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Le Ricain
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Blacks in the French Army - AWI

Fri Oct 20, 2006 11:43 pm

This forum has discussed the roles played by Blacks in the AWI. In BoA, Black participation is represented by Dunsmore's Ethiopeans for the British and the 1st Rhode Island for the Americans. There is even a thread on Black soldiers serving with Hessian units. The story of the Afro-Americans who served with the French army is no less remarkable.

The island of Saint Domingue, modern day Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was a French colony during the period. In 1779, a light infantry regiment, Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Dominque, was formed under the command of Henry Joseph Chevalier de Forestier. Regiment was made up of 545 free 'men of colour'. The Chaussers Volontaires de Saint-Domingue Regiment was the largest all Black regiment on either side to take part in the war. The Regiment was also the first French Black regiment in the history of the French Army. Remarkably, neither these facts seem to be well known.

After capturing Grenada, Admiral Valerie d'Estaing landed in Saint Domingue and the Regiment joined his force. D'Estaing's force of 3,000 men landed in Georgia in September 1779 and was joined by the American force under the command of Benjamin Lincoln for the siege of Savannah. The Chasseurs comprised 10% of the Franco-American Army.

The siege lasted six weeks. On the 9th of October, after a long artillery barrage from both on and off shore, the Franco-American force attacked Savannah which was commanded by Gen Augustine Prevost. Leading the troops along with d'Estaing and Lincoln were the Polish Count Casimir Pulaski and Lt Col Francis 'Swamp Fox' Marion. Both d'Estaing and Pulaski were wounded. Although initially successful, the allies were driven back by the counterattack of the British Regular reserves commanded by Col John Maitland. The battle of Savannah resulted in the largest number of casualties in a single engagement suffered by the allies during the war. Among the 800 dead was Casimir Pulaski. D'Estaing survived.

The demoralised allied army began its retreat pursued by Maitland's force. The Chasseurs were assigned the rearguard position. In one action, the Chasseurs repulsed Maitland's attacks and were credited with saving the allied force from destruction.

After Savannah, the majority of the Regiment were transported back to Saint-Domingue where they served as garrison troops until being disbanded in 1783. However, 148 men were sent to garrison Grenada and 60 men (one company) were sent to Charleston. Other Saint-Domingue troops were involved in the later Franco-Spanish attack on Pensacola.

On the 12th of May, 1780, Benjamin Lincoln surrendered Charleston to General Clinton. The loss of the city and its 5,000 troops was a serious blow to the American cause. However, fate was to deal an especially cruel blow to the 60 Chausseur prisoners. Despite being free men, they were judged to be prizes of war and were sold into slavery.

The Regiment was the training ground for the leaders of the successful Haitian war of independence against Napoleonic France. It is claimed that the first three Haitian Heads of State (Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe and Alexandre Petion) served in Regiment during the AWI. However, what is clear is that the free Blacks of Haiti, the class that made up the the core of the regiment, supplied the leaders of the revolt and the new country. Details of two of these men are known.

In 1791, Haiti’s enslaved Africans joined the French revolution and overthrew the colonial regime. As the revolution thought through the consequences of the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) and the abolition of the monarchy (1792), it became clear that slavery would have to go. On February 3, 1794, a group of Haitian delegates to the Convention, the revolutionary parliament, successfully proposed the abolition of slavery. One of these men was the Chausser veteran Jean-Baptiste Belley, a former slave who had been born in West Africa, who made a stirring speech at the convention. In 1797, the artist Anne-Louis Girodet painted Belley’s portrait. It is one of the truly remarkable portraits to come out of this period.

Image

In 1797, Belley returned to Haiti after having lost his seat in the National Convention. He disappeared from history in the chaos of the war of independence.

Henri Christophe served in the Regiment as a 12 year old drummer. He was wounded at Savannah and afterwards was part of the Grenada garrison. In the war of independence he rose to become the commander of the Haitian army. After the war, he became King of Haiti for 14 years before dying in 1820.

