The history of the Vine and Olive Colony in Demopolis, Alabama, has long been clouded by romantic myths. The notion that it was a doomed attempt by Napoleonic exiles in America to plant a wine- and olive-growing community in Alabama based on the ideals of the French Revolution, has long been bolstered by the images that have been proliferated in the popular imagination of French ladies (in Josephine-style gowns) and gentlemen (in officer's full dress uniforms) lounging in the breeze on the bluffs overlooking the Tombigbee River while sturdy French peasants plowed the rich soil of the Black Belt. Indeed, these picturesque images come close to matching the dreams that many of the exiles themselves entertained upon arrival. But Eric Saugera's recent scholarship does much to complicate the story. Based on a rich cache of letters by settlement founders and promoters discovered in French regional archives, Reborn in America humanizes the refugees, who turn out to have been as interested in profiteering as they were in social engineering and who dallied with schemes to restore the Bonapartes and return gloriously to their homeland. The details presented in this story add a great deal to what we know of antebellum Alabama and international intrigues in the decades after Napoleon's defeat, and shed light as well on the other, less glamorous refugees: planters fleeing from the revolution in Haiti, whose interest was much more purely agricultural and whose lasting influence on the region was far more durable.
Publisher: The University of Alabama Press
Number of pages: 576
Weight: 1150 g
Dimensions: 235 x 155 x 51 mm
"Reborn in America" has the great merit of making an original and significant contribution to the history of the Vine and Olive Colony. It is one thing to say something new about an unknown topic; it is an accomplishment of a more impressive sort to open an entirely new perspective on a subject that other historians have already treated. Eric Saugera's study is of the latter variety."--Rafe Blaufarb, author of Bonapartists in the Borderlands French Refugees and Exiles on the Gulf Coast, 1815-1835
"French scholar Saugera has finally laid to rest the myth about French Napoleonic refugees who traveled to the confluence of the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers in March 1817, purportedly to practice viticulture. The romantic story of the Vine and Olive Colony has held sway over Alabama's early history, providing a cultured and refined vignette to the state's oft-troubled past. Yet drawing on a cache of unpublished French letters and other little-used sources, Saugera reveals how the drama contributed to the broader story of the Atlantic world, involving slave rebellion in Haiti, the turmoil of the French Revolution, and post-War of 1812 US expansion. French instability following Napoleon's abdication in April 1814 drove many Bonaparte supporters to welcoming US ports, and the US Congress granted to the emigrants fertile Black Belt lands to establish a US presence in the area, where they founded the city of Demopolis. Yet by the 1830s, the experiment had failed, as many of these colonists had returned to Restoration France. This work, combined with Rafe Blaufarb's Bonapartists in the Borderlands (CH, Feb'07, 44-3456), explains the local and international dimensions of French influence along the gulf borderlands. Summing Up: Recommended. Most levels/libraries."