Thursday, 17 November 2011

Faithful Servants of Napoleon: The Archambault Brothers Part 1

Joseph Olivier Victor Senez Archambault (1796-1874) (1)

Among the party who set out with Napoleon to St Helena were two brothers, Achille Thomas L'Union Archambault and his younger brother (Joseph) Olivier Archambault, both working in the stables under the command of General Gourgaud.

This article tells the story of Olivier Archambault, who spent only a short time in the service of the Emperor Napoleon on St Helena, but under the instructions of the Emperor followed Joseph Bonaparte to America, settled there, prospered, and raised a family.

Gravestone in Pennsylvania

Born Aug 22nd 1796 Died July 3rd 1874

In September 1816 Napoleon was forced to reduce the size of his household at Longwood, and the younger Archambault, the Polish officer, Captain Piontowski, and two servants at Longwood, Jean Giovan-Natale Santini and Theodore Rousseau, were sent off the island, initially as was the custom, to the Cape. Apparently Napoleon wished to avoid splitting up the two brothers, the younger of whom was barely 20, and he suggested that Bertrand's servant Bernard, or his own servant Gentilini should go instead. The Governor refused: Bernard was Flemish and Gentilini Italian, and his orders had been to remove three "French domestics"!

The four of them were meant to spend several months of "quarantine" on the Cape, but Admiral Malcolm, apparently ignorant of Lord Bathurst's instructions, after a few weeks sent them back to Europe via St Helena, where they duly arrived to the consternation of the Governor on 18th December 1816. Every conceivable step was taken to prevent communication with anyone on the island, although the Governor did grudgingly allow Achille to talk to his brother on board the ship, accompanied by the commissioner of police.

Arriving in England in early 1817, Olivier and Rousseau proceeded to New York with letters for Joseph, a plan of attack and a detailed map of St Helena sewn inside Rousseau's jacket. Joseph Bonaparte was preparing an expedition to free Napoleon and to take him to New Orleans where a house, Napoleon House, was readied for him. This plan was of course scrapped, but Napoleon House remains to this day.

On the ship travelling to America he met the English radical William Cobbett, who was leaving the country to avoid imprisonment in the repressive period after Waterloo. Joseph spent a year on Cobbett's Long Island model farm, teaching French to his son and receiving instruction in scientific agriculture.

In 1819 Joseph Archambault married a woman of good family, Susan Sprague (1793-1880), and the couple settled first in Philadelphia and then at Newtown, some 40 kilometres outside Philadelphia where Joseph bought a house and some land. (2)

In 1829 he bought the Brick Hotel in Newtown. He also established a post office and a dentist's practice, in which he worked for some time. Presumably his knowledge of the anatomy of horses provided some kind of foundation for this profession!

In 1837 he settled again in Philadelphia, and in 1840 was named Cavalry Captain for Bucks County.

On 3rd May 1856 he set sail for France to meet his elder brother for the first time since they had said goodbye on board a British naval ship in Jamestown harbour in December 1816. Achille had been given a grant by Napoleon III of the remainder of the money bequeathed to him by Napoleon, and it is possible that he was given a share of this money.

In the American Civil War Joseph became a Major in the US Cavalry, and his sword and a picture of him is in the Mercer Museum.

He died on 3rd July 1874, one of the last survivors of the party who had accompanied Napoleon to St Helena, and living long enough to witness the fall of Napoleon III.

He was outlived by his five children, four of whose names evoke his youth in France: Victor Ebenezer Archambault (1819-1893); Achille Lucien Archambault (1822-1906); Lafayette Archambault( 1824-1888); Napoleon Bonaparte Archambault (1826-1901); Roselma Josephine Archambault (1832-1914).

The most famous and most long lived of his descendants was his grandaughter Anna Margaretta Archambault (1856-1956), a distinguished portrait artist, miniaturist and author. As Albert Benhamou comments, she lived through the American Civil War, the Franco Prussian War, the First and Second World Wars, and could claim to have known someone who had accompanied Napoleon to St Helena!

My thanks to Albert Benhamou for all his research and his generosity in encouraging me to draw on Les Frères Archambault on his web site, and to Joseph OVS Archambault for contacting us and providing information on Joseph Archambault's descendants which inspired the piece.

(1) Born at Fontainebleau he was given the forenames Olivier Agricola. It is possible that the name Joseph was adopted much later on his arrival in America to meet Joseph Bonaparte. Senez was his natural father's name and appears only to have been used when he arrived in America. When he substituted Victor for Agricola is unknown.
(2) Joseph Bonaparte had already established himself in the Philadelphia area, where he built a substantial house at Point Breeze, which was burned down in 1820, allegedly by a Russian lady. He built another house on the same site, and lived there until his return to Europe in 1839.


Anonymous said...

bravo for this resumé in English, John !!! Albert did an amazing research work in the background. About those broters, for the last 100 years every historians kept copied/pasted Chaplin statements...

John Tyrrell said...

Hopefully Part II will soon be competed. It is amazing how much Albert dug out, and so quickly.

Daniel F. Archambault said...


Fantastic job and Thank You! My fourth Great Grandfather Joseph O.V.S. Archambault legacy is carrying on with the help of Albert Benhamou and yourself. In addition I would like to thank Andre Archambault who is not a descendant of Joseph O.V.S. Archambault but is a descendant of Jacques Archambault. Both Jacques and Joseph Archambault achieved small great moments in history and Andre discovered Joseph when he was studying his family history. I have correspondent closely with Andre for about a year and he has helped me incredibly and Andre has closely worked with Albert Benhamou with the section on Albert's website pertaining to Joseph and Achilles Archambault. I must say that Albert, Andre and yourself are three of the most generous people with your time and energy helping me with the research that I discovered and what you gentleman discovered. Both Albert and Andre have always correspondent with me in English because I do not speak French that alone has been a great help. John I must Thank You for forwarding my questions I had to Albert and taking the time to write such a nice biography on Joseph O.V.S. Archambault you make me and my family very proud.

Daniel F. Archambault

John Tyrrell said...

Thankyou for your kind comments and thankyou for getting in touch in the first place. I will be more than happy to publish any further information on Joseph and his descendants.

Wade Krawczyk said...

My name is Wade Krawczyk and I live in Australia. I am a historian and militaria collector. I am now the owner of a pair of Napoleon's stockings, given by the Emperor to Joseph when he departed St, Helena in 1816. I have these, and a notarised letter from his sons Napoleon and Achille dated 1894, when the stockings were first sold out of the family.

Thank you for this fine history, which gives me much information. The image of Joseph is wonderful, as I did not have a decent copy of it. I would be naturally very happy to show images of these artifacts should you wish me to do so.

Regards, Wade Krawczyk

John Tyrrell said...

I would be very happy to publish the images. Perhaps you would like to email me (see my profile).


Anonymous said...

Hello JOhn,
I am wondering if you know more about Theodore Rousseau. I believe him to be an antecedent of mine.
Thank you

John Tyrrell said...

All I know at present is what I have read in A St Helena Whos Who, which isn't very much:
ROUSSEAU, Theodore. The Lampiste, and worker at odd
jobs at Longwood . He was deported on October
19th, 1816, and arrived at Spithead on February
15th, 1817 . After this he retired to the United
States, and took service with Joseph Bonaparte .

It would be interesting to hear what you know about him and his descendants in the US. Why not email me.