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The Vine and Olives - The French in Alabama

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Purpose of Project

The purpose of this project is to identify the settlers of the Vine and Olive colony in Alabama, to build their trees on Geni, and to determine where the families went after the colony collapsed in the late 1830's. Even though this project focuses on Bonapartist exiles, it complements the many Huguenot projects, in that these were French immigrants to an English-speaking nation, coming from exile and hoping to find a better world. It is worth noting that many, if not most, of the settlers were refugees from the revolution in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) who had encountered the Bonapartist exiles in Philadelphia.

Background

French exiles, banished from France by King Louis XVIII, assumed that olives and grapes would flourish in America .and brought with them carefully protected shoots and stock of their native olive trees and grape vines. Because of these shoots and cuttings, their colony was called "Vine and Olives."

The Vine and Olive Colony was an effort started by the French Emigrant Association, made up of high-ranking officials and followers of Napoleon fearing for their lives after the restoration of Louis XVIII to the French throne. In the fall of 1816 the group, headed by the former General Charles Lallemand, decided to petition Washington, D.C. for four townships upon which they could settle. They began scouting the western frontiers of the Southern United States for an appropriate place upon which to establish their colony. They selected a location the Black Warrior and Tombigbee Rivers meet. The United States Congress agreed to allow them to settle and on 3 March 1817 approved an act that granted them four contiguous townships totaling 92,160 acres (373.0 km2) of land for the price of $2 per acre on the condition that they cultivate grapes and olives. This condition was because several other Bonapartist colonies in the world were thought to be little more than military operations with the intention of returning Napoleon to power.

The Vine and Olive colonists, numbering more than 300 people, discovered in early 1818 that their first town at Demopolis did not lie within the land grants given to them by Congress and moved one mile (1.6 km) east. They named this site Aigleville, in honor of the French Imperial Eagle, the standard used by the Grande Armée of Napoleon. . There they built pioneer-style log cabins on their town lots.

Each settler owned three separate lots, a town lot, a garden lot, and a farm. Without roads or passageway, they often did not have means of transportation to reach their larger allotments. Sometimes they found other settlers claiming their allotted land by squatters rights.

After many years of trial and error in the new country as well as a severe drought, the vine and olive crops failed and many settlers died of fevers and disease, yet they persisted. Most of them were aristocratic military families who had become accustomed to the luxury of the courts of Paris. It is said that women went about the frontier chores in their brocaded gowns and satin slippers. The men, dressed in tri-colored cocked hats, crimson capes and insignia of rank, worked with steers and wooden plows. The life was so severe that many of those who could afford the trip returned to France when amnesty was granted by Louis Phillipe. Colonists who remained in the area intermarried with the Americans.

Prominent colonists owned the largest allotments. These included

  • Honore Bayol,
  • Jean-Marie Chapron,
  • Jean-Simone Chaudron,
  • General Bertrand Clausel,
  • Colonel Jean-Jerome Cluis,
  • Charles DeBrosse,
  • General Lefèbvre Desnoëttes,
  • Édouard George,
  • Auguste Follin,
  • Marc-Antoine Frenage,
  • Joseph Lakanal,
  • General Charles Lallemand and his brother Henri-Dominique Lallemand,
  • Michael LeBouttellier,
  • Bazile Meslier,
  • Stephen Nidelet,
  • Colonel Nicholas-Simon Parmentier,
  • Guillaume Promis,
  • Jean Penieres,
  • Frederic Ravesies,
  • Count Pierre-François Réal,
  • General Antoine Rigaud,
  • Francis Stollenwerck,
  • Francois Teterel,
  • General Dominique Vandamme.

A few of these men, such as the Lallemand brothers, never lived in the colony. They remained elsewhere and eventually sold their allotments.

Please jump in and help! It is believed that 300 people lived in the colony but we don't have a complete list of names. Feel free to add additional sources and background material that will be useful to other researchers.

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