Reading time: Around 6 minutes*.
–> Lire la version française de cet article
In addition to my blog, at the moment I am also contributing to the Manioc blog, in particular to highlight the collection of digitised old books. One of the nice things about it is that I discover stories that I wouldn’t have had to study for my usual research alone. Thus, recently, I have listed a whole bunch of memoirs of Frenchmen deported to French Guiana at the end of the 18th century as part of the French Revolution; I will make an article about them (I will add soon the link) on the Manioc blog. But if I mention it here, it is mainly because, while studying them, I realized that several deportees referred to a certain Marie-Rose, a woman of colour. As a historian specialized in the social history of free people of colour, I was intrigued. So I conducted the investigation to find out more and I wanted to share my results with you because as always I find this type of story exciting. Today, I paint a portrait of Marie-Rose, a rich French Guyanese and a benefactress for the deportees, but not only!
To explain in a few lines the situation in France, the coup d’état of 18 fructidor year V (4 September 1797) took place in a context of confrontation between more or less moderate revolutionaries. Within a few months, in addition to parliamentarians, more than 300 politicians, clergymen, editors… were arrested and deported to French Guyana. The forced exile lasted until 1800. The toll is high. Many died, some escaped, 133 survived. Among them, several published accounts of their deportation.
On November 12, 1797, the corvette La Vaillante landed the first 16 deportees, including Jean-Pierre Ramel, commander of the guard of the legislative body of the French Republic, and Isaac-Etienne de La Rue, former deputy-Member. When I started reading the account of the deportee Isaac-Etienne de La Rue, I flinched on a passage where it was a question of « a mulatress whose pious charity makes dear to all the unfortunate ones » [une mulâtresse que sa pieuse charité rendoit chère à tous les malheureux]. The information was familiar to me. Indeed, I had also read about this woman in Jean-Pierre Ramel’s account: « A mulattress, named Marie Rose, a woman of about forty years old, very rich, and respected by the whole colony because of her piety and her always active humanity, distinguished herself by her generous readiness to send us, to bring us herself all that she known was necessary for us ,or that she believed to be a pleasing one for us. » [ Une mulâtresse, nommée Marie Rose, femme d’environ quarante ans, fort riche, et respectée par toute la colonie à cause de sa piété et de son humanité toujours active, se distingua par son généreux empressement à nous envoyer, à nous apporter elle-même tout ce qu’elle savoit nous être nécessaire ,ou qu’elle croyoît devoir nous être agréable. ]
Two different sources that evoked the same woman of colour in Cayenne? That was enough for me to wonder who was that charitable woman who had marked these men. So I systematically looked for his presence in the other reports. In addition to those already mentioned, she is also mentioned in the writings of André Daniel Laffon de Ladébat, a politician, abolitionist and financial man of the time, Ange Pitou, a songwriter, and also the Bishop of Orléans, Jean Brumauld de Beauregard.
Which portrait did these five deportees of the 18 fructidor paint of Marie-Rose?
They present her as a rich woman of colour of a certain age. But, while Ramel and de La Rue describe her as a rich « mulattress« , Laffon de Ladébat, just like Brumauld de Beauregard, speaks of a « negress« .
Except in the eyes of Brumault de Beauregard, who accused her of « receiving suspicious companies in her home » [recevoir chez elle des compagnies suspectes], the other deportees agreed on the virtues that made her an excellent woman according to the criteria of the time. A woman « respected by the whole colony because of her piety and her ever-active humanity » [respectée par toute la colonie à cause de sa piété et de son humanité toujours active] for Jean-Pierre Ramel; « a mulattress whose pious charity makes her dear to all the poor, had not missed such a wonderful opportunity to exercise her virtues: we owed her all kinds of benefits » [une mulâtresse que sa pieuse charité rendoit chère à tous les malheureux, n’avoit pas laissé échapper une si belle occasion d’exercer ses vertus : nous lui devions toutes sortes de bienfaits] at Isaac-Etienne de La Rue, a person « who had shown us much zeal when we arrived in Cayenne » [qui nous avait montré beaucoup de zèle à notre arrivée à Cayenne] for Laffon de Ladébat.
The various accounts show Marie-Rose’s commitment to the deportees. She assiduously frequented the Charity Hospital where the deportees stayed for a time and she seemed particularly attached to the situation of Pichegru, a general about 36 years old at the time.
