Royal retreat

Falls near Schooley’s Spring.

DURING the first decades that swift stages traversed the breadth of northern New Jersey, whose roads while judged by an early commentator “not so good” were nonetheless “absolutely turnpiked,” an ever swelling tide of travelers made for Schooley’s Mountain, one of the earliest leisure destinations in the United States.1

As European colonizers became aware of this Morris County locale, the mineral spring near the summit drew chiefly the invalid and infirm, who drank or soaked in its waters in hopes of relief, or a cure. But by the time of William A. Whitehead’s visit in July 1830, therapeutic benefits, combined with fresh air and mountain scenery, were vying for popularity with the peculiar charms of social connection. A more chaste version, perhaps, of the springs at Saratoga, Schooley’s Mountain appealed in similar ways to members of a growing leisure class, hungry for the intelligence, fashion and beauty found in the company of others like them.

William, with his older brother John, followed the crowds. The public stage from Morristown being full, they hired a private coach to carry them westward.  A spur of the turnpike branching north zigzagged for a mile to the mountaintop, depositing the Whiteheads at Belmont Hall, one of the two principal hostelries at Schooley’s.2

Although darkness had fallen, the brothers opted after their long journey for a restorative visit to the springs. “Deceived as to the distance,” which measured, Whitehead recalled, an entire mile, they were to find the “constant descent” to the spring house doubly arduous when it came time to retrace their steps. At the bottom John had a plunge in the cold spring while William, “feeling no desire to be half frozen,” was satisfied with “taking it internally….” William’s recollections neither confirm nor contradict descriptions of the water as tasteless and flat, but he did admit to skepticism “of its influence upon our constitutions.”

Belmont Hall, as the brothers Whitehead encountered it, was a far cry from what it had been. An 1817 visitor described comfortable but modest lodgings within 30 yards of the waters: “from this house the invalid may step to the spring and drink at his pleasure….”3 But the Hall’s enterprising owner, Conover Bowne, had since opened an expanded hotel “on the highest and most pleasant part of the Mountain….” Newspapers from Boston to Savannah publicized the new Belmont, with its three-story main house, outbuildings and gardens, as “a most healthy and gratifying summer retreat” for as many as a hundred guests at a time.4

Conover Bowne and his son Peter swapped or shared ownership in the years following, and the Belmont’s attractions continued to grow. For those taking the waters, there was “a spacious plunging and shower Bath” at a convenient distance from the Hall.  But the owners, and many of their guests, were absorbed with other, more sophisticated amenities. Advertisements boasted of well-stocked wine cellars, the choicest liquors and beers, the “good and obedient servants” who made up their staff, the best cooks and waiters brought from Philadelphia and New York for the summer. There were ladies’ and gentlemen’s parlors equipped with pianos and other instruments; billiard tables, nine-pin alleys, shuffle boards; horses and carriages for hire; even water brought from Saratoga Springs, for those who preferred that vintage. All these attractions heightened the excitement of a trip to Schooley’s Mountain, and its appeal “to the gay and fashionable as well as to the valetudinarian.”5

A two-night stay was not sufficient to sample so many delights, and William deemed only the company of “the ladies” worth mentioning, inasmuch as it enhanced all the rest. None of the other guests left lasting or favorable impressions on him. There was an attractive young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Low: “A sufficient time had elapsed however since the marriage, to render any extra attentions on his part towards his wife superfluous, at least he appeared to think so.” Also staying at the Belmont was Samuel Judah, a New York attorney and playwright who “bore but a ‘slight impress’ of talent….” Judah’s “small twinkling eyes” lent him “an expression rather dubious,” while his long, bewhiskered head somewhat resembled that of an axe attached to its handle. Whitehead must have found him rather a bore: “However well he may write,” he confided, “his conversation was far from being void of inaccuracies both in grammar & pronunciation.”6

Joseph Bonaparte (left) and Samuel Judah.

