Empress Joséphine was a mysteriously haunting lady who captured the heart of the indomitable Emperor Napoleon of France and who was later set aside for political reasons. This action tore deeply at both their hearts as they lived out their lives in solitude—Joséphine at Malmaison, France and Napoleon on the island of Elba. What few know is that the mysteries surrounding this lady’s life actually began at birth

La Sorcière:Joséphine's birthplace?

Here in Saint Lucia, on a little knoll fronting the misty range of La Sorcière, and facing the verdant valleys flowing down to the Caribbean Sea, Morne Paix Bouche is cradled within the agricultural district of Babonneau. While the name ‘paix’, suggesting peace, and ‘bouche’, meaning mouth, may hint of a gentle tongue, this little sprawling hilltop acreage is the focal point of a heated historical debate.

Birthplace Riddle

In February of 1763, following a lengthy period of neutrality, Saint Lucia was handed officially to the French by order of the Treaty of Paris. To encourage settlement, large land grants were offered by the French officials of Martinique, then the seat of French government in the Antilles.

One young couple to take advantage of the offer was Joseph Gaspard de Tascher, the Chevalier Seigneur de la Pagerie, and his Creole wife, Rose. They took up residence and established the lovely grounds of the estate at Paix Bouche. Their daughter Joséphine was born on June 23rd of that year.

According to records of Père Emmanuel, Capuchin in Martinique, “Today, 27 July 1763, I baptised a girl, aged five weeks, born of the legitimate marriage of Sir Gaspard de Tascher and Dame Marie Rose Desvergers de Sanois.” Joséphine was baptised in Martinique. Thus the confusion begins.

It was a known practice at that time to carry one’s children to the neighbouring island and seat of government for baptism but where was Joséphine born? Saint Lucia has later references to her birth and an oral history of such, as retained by the folks of the Babonneau area, but no official documentation so Martinique has claimed the birth of Joséphine on the basis of her baptism there. 

De Tascher received an appointment in Martinique in 1771 but he still appears to have spent time in Saint Lucia after that as indicated in records of a 1772 wedding in Soufrière that was authorised by M. le President de Tascher. The family did spend much of their time in Saint Lucia in the town of Soufrière because they also owned an estate there that carried the same name as Joséphine’s later home outside Paris: Malmaison.

The de Tascher family seems to have severed all ties with Saint Lucia following the British attack in 1778. Returning to France, the young Joséphine met her first husband, Alexander Beauharnais, and they were married the following year. The rest of her intriguing story is widely known, while the story of her birth lives only in the local legends of Babonneau.