Biography of Adventurer Elena America Vespucci Part 1

About the Italian adventurer Elena America Vespucci, American history and biography of the woman.

FOOTNOTE PEOPLE IN U.S. HISTORY

ELENA "AMERICA" VESPUCCI (1804-?). Adventuress.

When she appeared on the American scene in 1838, she was accounted a great beauty, a girl with luxuriant blue-black hair, dark flashing eyes, a bright smile, and a superb figure. As descendant of the explorer for whom America was named, she came ostensibly seeking U.S. citizenship and a grant of land on which to settle.

Her story was calculated to move strong hearts, and it did. She had spent 14 years in a Florentine convent. At 17 her parents had forced her to become a maid of honor to the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, but, bored with her life among aristocrats, she had joined a secret society trying to rid Italy of foreign domination. According to the U.S. Magazine and Democratic Review, she had taken part "in the attempted uprising of April, 1832, and in the engagement with the Austrians on the banks of the Rimini she conducted herself with great gallantry and received a sabre stroke on the back of the head from an Austrian dragoon."

Her role discovered by the authorities, she had been given the choice of betraying her friends or exile. She chose exile and "found asylum with the queen of France." And indeed she did have letters of introduction from King Louis Philippe as well as the queen.

In Washington, the girl was "a decided sensation." John Quincy Adams, Dolley Madison, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster sought her company. At a White House dinner for the Supreme Court justices, she was observed sitting at the head table, between Pres. Martin Van Buren, a widower, and Webster. "The President," it was widely rumored, "seemed much struck by the splendid Tuscan and was turning his attention to the study of the Italian language."

Another of her admirers was Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, who presented America's petition to the Senate on Jan. 29, 1839. "She is without a country, without fortune, and without protection," the Missourian pleaded. "She asks that we grant her a corner of the land which bears the name of her glorious forebear, and for the right of citizenship among those who call themselves Americans."

Benton did his best, but two committees ruled against the exile. Sen. Robert J. Walker of Mississippi explained that her requests were without precedent. He advised that the lady should take her case to the American public. "This generous, patriotic, and enlightened people will do all that Congress is forbidden to do," he promised.

His speech touched off a rousing demonstration of faith and affection for the outcast. Senators, representatives, and Supreme Court justices contributed varying sums of money to launch a national campaign to help her purchase the "corner" of land she desired. The drive under way, she embarked on a tour that took her to Philadelphia, New York, St. Louis, New Orleans, Cincinnati, and Louisville. She was idolized everywhere. "Her path," one report says, "was strewn with roses, open hands, and confiding hearts." However, in the spring of 1840 she abruptly terminated her travels. She sailed for Europe, leaving behind the shocking announcement that she did not want the money raised for her because it was not "a national gift."

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