Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: Fashionista


Barbara Meger

For the past year, the Maryland Historical Society has been incredibly lucky to have the expertise of curatorial volunteer, Barbara Meger.**

Barbara has been a serious student of needlework, historic textiles and fashion for over 45 years and brings remarkable knowledge and insights to the museum’s textile collection.

Over the past six months, Barbara has immersed herself in the textiles associated with Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, meticulously examining and documenting more than 200 textiles as well as studying Elizabeth’s diaries, letters and account books. Her discoveries reveal fascinating details about Elizabeth, the fashionista.

These are some of the most intriguing facts Barbara has discovered about Elizabeth.

* “Elizabeth was a lace hoarder,” Barbara remarked, after spending weeks slowly accessing, measuring and photographing two enormous boxes of Elizabeth’s lace. We don’t think she threw a single piece of lace out!

3.77F.1; 3.77G.37; 3.77G.78A-B  Black & White Lace Scraps belonging to Betsy Bonaparte with business cards, group photo.  Not dated. Artist unknown. Textiles/Bonaparte

3.77F.1; 3.77G.37; 3.77G.78A-B
Black & White Lace Scraps belonging to Betsy Bonaparte with business cards, group photo.
Not dated.
Artist unknown.

* Elizabeth loved shoes! She seemed to have a continual need for a new pair of shoes!

Only one pair of Elizabeth’s shoes survives in the museum’s collection, a dainty pair of white kidskin pumps that date to the 1870s. Old age did not mean Elizabeth lost her fashion sense. In her late 80s, Elizabeth was still wearing the shoes of a young woman.

Betsy shoes 001

1954.72.1 a & b
Gift of Miss Ida Parks


* Elizabeth had a large wardrobe. Barbara’s research has helped us to understand more about Elizabeth’s shopping habits. Despite her frugality, she bought the best and was always at the height of fashion.

Here is an excerpt of Barbara’s research. Keep checking the blog for future posts about her discoveries!

Summary Fabric Acquisitions 1826-1849

In the Manuscripts Collection, specifically Box 13A, at the Maryland Historical Society are numerous journals, financial and expense records kept by Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte.  Included are records of itemized expenses that cover 16 years between 1826-1849.  These expenses often coincide with upcoming travel to Europe or purchases made while living abroad.

It has been assumed that Elizabeth was a frugal woman who is said to have removed laces and trimmings from her clothing for refashioning into the latest style.  This is based on over 200 items in the MdHS collection, some still bound in silk ribbon and marked in Elizabeth’s hand with the precise yardage.  The summary, below, refutes this idea.

Elizabeth purchased vast quantities of fabrics.  Her records show that she also bought accompanying laces, ribbons, fringes, etc. in order to have an ensemble made up by a local dressmaker.  Why do so many textiles “scraps” remain?  Elizabeth loved beautiful things and recognized superior quality; she could not bear to throw such things away.  All one needs to do is visit the sewing room or studio of a modern day seamstress or textiles enthusiast and see her “stash” to recognize a kindred spirit.

The summary below covers only the number of purchases of fabric yardage plus the quantity for a given year.  [Note:  A yard equals 36”; a meter is 39.37”; an ell is 45”.  Brach is a derivation of braccio which is equivalent to the English ell or 45”.]



# purchases

# yards

# meters

# ells

# brachs

1826 Florence



1827 Florence



1828 Florence




1829 Florence



1830 Florence









1831 Florence






1832 Geneva



1839 Geneva



1840 Paris














1843 Baltimore



New York



1844 Baltimore



1845 Baltimore



New York



1846 Baltimore



1847 Baltimore



1848 Baltimore



1849 Baltimore






** Barbara Meger is a designer and teacher of English smocking and related needlearts. Her current focus is mixed media, combining the disciplines of smocking, embroidery, beading and fabric manipulation. Her original designs have won needlework and design show awards and include a Christmas stocking in the permanent collection of the White House. She is a member of The Embroiderers’ Guild of America, The Smocking Arts Guild of America and The American Sewing Guild. In addition to her volunteer service with the Maryland Historical Society, she also volunteers with the Historic Annapolis Foundation where she has researched and coordinated the reproduction of textiles. Barbara lives in Crofton, Maryland

