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Marie-Thérèse Lucidor Corbin. I’ve been keeping this woman’s portrait in reserve for almost a year. I first discovered her when I came across a music score entitled « Hymne des citoyens de couleurs par la citoyenne Corbin créole et Républicaine ». This seriously maked me curious. Today, I speak to you about Marie-Thérèse Lucidor F. Corbin « Creole and Republican », and much more!
Girl of colour in 18th century, Paris
Curious to know more about the one that had produced a hymn of citizens of colour, I found most of the information in Pierre Bardin’s notes from a genealogy and Caribbean history bulletin. That is what you learn there for the beginning of your life.
Marie-Thérèse was born in Paris in 1749. She was two years younger than Louise. Both sisters were lavender girls. Their father died in 1771, the mother in 1776. In 1786, Marie-Thérèse married Jean François Corbin, a wine merchant, and brought 12,000 livres into the union contract, which was no small feat. She has two children: a boy we don’t know much about and a daughter Marie Constance. Her marriage seems to be having a hard time. In 1789, Jean-François Corbin left Paris. Marie-Thérèse was then alone with her daughter with little financial resources.
What I did not tell you was that the two sisters should not go unnoticed in 18th century of Paris. Like some 4000 to 5000 men and women of the Kingdom, they were « of colour ». Indeed, Marie-Thérèse and Louise were born from a marriage that was unusual for the Paris of the time: that of Charlotte Richard, a white mother and André Lucidor, a black father.*
1789-1792: Marie-Thérèse and the robbery of the Garde-Meuble.
Let’s go back to 1789. Marie-Thérèse is 40 years old. In France, the Revolution is in full swing. The forms of Marie-Thérèse’s involvement in the early revolutionary events are not very clear; but one thing is certain, in the absence of her husband, times have been hard and Marie-Thérèse have asked for financial help.
1792, however, marked a turning point in her business. In November, Marie-Thérèse was arrested. Order was given to imprison her at the Conciergerie, as accused of complicity in robbery and concealment in the case known as « the robbery of the Garde-Meuble ». What is it about? Nothing less than stolen French crown jewelry! The break-in of the century. Nevertheless, no charges were brought against her, as Marie-Thérèse was in fact in charge of spying on behalf of the police in order to discover the thieves. Maria Theresa was therefore an « informer ». In February 1793, following her arrest, she published a petition to the National Convention, in which she demanded justice to restore her reputation and… money. Petion former mayor of Paris, Roland Minister of the Interior, as well as Garat Minister of Justice, testify in his favor.
1794: speech, hymn and patriotic commitment of a « Creole » citizen!
But Marie-Thérèse’s patriotic and republican commitment did not stop there. Following the decree of abolition of slavery of 4 February 1794 (16 pluviôse year 2), she was one of those who gave a speech on 18 February 1794 at the Temple de la Raison (Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris). Here is an extract: « Et toi, Ogée, homme de Couleurs, notre frère et amie qui portasse ce Décret du 15 mai 1790 et qui est mort première victime assassinée par l’aristocratie dans nos Isles, reçoit les faibles hommages de notre reconnaissance.
Français quel plus beau jour pour nous de déployer ce Symbole de la réunion des trois peuples entre lesquels l’insolente aristocratie avoit tracé une ligne de démarcation. mais elle est enfin brisé ainsi que nos chaines que nous mettons sous nos pieds et nous jurons encore de défendre la liberté, l’égalité et soutenir la République une et indivisible. » [« And you, Ogée, man of Colours, our brother and friend who wears this Decree of May 15, 1790 and who died first victim murdered by the aristocracy in our Isles, receives the weak tributes of our gratitude.
French what better day for us to deploy this Symbol of the reunion of the three peoples between whom the insolent aristocracy drew a line of demarcation. but it is finally broken as well as our chains that we put under our feet and we still swear to defend freedom, equality and support the Republic one and indivisible. »]
She then sang her hymn of citizens of colour.
This important moment in Marie-Thérèse’s life is immortalized on canvas
« Réjouissances à l’annonce de l’abolition de l’esclavage. 30 pluviôse an II/18 février 1794. » You can see Jean-Baptiste Belley, MP, recognizable by his uniform. The black woman before him could well be a representation of Marie-Thérèse Lucidor Corbin!
Marie-Thérèse was interested by prejudice of colour and felt close to the French colonial world, although she had never lived on the islands. She does not hesitate to put forward her link to Martinique to get some financial help. She is particularly in contact with the Saint-Domingue’s circles. In addition to her presence at Belley’s side for the speeches of 1794, she obtained the support of Sonthonax, in one of the requests for help as well as that of Pautrizel, deputy of Guadeloupe. In 1795, in a text defending national education, Marie-Thérèse ended by explaining that « the citizen Corbin would like to obtain a place as a teacher for the education of young people in the colonies by bringing together all the useful and pleasant arts. Her pure and zealous patriotism makes her hope that her request will be met. She can assure in advance of her accuracy and her perfect recognition. Signed Lucidor Wife Corbin. » [« la citoyenne Corbin désirerait obtenir une place d’institutrice pour l’éducation de la jeunesse dans les colonies en y réunissant tous les arts utiles et agréables. Son patriotisme pur et zélé lui fait espérer qu’on aura égard à sa demande. Elle peut d’avance assurer de son exactitude et de sa parfaite reconnaissance. Signé Lucidor femme Corbin ».]
From 1801 on, Pierre Bardin lost track of the events in Marie-Thérèse’s life and I did not pursue the research any further even though I am very curious to be able to investigate his link to Martinique where she would have possessions. Mystery then, about the end of life of this amazing woman of colour. Nevertheless, her full involvement in the events of the revolutionary period is fascinating.
And you, do you know other women of colour « patriotic, republican, Creole » who distinguish themselves by their action at this period?
*Just as exciting is the story of André, if not more, which will be the subject of another post.
Bardin (Pierre), « LUCIDOR, ancien esclave, et sa fille Marie-Thérèse, à Paris », in Généalogie et Histoire de la Caraïbe, numéro 227, Juillet-août 2009.
N’Diaye (Pap), « Pour une histoire des populations noires en France : préalables théoriques », Le Mouvement Social, vol. no 213, no. 4, 2005, pp. 91-108.
Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, « La fête de l’abolition de l’esclavage à Paris », Histoire par l’image.
Archives and iconography
Réjouissances à l’annonce de l’abolition de l’esclavage. 30 pluviôse an II/18 février 1794.
© Cliché Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Estampes, Qb1 4 février 1794
BNF, Discours de la citoyenne Lucidor F. Corbin, créole, républicaine, prononcée [sic] par elle-même au Temple de la Raison, l’an 2e de la liberté ([Reprod.]) 1793-1794.
J. Madival and E. Laurent, et. al., eds. Archives parlementaires de 1789 à 1860 : recueil complet des débats législatifs & politiques des Chambres françaises, Paris, Librairie administrative de P. Dupont, 1862 : La citoyenne Marie Thérèse Lucidor, femme Corbin, se présente à la barre, 3 mars 1793, (p. 711).
Cahier de la fondation Schœlcher n°4, 1e abolition de l’esclavage (février 1794) articles et documents, 1985.