Provides an important revision of the causes of the failure of France's Vine and Olive Colony in Alabama, placing it within the context of America's westward expansion
Bonapartists in the Borderlands debunks the standard account of the Vine and Olive Colony, which stresses the failure of aristocratic, luxury-loving French to tame the wilderness. Rafe Blaufarb recounts how Napoleonic exiles and French refugees from Europe and the Caribbean joined forces with Latin American insurgents, Gulf pirates, and international adventurers to seek their fortune in the Gulf borderlands. The US Congress welcomed the French and granted them a capacious tract of rich Black Belt land near Demopolis, Alabama, on the condition that they would establish a Mediterranean-style Vine and Olive colony.
Blaufard shows that it was not a lack of grit that caused the enterprise to fail. Rather, the Napoleonic officers involved in the colony sold their land shares to speculators to finance an even more perilous adventure—invading the Texas borderlands contested by Spain and the US. Their departure left the Vine and Olive colony in the hands of French refugees from the Haitian slave revolt. They soon abandoned vine cultivation and fused with the neighboring communities of Anglo-American slaveholding cotton planters and speculators.
Rafe Blaufarb examines the underlying motivations and aims that inspired this endeavor and details the nitty-gritty politics, economics, and backroom bargaining that resulted in the settlement. He employs a wide variety of local, national, and international resources: from documents held by the Alabama State Archives, Marengo County court records, and French-language newspapers published in America to material from the War Ministry Archives at Vincennes, the Diplomatic Archives at the Quai d’Orasy, and the French National Archives.