Back to Baltimore

1883.1.1 William Patterson (1752-1835)
William Patterson by Thomas Sully, Bequest of Mrs. George Patterson, MdHS, 1883.1.1

By Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager

By September of 1805, Elizabeth had all but given up on hearing from her husband Jerome. Sad and missing her mother with whom she had a very strong bond, she set sail aboard the brig Mars and returned reluctantly to Baltimore. Crossing the Atlantic in the fall was risky, but Elizabeth arrived safely in mid-November and moved into the Patterson House to await word from Jerome.

Life was not easy for Elizabeth at the Patterson household. Her father, who had never fully approved of her marriage, viewed her as a strong-willed and careless girl who had cost him a great deal of money. William Patterson had put cash on deposit in several European ports, chartered a ship and paid for two of his sons to accompany his daughter on her voyage. But the most egregious offense for Mr. Patterson was covering his new son-in-law’s extensive debts. There were bills for tailors, shoemakers, carriages and pistols. Jerome had spared no expense. Mr. Patterson felt obliged to pay these debts in order to keep his family name in good standing.

Elizabeth like any daughter, desperately wanted her father’s approval and spent years trying to make up for her marital mistake, but her father and her brothers treated her harshly and rebuked her at every turn. In later years she wrote:

Quietness was not my definition of happiness. That the Event, and not my Conduct should determine my character, that to be Unsuccessful and guilty should be the same thing and that I should be held up as a public criminal for not doing what could not be done. (MS142…)

Despite Elizabeth’s best efforts, her father never forgave her.

Finally in January of 1806, letters from Jerome reached Elizabeth in Maryland.  In the spring, James McIlhiny from London forwarded a letter and two boxes of gifts to from Jerome to Elizabeth. The boxes contained an elaborate Paris wardrobe, jewels, and a thousand guineas in gold. Feeling entitled, William Patterson kept half the gold. He also sold many of the goods Jerome had purchased in America.

Desperate for word from Jerome, Elizabeth began visiting Washington to be near diplomats who were privy to the most current news from Europe. She stayed with her uncle, Sam Smith, and his wife Margaret in their Capitol Hill residence. During these frequent visits, she began a friendship with then First Lady Dolley Madison who often invited Elizabeth to her famous dinners. In July of 1806, one of the last letters from Jerome arrived full of continued promises to return to his wife and son.

Back in Europe, Napoleon was launching an ultimately unsuccessful effort to get Pope Pius VII to declare Elizabeth and Jerome’s marriage invalid. Though the Pope refused, Napoleon was undeterred and sought to have the marriage annulled by the French ecclesiastical court. In October of 1806, Napoleon got what he wanted most and what Jerome and Elizabeth had not wanted at all.


Behind the Scenes

Color Selections
Exhibition Designer, Chuck Mack, looks at paint samples and compares them to interiors from the Napoleonic-era.

Now that spring is here, preparations for the opening of ‘Woman of Two Worlds:’ Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and Her Quest for an Imperial Legacy are moving at a rapid pace!

The exhibition opening is less than three months away and we are all running in high gear. Everyday “behind the scenes” is filled with research and planning for the installation. Here is a glimpse of what is in the works to make Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte’s amazing story come to life.

We all know how difficult it is to find the perfect colors for our homes, but selecting the “right” color for an exhibition requires even greater thought. Chief Curator, Alexandra Deutsch, and Exhibitions Designer Chuck Mack, spent many hours looking at popular interior colors used during Elizabeth’s lifetime and narrowed the color selections down to several greens, lavenders and blues.

Although we are not going to reveal the final selection, suffice it to say we were all surprised by the color that looked best in the gallery and complimented with the objects in the exhibition the most. Elizabeth’s account books note that she favored yellow and believed it flattered her coloring. As a nod to this, hints of yellow will dot the graphics throughout the gallery.