Of the legions of Belmont Hall visitors over the years, many of interest and influence, there were few as illustrious as Joseph Bonaparte, the elder brother of Napoleon living in exile after losing the throne of Spain in 1815.  Self-styled the Comte de Survilliers, a nod to one of his properties north of Paris, Joseph designed and presided over a grand estate on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, south of Trenton. As a devotee of nature, high society and fine living, Joseph traveled often, and stopped regularly at Schooley’s Mountain.7 Belmont Hall’s owner even claimed the ex-king had once offered him $2000 for the place, so delighted was he “with the situation.”8

William Whitehead’s brief sojourn at the Belmont wasn’t the sole concurrence of his life with that of Joseph Bonaparte. When the former monarch set about fashioning his estate along the Delaware, the law then in force barred him from owning the lands outright. As a citizen of another country, Bonaparte had to arrange for his agent, James Carret, to sign for the property and hold it in trust. But at the New Jersey legislature’s next session, and within the space of a week, James Parker of Perth Amboy ushered into law “An act to authorize aliens to purchase and hold real estate within this State.”9

A formidable figure in New Jersey politics, James Parker was to loom large in Whitehead’s adult life as well. He was founding president of the Perth Amboy bank where William and his father worked as courier and cashier, respectively. His tenure as Perth Amboy’s collector of customs overlapped William’s own years as collector at Key West. Most consequentially, Parker’s daughter Margaret would be Whitehead’s wife and the mother of his children. Later, Parker became the first vice-president, then president, of the state historical society that his son-in-law served as corresponding secretary from its beginnings.

Believing the ban on foreigners’ land tenure “a relic of a barbarous age, and prejudicial to the interests of the State,” Parker insisted that his reform was devoid of any special consideration for the former king of Spain.10 Yet the assumption that New Jersey legislators had had Bonaparte in mind was almost universal. It seems that Joseph himself thought the new law was enacted expressly for his benefit. And few writers since have accepted the contention of “honest James Parker” that that benefit was entirely a coincidence.11 The hospitality New Jersey showed to a foreign aristocrat, although soon imitated elsewhere, supposedly led outsiders to mock the state as a “New Spain,” and its inhabitants as “Spaniards,” for their eagerness to have a king dwell among them.12

Beautiful Budd Lake.

Royalty, even when deposed or disgraced, rarely fails to cause a sensation when living within the confines of the American republic. In Joseph Bonaparte’s case, it seems to have fueled sundry attempts to entice the ex-king to settle elsewhere than he did, or claims that it had been his desire to do so.13 Whitehead may have been the first to record such a story, which has evolved into one of the most enduring, if not the most consistent of narratives.

On their last afternoon at Schooley’s Mountain, the Whiteheads rode with the Lows to the attractive site of Budd Lake, seven miles distant. Here they met “a very excentric character” in the person of Colonel John Budd, who kept an inn on the shore. Budd regaled his guests with the saga of what happened when “King Joe,” as he called the ex-monarch, came ready to purchase Budd’s share in the lake and adjacent lands. The selling price had been fixed at $15,000, when Bonaparte’s young niece ran up bearing a caricature of Napoleon that she had found in the house. Denouncing the drawing as an “Ugly thing,” Joseph called off the deal.14

As a corrective to this tale Whitehead recorded another version that he heard “at the house” (Colonel Budd’s house, or perhaps Belmont Hall). Bonaparte, the story went, took it for an insult that Budd had welcomed “His Majesty” in shirt sleeves, barefooted and with trousers rolled up to his knees, but was even more incensed when Budd himself showed him the caricature, to prove he knew that he was in the presence of royalty: “you,” Budd said confidently, pointing to an image of Napoleon savaged by a Russian bear, “are the brother of that there man.” The ex-king “tore the print into a thousand pieces of course,” and beat a hasty retreat.