Image

The citizens of the city of Savannah announced their plans in 2004 to erect a statue to commerate the efforts of the Chaussers Volontaires Saint-Dominque.
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Colonel C.E. Stanton, aide to A.E.F. commander John 'Black Jack' Pershing, upon the landing of the first US troops in France 1917

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Ayeshteni
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Sat Oct 21, 2006 1:07 am

hmm, fascinating. Nice post.

Ayeshteni

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Matthieu Brevet
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Belley

Sun Dec 10, 2006 2:00 pm

Hi,

Belley did not completely disappeared from history after going back to Saint-Domingue/Haïti in 1797. He went there with general Hédouville's expedition, as colonel commander of the colonial gendarmerie. But Toussaint quickly forced Hédouville to sail back to France, and Belley went with him. In late 1801, he is attached to general Leclerc's expedition against Toussaint, again as future commander of the colonial gendarmerie. Leclerc had several others black or mulatto officers attached to him for this expedition, but had special orders regarding them: if Toussaint was to recognized the French governement's authority, those officers (which were mostly Toussaint's ennemies deported to france earlier) were to be deported to Madagascar; if Toussaint was to choose to fight, they were to be used against him to undermine his influence. As we know, Toussaint fought, and those officers, including, were landed in le Cap several days after the troops.
Leclerc first made use of Belley as a local commander. When an insurrection broke in the Tortue (Tortuga island)'s plantations, Belley was sent there with orders from Leclerc to make a slaughter of the insurgents. But Belley was able to make them putting down there weapons and going back to work without a fight. For that, he was arrested (April 12th, 1802) by general Hardÿ under the charge of negociating with the rebels, and sent back to France with chains. In France, he was put to jail in Belle-Isle, without a trial, and died there from disease in (August 6th, 1805).

Matthieu

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Le Ricain
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Sun Dec 10, 2006 8:43 pm

[quote="Matthieu Brevet"]Hi,

Belley did not completely disappeared from history after going back to Saint-Domingue/Haïti in 1797. He went there with general Hédouville's expedition, as colonel commander of the colonial gendarmerie. But Toussaint quickly forced Hédouville to sail back to France, and Belley went with him. In late 1801, he is attached to general Leclerc's expedition against Toussaint, again as future commander of the colonial gendarmerie. Leclerc had several others black or mulatto officers attached to him for this expedition, but had special orders regarding them: if Toussaint was to recognized the French governement's authority, those officers (which were mostly Toussaint's ennemies deported to france earlier) were to be deported to Madagascar]

Matthieu,

Welcome to the forum. Thanks for the info. I found it fascinating. I have often wondered what happened to Belley after he got his pictured painted.
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Colonel C.E. Stanton, aide to A.E.F. commander John 'Black Jack' Pershing, upon the landing of the first US troops in France 1917

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Matthieu Brevet
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Sat Mar 10, 2007 10:52 am

Another future balck general from the French revolutionnary army was among the Chasseurs volontaires de Saint-Domingue which fought during the AWI: Martial Besse.

He gained several promotions under Toussaint during the revolutionnary fighting in Saint-Domingue, up to the rank of général de brigade. In 1800, he attempted to initiate a slave uprising in the British colony of Jamaïca, which failed. He then went to France, where he is immediatly attached to the Légion expéditionnaire, a unit made of the scum of the French troops, which was being sent as reinforcement to Egypt. This expedition failed too ...
Back in France, he is attached to Leclerc's staff for the expedition to Saint-Domingue, under the same conditions as Belley. Used as a local commander, it is him, and not Belley as I said earlier (sorry for the mix-up), which was arrested and deported to France after having peacefully put an end to an uprising in Tortuga in July 1802. Belley was arrested by Hardÿ, on April 12th, 1802, for "inconvenient talks" which were considered to be prone to stimulate the rebellion.
Besse is arrested on July 28th, 1802, on Leclerc's direct order, and sent back to France, where he land on Octobre 8th. One month later, he is put on retirement from the French army, but remains free. He then lives peacefully in Paris, in the quartier du Marais, with some wealth, before being arrested (May 1803) and put in jail at the Fort de Joux, where Toussaint & Rigaud were already detained. Freed after several monthes, he is kept under watch by Fouché's police. He nevertheless succeed to escape and went to the USA (1804), from where he organize a weapon smuggling cartel for Haïti, to the benefit of Dessalines. In 1805, he went back to Haïti, and served under Dessalines, and then under Christophe.
He died in 1816, at the Cap.