Barbara and Julie Researching

Account Book Page
Account Book and Diary of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society, MS 142, Box 13A, unnumbered page.

Curatorial Volunteers Barbara Meger and Julie Madden study and transcribe Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte’s letters, ephemera and account books in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library.

Both Meger and Madden possess expertise in textiles and costume history, making them ideal researchers for this project.

Although Elizabeth maintained a frugal household, she was not above buying many shoes.

Meger discovered this fact while combing through Elizabeth’s diaries and account books.

Working with the Bonaparte Papers in the library yields a seemingly unending font of information about Elizabeth’s life.

To the right, Elizabeth records information about some of her jewelry, in particular a pair of amethyst and pearl earrings “sett in England in year 1805…”

Colleen Callahan of Costume and Textile Specialists fits a reproduction of Elizabeth’s mother, Dorcas Spear Patterson’s gown on a form. This reproduction was then sent overnight mail to StudioEis in Brooklyn, New York where they carved the body for Dorcas’s mannequin.

Dorcas Shoulders

David and Dorcas
Sculptor David Hayes 

We measured Dorcas’ original gown to determine just how small the mannequin’s torso needs to be.

Dorcas was remarkably petite. Measuring from shoulder to shoulder, she was only 9 ¼” wide!

Colleen and I checked the waist measurement, too, and determined that Dorcas had an admirable 21” to 22” waistline during her early life.

At right, Sculptor David Hayes of StudioEis, used the muslin and mock-up dress form to carve Dorcas’s torso to its minute proportions.

David is making final adjustments before the mannequin goes to casting. (Go ahead and click on the image, and it will magnify on screen.)

Comparison crop

A sculpture of Dorcas Spear Patterson’s face is seen here before its final revisions

After comparing it to the portrait of Dorcas by Robert Edge Pine, the chin was narrowed and the nose was lengthened slightly. The sculpture is now going into its final casting.

Exhibition Designer Chuck Mack works closely with me and Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager, to plan out the layout of the exhibition cases. Here he is seen with some of the silver that will be on view in the exhibition.

case layouts miniatures
Chuck Mack and Alexandra Deutsch, Chief Curator, trace the layout of the miniature paintings that will be in the exhibition.

The silver is laid out on a paper template that represents the dimensions of the case. Careful consideration is given to the history of each object before it is positioned in the case. This process is repeated for every case in the installation.

The resulting template will be used to design the exhibition case and the mounts for the paintings. This collection of miniatures, all portraits of the Bonaparte family, includes Napoleon and Prince Jerome (Elizabeth’s husband).

Below is a group of accessories being considered for one of the textile cases.

This grouping of textiles were laid out and considered for the installation. Textiles can only remain on view for brief periods because light exposure is detrimental to their condition. As a result, we must plan to rotate textiles throughout the life of the exhibition.

Thankfully, many of Elizabeth’s accessories from lace gloves to shawls survive.

More behind the scenes activities are going on, but you’ll have to read our next post to learn more about that. We’ll be giving you a glimpse of the various conservators hard at work preparing paintings, silver, and other objects for the installation

textile layout


Jerome engraving-1
Jerome Bonaparte, 1813, Engraving by T.L. Potrelle and M. Gaudin after a painting by Kinson, Collection of the Maryland Historical Society

By Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager

Jerome left Elizabeth in Lisbon, promising her that he would convince Napoleon to recognize the marriage.

Shortly after his departure, Jerome wrote to Elizabeth saying, “Don’t cry because tears do no good and may do you much harm… Take care not to receive visitors or to make visits and to have someone always with you either Mrs. Anderson, the doctor, or William… I embrace you as I love you, and you know that I love you very much…”

He had assured Betsy that if he failed in his mission he would withdraw “with my little family in no matter what corner of the world.” When Jerome arrived in Rome, Napoleon refused to bend on his decision and gave him an ultimatum: either give up Elizabeth or be stripped of all his titles, removed from the line of succession and left without a cent.