At this encounter with Colonel Budd, and Budd’s supposed encounter with Bonaparte, Whitehead must have had difficulty concealing his amusement. No doubt he found both stories suspect: the alternative version, he wrote, “from what I saw of the Colonel may be equally believed with his own.” As Budd’s retelling came from one of the parties to the altercation, Whitehead perhaps had little choice but to repeat it, reservedly, until the truth was shown to be otherwise. Later embellishments of the quarrel have included the exchange of harsh words, a saber and even bullets,15 but of skepticism not so much as a hint.

Copyright © 2022-2023 Gregory J. Guderian

[1] Laicus, “Letter I,” New-York (N.Y.) evening post 22 July 1817 2:1. For Schooley’s Mountain Springs in general, see Harry B. Weiss and Howard R. Kemble, They took to the waters. The forgotten mineral spring resorts of New Jersey and nearby Pennsylvania and Delaware (Trenton, N.J. 1962; hereafter “Weiss and Kemble”), esp. 27-33.

[2] The other was Heath House where the Whiteheads would find most visitors were staying, “something of a disappointment for but little enjoyment is to be had at such places, unless you can become members of a crowd.” This and succeeding quotations come from pages 2-6 of W. A. W[hitehead], Memorandums of peregrinations by land & water recorded for my own amusement, vol. 2nd, 1-2, Key West Art & Historical Society. For Heath House’s early history, see Weiss and Kemble 50-55.

[3] Laicus, “Letter I,” 2:2.

[4] “Belmont Hall,” The New-York (N.Y.) evening post 26 May 1820 3:1.

[5] The national gazette and literary register (Philadelphia, Pa.) 26 July 1825 1:2; “Schooley’s Mountain Springs. Belmont Hall,” Sentinel of freedom (Newark, N.J.) 1 August 1826 1:4. Cf. The national gazette and literary register 17 July 1829 2:5, 6 July 1830 2:5.

[6] Whitehead saw the one work of Judah’s he named, The buccaneers; a romance of our own country in its ancient day (1827), as patterned on the historical satires of Washington Irving, an author he greatly admired.

[7] Bonaparte’s first visit to Belmont Hall is thought to have occurred in July 1820: Joseph Warren Greene Jr., “Schooley’s Mountain Springs,” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society 51:2 (April 1933) (176-190) 183-184.

[8] “Letter from one of the editors,” Savannah (Ga.) Georgian 23 September 1828 2:4.

[9] On Friday, 17 January 1817, Parker proposed that a special committee look into the expediency of such an act. The committee, headed by Parker, introduced the bill on the following Monday in the General Assembly, which passed it on Tuesday. The Legislative Council, New Jersey’s upper chamber, gave its unanimous assent on Wednesday, 22 January.  Votes and proceedings of the forty-first General Assembly of the state of New-Jersey, at a session begun at Trenton, on the twenty-second day of October, A. D. one thousand eight hundred and sixteen, and continued by adjournments. Being the second sitting (Bridgeton, N.J.: printed by Peter Hay, 1817) 111, 124, 127-128; Journal of the proceedings of the Legislative Council of the State of New-Jersey. Convened, in general assembly, at Trenton, Wednesday, the eighth day of January, one thousand eight hundred and seventeen. Being the second sitting of the Forty-First Session (Elizabeth-town, N.J.: Printed by Shepard Kollock, 1816) 1983-1984, 1987.

[10] Richard S. Field, Address on the life and character of the Hon. James Parker, late president of the New Jersey Historical Society, … read before the Society, January 21, 1869 (Newark 1869) 7-8; also printed in Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society ser. 2, 1:3 (1869) (109-139) 115-116.

[11] Bonaparte and others could be forgiven for the misunderstanding, if a misunderstanding it was. New Jersey’s governor wrote to the ex-king that the bill’s final section, which made its provisions retroactive, “was intended particularly for your case.” Mahlon Dickerson, Trenton 28 January 1817, to the Count Survilliers, Mailliard Family papers, MS 341, Box 2/9. Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. From this letter it was easy to conclude that the entire law “was enacted expressly for his case”; see Biographical sketch of Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte, Count de Survilliers (London 1834) 95-96.

