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.
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.