French Connection: City, Mortefontaine, France Celebrate Sister City Agreement With Bastille Day Ceremony

BORDENTOWN CITY, NJ — French fever has come to Bordentown.

Officials from Bordentown City and Mortefontaine, France came together on Friday — which was also Bastille Day — at the site of the former Point Breeze Estate to celebrate the two towns’ Sister City agreement.

Mortefontaine Mayor Jacques Fabre and Deputy Mayor Chantal Malaquin, along with their families, traveled to Bordentown last week to cement the relationship, which had previously been celebrated in Mortefontaine in October 2022 when Bordentown City Mayor Jennifer Sciortino along with members of the Bordentown Historical Society visited the French town to sign the agreement.

Bordentown City was decked out for the occasion, as the Downtown Bordentown Association and Designs by Linda Florist decorated downtown with French flags and even a large Eiffel Tower display at the monument on Crosswicks Street.

Fabre and Malaquin were joined at Friday’s ceremony by Sciortino, Commissioner Jim Lynch, State Senator Troy Singleton, State Assemblyman Herb Conaway, Bordentown Regional School District Superintendent Dr. Trudy Atkins and Bordentown Historical Society Co-Presidents Bonnie Goldman, Steve Lederman and Board Member Peter Tucci. Local musician Justin Lee performed the national anthems at the event.

The City of Bordentown and Mortefontaine have a significant tie, as they are the only two cities with an estate belonging to Joseph Bonaparte. While Bonaparte's Point Breeze Estate property is now home to City Hall, the Discovery Center at Point Breeze and a future state park, his former country residence in Mortefontaine has served as a school and a luxury hotel and is now a private dwelling.  

The Bordentown City Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution in September 2022 to authorize a Mutual Cooperation Agreement between the City of Bordentown and the City of Mortefontaine. Mortefontaine, a small community in northern France located about 46 miles from Paris, is home to the Castle of Mortefontaine, which was built between 1600 and 1630 and was bought by Joseph Bonaparte to use as a country residence in 1798.

Sciortino, Goldman, Lederman and Tucci traveled to Mortefontaine in October 2022, where Sciortino signed a "Sister Agreement" with Mayor Fabre.

In emceeing Friday’s ceremony, Tucci, who owns the largest collection of Joseph Bonaparte artifacts in this hemisphere and who spearheaded the Sister City agreement between the two towns, spoke about the crucial role that Joseph and his Point Breeze estate played in French-American history.

“Joseph played an extremely important, if little known, role in strengthening diplomatic relations between France and the United States,” said Tucci, who noted that Bonaparte negotiated and signed the Treaty of Mortefontaine in 1800 at his chateau in Mortefontaine, which effectively ended a quasi-war between the two countries and re-established Franco-American relations, which ultimately facilitated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Tucci also noted the important figures who traveled to Point Breeze to see Bonaparte, including Marqus de Lafayette, who visited twice, the future Napoleon III, as well as powerful American politicians Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Quincy Adams.

“Point Breeze became the very epicenter of Franco-American relations in the United States during (Bonaparte’s) nearly 20 years of residing here,” said Tucci.

Tucci also read a message from Jérémie Robert, the French Consul General in New York, who welcomed the French visitors to Bordentown.

“It is a real honor that you represent our French community today on Bastille Day, with Bordentown, as a testimony to the friendship between France and the U.S.A., and it is beautiful to see the strong relationships you are building between these two cities,” wrote Robert.

In his remarks, Lynch thanked Tucci, D&R Greenway Land Trust, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and City Hall staff for their support and guidance when it came to buying the property that the former Point Breeze Estate sits on.

Point Breeze was preserved in late 2020 as a result of a partnership among D&R Greenway Land Trust, the City of Bordentown and the New Jersey Green Acres Program/NJDEP. The property was being sold by the Divine Word Missionaries, who sold it to the the three partners for $4.6 million, with the City acquiring about 5.44 acres of the land for $1,655,000. Within the City’s acres comes the main building, which now serves as the City Administration Building and soon will house the Police Department. The acres as a whole will become part of a large lot of continuously preserved land and trail regions to be enjoyed as a state park and museum by City residents and visitors. 