He ordered Jerome to have no further contact with Elizabeth and sent him back to the Navy where he was to prove himself in battle. Jerome saw no other option but to comply with his brother’s demands. He later told Elizabeth that his plan was to prove himself in battle and then ask for her as his reward.

Meanwhile back in London, Elizabeth tried to keep a low profile. She did not want to draw more anger from Napoleon and make Jerome’s mission impossible. One London paper noted that she received very little company.

During Jerome’s absence, Elizabeth grew desperate for news and tried contacting him by any means possible. She sent letters to Jerome through Napoleon’s step-daughter, Hortense, and his brother Lucien.

The only news she heard was from a newspaper, recounting his arrival in Genoa and his reconciliation with his brother. In July she received a letter from a Dr. Garnier who stated that Jerome was very worried about her and he urged her to return to America as soon as she could travel.

Elizabeth discounted this letter as she didn’t trust Dr. Garnier. A letter from a more trustworthy source, Alex Le Camus, was sent to Mr. Patterson in Baltimore. Le Camus assured Mr. Patterson that Jerome was doing all that was in his power to make the situation right and again urged Elizabeth to return to America, set up house and await a summons to France. Mr. Patterson neglected to share this information with his daughter and left her wondering why her beloved husband had abandoned her.

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte’s Timeline

With special attention to costume.

Prepared by Barbara Meger for the Maryland Historical Society, November 2012

Burn, Helen Jean. Betsy Bonaparte. Baltimore: The Maryland Historical Society (2010). [B]
Lewis, Charlene M. Boyer. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte—An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (2012). [L]

In Europe.

