noted that several street names in Mandeville and place names throughout the Florida Parishes indicated the influence of Napoleon and his men on this area.
Her research work has taken her to numerous Louisiana cemeteries where she has been able to link the old French names with military records of Napoleon's army.

 Some of these tombstones are actually engraved in French, with the military rank of the man buried there testifying that he had actually been a part of the Napoleon force in Europe.

She recounted how two disasters had brought Napoleonic soldiers to the Florida Parishes, one being a native uprising in the West Indies and the other being Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. The French soldiers sent to the West Indies to quell the uprising were driven out by force, taking whatever vessels they could find. 

With British ships blocking the way home to France, the ships full of soldiers headed for the Gulf of Mexico, eventually landing in Alabama and Louisiana.

After Waterloo, the population of France grew tired of the former Napoleon troops with nothing to do, so a great fund raising campaign to send them to America was started. Negotiations with Washington sent the shiploads of ex-Napoleonic soldiers to Alabama near Mobile where they were to take up grape farming and olive growing. This didn't last long, however, and the former soldiers finally wound up in Mobile and New Orleans.

Mrs. Delery told of the great admiration of New Orleans for the soldiers and Napoleon himself. When news of his death finally came in 1821, the city mourned his passing, joining with the hundreds of men who were formerly his soldiers and who had hoped that one day he might have made a comeback.

She explained how old family papers helped her trace the life of one particular Napoleonic lieutenant, who was also capable architect and engineer. In fact, the ex-soldiers distinguished themselves as doctors, lawyers, merchants and farmers once settled in their new land.

In one Louisiana town, they talked so much about the old days with Napoleon that they decided to name the community Napoleonville.

Some segments of the disbanded Napoleon army joined Lafitte and became pirates, while others joined a military colony in Texas near Houston, which was eventually routed by the Mexicans.

The historical society thanked Mrs. Delery for her thoroughly enjoyable talk. After the meeting, members met informally with coffee being served.

Mandeville Hospital Connection

According to the City of Mandeville website:  The building at the corner of Girod Street and Lakeshore Drive (1951 Lakeshore Drive) was built circa 1850. "In the 1860’s, it was part of a large complex of buildings known as the Soldier’s Home. Honore Dousan, émigré from France and a physician in Napoleon’s army, cared for Confederate soldiers there. "

According to an article in the Times Picayune, Girod Street in Mandeville was named in honor of Nicholas Girod, the fifth mayor of New Orleans (and wealthy merchant), who once hatched a scheme to rescue deposed French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte from exile and bring him to the area.

An article in the 1871 issue of the Times-Democrat newspaper in New Orleans noted Mayor Girod's reverence for Napoleon and went into great detail about Griod's personal financial bequest to the city of New Orleans. 

Girod even built a house in New Orleans and invited Napoleon to come out of exile and come to the Crescent City to live.  Part of Girod's financial bequest to the city was said to go towards building a home for orphans from French parents. 

The Plot To Rescue Napoleon

The plan to bring Napoleon to Louisiana was once again written about in the November 9, 1908, issue of the New Orleans Times-Democrat newspaper.

A reader asked about the "legend" of how early Louisiana people were hoping to make Napoleon "Emperor of Louisiana."

The editor replied:

"There was a large colony of Napoleonic refugees who made their home in New Orleans. It was not among the Louisianians born in the colony that the desire to invite Napoleon to Louisiana arose, but it has been stated that Nicholas Girod, Mayor of New Orleans in 1814, built the house on the corner of Chartres and St. Louis streets with the intention of presenting it to the Emperor.

"It is asserted that a number of Frenchmen in New Orleans and Charleston entered into a plot to liberate Napoleon from St. Helena (a south Atlantic Ocean island where he had been exiled), and they had built a fast clipper yacht, the "Seraphine," which was to bring him away at an appointed time. The conspiracy might have succeeded had not the Emperor's death prevented its being carried out," the newspaper article concluded.

St. Helena Parish

In 1803 Napoleon, in need of money, sold France's Louisiana territory to the United States.  That transfer of land did not include what is known as the "Florida Parishes" north of Lake Pontchartrain and east of the Mississippi River.  Those remained part of West Florida.

A year later, Napoleon's famous "Napoleonic Code" of law was officially enacted, and the state of Louisiana, although no longer belonging to France, adopted as its own code of law which continues to this day.

Since the Louisiana Purchase did not include the Florida Parishes,  St. Tammany was still part of West Florida after 1803. The "Florida Parishes" of Louisiana declared their independence in 1810, became a republic of its own for 72 days, then was annexed by the United States.

Meanwhile, back in France, Napoleon in 1815 was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo (just outside of Brussels, Belgium), was exiled to the island of St. Helena a few months later and died six years after that in 1821. A curious coincidence is that the Louisiana parish of St. Helena was created in 1811, four years prior to Napoleon's exile to the island of the same name.