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…