Date Location Event Costume/textile reference
1785: 6 February Baltimore Birth to Wm. & Dorcas (Spear) Patterson
1795 36 South Street
Day student at Mme Lacomb’s boarding school
1803: late summer Baltimore races Jerome first saw Betsy Buff-colored silk dress and hat with long ostrich plumes
1803: 24 December Baltimore Marriage to Jerome Bonaparte Muslin dress, richly embroidered, with a single undergarment
1803-1804 Parisian dresses had been acquired by Jerome Included “mantilla & dress made of black lace & others of silk & satin” (1875 account book, EPB)
1804: 3 February Washington, DC Ball at Mr. Smith’s “. . . thinnest sarcenet and white crepe. . .” (Margaret Bayard Smith) “. . . a gown of dampened muslin that clung to her body.”
1804: winter Washington, DC Painted by Gilbert Stuart
1804: April & May New York City Awaiting passage to France, 1st attempt
1804: June New York City British ships block voyage
1804: summer New York Trip up Hudson River &to Niagara Falls
1804: August 3 Boston
1804: September 5 New York City En route to Philadelphia & Baltimore
1804: October Delaware Bay Caught in storm
1804: December Annapolis Turned back at Hampton Roads blockade
1805: winter Baltimore Jerome purchased furniture for house
1805: 10 March Bound for Europe on Erin. Betsy 6 months pregnant.
1805: April Lisbon Arrival
1805: April 9 Lisbon Jerome ordered to meet Napoleon in Italy
1805: 10 May Amsterdam Erin denied arrival
1805: 19 May Dover Arrival
1805: May London
1805: June Pope refuses to annul marriage as requested by Napoleon
1805: 7 July London Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte (Bo) born
1805: 5 September London Departure With enormous wardrobe
1805: October Paris Jerome shops for Betsy; sends boxes to England 10 dresses of exquisite fabrics trimmed with laces & embroidery, 3 hats, personal linens & handkerchiefs, etc.
1805: 14 November Baltimore Arrival
1805: 21 November Jerome writes he has sent a 2nd box of Parisian clothing
1806: spring Baltimore Receives first of Jerome’s shipments
1806: October Paris French court nullifies marriage
1806: fall Begins friendship w/Dolley Madison
1806: December Wears “Black Lace Robe over pink. . . dress from Jerome worth 1500$” (Sophia May____)
1807: 7 July Westphalia Jerome made king
1807: 12 August Jerome marries Catherine of Wittemburg
1809: December Baltimore Receives first of French pension (60,000 francs, annually)
1811 Washington DC Residence
1812: February Wears fine crepe robe of azure interwoven with silver.
1812: fall Maryland Files for divorce
1813: January Maryland Divorce granted
1813 Washington DC Elbridge Gerry is frequent escort
1813: 24 November Dolley Madison asks Betsy to shop for her, “in case you meet with anything elegant in the form of a turban or an evening wrap of flowered lace in gold or silver thread.”
1814: 21 May Baltimore Death of Dorcas Spear Patterson.
Siblings Caroline & Artemius had died same year.
1814: September Receives last payment of French pension Itemized expenses ; kept altering clothing, removing trimming from one dress to another.
1815: 26 July Liverpool Arrival en route to London/Cheltenham
1815: November Paris Arrival
Paris Gave small gifts of needlework to friends.
1816: summer Geneva Searches for schooling for Bo
1816: August Paris Leaves for Le Harve; returns to Paris
Meets Lady Sydny Morgan
1817: September Sails for New York; coach to Baltimore
1817-1819 Baltimore Kept to her room, reading & working on needlework.
1818: 29 July Lady Sydney Morgan, “I wish you would embroider me some little thing that I might have some of your work to boast of.”
1819: June Amsterdam Arrives w/Bo en route through Germany to Geneva
1821: fall Italy Visits w/Bo Pauline Bonaparte Borghese gives Betsy a ballgown
1823: February Bo admitted to Harvard
1823 Florence, Geneva, Paris
1824 Baltimore Via Boston
1824-25 Baltimore Only distractions were reading & embroidery
1825: June Europe For 9 years in Florence, Geneva, Paris
1826: May Bo visits Europe
1829: November Baltimore Bo marries Susan May
1829: 21 December Asks for belongings left in Baltimore to be shipped to her.
1833 Paris Attends court of King Louis Philippe
1834 Baltimore Return Purchases Paris clothing and 50 fashionable hats; at least 22 gowns including gauze, satin, silk, hand painted muslin, lace & merino.
1835: February Baltimore Death of William Patterson
1839: summer Paris & Italy Return to Europe
1840 Baltimore Boarding house on Lexington St.
1849 London Visit w/friend Sydney Morgan
1860: 24 June Death of Jerome Bonaparte
1861 Paris To defend marriage contract
1861: August New York En route to Baltimore
1863 Final brief trip to Europe
1870: 17 June Baltimore Death of Bo
1870 Baltimore Living in a large room on 2nd floor of boarding house on Cathedral St.
1879: 4 April Baltimore Death

In her later years, Betsy regaled visitors with a history of particular pieces of clothing: “This was her husband’s wedding coat; this dress was given her by the Princess Borghese; this one had been worn at the court in Tuscany; this one she wore at the Pitti Palace the day she met her husband; this she wore when presented to Madame Mere, etc.” [Eugene L. Didier, The Life and Letters of Madame Bonaparte (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1879), p. 264.]

Bringing Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte To Life

By Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch

Strike a Pose
Alexandra poses as Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte

You just never know what you might have to do as a curator! In the past month, I had to “strike a pose” twice, all in the name of my curatorial duties for our new exhibition, Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and the Quest for an Imperial Legacy, opening in June, 2013.

For this exhibit, StudioEis in Brooklyn, New York is creating two life-like mannequins. The first mannequin is of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte as she would have stood in an elegant salon in Paris.

The second is of her mother, Dorcas Spear, in her elegant embroidered silk gown, the one she may have worn for her wedding to William Patterson. This was the first step of many in customized mannequin production.

Next StudioEis needed muslins (a sort of mock-up) of all original garments to help them recreate the correct body shape for the mannequins.

