Camellias in Tallahassee’s Maclay Gardens State Park (Credit: G. Kae, 2009)
Here’s an interesting story, especially for those of us who are interested in Florida history. I came across it quite accidentally while perusing an old 1919 issue of DAR Magazine, available on Internet Archive. By Clara Ryder Hayden, it gives a brief account of the fascinating life and times of Prince Charles Louis Napoleon Achille Murat (1801-1847), son of Joachim Murat, King of Naples, and Caroline Bonaparte—sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. Charles became an exile after the Napoleonic Wars and his father’s execution, and circumstances sent him on a trail of moves starting in Austria and ending in Florida in 1824, several years after Florida was acquired from Spain.
Initially Charles settled outside the city of St. Augustine where he purchased twelve hundred acres of land and was known by the locals for his rather eccentric behavior. The following year, he was encouraged by the Marquis de LaFayette (yes, that LaFayette) to purchase a 900-acre parcel to the east of Tallahassee which he subsequently named ‘Lipona’ (an anagram of ‘Napoli’ — the city his father had once ruled and which he himself had expected to rule one day).
Some of Tallahassee’s iconic moss-festooned trees in Maclay Gardens State Park (Credit: G. Kae, 2009)
Charles served as an alderman and as mayor of Tallahassee; and then as postmaster from 1826-1838. He also served as a Colonel in Florida’s Militia.
Those were pioneer days in Florida (statehood came later, in 1845), and Charles played an active role in the territory’s development. In 1826, the bachelor prince married the young 23-year-old widow Catherine Willis Gray (1803-1867), a great-grand niece of President George Washington. (Catherine had married at age 13, and became a widow that same year.)
A brief description of their activities together over subsequent years can be found both here in this DAR article and in numerous publications elsewhere (some links to resources are located below). Charles actually wrote several books about his life in America and view of the country and its people, but he did not achieve any literary success. Still, if you do a search on sites like Amazon, you will find his books among your search results. Sounds like they might make a curious read!
The couple spent some time back in Europe, but eventually returned to the US where they decided to try out life in New Orleans. But the Tallahassee environs seem to have held some sense of ‘home’ for them, for it was to there that they ultimately returned and there, at his plantation, that Charles died in 1847 at age 46.
Catherine outlived Charles by just over two decades and was able to live out her life very comfortably thanks to Napoleon III who had become very fond of her during her time in Europe. He ensured that she received both a lump sum upon Charles’ death and an annual lifelong stipend. Eventually she purchased her beloved Bellevue Plantation outside Tallahassee. She never remarried, but took on worthy causes such as the preservation of Mount Vernon. Though she freed her slaves after the Civil War, all chose to remain with her ’til her death. The devotion was mutual—she refused an invitation to return to Europe to live, saying she could not leave them behind.
Prince Murat portrait from DAR Magazine, Volume 53, 1919
Tallahassee’s Episcopal Cemetery holds the graves of this interesting couple (visit Find a Grave); their markers bear the following inscriptions:
Departed this life
April 18, 1847
Charles Louis Napoleon
The King of Naples
This Monument is Dedicated
By his Wife Catherine In
Perpetual Memory of
Catherine Willis Gray, Washington’s niece (DAR Magazine, Volume 53, 1919)
To the Memory of Princess C.A. Murat
Col. Charles Louis Napoleon
And Daughter of the late
Col. Bird C. Willis,
Who departed this life
On the 6th of August 1867
In the 64th year of her age
A kind and affectionate wife,
A sincere and devoted friend.
None knew her but to love her
None named her but to praise.
The DAR article follows. Enjoy! And have a good weekend. Looking forward to getting back to some family history in my next post. See you then!
DAR Magazine, Volume 53, 1919, p. 602
DAR Magazine, Volume 53, 1919, p. 604
DAR Magazine, Volume 53, 1919, p. 606
City of St. Augustine website
University of Florida Digital Collections
Article: “The Cracker Prince,” Tallahassee Magazine (Jul/Aug 2010)
Article: “The Florida Militia Napoleonic Connection,” Florida National Guard Department of Military Affairs