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As part of an extensive program of scientific research on urban areas, I have identified land transactions from the first half of the 19th century at Fort-Royal (now Fort-de-France). What types of buildings were found in the city? What types of transactions were made? Through the deeds, I discovered the history of the land, buildings and their owners. Thus, I came across several deeds concerning a forge and foundry established in the city. It is not so common to find sales of forges, but in this case the enslaved people, who worked there, were also mentioned. Today, I will speak briefly about a forge in the town of Fort-de-France, in the 1830s, and the enslaved urban blacksmiths who worked there.
The purchase of a forge and foundry
On January 29, 1830, before Mr. Charles de Leyritz, Mr. François L’Enfant, master blacksmith, and Mrs. Marie Henriette Boutelles, his wife, sold to Mr. Moïse Vacher (or Vaisser) blacksmith, for the price of 28,792 francs, a piece of land located in Fort-Royal, with eleven meters of frontage on Joyeuse Street and five meters thirty centimeters deep. On the land was a building built of masonry, covered with tiles, with a single level serving as a foundry on one side and a forge on the other.
The land of the forge was located Joyeuse Street No. 1 in the Carénage. The deed also specifies its boundaries: to the east, a neighbour, to the south, Joyeuse Street, to the west, the land known as the Bagne, to the north, another neighbour’s yard. Thanks to this information, it is possible to precisely locate the forge; I have symbolized it by the red rectangle (which is not to scale! ) on this 1826 town plan. Below, to the south, is the former rue Joyeuse, now rue Lazare Carnot; the « X » on the right is labelled « ancien bagne » on the map.
The sale also included the scaffolding of the said foundry and forge, materials and slaves. The enslaved persons were « two negroes » named Auguste aged 28 and Élie aged 33. Élie and Auguste were therefore born around 1797 and 1802 respectively.
The sharing and the creation of a society for the forge and foundry
A few weeks after this purchase, Moïse Vacher registered (on 13 March) another deed drawn up under private signature in the land transaction register. On March 8, 1830, it was agreed as follows, between Mr. Moïse Vacher (or Eucher), master blacksmith at Fort-Royal and Alexandre Auguste Perrollat, government works contractor residing in Saint-Pierre.
Mr. Eucher sells to Mr. Perrolat:
1. the undivided half of the house [which he has just acquired] rue Joyeuse serving as a foundry, with its furniture consisting of four barrels of moulding sand, two moulding tubes, an anvil, a new bellows and various other objects, 120 barrels of coal of earth of 3,800 pounds weighing new iron, 31 crucibles and the utensils and instruments of a forge, as well as the two aforementioned enslaved Augute and Élie.
2. the equally undivided half of a smithy’s stock belonging to him consisting of « four negroes » named Brutus, Pompé, Louis and Charles, various works made of various goods and utensils, forging instrument.
It is thus discovered that Moïse Vacher already owned another forge before the acquisition of January 1830. The two men then established the conditions of their company.
It was intended that the duration of this society would be four consecutive years beginning on January 1, 1830. Losses and profits were to be shared and the partners undertook to sell their shares only after giving preference to each other if they sold in the course of the partnership.
The document also informs that « 10,000 francs (…) will remain in the hands of Mr. Vacher, managing the establishment, either for his salary and the food of the negroes or for the payment of rents and the daily purchases of useful things, such as scrap metal, copper, coal, etc. ».
[10.000 francs (…) resteront entre les mains de monsieur Vacher, gérant l’établissement, soit pour ses appointements et la nourriture des nègres que pour l’acquittement des loyers et les achats journaliers des choses utiles, tels que ferraille, cuivre, charbon, etc.]
The document also specifies: « the establishment will pay him one franc per day for the food of each sick or healthy negro, the expenses of the doctor and the pharmacist remaining at the expense of the establishment, which will also bear the expense of the purchase of four barrels of ordinary wine for the negroes of Mr. Vacher [who] will be able in the event of a work in a hurry at his will to take workers outside at the expense of the establishment, as well as in a case of illness if he is obliged to be replaced to supervise the work ».
[l’établissement lui passera un franc par jour pour la nourriture de chaque nègre malade ou bien portant, les frais de médecin et de pharmacien restant à la charge de l’établissement qui supportera aussi la dépense de l’achat de quatre barils de vin ordinaire destinés pour les nègres de monsieur Vacher [qui] pourra en cas d’ouvrage pressé à sa volonté prendre des ouvriers au dehors aux frais de l’établissement de même que dans un cas de maladie s’il était obligé de se faire remplacer pour surveiller des travaux.]
Dissolution of the company and purchase of the forge
But the society of the two men didn’t last long. On January 28, 1831, Moïse Vacher and Alexandre Auguste Perrollat met before a notary to record the dissolution of the company. As agreed a year earlier, Alexandre Auguste Perrollat sold his share to Moïse Vacher. Moïse thus became the single owner of the entire forge and foundry. Within this short time, Pompé was dead.
Mystery about the destiny of Élie, Auguste, Brutus, Louis and Charles
As the archives of Martinique are not accessible at the moment, I was not able to carry out the research as I would have liked. Impossible for now to search for information on what the forge and foundry was like before and after 1830-1831. Nevertheless, the property history written in the deed allows me to assume that they were already there in 1817.
It is also impossible to find more information about these enslaved male blacksmiths. In particular, I tried to see if I could find Élie, Auguste, Brutus, Louis and Charles after the abolition of the slave. I started with Élie and Auguste for whom an age was given; I found nothing for Auguste. On the other hand, in the registers of individuality (registers in which former slaves record a family name after the abolition of slavery), I found Élie Balustro and Élie Telfort, both born around 1797, which also corresponds to the age of our blacksmith; but both were then presented as farmers in the civil status records.