Using the original garments could damage them, so we enlisted the help of Colleen Callahan of Costume and Textile Specialists, Inc. She created a muslin reproduction of the dress worn by Elizabeth and a shift that would have been worn underneath the original. The dress Colleen copied is simple, yet incredibly elegant with a long train and exquisite openwork and embroidery on the arms.

Original gown worn by Dorcas Spear Patterson (MDHS XX.5.152) on a temporary form with Colleen Callahan who is determining the original shape of the gown when it was worn.

In the process of making the reproduction of Elizabeth’s original gown, we learned some interesting details about her. Most published sources described her as very small. In our minds, this meant she was as short, somewhere around 4’11”. In fact, her dress indicates that she was 5’3” or 5’4”, not short at all for the period. The proportions of the dress attest to her very small frame. With a 28” rib cage and arms the size of a modern adolescent girl, Betsy was indeed petite in size though not in stature. Perhaps the most striking measurement revealed by the original gown was her overall bust size, a notable 35”. Voluptuous is definitely an apt descriptor for Betsy.

Colleen is about to begin the muslin reproduction of Dorcas Spear’s dress and has already examined the original to determine how it may have looked when she wore it. Curiously, Betsy’s mother seems to have had a similar figure, although she was an inch or so shorter than her daughter. Dorcas’s gown was a stunning ivory patterned silk with polychrome floral and foliate embroidery. The original loops sewn into the interior of the skirt document that the gown could have been drawn up in the back and worn “polonaise-style.”

The last step was choosing an image for the faces that seemed to best represent written descriptions. Elizabeth and her likeness are based on the Gilbert Stuart triple portrait, and Dorcas Spear is modeled after a portrait by Robert Edge Pine.

Gilbert Stuart
Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, Gilbert Stuart, 1804, Private Collection

Here is a look at the earliest version of the Elizabeth mannequin. The final version will not be revealed until the exhibition opens, but here is a sneak peek.

Stay tuned for the next installment on these show-stopping mannequins!

*StudioEis in Brooklyn is an extraordinary company composed of a team of artists who create remarkably life-like mannequins and bronzes. Debra and Elliot Schwarz are the brother and sister team behind the business. Their workshop is in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Overpass), a newly chic neighborhood of converted warehouses and industrial buildings with an amazing view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Debra, Elliot and their team are creating two mannequins for the exhibition.

*Colleen Callahan is a costume and textile historian with experience in conservation and as a theatrical costumer. In 2003, the Valentine Richmond History Center* designated Colleen as curator emeritus of costumes and textiles.

While at the Valentine, Colleen managed the museum’s 40,000-piece internationally known collection and curated over
twenty art and social history-themed exhibitions. Colleen consults with large and small institutions nationwide on exhibition, collection management and documentation, conservation, and reproduction clothing projects. She is a sought after lecturer and contributor to popular and scholarly publications. Colleen is active in professional
organizations including the Virginia Association of Museums and the Costume Society of America, for which she served a term as president.

Colleen received her BA in Theatre from Smith College and her MA in Arts Administration: Costume Studies from New York University under a joint program with the Costume Institute of Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Honeymoon Is Over

By Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager

For several months after the wedding, Jerome’s advisors begged him to heed Napoleon’s orders and return to France. He refused, insisting that he would not leave without hearing directly from his brother. Finally in April 1804, still with no word from Napoleon, Jerome agreed return, but not without his new bride.

The couple made several attempts to go to France, but met with failure at every turn. During one attempt, the pair traveled separately, Jerome aboard a frigate and Elizabeth with the new ambassador to France, General Armstrong. When Elizabeth arrived at the port to depart, she found the ambassador had changed his mind and had set sail several hours before her arrival. In October 1804, their attempt ended in a shipwreck.

95 Camberwell Grove London
95 Camberwell Grove, London, Elizabeth Moltke-Huitfeldt Photography

In March of 1805, Elizabeth and Jerome set sail on her father’s clipper ship, Erin. William Patterson also set up a line of credit to support Elizabeth and Jerome during their European stay.

