Walking along Washington Avenue in Newtown, you may see a large, hand-painted sign labeled “Archambault Square” with a diagram of building lots.
What does this mean, and who was Joseph Archambault?
Joseph Archambault was one of the town’s most interesting citizens.
The sign commemorates the fact that he opened several streets and laid out building lots; but that is only part of the story.
Additional information about the man is partially revealed in the July 11, 1874 Newtown Enterprise that contained Archambault’s obituary.
“The death of this gentleman is announced in the city papers. It took place on the 3d inst. In Philadelphia, and his age was 78 years. He was born at Fountainbleau, near Paris, France, and entering the military service at an early age, was attached to the military family of the great Napoleon Bonaparte. He was with him at Waterloo, and followed him to St. Helena, remaining there until his death in 1821. He then returned to France, but in a short time, emigrated to this country and settled in Newtown.: He lived here many years, owning a large quantity of real estate in connection with the Brick Hotel, of which he was landlord. He opened streets, and sold lots, at what would be called a low figure now. He donated the land for the Free Church, now called the Newtown Hall, his provision in the gift will prevent it from ever becoming a sectarian church.
“He also followed the business of watchmaking and dentistry here. He found vent for his military ardor in the capacity of Captain of the Union Troop of Cavalry, which position he held for many years. His martial bearing at the head of that company is remembered by many, as the company paraded often; arid made frequent excursions to neighboring towns. This was the day of military parades and ‘Battalions’ throughout the county.”
“From here moved to a farm near Doylestown, and from thence to Philadelphia, where he kept the Buck Hotel on Second street. Afterwards he kept a dry goods store on Market Street. At the breaking out of the southern rebellion he opened a recruiting office, and organized troops for service in Philadelphia, holding the appointment of Major. It is said that at the breaking out of the war between France and Prussia, it was with difficulty he could be restrained from returning to his mother country.”
Demonstrating that he was a man of many talents can be seen in an advertisement he placed in the Bucks County Newspaper on Feb. 27, 1825. The notice indicated that Archambault was a dentist in Newtown practicing all the branches of the trade including placing “teeth, real and artificial, so accurately that they shall answer the purpose.” He claimed to clean and whiten teeth and if they were beyond repair would plug them with gold or silver and offered “advice gratis” as well as selling a toothpaste of his own preparation. The advertisement also indicated that he did “cupping and leeching” either at home or at his office.
Joseph Archambault’s impact on Newtown can be seen in one of the town’s most prominent buildings. He bought the Brick Hotel in Newtown in 1829. Archambault greatly improved the existing building by adding a third story, and constructing the two-story east wing of the building.
William Watts Hart Davis’s “History Bucks County, Pennsylvania” mentions that he was left an orphan and, on leaving the military school, he was attached to the suite of Napoleon, as a page and subsequently to that of then Empress Josephine. On the return of Napoleon from Elba, young Archambault, then 17, was again attached to his suite, and shared his fortunes. He was wounded at Waterloo and left on the field, but rejoining the emperor, he was one of the 12 selected to accompany him to St. Helena.
At the end of a year, he was sent to the Cape of Good Hope, where he was confined for a time, and thence came via England, to New York, where he landed on May 5, 1817. He spent a year on Long Island.
Archambault was a frequent and welcome visitor at the home of Joseph Bonaparte, at Bordentown. He first went into business in New York, but this proving unsuccessful, he came to Philadelphia, and from thence to Newtown. He commanded the Union troop of cavalry for many years. Despite being over 65 years old, Joseph Archambault enlisted in the Second Pennsylvania Cavalry during the American Civil War. He was promoted to the rank of major in 1862.
Archambault retired to a farm near Doylestown, and then to Philadelphia, where he died on July 3, 1874 leaving a widow, five children, 30 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His grave is in the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
He was the last survivor of the suite that accompanied Napoleon into exile, and is known in history as the “younger Archambault.” His sword and portrait are in the Mercer Museum in Doylestown.
Jeff Marshall sits on the Newtown Historic Association’s board of directors.
“Heralding Our History” is a weekly feature. Each month, the Herald delves into the history of one of its towns.