I then tried to reconstruct the workshops from which they could have come, with the idea of perhaps finding the name of Brutus, Louis or Charles for whom I have no other information. Here again nothing very conclusive; I did find men who could have belonged to the same former workshop for Élie Telfort: Louis Tilbury, Charles Tesin. But they too are then said to be farmers, and not blacksmiths, in the civil status records concerning them. For the moment, I have not been able to retrace their lives.
The marriage of Moïse Vacher
On the other hand, while I was looking for traces of a possible emancipation of the blacksmiths before 1848 (which I didn’t find either), I found the marriage of Moïse Vacher! On 13 February 1831, just a few days after the company was dissolved, the officer of civil registry pronounced the union of Mr Moïse Vacher, aged 33, owner, blacksmith’s master, domiciled in this Fort-Royal town, son of the legitimate marriage of Mr Jean Vacher and Mrs Pierette Colard, a native of D’arnay le Duc, department of Côte d’Or, and of Demoiselle Jeanne Marguerite Elizabeth Lapoujade, 18 years of age, residing at Fort-Royal, minor and legitimate daughter of Mr. Jean Lapoujade, merchant residing in the said city and of the late lady Jeanne Rose Ferny.
The dissolution of the company and the repurchase by Moïse Vacher of the portion of the forge and foundry may have been done so that he would have a contribution of substantial assets from his marriage.
The deed brings another piece of information: Moïses was the widower of Marie Louis Fany Bertrand. So I also looked for this previous marriage. It had taken place on November 24, 1828; Moïse Vacher was then presented as a gunsmith, domiciled in this town of Fort-Royal, born on October 12, 1797.
Forges and foundries in the Caribbean in the 19th century
After completing the research for this Fort-Royal foundry, I searched for more general information about armouries, foundries and forges in the Caribbean. This is how I found on a text bearing « decision authorizing Sieur Bellin, arms manufacturer, to establish a forge and crucible foundry in the interior of the town of Cayenne« in April 1838. Bellin probably shared the same profile as Vacher, presented as a gunsmith, he had obtained the necessary authorization to have a forge and foundry in the town, because since the French imperial decree of October 15, 1810 and the royal ordinance of January 14, 1815 this authorization was necessary for factories and workshops that spread « an unhealthy or uncomfortable smell ». I searched in the Manioc database: « Affranchis de Guyane », if I found by chance any former slaves associated with this gunsmith, but I did not. He wasn’t necessarily still in business in 1848.
Finally, in the book La ville aux Îles, the historian Anne Pérotin-Dumon mentions a blacksmithing and forging company formed between farrier Vincent Bonnes and blacksmith Jean Roy in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, in 1807. The act is an opportunity to see the variety of possible organisations. Whereas in our case, Vacher, the manager, was in charge of providing food for the slaves from a predetermined budget, the partnership presented by Anne provided that each member was personally responsible for providing food for his slaves. This difference may be explained by the type of company formed. In Guadeloupe, Bonne and Roy were tenants of the forge. Bonne managed the ironwork for equine hoof care, Roy the forge. Each had made an equivalent contribution to the company: two slaves and the tools necessary for his activity. At Fort-Royal, the partners each owned half of their forge and Vacher was the sole manager of the whole; Perrollat, a government works contractor, residing in Saint-Pierre, seems to have been, above all, a financial partner absent from the forge’s day-to-day operations.
I hope to be able to delve further into the daily work of the craftsmen of the colonial town, especially those with slave status such as Élie, Auguste, Brutus, Pompé, Louis and Charles; in the meanwhile, I leave you with this excerpt from Father Labat:
« You can’ t believe the inconvenience & expense of not having a forge & two blacksmiths. Because we must have daily recourse to the blacksmith that we call Machoquet on the Islands, for hoes, claws, axes, wheel fittings, eggs, plates, & other items needed for a mill. A skillful Dweller must neglect nothing to have a Negro blacksmith, (…). »
[On ne sçauroit croire l’incommodité & la dépense qu’il faut supporter lorsqu’on n’a pas une forge & deux forgerons. Car il faut avoir recours tous les jours au forgeron que l’on appelle Machoquet aux Isles, soit pour les houës, les serpes, les haches, les ferrures des roües de cabrouets, les oeufs, les platines, & autres ouvrages nécessaires à un Moulin. Un Habitant habile ne doit rien négliger pour avoir un Négre forgeron, (…).]
And you, had you ever thought of the important and indispensable work of blacksmiths to meet the daily need for tools in those days?
- Anne Pérotin-Dumon, La ville aux îles, la ville dans l’île. Basse-Terre et Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, 1650-1820, Paris, Editions Karthala, 2000, p. 660.
Archives nationales outremer
- Dépôt des fortifications des colonies, Plan de la ville du Fort-Royal et environs par François Louis Joseph Garin, 1826, FR_ANOM_13DFC659A.
- Etat-civil, Fort-Royal, acte de mariage n°320 du 24 novembre 1828, vue 157.
- Etat-civil, Fort-Royal, acte de mariage n°52 du 13 février 1831, vue 29.
Archives de Martinique, série des Hypothèques
- 4Q2/536, acte n°48, vente d’une forge et fonderie
- 4Q2/536, acte n°87, vente et société
- 4Q2/540, acte n°27, vente et dissolution de la société
- Bulletin officiel de la Guyane Française, décision qui autorise le Sieur Bellin, armurier, à établir une forge et fonderie à creuset dans l’intérieur de la ville de Cayenne » en avril 1838, p 91.
- Jean-Baptiste Labat, Nouveau voyage aux isles de l’Amérique… Tome quatrième, Paris : Chez Guillaume Cavelier père, 1742. pp 182-183.