Jean-Pierre Ramel, who presents her as a « worthy friend » of the Sisters of Charity, says that « The hospital was Marie Rose’s favourite place to live, and her visits were all the more frequent as we became more unhappy. This keen interest she took in our fate has never waned. It is to Pichegru that she always addresses her little gifts, and he has never failed to share them with his companions in misfortune, as well as the recognition we all owe to this excellent woman. » [L’hôpital étoit l’habitation favorite de Marie Rose, et ses visites y furent d’autant plus fréquentes, que nous devenions plus malheureux. Ce vif intérêt qu’elle prit à notre sort ne s’est jamais refroidi. C’étoit à Pichegru qu’elle adressoit toujours ses petits dons , et il n’a jamais manqué de les partager avec ses compagnons d’infortune, comme aussi la reconnoissance que nous devons tous à cette excellente femme.] The interest for Pichegru is also underlined by Isaac-Etienne de La Rue who also insists on his kindness: « Pichegru was the main object: but could Pichegru isolate himself from us when it comes to softening our fate? Valuable Marie-Rose, you did not have it except for the inhuman defense: fortunately, your ingenious kindness knew how to trump the vigilance of our cerberus: this rigour only doubled the price of your benefits, and your rights to our recognition. » [Pichegru en étoit le principal objet : mais Pichegru pouvoit-il s’isoler de nous quand il s’agissoit d’adoucir notre sort ?… Estimable Marie-Rose, vous ne lûtes pas exceptée de l’inhumaine défense: heureusement que votre ingénieuse bonté sut tromper la vigilance de nos cerbères : cette rigueur ne fit que doubler le prix de vos bienfaits, et vos droits à notre reconnoissance.] Even Brumault de Beauregard agrees that she was « one of the people who did the most good to the deportees, even to my associates. » [une des personnes qui fit le plus de bien aux déportés, même à mes associé]
When the first 16 men were moved out of Cayenne and posted in Sinnamary, Marie-Rose again intervened to ensure their comfort by sending men and women to their service. Jean-Pierre Ramel reminds us that « Our ill people were cared for by two old negresses; a third, whose husband was in the fort, and that the good Marie Rose had sent as being sure of her honesty, served General Pichegru. » [Nos malades furent soignés par deux vieilles négresses; une troisième, dont le mari étoit dans le fort, et que la bonne Marie Rose avoit envoyée comme étant sûre de son honnêteté, servoit le général Pichegru.] Isaac-Etienne De La Rue specifies: « we accepted, according to the urgings of the good Marie-Rose, the offers of her proteges » [nous acceptâmes, d’après les instances de la bonne Marie-Rose, les offres de ses protégées], Laffon de Ladébat also uses them: « 7 nivôse. – I wrote several letters yesterday evening and this morning. I sent them by Marie-Rose’s negroes who will arrive on the decadi in Cayenne. » [7 nivôse. — J’ai écrit plusieurs lettres hier au soir et ce matin. Je les ai envoyées par les nègres de Marie-Rose qui arriveront le décadi à Cayenne.]
When the next 300 deportees arrived, she had them placed with people free of colour. Brumault de Beauregard notes that « she served them a two-course meal for a month. She clothed several of them, and had a large number placed, especially with black owners, where they were better than elsewhere. » [elle leur servit pendant un mois un repas à deux services. Elle en vêtit plusieurs, et en fit placer un grand nombre, surtout chez des propriétaires nègres, où ils furent mieux qu’ailleurs.] She herself welcomed at least one of the deportees, because Louis-Ange Pitou lists a « GERIN ( Jean-Nicolas), 41 years old, born in Metz, Benedictine, placed by Marie-Rose ; died in Cayenne, in October. 1798. » [GERIN ( Jean-Nicolas ), âgé de 41 ans , né à Metz , bénédictin , placé chez Marie – Rose ; mort à Cayenne , en octob. 1798. ]
A final story allows us to get to know Marie-Rose better at that time; it comes from Jean Freytag. It is particularly interesting, because Jean Freytag was not one of the deportees; he was then a military officer. It had been present in French Guiana since September 1792. He therefore knew the colonial world better. His notes also show that he was fully aware of the significance of the prejudice of colour. In his account, Freytag highlights the descriptions already made by Ramel and La Rue in their publications published before his own. He also shows that Marie-Rose had extended her charity to others than just those deported from the 18 fructidor. Freytag tells us: « The day they arrived, she told me, I went to offer pineapples and other refreshments to the ladies and Don Geraldo: they urged me strongly to go and see them often, so I sometimes went twice in the same day. But, (…). » [Le jour de leur arrivée, me dit-elle, j’ai été offrir des ananas et autres rafraîchissemens à ces dames et à Don Géraldo : ils me pressèrent vivement d’aller les voir souvent, aussi m’arrive-t-il d’y aller deux fois dans le même jour. Mais, (…).] These were Portuguese prisoners according to the rest of the story.
Marie-Rose, a woman of colour, rich and respected, was therefore showing charity and assuming the role of benefactor in the eyes of all kinds of unfortunate people stranded by force of circumstance in Cayenne; she tried to relieve their suffering through food, clothing and the men and women she placed at their service. But it was not as a benefit to the deportees that Freytag devoted a passage to Marie-Rose in her book; she served as her intermediary with one of the « ladies« . It was at that time that I began to take an interest in the rest of Marie-Rose’s life…. In the next post, I detail everything I could find apart from what the deportees say and I had some surprises!
Want to read more? Marie-Rose Sequiera #2 The Social Rise of a Woman of Colour in French Guiana in the 18th Century
*Will be around 2 minutes more if you also read the French citations! 😉
French archives on Manioc.org
- Brumauld de Beauregard, Jean, Mémoires – Monseigneur Brumauld de Beauregard, précédés de sa vie, écrite sur des notes et des documents authentiques tome 1 & tome 2, 1842.
- Freytag, Jean-David, Mémoires du général J. D. Freytag, ancien commandant de Sinnamary et de Conamama, dans la Guyane français… tome 1 et tome 2 Paris : Nepveu, 1824.
- Laffon de Ladébat, André-Daniel, Journal de ma déportation à la Guyane française…, Paris : Librairie Paul Ollendorff. 1912.
- La Rue, Isaac-Étienne de, Histoire du dix-huit fructidor ou Mémoires contenant la vérité… tome 2, Paris : Demonville ; Potey. 1821.
- Pitou, Louis-Ange (1767-1846), Voyage à Cayenne dans les deux Amériques…, Tome II, Paris : chez l’auteur, 1805.
- Ramel, Jean-Pierre, Journal de l’adjudant-général Ramel…, Londres : [s.n.]. 1799.