THE VINE & OLIVE COLONISTS view their new home
It is Spring 1817. These elegant personages have arrived after a long journey at their new colony on White Bluffs, the banks of the rolling Tombigbee River. They will become planters and transform the vast Wilderness into a sea of grape and olive groves. They will call their colony Demopolis -- City of the People.
They are exiles from France, romantic survivors, veterans of war, figures in the French Revolution, forced to leave their native countries to make fortunes in the New World. The men are former high-ranking officers and friends of Napopleon Bonaparte-- the French Emperor Napoleon. They have first reached Philadelphia where they made arrangements for a schooner south and provisions.
The boat, commanded by a captain using improper charts, is caught in a storm and run aground. A Lieutenant Beal, fires an alarm and citizenry ashore see the peril. The beleaguered French are rescued and make their way into the port city of Mobile, Alabama, where they are given a fine welcome by the citizens. The colonists stay briefly to rest in Mobile and long enough to be entertained in a generous manner; there are dinners and dances every night. They are treated like royalty.
Then the colonists board longboats and begin the move upriver. Soon they reach Ft. Stoddert where they dine with Judge Harry Toulmin. Later the party makes camp at old Fort Tombechbe; nearby is the home of George Gaines, United States Choctaw factor, and his wife, who receive the French visitors with warm hospitality and a fine meal is enjoyed by all. Next they visit St. Stephens, where there are many refined citizens-- this is the town that will become the first capitol of the new state of Alabama in 1819. The journey seems to be one party after another!
When the colonists finally reach the area designated for their site, they are struck by the silence and the overwhelming LACK of accomodations. They almost miss the beauty of the place. But after awhile, they gather their wits and, optimists that they are, they set about building shelters and laying out their idyllic town.
Among the colonists are such notables as Count Lefebvre Desnouettes, cavalry officer and lieutenant general who was with Napoleon on the march to Russia. (It is said that when Napoleon prepared to leave for Elba, he said to his troops, "I cannot take leave of you all, but will embrace General Desnouettes in behalf of you all.") Colonel Nicholas Raoul had accompanied Napoleon to Elba. His wife, the beautiful, bejewled former Marchioness of Sinbaldi, former maid of honor to Queen Caroline of Naples, has brought her children from a former marriage. Others among them are Monsieur Peniers, once part of the National Assembly who had condemned Louis XVI, General Count Bertrand Clausel, General Juan Rico, Lt.-General Henri L'Allemmand, J. J. Cluis, Simon Chaudron, the genius Monsieur Lacaknal and Basil Meslier; many have brought their wives and children.
They make a disturbing discovery! They are building on the wrong site! They move and resettle. Then they discover they are still in the wrong place and are forced to move yet again! It is too late by then to plant their crops. And the colonists are ill-suited for life as planters. Their clothes are all wrong too. Imagine the ladies working the fields in their gossamer silk dresses and beribboned slippers! The summer heat is oppressive. Winters are cold and rainy and not much fun! It is said that the men, not knowing how to clear land, hitch 30 horses to a tree to pull it up and still can't bring it down. There IS plenty of food -- game in the forests and fish in the waters; they have brought great quantities of provisions and they do maintain good kitchen gardens. Evenings are wonderful with gala parties, though, with dancing and music, now in salons of crude cabins, instead of palatial homes.
Eventually, however, before 2 or 3 years pass, it is apparent the colony is failing. The colonists, ever noble, go on to new adventures. there are many more stories of all. The Raouls will go to Mexico where the Colonel will join in the Revolution there, then they finally return to France where Raoul rejoins the French Army. Count Desnouettes will sail home to France only to be lost at sea within sight of shore. Clausel will be appointed by King Louis Phillipe, as governor of Algeria. Chaudron will stay on in Mobile, never even going to Demopolis, supporting himself by driving a vegetable cart, and living to an old age. Peniers will go to the Spanish Territory in Florida and become the government agent to the Seminoles. Cluis, former secretary to the Duke of Rivago, has settled in nearby Greensboro and will live out his life there, running a tavern. L'Allemmand will move on to Texas with a group of settlers and they will be robbed by the pirate Jean LaFitte. Many return to France.
Notes4U: There is no visible clue left from the Vine & Olive Colonists. Find now things of Spring that were there then and there now. Find Coreopsis, golden-bright, Wild Strawberries, a Bumblebee, a Great Blue Heron, a black King Snake, a Dragonfly, Tawny Emperors -- butterflies fresh from cocoons-- and Ferns that have been here forever. Of the colonists, the stories remain.
Illustrations and stories by Carol Middleton 1998, 1999
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