Joseph Bonaparte, Trenton Marsh, Abbott Farm


Did you know that Thomas Paine lived in Bordentown?  Did you know that Clara Barton had a school in Bordentown?  Did you know the town’s name is from Joseph Borden, who in the early 1700s, settled along the Delaware River between Philadelphia and New York.  I grew up in Bristol, across the river from Bordentown.  I don’t remember ever visiting.  Burlington, yes; Bordentown, no.  But  I clearly remember a story that Joseph Boneparte, brother of Napoleon, who was an exile in the U.S., bought an estate in Bordentown, and frequently took his barge across the river to visit a  Misss Keene on Radcliffe street in Bristol.  It was said he had tea and played cards, I always wondered if there was more to the relationship.

This past weekend Diane and I went to the Trent House (William Trent, father of Trenton), for a lecture about Joseph Boneparte’s estate, Point Breeze, in Bordertown. The speaker, Richard Viet, from Monmouth  University was excellent — informed and funny.  Joseph, former King of Spain and Naples, fled to the U.S. after his brother’s defeat at Waterloo. He lived in Philadelphia for a while but established a grand estate on the river on the edge of Bordentown.  His house (the first one burned) was magnificent.  It was filled with art work; he enjoyed entertaining.   He lived a lavish life;  had two children with his mistress.  His two daughters from his wife (who wasn’t interested in coming to the U.S.) visited so Joseph rented the mistress a house near his property. Joseph seemed to enjoy his life in the U.S.  His original purchase continued to grow as he bought up land, much of it adjacent with the original purchase. He may have even flipped some property.


We might wonder how a deposed King, paid for all of this.  One story describes how he sent a trusted assistant back to Europe — I believe Switzerland where he had a grand house — to recover a buried chest.  His orders were to recover the cheast and bring it immediately to Joseph.  The Spanish Crown Jewels were in the chest.  When he needed cash he sold a few gems.

Some of Joseph’s property was the area around the Trenton Marsh and the Abbott Farm site which is a National Historic Landmark.  The area, about 2,000 acres, much of it freshwater tidal marsh, is a famous Native American archaeological site   It may have been occupied 10,000 years ago up through the 18th century. The tract is named for Charles Conrad Abbott, born in Trenton in 1843 but spent much of his life living near the marshland, collecting Native American artifacts and studying the natural environment. Abbott believed the native population occupied the area much earlier that was commonly accepted.  Although his dating theory was wrong, he put New Jersey on the archaeological map.


Diane and I “discovered” Bordentown about two years ago.  We found the Point Breeze property — now owned by a Catholic order.  Joseph’s house was too grand for a later owner and was torn down.  We walked around Bordentown’s commercial streets — several interesting restaurants, a fantastic bookstore, with shelves and shelves devoted to NJ history.  We found Crosswicks Creek, the Delaware and Raritan Canal, and the local train station.  Most surprising was the statue of Thomas Paine  and the small Clara Barton School.  We liked Bordentown and planned on returning to find access to the marsh and the Abbott Farm site.  Before we got to return for our explore, the Trenton Museum in Cadwalader  Park had a interpretative display and photography show on Abbott Marsh.  Got to find the Trenton Marsh!

It finally happened this past weekend.  Google and the State of New Jersey were no help.  We could find nothing around Bordentown.  We explored Lamberton Road and Duck Island, an exit off of Route 29,  along the river.  The Marsh was all round us but the only signage we saw was related to the Delaware and Raritan Canal trail. We did find a sewage treatment plant and other riverside industrial buildings.  The area is reminiscent of the river corner of Falls Township with GROWS landfill, an incinerator, old U.S. Steel buildings, and a host of other out of sight industries.  But Pennsylvania at least some erects signs letting you know how to find William Penn’s Pennsbury Manor.  Not New Jersey.  Someone wrote that Abbotts Farm was NJ’s best kept secret.

There are many relevant documents online. I finally found some clues.  There were access points in John Roebling Memorial Park.  Even an interpretative center.  Several streets were mentioned — Google  maps kicked in and we were led along 206 in Trenton.  There were several places to turn off 206.  Our first find was Bow Hill — now a Ukranian Cultural Center — the house Joseph Bonaparte rented for his mistress (and mother of two daughters), Annette Savage.  But no access to the marsh.


Furthur up 206 we turned off again.  No sign directed us until we were on a side street, just several blocks from Roebling Park. There was access to Trenton Marsh or Abbott Marsh as its sometimes called and the Abbott Historical site.  We drove past the colonial era Watson house — sometimes opened to the public.  Finally a short road with views of the marsh, not very attractive at low tide, black ducks to match the black sludge of marsh earth.  In the distance we saw Interstare highways, the Sewage plant along the river.  There were a few walking paths, very muddy  due to the snow.  And two interpretative signs — one devoted to water trails, the other to the Abbot archaeological historic site.

imageThere is an interpretative center, archaeologists have led tours, we found several other colonial era buildings, owned by the state but in disrepair and probably not yet opened to the public. We will return, now that we know at least one actress point.  A canoe explore would be interesting; try walking a trail.  I believe there are programs offered, maybe through the Interpretative center when it is open.  I’d also like to read more about Joseph Banaparte, Professor Veit mentioned a new biography, “The Man Who Had Been King: the American exile of Napoleon’s brother Joseph” by Patricia Tyson Stroud. So many connection to explore.  Why did we never visit the Bordentown area when we lived in Bristol?