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Napoleon Bonaparte University celebrates 200th anniversary with international festivities in St. Marys, Savannah and Jacksonville

Napoleon Bonaparte University celebrates 200th anniversary with international festivities in St. Marys, Savannah and Jacksonville


On September 1st, the world comes to the South Atlantic Coast to honor a university’s two centuries of contributions to science, medicine, engineering and the arts, plus the man, who walked away from being Emperor of France to become a science professor in the United States . . . Dr. Napoleon Bonaparte.   At High Noon, the President of France will unveil a massive statue of Dr. Napoleon Bonaparte on the south end of Cumberland Island, overlooking St. Marys Sound and Amelia Island, Florida.  The statue is 50 meters tall and symbolizes the close cultural ties between the United States and France.  Members of the French community in Atlanta will place flowers on Napoleon’s statue at the State Capitol, while French descendants, citizens and expatriates from throughout North America will be attending a ceremony at Napoleon’s grave on Bonaparte Square in Downtown Savannah.   A dramatic reenactment of Napoleon’s escape from the HMS Gloucester will be held at sunset next to Factors Walk in Savannah.  On September 4th the same outdoor drama will be performed on the waterfront in Jacksonville.


Statue of Napoleon on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta.

Statue of Napoleon on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta.  It portrays him as soldier, before he became a professor.


Painting of dramatic scene when the HMS Gloucester captured Napoleon's ship.

Painting of dramatic scene when the HMS Gloucester captured Napoleon’s ship.

How different the world would be today had not events gone differently on July 15, 1815.  It was one of the most dramatic events of the 19th century.  As a boatload of British Royal Marines from the HMS Gloucester approached the starboard side of a small French merchant ship outside of Rochelle, France,  Yankee seamen rowed Dr. Bonaparte through the fog to the fast American clipper ship, the SS Altamaha.  The Altamaha quickly outraced the entire British fleet and landed its precious cargo in Savannah, GA.

From there, long time French Huguenot residents of Savannah secreted the former Emperor to a plantation near Macon.  After it was clear that Great Britain would not try to seize him as long as he stayed in the United States, Dr. Bonaparte began rebuilding his life among French expatriates, living along the St. Marys River.  Within a year, he was presiding over the ground-breaking for what was to become the world’s greatest university.  Once the university’s first buildings were completed, he began developing his plantation on the Altamaha River.  Ironically, the barns and sheds at New Corsica Plantation dwarf the modest cottage that Napoleon built for his second wife, Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma. The former Crown Princess of Austria quickly tired of living on a rural plantation and pressured her husband to move to a large home in booming Savannah.  The Bonapartes spent most the next three decades in Savannah.

Georgia Marble statue of Napoleon in the Rotunda of the National Capitol in Washington, DC

Georgia Marble statue of Napoleon in the Rotunda of the National Capitol in Washington, DC

Had the British Marines captured Napoleon, only his closest confidants would have known his plans to “chuck it all”  and move to Southeastern Georgia in the United States.  Napoleon’s secret dream had always been to found the world’s greatest university and spend the rest of his life as a science professor.  He also dreamed of owning a “Southern” plantation, where he could experiment with crops and steam technology.  Historians have long speculated that after the horrific destruction of the French army by Russias’s winter weather in 1812,  Napoleon subconsciously was looking for a honorable way to vacate his obligations to continue being a “world conqueror” so that he could actualize his dreams of living in a young, growing nation in the New World.

New Corsica Plantation was really more of a massive agricultural laboratory and machinery work shop than a true plantation.  Bonaparte freed any slaves that he purchased, while the invention of the steam tractor by a team of brilliant French engineers under his employment, quickly made slavery obsolete.   Bonaparte persuaded politicians in the United States Congress to switch to the metric system, which was actually invented by Thomas Jefferson.  He also made several tours of the United States to promote the development of municipal water and sewerage systems. Bonaparte died, while visiting New Orleans,in 1849 at the age of 70. 

The Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Napoleon Bonaparte was on a French ship headed for St. Marys, GA when he was captured by the crew of the HMS Gloucester on July 15, 1825.   The recently abdicated emperor had planned to realize his long time dream of owning a plantation in Southeast Georgia.  He also planned to found the world’s greatest university in the vicinity of St. Marys then teach science and math there.  A little known fact is that there was network of French-owned Indian trading posts and farmsteads in southern Georgia that probably predated the founding of Savannah in 1733.  The original name of Waycross, GA . . . near the source of the St. Marys River . . . was Tebeauville.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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