Friday, April 2, 2010

Paris Street Signs Correct Dates of Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), Legion Name

[ABOVE: Original “Rue du Chevalier de Saint-George” BELOW: Revised “Rue du Chevalier Saint-George”]

The Convention had abolished slavery in French colonies on February 4, 1794. The ideal of equality for which Saint-Georges and his volunteers of color had fought so bravely soon fell into disfavor. Napoleon Bonaparte sent troops to Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue in 1802 with orders to reinstitute slavery. People of color on Guadeloupe fought valiantly under Louis Delgrès, but on May 28, 1802 their defenses fell to General Antoine Richepance. Rather than live as slaves again, hundreds of people blew themselves up in a gunpowder warehouse. Emancipation would not return until 1848. The assault on Saint-Domingue killed people of color by the thousands and still France could not regain control. The former colony declared its independence in 1804, becoming the first Black republic in the world.

For many years Paris had a street named for General Richepance. In December, 2001 the Paris City Council voted to change the street's name from Rue Richepance to Rue du Chevalier de Saint-George. The name change had been requested by French citizens from the West Indies. A commemorative plaque for the street described Saint-George as a "Colonel de la Garde Nationale" ["Colonel of the National Guard"]. Historian Luc Nemeth calls this "non-information", because there was nothing unusual about being in the National Guard, for anyone who had taken part in the French Revolution. He adds: "One could not better lie by omission, more than two centuries after the decree of December, 1792 stripped the unit of its identity as the 'Black Legion'." The original sign for the Rue du Chevalier de Saint-George listed the dates of Saint-Georges as 1739-1799, even though historians and most leading biographers have documented the date of birth as 1745.

Gabriel Banat is author of the most authoritative English language biography of Saint-Georges, The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow (2006). He has provided us with a letter dated 25 March 2010 from Philippe Lamy, Counselor, Office of the Mayor, City of Paris. It is addressed to Monsieur Gabriel Banat of Dobbs Ferry, New York. Former Professor Daniel G. Marciano has translated it from the original French as follows:

“Dear Sir,
You drew my attention to the street signs
of the Rue du Chevalier Saint-George, asking for the text to be modified. Please find herewith the photo of the new street signs which will soon be installed. Best regards, Philippe Lamy”

Rue du Chevalier Saint-George

(Ancienne rue Richepance)
Compositeur et Chef d’Orchestre
Capitaine de la Garde National de Lillé
Colonel de la légion des Américains et du Midi

Rue du Chevalier Saint-George
(Previously rue Richepance)
Composer and Conductor
Captain of the National Guard in Lille
Colonel of the Legion of the Americans and of the South

"Colonel de la légion des Américains et du Midi” was the official name of the Legion of mainly Black volunteers authorized by the Convention and placed under the command of Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Thus the new signs adopted in response to the request of Gabriel Banat correct both the date of birth of Saint-Georges and the name of the Legion he commanded.

1 comment:

Halleyjc said...

C'est une belle victoire qui est tout à l'honneur de Monsieur Gabriel BANAT dont les français amoureux de Saint-Georges attendent avec impatience la traduction de son ouvrage fondamental et de référence sur le Chevalier. Les Guadeloupéens espèrent revoir Monsieur Gabriel BANAT un de ces jours prochains en Guadeloupe, Pays de Saint-Georges.
Jean-Claude HALLEY