After the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire in 1815, political unrest forced Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph, into self-imposed exile by seeking refuge in America with a small entourage of servants. This consisted of a domestic household staff of five men, a coachman, a cook named Francois Parrot, an American interpreter and land agent named James Carret, and a 20-year-old secretary named Louis Mailliard. However, Louis’ occupation was a far cry more than that of a faithful secretary. He was Joseph’s closest confidant and loyal friend.
Born into a family that served as staff at a 17th century castle in Mortefontaine, France, Louis was three years old when the property was acquired by Joseph Bonaparte as a country estate. By the time that he reached the age of twelve, he took on challenging political and personal assignments under the direction of his employer. Undoubtedly, there was an immense whirlwind of activity that Louis had to carefully navigate during the period of Joseph’s reign in Naples and then in Spain. When he was able to return to Mortefontaine, he fell in love with the beautiful daughter of the Master of Horse that worked for Joseph’s wife Julie. Her name was Marguerite Angelique Redet. On Sept. 1, 1818, the young couple was blissfully wed in an elaborate ceremony within the castle’s walls.
A year before the nuptials occurred, Louis was residing at Point Breeze. In order for Joseph to advance the grand plans that he conceptualized for his estate, he instructed Louis to return to Europe and retrieve a wooden chest filled with money, jewels, and documents that both of them had buried on his property in Prangins, Switzerland. Wearing a disguise, Louis, with the help of Joseph’s Swiss financial administrator and shovels in hand, waited until nightfall to dig where the chest was precisely located. Upon extracting it from the earth, they discreetly removed the contents as they cross-referenced an inventory list that Louis had kept in his pocket. Among the treasures were small boxes cradling sixteen diamonds. Joseph was pleasantly relieved when Louis brought the wooden chest and its cargo safely back across the Atlantic.
By the end of 1818, Louis and his bride were living in the unfinished mansion. Since Marguerite’s family was employed with Joseph’s estate in France, he hired her to address daily chores. Life was euphoric at Point Breeze. On Aug. 5, 1819, she gave birth to a son named Adolphe. But that exuberance was drowned by sorrow as Marguerite became ill and died of complications from childbirth. Devastated, Louis had his infant son raised in France by his in-laws. He never remarried and mourned the loss for the rest of his life. Five months after his son entered the world, the mansion was destroyed in a spectacular fire. The rebuilding of another mansion paralleled Louis’ own life as he struggled from the ashes.
Lonely and ill, before Joseph left the palatial surroundings of Point Breeze in 1839 to be reunited with his wife Julie in Florence, Italy, he made Louis and his dear friend, Joseph Hopkinson, the executors of his estate. When he finally slipped the surly bonds of Earth into eternity five years later as the result of a second stroke, it was Louis who provided comfort at his bedside.
Returning to this country, he took on the unimaginable task of administering the estate by himself since Hopkinson had died two years earlier. In addition, he took care of Queen Julie’s property in Florence when she died a year after Joseph in 1845. Therefore, he was simultaneously responsible for real estate transactions in two different countries that involved different languages and legal systems. To complicate matters, the late king’s daughter, Zenaide and her husband, Charles Lucien, were uncivil towards Louis regarding their inheritance. Fortunately, their oldest son, Joseph, and Louis’ son, Adolphe, joined him in settling any affairs.
They contacted a reputable New York banking firm known as Prime, Ward and Company where Joseph had most of his finances managed while residing in America. Although its partner, Samuel Ward III, died in 1839, his son, Samuel Cutler Ward continued the business under the directorship of his uncle, John Ward. In the process, young Samuel became a close friend of Adolphe. It wasn’t long before he was invited to gatherings at the Ward home near Broadway in New York City. The family was highly influential among the social elite. Among immediate family, Samuel’s oldest sister, Julia, was an anti-slavery leader. In 1862, she composed the stirring “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as the Civil War raged. As a champion of women’s rights, she advocated for Mother’s Day in becoming a national holiday.
Given the circumstances, it seemed fitting for Adolphe to court Samuel’s youngest sister, Ann. Overcome with emotion, Louis approved the union. In 1846, the marriage took place in the lavishly decorated parlor of the Ward home. Following the ceremony, the couple resided in a beautiful home on the Spring Villa Female Seminary campus in Bordentown. This was not coincidental since the land was purchased by Joseph Bonaparte a few years before his departure.
From 1845 to 1847, Louis conducted business from the estate’s Lake House. Being in close proximity to his son’s home, he was welcomed on many occasions and was present when his granddaughter, Louise, was born. Shortly after, he moved to a farm in Groveville that was bequeathed to him by his former mentor. In that same year, Prince Joseph held a public auction at Point Breeze by selling off its exquisite collection of paintings, sculpture, and furniture. By fall, the banking firm of Samuel Ward collapsed due to practices of mismanagement. With little means of financial support, Samuel and his wife moved to Spring Villa in Bordentown while he contemplated his future. That revelation came to him one day upon reading about the discovery of gold in California.
In 1849, Samuel traveled to the West Coast with the same allure that enticed hundreds of thousands of individuals with the promise of making easy money. While in California, he opened a store and was involved in several land schemes where he lost and regained his wealth more than once. When he returned to Bordentown a year later, he infused Adolphe with stories of adventure. For Louis, talk of this nature went against the fiber of his being as he and his son frequently argued.
Adolphe decided to visit California for himself. With the real estate transaction complete, Louis was overwhelmed by loneliness. Yearning for the comfort of his beloved Mortefontaine, he sold his Groveville farm and left the United States in 1851. Seven years after completing his new home in France, he returned to Bordentown to see his son and grandchildren again. Indeed, it was time to make amends. Adolphe showed his father the horse-breeding farm that he developed and the crops that he had grown. The landscape displayed elegant trees that Louis admired. Several months later, Adolphe shipped several saplings by steamer to Mortefontaine so that Louis would always have a part of Bordentown and Adolphe with him.
By 1867, Adolphe was diagnosed with a lung ailment. Understanding that mountain air could improve his health, he made the trip to California again and purchased a ranch for $50,000 that owned by his wife’s brother, Henry. But before they moved, he would visit his father in France for the last time. When he left, they hugged but not before Louis showered him with gifts for his four grandchildren. Lonely no longer, serenity blanketed his soul when he passed away in 1872.
In January of 1868, Adolphe and his family began the New Year with a new life in San Rafael near San Francisco. The same year that his father died, the Mailliards moved to San Geronimo Valley and built three ranches for their horse-breeding business. Among those that visited the family were Adolphe’s sister-in-law, Julia Ward Howe and Alexander Graham Bell, who installed one of the first telephones in California at the three ranches.
Ann and Adolphe lived out the rest of their lives on their ranch until their deaths in 1895 and 1896.
And what became of the wooden chest that was retrieved from Joseph Bonaparte’s Swiss estate and brought to Point Breeze two centuries ago? Now considered a treasure itself, it is on display at the Marin County Historical Society.