[12] “Why New Jersey is called a foreign country,” Daily national republican (Washington, D.C.) 7 October 1871 2:2, reprinted in Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society ser. 2, 2:4 (1871) 190-1; Georges Bertin, Joseph Bonaparte en Amérique (Paris 1893; hereafter “Bertin”) 33 n.1; Alfred M. Heston, ed. South Jersey. A history 1664-1924 (4 vols. New York and Chicago 1924) 1:96 n.3.

[13] One of the first places Bonaparte considered living in exile was said to be Perth Amboy, Whitehead’s hometown in 1830. The former colonial governor’s mansion then known as Brighton House was being prepared for the ex-king’s occupancy soon after he arrived in America (“Joseph Bonaparte,” The true American [Trenton, N.J.] 18 September 1815 3:2), but Joseph allegedly rejected the arrangement when Andrew Bell declined to remove houses that blocked the view: W. Jay Mills, Historic houses of New Jersey (Philadelphia 1902) 137-138. Would-be sellers may have overestimated Joseph’s wealth, or his willingness to spend it: see Bertin 37.

[14] In Whitehead’s retelling, the discoverer of the drawing was the daughter of Jérôme Bonaparte, Joseph’s youngest brother. Jérôme is known to have had only one daughter, Mathilde, who could have been on a visit to Joseph, her uncle and godfather. Joanna Richardson, Princess Mathilde (London 1969) 6. Some later versions (see note 15) identify the girl as one of Joseph’s daughters.

[15] John Budd died in 1845, a year after Joseph. His obituary notice states: “The late Joseph Bonaparte once offered Col. B. a large sum for his farm, but he declined to sell.” Newark (N.J.) daily advertiser 16 June 1845 2:2. More elaborate versions of the disagreement contain many inconsistencies: Budd refused to remove the illustration of Napoleon’s defeat, whereupon Joseph “tore it from the wall and dashed it upon the floor” (“Schooley’s Mountain and Budd Lake,” New-York [N.Y.] tribune 27 June 1874 3:5), tore up the documents drafted for the purchase (“Budd’s Lake,” The Philadelphia [Pa.] inquirer 20 August 1886 7:3), fired a pistol at Budd, or hurled the picture at the wall (“Bonaparte at Budd’s Lake,” The Monmouth inquirer [Freehold, N.J.] 23 February 1893 2:2), or slashed it with his sword, then threw it at Budd, who “called for a gun to shoot the ‘coward’” (“Joseph Bonaparte once at Budd Lake,” The Brooklyn [N.Y.] daily eagle 24 May 1917 8:2). A Budd descendant claimed that Bonaparte had been drawn to the Colonel by their common French ancestry: The Budd family, address of Col. Enos Goble Budd, delivered at Budd’s Lake, Morris County, New Jersey, August 14th, 1878, at the first re-union, and letter of Capt. Thomas S. Budd. Minutes of the re-union. Address of Hon. A. C. Smith, September 8, 1880. And my grandfather’s history (New York 1881) 64-65.

Images: 1) J. Milbert, “Chûte près des bains de Schooley’s,” Itinéraire pittoresque du fleuve Hudson et des parties latérales. L’Amérique du Nord d’apres les dessins originaux pris sur les lieux (Paris 1828-1829). Special Collections, Newark Public Library, Newark, N.J. 2) Innocent-Louis Goubaud, Le roi Joseph à Point-Breeze (oil on canvas, 1832), Musée National du Château de Fontainebleau, via Wikimedia Commons. 3) Samuel Benjamin Helbert Judah (1804-1876), New-York Historical Society, via John L. Loeb, Jr. Database of Early American Jewish Portraits. 4) Springtime at Budd Lake, N. J., New Jersey State Library Postcard Collection.
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