Biography of Adventurer Elena America Vespucci Part 2

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


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

The New York Evening Star's response to this strange turn of events was a long, angry attack founded on some investigation into the lady's past. The journal charged that she had been involved in a scandalous liaison with the French king's son, Ferdinand, Duke of Orleans, and when the monarch insisted that he wed a certain princess, America "was rather an obstacle, and her absence became necessary." Her journey to the New World was a scheme sponsored by the royal family to get the adventuress out of the way until after the marriage. "It would have been a rare joke indeed if Congress had been caught in the trap!" huffed the Star.

Unfortunately, the paper didn't have all the facts; these were left for C. Edwards Lester, American consul in Genoa, to uncover quite accidentally a few years later on a journey to see the Vespuccis in Florence. While interviewing them for the book Life and Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci (Baker and Scribner, New York, 1846), he found America's parents, Capt. Amerigo Vincenzio and Leopolda Cappelli Vespucci, deeply disturbed by their daughter's escapades. Born Nov. 29, 1804, the third of their six children, the girl had always been "indocile and unmanageable." Before her trip to the U.S., the family said, she had been the "mistress of some dozen men." Further, America was not the girl's name. She had been baptized Elena. To strengthen her appeal to Americans, she borrowed the name of her youngest sister, Ameriga, and exchanged the g for a c.

The public was not aware of these details when, on Nov. 18, 1841, a steamer from Liverpool dropped America off in Boston. She promptly announced herself as "Contessa Helene America"; and six days later, the signorina, wearing a magnificent claret velvet gown, showed up at Faneuil Hall to dance with Boston bluebloods at a glittering social affair. Nobody seemed to recall her curious departure 19 months earlier or the Star's indictment of her. Nobody asked why she was back. She was idolized all over again. Newspapers in Boston, Baltimore, and New York described both her and her gown in the most flattering terms.

Months later, America was ensconced in a baronial mansion in the St. Lawrence River village of Ogdensburg, N.Y. She was living, said one journal, "in a state of immoral intimacy" with George Parish, a merchant-landowner, scion of a family of German bankers. How did she get from Boston to Ogdensburg? No one really knows. A bizarre tale cherished by generations of northern New Yorkers is that America took up with Van Buren's son, the dissolute lawyer John Van Buren. Playing poker with Parish one night, John lost $5,000 and in desperation put up America as a stake. "I shall play you the lady against my losses, Mr. Parish ... on the toss of my last gold piece," he proposed. And, says legend, Parish won America on the flip of that coin.

She lived with George for 18 years, and her letters make it clear that she did love him. However, when she was 56 and her beauty gone, he told her to find herself an apartment in Paris and he would send $3,000 annually through an agent. If she had ever wanted "a corner" of America, George's luxurious home was it. Villagers, who had always scorned her, said she cried pitifully as she left the mansion; but, they insisted, she was only getting what she deserved.

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