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Bonapartists in the Borderlands: French Exiles and Refugees on the Gulf Coast, 1815-1835 [Hardcover]

Rafe Blaufarb
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

February 5, 2006 0817314873 978-0817314873 1st Edition

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 America 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 and Olive colony in the hands of French refugees from the Haitian slave revolt.  While they 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, and the French National Archives.

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Bonapartists in the Borderlands: French Exiles and Refugees on the Gulf Coast, 1815-1835 + Reborn in America: French Exiles and Refugees in the United States and the Vine and Olive Adventure, 1815-1865 (Atlantic Crossings)
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Editorial Reviews


“A well researched and intriguing book. . . . Professor Blaufarb focuses the reader’s attention to the flight of Bonapartists from France and combines the development of the Vine and Olive Colony with the struggle between Spain and the United States for control of the borderlands of the Southeast and the revolt of Spain’s colonies in Latin and South America.”-- Joe B. Wilkins, University of West Alabama

“This is an ambitious, very well written, extensively researched book. . . .The author situates it at the intersection of public land policy, western expansionism, and the Latin American independence movement.” -- Michael A. Morrison, author of Slavery and the American West

About the Author

Rafe Blaufarb is Associate Professor of History at Auburn University and author of The French Army, 1750–1820: Careers, Talent, Merit.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: University Alabama Press; 1st Edition edition (February 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0817314873
  • ISBN-13: 978-0817314873
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,095,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thorough monograph May 31, 2007
The subject of this monograph is the off-neglected contest between the United States and Spain over their borderlands in Florida and the Old Southwest. Rafe Blaufarb does a commendable job elucidating the confusing, and sometimes counterintuitive, diplomatic intrigues that swirled around this time and place.

After a brief historiography of his subject, Blaufarb presents a series of biographical sketches that treat important French exiles in America. Many of these are fascinating, although, because of their numbers, the individuals are virtually impossible to sort out. The title "Bonapartists in the Borderlands" here proves ironic because Blaufarb correctly argues that the Vine and Olive colony, a short-lived French settlement in western Alabama, was predominately composed of refugees from Saint-Domingue (Haiti) rather than from political opponents of the Bourbon regime in Paris.

The second chapter treats the attempt to gain congressional approval for the unorthodox land grant to the Society for the Cultivation of the Vine and Olive and the strategic reasons why Congress approved the venture. Next follows an overview of adventurism and madcap plotting by former Napoleonic soldiers in the New World, leading to a detailed description of the Champ d'Asile ("Field of Asylum"), one of the era's notable filibustering fiascos. The final two chapters return to the Vine and Olive colony and conclude with the disparate ends that befell the grantees after its collapse.

The stories told here were unfamiliar to me, and I found this book well worth perusing. Blaufarb has done an excellent job with his complex research, carried on in twenty repositories in five countries, and he also writes better than most academics. Nevertheless, it is doubtful that many readers will take this book whole. Especially in the prosopography sections, I often wished that less could have been more.
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