Elizabeth was six months pregnant when they departed, arriving in Lisbon three weeks later. The couple did some sight-seeing and shopping as though nothing was amiss.

Soon Napoleon sent orders for Jerome to go immediately to Italy by a specified route. If he deviated from it, he would be arrested. Finally sensing the seriousness of the situation, Jerome set off for Milan leaving his pregnant wife in Lisbon with assurances of his love and loyalty.

After Jerome’s departure, Elizabeth received her own set of orders from Napoleon. She was not to set foot on any territory controlled by France and should return to America tout de suite. She was also never to use the Bonaparte name. In return she would receive a pension of 60,000 francs a year from him. She sent him a reply stating that she would “never relinquish a name he has made so famous” and “that Madame Bonaparte is ambitious and demands her rights as a member of the imperial family.”

Unable to disembark in Lisbon, Elizabeth set sail for Amsterdam where her father and Jerome had instructed her to go should there be any trouble. Upon its arrival, the Erin was surrounded by French warships and forced to depart. Elizabeth was now eight months pregnant and refused to give birth at sea. Fearing they would be turned away at other ports, Elizabeth went to the one place where Napoleon had no power: England. The decision to go to the land of his sworn enemy was not a wise one.

On July 5, 1805, Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte (“Bo”) in a rented Georgian house at 95 Camberwell Grove, London. A new and tumultuous chapter of her life had begun.

The Love Affair

By Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager

Many versions of how the young lovers met exist.  A diary entry by James Gallatin recounts a story told to him by Betsy, and later confirmed by her in a letter to another friend…

She was invited to dine with an old Frenchman, the Marquis de Poléon [Louis Pascault]…All the beauties of Baltimore were invited to dinner…She was looking out of the window overlooking the drive with M.de Poléon’s eldest daughter. “We saw two young men approaching the house. Mlle Pascault exclaimed, pointing at the tall one, ‘That man will be my husband!’ I answered, ‘Very well, I will marry the other one.’ Strangely enough, we both did as we said.”

This account seems to show that Betsy viewed Jerome more as an opportunity to escape her tedious and unglamorous life in Baltimore rather than a great love affair. He brought the promise of royalty and European glamour she longed for. Jerome was passionate, extravagant, and, most importantly, related to one of the most powerful rulers in the world…everything Elizabeth had ever wanted.

For Jerome it was a coup de foudre, love at first sight. She was beautiful and charming and, therefore, irresistible. He pursued her with fervor, writing her often and visiting her as much as he could, even taking up residence near the Patterson home. In 1803 Jerome wrote to Betsy:

Betzy! Betzy! Did I only make a fleeting impression on your heart?  And is my happiness only the result of an illusion that has vanished?  But reality remains, Betzy and what is it? If you look into my heart you will see the words « I love you » engraved on it.  If you look into your own, what will you see? I don’t know, but I fear that if the words « I love you » are written on your heart that they are a little faded.

Excuse me, my Eliza, if I am judging your love unfairly, but you know that one only fears losing what one truly desires—and I can only be happy when I am sure that I am loved by you.


The two young lovers, both 19,were determined to be wed. They were warned that Napoleon would not approve of this union and that by French law Jerome was not old enough to marry without parental consent. One had to be 25 in order for it to be legal without consent in France. To get around this Jerome and his entourage lied about his age giving it as 21, and by American law, making it legal for him to marry Betsy – a marriage that, he believed naively, would have to be recognized internationally.

Elizabeth’s father had reasons to object as well. Not only was there the issue of age but there were many rumors of Jerome’s philandering ways. He was said to have ruined more than one young woman during his brief time in America. In an anonymous letter to Mr. Patterson the author wrote:

At the very moment he [Jerome] was demanding your daughter’s hand in marriage he ruined a young French girl, whom he now leaves in misery! … He now wishes to secure himself a home at your expense until things can be arranged for his return to France, when rest assured he will be the first to turn your daughter off, and laugh at your credulity!

