Prince Achille Murat
|Tenure||13 October 1815 – 15 April 1847|
|Spouse||Catherine Willis Gray|
|Born||21 January 1801|
|Died||15 April 1847(aged 46)|
Prince Achille Murat (21 January 1801 – 15 April 1847) was the eldest son of the upstart King of Naples during the First French Empire, and later the mayor of Tallahassee, Florida in the United States.
Murat was born in the Hôtel de Brienne in Paris, France. His father was Joachim Murat, the son of an affluent farmer and innkeeper, and one of Napoleon's loyal band who was made Marshal of France for his military service. Joachim was later awarded royal positions, including the throne of the Kingdom of Naples, despite his ardent republicanism. Achille's mother was Caroline Bonaparte, sister of Napoleon. She was styled Grand Duchess of Berg and Queen of Naples.
Exile in Austria and emigration to the United States
After Napoleon was exiled for a second time in 1815, Joachim Murat was subsequently deposed and executed by his own subjects. Young Achille and his siblings were taken by their mother into exile at the castle of Frohsdorf, near Vienna in Lower Austria. When he turned twenty-one, he obtained permission to emigrate to America, and in 1821 he embarked from a Spanish port bound for the United States. On his arrival in New York, Murat made immediate application for naturalization. After a few months in that city, the young man made an extensive tour through the United States. At first he used an assumed name, since he had a striking resemblance to his famous uncle in countenance and mannerisms. Even though he had renounced all his European titles and citizenship, his wide social connections brought Murat to Washington, where he befriended Richard Keith Call, Florida's territorial delegate to the Congress.
On the Florida frontier
Call told Murat of opportunities in the new territory of Florida which had been acquired by the United States from Spain in 1821. In the spring of 1824, the young man who had been "Prince of Naples" settled in St. Augustine, reputedly renting what is now called the Prince Murat House on St. George Street in town. Murat soon insinuated himself into St. Augustine society by joining the Masonic lodge and dabbling in local politics. He enrolled in the local militia and was briefly a volunteer under the command of his personal friend, Brigadier General Joseph Hernandez.
Murat purchased an extensive property of 2,800 acres (1133 ha) and built a plantation where he planted orange groves, rice, and indigo. He named it 'Parthenope', in honor of his onetime principality in Naples, Italy, which was founded on the site of the ancient Greek settlement of Parthenope (see History of Naples).
Parthenope was located about ten miles south of St. Augustine on the west side of the Matanzas River, at the mouth of Moses Creek. The eccentric Murat, who liked to go nude, invented a sort of chair that he could sit in, submerged in the waters of Moses Creek with mosquito netting over his head, to escape the heat of the north Florida summers. A neighbor observed that he was obsessed with the "...eatibility of the whole animal tribe." Murat was known to dine on baked turkey buzzard, boiled owl, roasted crow, stewed alligator, lizards and rattlesnakes. He had an aversion to baths, didn't like to change his clothes, "washed his feet only after he wore out his shoes", and slept on a mattress stuffed with Spanish moss.
Around 1825, Murat bought the land he would call Lipona Plantation, 15 miles (24 km) east of Tallahassee, and lived there during the remainder of Florida's territorial and early statehood days. The name Lipona is an anagram of Napoli (Naples), the kingdom over which Murat was once destined to rule. He purchased Lipona at the prodding of the Marquis de Lafayette, beneficiary of the Lafayette Land Grant of July 4, 1825, which had bestowed 36 square miles (93 km2) near what would become the city of Tallahassee.
Legend tells that the Marquis's agents arranged for a group of fifty or sixty Norman French farmers to settle on the land around 1831, but there is no documentation of this actually occurring. In 1824, Murat was elected alderman of the city, mayor in the following year, and in 1826 was appointed postmaster, which office he held till 1838. Murat met Catherine Daingerfield Willis Gray in 1826 and married her on July 12 of that year at Tallahassee, Florida, but was without issue. Gray was the great-grandniece of George Washington.
Murat's political sympathies seem to have been Jacksonian throughout his time in Florida. At a political rally in 1826, he would call one of the candidates, his neighbor David Betton Macomb, a "turncoat"; Macomb had led a toast to Henry Clay on at least one occasion that summer (an alternative version of the story has Macomb upset that Murat's slaves were stealing his hogs). Macomb and Murat met at a local dueling ground near Hiamones Lake. Murat’s shot went through Macomb’s shirt without touching flesh, and Macomb’s took off half of the little finger of Murat’s right hand.
During the early phase of the Seminole Wars, and for the previous three years, Murat was a lieutenant colonel of Florida’s militia and sometime aide to Brigadier General Richard Keith Call. He would retain the rank of colonel the rest of his life.
Friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the winter of 1826, during one of his periodic visits to St. Augustine, Murat met the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. The two became close friends and enjoyed discussing topics of the day as well as politics, society, and history. Of Murat, Emerson wrote:
- A new event is added to the quiet history of my life. I have connected myself by friendship to a man ... with as ardent a love of truth as that which animates me, with a mind that surpasses mine in the variety of its research, & sharpened & strengthened to an energy for action to which I have no pretension by advantages of birth & practical connection with mankind beyond almost all men in the world.
Achille Murat himself, like his contemporary, Alexis de Tocqueville, became one of the great essayists on culture and mores in the new republic of the United States. During his residence at his plantation near St. Augustine, Murat began to write (in French, English, and Italian) his observations on American politics and his daily life in Florida. He wrote on slavery, economics, and literature as well, but his books never caught on with the public. Murat was a staunch defender of slavery although he professed to fight for human liberty.
To Europe and back
Following the July Revolution of 1830 in France, Murat returned to Europe and was assigned to the command of a regiment of the Belgian Legion. While in Belgium and France, he had hoped to regain some part of the family fortune that he believed to be his based on the properties of his parents. His attempts were futile and in 1834 the Murats returned to the Tallahassee area.
In 1835, Murat and his wife moved to Louisiana, where he had secured a sugar plantation and a house in New Orleans. The couple lived there for several years while he practiced law without much success.
After their return to Florida, Murat mortgaged the Lipona property to the Tallahassee Union Bank, and lost it in 1839 when he could no longer meet his financial obligations. He and his wife were forced to move to a smaller plantation they named "Econchatti", in present-day Jefferson County, Florida.
Murat died there in 1847, and was buried in the St. John's Episcopal Church cemetery in Tallahassee. His maternal first cousin, Napoleon III of France, provided his widow with a cash sum of $40,000 and an annual stipend so that she could live a life to which she had become accustomed. She proved to be a better handler of money than her husband had been, and purchased the Bellevue plantation in 1854, continuing to hold court among her friends and admirers until after the Civil War. Catherine died in 1867 and was also buried at the St. Johns Episcopal Church cemetery. The Bellevue plantation house was moved to Tallahassee in 1967 and is now part of the Tallahassee Museum.
|Ancestors of Prince Achille Murat|
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- Florida Letters of Achille Murat openly available online from the University of Florida Digital Collections
- "Murat, Napoléon Achille". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900
- Prince Achille Murat at Find a Grave
of a French client state
|New title||Hereditary Prince of Berg
|Grand Duchy abolished in 1810|
|New title||Crown Prince of Naples
|Title abolished in 1816|
of the First French Empire