Before the Fathers of Divine Word sold the land to D&R Greenway, the City of Bordentown and the State of New Jersey, the property drew intense interest from developers who sought to build everything from warehouses, to high-density apartments, to wedding facilities on the land. 

“I saw a $10 million check from a warehouse company who was going to put three warehouses on this property,” Lynch said at Friday’s ceremony. “There was another building owner who wanted to come in and put 1,000 condominiums here.”

“It wasn’t until we got an e-mail from Rome that I was aware that the Pope had to approve this,” said Lynch, who was the Mayor at the time and was crucial in facilitating the sale. “A bit out of my wheel house! But the Vatican approved it and sent a nice e-mail off to us approving the sale of the property.”

Sciortino focused on the similarities between Bordentown and Mortefontaine and said she was most excited about the future possibilities that the relationship provides.

“The unbelievable hospitality you should us during our visit is something we’ll never forget,” she told Fabre and Malaquin. “I’ve never lived in a more welcoming and supportive place than Bordentown and that’s where the similarities between our two cities are most striking. It’s a generosity of spirit that strikes at the heart of this relationship we’re forming.”

“It makes me so excited for the possibilities here, for our respective students, as well as the leadership of our school district,” Sciortino continued. “The doors that will open, can open, as long we maintain this relationship. This relationship has the ability to add so much depth and color to our history.”

“By joining our cities, we have the opportunity to learn more about our historical ancestors, and it’s been fascinating to discover all the bonds we have. We’re both very small, quaint cities, not too far from two of the most famous cities in the world. Equally important is that our towns really appreciate their histories… it’s no surprise that so many people have enthusiastically embraced this relationship.”

“When you think about sister cities and you think about this ideal, this opportunity to share not just culture but experiences, I think it makes us all better. I think it reminds us to reflect on this global community of which we are,” said Singleton, who called Bordentown City “the greatest little city in the State of New Jersey.”

“We use our cultural experiences to bring us together, to understand a little bit about each other in order to make us better as both individuals and our society as a whole.”

“I believe very strongly that our history will tell us about our future,” said Conaway, who grew up in Bordentown. “We must learn from it and use its lessons to advance ourselves forward — lessons both good and bad, by the way — but it’s critical we understand out past.”

Dr. Atkins, who translated her English remarks into French, symbolized the new relationship with pins that she presented to Fabre and Malaquin.

“I hope that this Sister City relationship will bring opportunities for students in Bordentown and Mortefontaine,” said Dr. Atkins. “To symbolize the schools’ involvement in the partnership, I have pins that are awarded to faculty for outstanding service to our students. (Fabre and Malaquin) are now honorary faculty of the Bordentown Regional School District.”

Bordentown Historical Society Co-Presidents Lederman and Goldman called the ceremony “a wonderful event that highlights the City of Bordentown, our incredible history, our past and present French connection, and we are looking forward to this relationship getting stronger as time goes on.”

The pair also unveiled a new addition to the Point Breeze property, a trail-marker signifying Lafayette’s visit to Bordentown during his triumphant farewell tour of the United States in 1824 and 1825, “where he visited all 24 states and had a hero’s welcome wherever he went.”

Lederman and Goldman also presented Fabre and Malaquin with a framed portrait of Joseph Bonaparte, which will be displayed in Mortefontaine.

Sciortino also presented them with marble that was recovered from Point Breeze Estate “in celebration of our shared histories as homes to Joseph, with the hope that we’ll be able to exchange it in subsequent visits with each other.”

The French visitors were not without gifts to their new Bordentown friends, as Fabre and Malaquin presented Sciortino, Lynch, Tucci, Lederman, Goldman and Atkins with special medals.

“I have found the Bordentown people to be very enthusiastic about history,” said Fabre. “It’s interesting to exchange, to meet people together and have a better understanding.”

Original Article