After Elizabeth threatened to run away and elope with Jerome, and Jerome poured on the charm during many visits, as well as agreeing to a well-designed pre-nuptial agreement, the Pattersons agreed to set the wedding date!

On December 24, 1803, the couple was wed by John Carroll, the Archbishop of Baltimore. The newlyweds were the talk of the town; their every movement was noted in the papers. Betsy in her scandalously revealing gowns and Jerome in his finest basked in the glory of their celebrity, attending parties and dinners all over town. The future seemed bright and full of promise for the Belle of Baltimore and the dashing young Bonaparte.

In France, however, Napoleon was not celebrating the union…


About Napoleon Bonaparte

By Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager

“The man fitted for affairs and authority never considers individuals, but things and their consequences.” –Napoleon Bonaparte (Date unknown)

Napoleone Buonaparte was born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio, Corsica. He was the fourth child of Carlo Buonaparte, a lawyer, and his wife, Letizia Ramolino. The Corsican Buonapartes were descended from minor Italian nobility from Tuscany and it was through these noble connections along with his father’s successful law career and political connections that Napoleon had the privilege to study more than the typical Corsican. He excelled in his studies and was the first Corsican to graduate from the École Militaire.

1954.158.3 Napoleon Bonaparte

“Napoléon Bonaparte,” Jean Baptiste Isabey, 1806, MdHS, 1954.158.3

Napoleon was strong-willed and determined trusting only himself; in his words “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.” Bonaparte, an excellent military strategist, well-versed in the art of deception and espionage, used the great political unrest in France as an opportunity to rise quickly through the military ranks, and ultimately setting the stage for a coup.

He was elected First Consul by the French people but was not satisfied.  Eventually, he reinstated the monarchy and was crowned Emperor Napoleon I by Pope Pius VII in 1804.

He believed that much of his success was destined by God, but he also believed that one should take advantage of opportunities, and in doing so, one should take into account not the individuals involved, “but things and their consequences.” His glory and that of France were all that mattered.

In 1805, General Denis Decres wrote to Jerome that “he (Napoleon) considers himself as having no family but the French people; everything unconnected with the glory and happiness of France is indifferent to him.” His younger brother’s marriage to an American, even one with remarkable wealth and extraordinary beauty, had no benefit to France. Napoleon had more glorious plans for Jerome…

About Jerome Bonaparte

By Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager

“I just love beautiful things.” – Jerome Bonaparte to his brother Napoleon

Jerome Bonaparte was born in Corsica on November 15, 1784, the youngest of thirteen children, of whom only eight survived to adulthood. His father, Carlo Buonaparte, was a successful lawyer despite the fact he had never finished his schooling and his mother, Letizia Ramolino, was known to be quite harsh at times but also very caring and down to earth.

XX.5.52 Jerome Bonaparte

“Jérôme Napoléon Bonaparte,” Scotlo, 1805, MdHS, XX.5.52

Jerome was four months old when his father died of stomach cancer leaving the family with a mountain of debt, a few vineyards, and an olive orchard. Letizia successfully managed the family finances for years, but when Jerome was eight years old, the family fled unrest in Corsica and settled in Marseilles, France. While Mrs. Bonaparte and her three daughters took in laundry as a way to make ends meet, young Jerome ran in the streets.

Older brother Napoleon, a rising general in the French army, urged his little brother to become a good student but Jerome preferred to study girls and to spend his brother’s money. In a final attempt to straighten his brother out, Napoleon sent him to the navy.

Though Jerome was brave and received promotions it did not tame him. At the age of nineteen, Jerome was serving in the Caribbean and, to avoid capture by the British, he fled to the U.S. Once there he lived lavishly, going to balls, wearing the finest clothes and living in the best rooms; money was no object.

Napoleon had once chided him for his frivolous purchases and Jerome responded, “I just love beautiful things.” It was this love of beautiful things, women especially, that undoubtedly drew him to the stunning and vivacious Elizabeth Patterson…