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Lake Bonaparte: A royal hideaway

Lake Bonaparte: A royal hideaway
Published: May. 13, 2022 at 6:22 AM EDT
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In today’s North Country History Lesson, Emily Griffin takes us to the town of Diana to tell us about Lake Bonaparte’s ties to the royal family of Napoleon Bonaparte.

LAKE BONAPARTE, New York (WWNY) - Beautiful Lake Bonaparte is a known spot for campers and boaters to find a summer retreat -- an escape from reality, even.

In the early 1800s, the brother of the notorious Napoleon Bonaparte had the same idea.

Bonaparte, the notorious Emperor of France, was waging war on Europe from 1803-1815.

During that time, he named his brother Joseph King of Naples and King of Spain, titles he never wanted.

After his brother’s downfall, Joseph was all too excited to flee to America. He became friends with another Frenchman named James Le Ray de Chaumont, who -- you guessed it -- owned a lot of land in the north country.

Joseph bought a large plot from Le Ray, changed his name, and set sail for his American hiding place.

“He owned all of Lake Bonaparte at one time,” said Diana town historian Ross Young.

But he didn’t name it that. Joseph was not like Napoleon. He liked working with his hands, he was respected by his neighbors, and he loved the outdoors.

When he saw the lush forest of the area he bought, he named it Diana after the Greek goddess of the hunt.

He knew his French wife would not like living off the land, so she stayed in Europe. But Joseph met an American Quaker mistress, who he made a life with at Lake Diana.

“This is Caroline Bonaparte Benton, the daughter of Joseph Bonaparte and Annette Savage, his mistress,” Young said, indicating a photo.

They lived in a house in Natural Bridge. When winters came around, they’d head south to New Jersey.

After a few years of enjoying a simpler life, Joseph returned to Europe where he died. The lake was renamed after him and visitors to this day enjoy the same escape he did as a former king.

When Joseph returned to Europe, Annette and his daughter Caroline stayed here.

Caroline lived her whole life in Jefferson County and is buried in Oxbow. On her grave, though, there’s no mention that she’s the daughter of a king or the niece of Napoleon.

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