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Food & History

Two empresses from Martinique

Jeff Cheek —

If I did not have documented proof in English and French, — I would not dare publish this two-part column. It sounds too much like — a soap opera. Even so, it took a lot of research to separate fact from — fiction and legend.

It begins on the tiny, 55 by 25 mile Caribbean island — of Martinique. First colonized by the French in 1635 it is still an overseas — territory of France. With only 1,060 square miles, Martinique is slightly — smaller than Rhode Island, but it was once a gold mine for the Mother — Country.

Coffee trees were first planted on the "island of flowers" — in 1723. They grew so well that soon Martinique was supplying three fourths — of the coffee consumed in France. When the Seven Years War (known in America — as the French and Indian War ) ended in 1763, Britain demanded reparations. — She wanted France to surrender either Canada or Martinique. France choose — to give up Canada rather than her Caribbean gold mine.

Martinique also produced two amazing ladies. They were — cousins, born on neighboring plantations. Both would rise to the rank — of Empress, but for different empires.

The first was Josephine Tascher de la Pagerie, born June — 23, 1763. The second was Aimee Dubuc de Rivery. In years to come, Josephine — often repeated this story. She said that when the cousins were only 12 — years of age, they went to a famous Negro fortune teller. He foretold — an amazing life for the cousins.

He predicted two marriages for Josephine. Her second husband — would fill the world with glory and power. As his wife, she would be more — important than the Queen of France. But in her later years, her life would — change. She would live to regret the loss of her pleasant, uncomplicated — life on a Martinique plantation.

His prediction for Aimee was even more unbelievable. She — would be captured by pirates. Her beauty, charm and intelligence would — save her. She would become the mistress of a powerful ruler. When she — bore him a son, she would become his favorite and confidant. Through her — son, she would wield enormous power and influence.

Josephine was like most people. She did not lie, but she — embellished the story for dramatic effect. True, she contacted the fortune — teller but not with her cousin, Aimee. Aimee was not born until 1776 and — Josephine said she had her fortune told when she was 12, sometime in 1775.

By the time Aimee was 12, in 1788, Josephine had already — sailed for France to marry Viscount Alexander Beauharnais. He was guillotined — in the French Revolution, leaving a penniless widow with two young children — to care for.

To survive she became the mistress of Paul Barras, president — of the National Assembly and the most powerful man in France, but he soon — tired of her. He had another problem. Brig. Gen. Bonaparte was pestering — him for a field command. Barras had also noted that Napoleon was madly — in love with his mistress. He decided to let one problem solve another. — Soon Josephine was writing to her friends: "Barras has promised me that — if I will marry the general, he will give him command of the Army of Northern — Italy." She and Napoleon were married on March 9, 1796. A month later, — he assumed command of a poorly trained and equipped 38,000 man army. Napoleon — made history by turning it into a lightening fast striking force that — won several spectacular victories.

The rest of the saga of these amazing ladies will be covered — in next week's column.