Blanchard Randall and the Bonapartes

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Blanchard Randall (November 12, 1856 - August 24, 1942) was born in Annapolis in the Bordley-Randall house. He was educated at home before attending St. John’s College, where he graduated in 1874.

His father tried to persuade him to study law and to join the family legal practice. Blanchard, however, wanted to become “a man of business.” 

Accordingly, he headed up to Baltimore and obtained a position in the counting house of Messrs. Spence and Montague.  Every Friday evening, Blanchard would board the train from Camden Station, catching the connection from Annapolis Junction down to his parents’ house. Every Monday morning, he would take the first train to Baltimore, arriving in time for the business of the week.

Many years later, he wrote his memories of Baltimore in the 1870s, a short paper he titled Reminiscences. One memorable brush with history occurred when he was an eager eighteen year old “gopher.” In his own words:

Shortly after coming to Baltimore in 1874, I was sent over to the Merchant’s Bank on a message to Mr. William L. Gill…
Mr. Gill was then cashier of the Merchant’s National Bank and in his office by his side was a little figure not more than five feet high, looking over the stock ledger of the bank. Mr. Gill seemed very nervous at her turning over the leaves of this book. She seemed curious to look at everybody’s account as well as her own and when he attempted to close the book she moved his hands and re-opened it on several occasions.
My attention was first called to this curious attitude of the two old people and trying to divert her he said: “Blanchard, I want you to meet Madam Bonaparte.” The old lady nodded to me but was not diverted from her purpose. She wore a knitted nubia around her head and under her chin leaving the face out and on the top of her head perched a little round hat that had seen many years of service. From her shoulders hung a long velvet cloak heavily covered with lace, reaching nearly to the floor, and a face as wizened and dried up as hickory nut. This was all that was left of the beautiful Betsy Patterson, long bony fingers but covered with many rings. She died within the next year but the impression left with me is very vivid.
Her son Jerome I remember seeing on Charles Street driving a pair of horses and seated in a high English cart, full smooth face somewhat Napoleonic but rather fat. My mother called my attention to this figure telling me that he was Napoleon’s nephew and the son of Jerome. This must have been somewhere about 1868 or 69.
Charles Joseph Bonaparte (1851 – 1921) was Blanchard Randall's neighbor in the Mount Vernon area in Baltimore and was a colleague of Blanchard's brother, John Wirt Randall.
[Soon after the encounter with Madam Bonaparte], I met Mr. Charles Joseph Bonaparte who had been a friend of my brother, John Wirt Randall, they having some law business together. He was always very kind to me and on more than one occasion I was invited to his house on the corner of Park Avenue and Center streets. He was [a] ….great friend of [Johns Hopkins University] President Gilman’s and also an intimate friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, who then was slightly built and weigh[ed] very much less than Mr. Bonaparte. In twenty years this order changed; Mr. Bonaparte seemed always to keep his figure, Roosevelt did not.
I shall never forget one evening dining at his home. …A most charming evening, with reminiscences, good stories and the most wonderful old Madeira made up an hour or two that I shall never forget.
In President Roosevelt’s second term I had a very interesting letter from the then member of the Cabinet, Charles J.B., offering me a position as Postmaster of Baltimore. This was of course very flattering and had to be considered carefully. But my partner Fisher being about to leave the firm and other changes such as [Godby’s] withdrawal and Jackson coming into the firm made me hesitate and finally decline his offer. I shall never forget, however, the lecture Mr. Bonaparte gave me for being “unpatriotic” as he put it. The question of family expenses did not enter into his thoughts at all.
The above declination of political advancement did not change his warm friendship for me and my family. On several occasions I had the advantage of this and the most kindly consideration from his wife, a very charming person.
One incident I recall with great pleasure when he invited me and [my wife] to bring…some of our children to his new country home on the Harford Road to look over… some collections of family papers that he had been arranging. It was a very hot summer day but yet his wide hall in this home on the top of a high hill had a rush of air through it that kept us all in good shape. We took our three children, Katharine, Emily and Blanchard Jr., and after a most beautiful lunch sat down to look over this remarkable collection: letters from his grandfather to his father, many letters from his grandmother, the beautiful Betsy, to her son and grandson, interspersed with his anecdote of the family, especially his own rendering of the meeting one day in Italy, of his grandfather with his new wife coming suddenly upon his first wife in the Public Gallery at which time King Jerome’s wife spoke to him of the beautiful girl near him and on his turning and recognizing the face he said to his queen: “My god Madame, that is my wife.”
That and many other stories made hours pass delightfully. These collections I understand have since gone into the archives of the Maryland Historical Society.