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Mon Mar 12, 2007 8:31 am

Chasseurs volontaires de Saint-Domingue

[font=Arial]Jacques-Vincent OGÉ[/font]
http://www.royet.org/nea1789-1794/notes/acteurs/oge.htm
Jean-Baptiste Bernard Viénot de Vaublanc
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Baptiste_Bernard_Vi%C3%A9not_de_Vaublanc
DICTIONNAIRE DES OFFICIERS DE L'ARMÉE ROYALE QUI ONT COMBATTU
AUX ÉTATS-UNIS PENDANT LA GUERRE D'INDÉPENDANCE 1776-1783
http://www.memodoc.com/article_amerique.htm

http://www.agh.qc.ca/articles/?id=31
[color="Green"][CENTER]http://wiki.baronnerie.com[/CENTER][/color]
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Le Ricain
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Mon Mar 12, 2007 3:00 pm

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Colonel C.E. Stanton, aide to A.E.F. commander John 'Black Jack' Pershing, upon the landing of the first US troops in France 1917

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Polo
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Tue Mar 13, 2007 7:11 am

Le Ricain wrote:In English : Jacques Vincent Oge
http://en.wikiphttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Vincent_Og%C3%A9

The neutrality of this article is disputed ! :tournepas

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Korrigan
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Tue Mar 13, 2007 7:32 am

Indeed, but reading the discussion I'm unable to tell what is disputed exactly...

Any clue?
"Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference." Mark Twain

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Le Ricain
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Wed Mar 14, 2007 12:41 am

Korrigan wrote:Indeed, but reading the discussion I'm unable to tell what is disputed exactly...

Any clue?


I think that I may know the answer. Studying Haitian history, I have found that the historians are divided into two camps, largely based on race. Black scholars tend to 'over cook' the evidence, i.e. make claims that are not strictly a matter of record. They use the oral history, which after all this time is difficult to separate the facts from legend. White scholars, on the other hand, tend to 'under cook' the evidence, i.e. ignore any oral history and much of the written evidence if not confirmed by a French source or several independent Haitian sources. Wiki has probably faced this problem in prior Haitian entries and may have made the decision to calm down the white camp.
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Colonel C.E. Stanton, aide to A.E.F. commander John 'Black Jack' Pershing, upon the landing of the first US troops in France 1917

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Matthieu Brevet
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Sat Apr 28, 2007 8:55 am

Ogé, through his death, we could even say his martyrdom (he was killed, as during the Middle-age, by being clubbed to death on a row, in public) became a symbol of the fight for freedom of the Blacks from Saint-Domingue.

And as is said in John Ford's The man who shot Liberty Valence: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend". Once a national hero, a symbol, it is very difficult to remove the legend from the real story.

Dealing with Wikipedia's article on Ogé, I do believe he is fair. Unlike many biography, Ogé does not appear there as a "Robin Hood" fighting for the rights of the Blacks as a whole, but rightfully trying to gets more rights for his own class: the wealthy free mulattos, which were far from being that many ...
He was part of an elite among the coloured people, fighting for his class only.

Matthieu

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Matthieu Brevet
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Another Chasseur volontaire

Sun Apr 29, 2007 3:28 pm

To come back to this topic subject, the Blacks in the French army during the AWI, there is another major figure of the incoming Haïtian revolutionnary wars that learned the way of arms in the Chasseurs volontaires de Saint-Domingue: André Rigaud, champion of the mulatto cause.

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9_Rigaud

He was for a long time Toussaint's adversary to suprem power in Saint-Domingue. Beaten in 1800, he went back to France after many "adventures", where he was therefor attached to Leclerc's expedition in late 1801. The French governement hoped to make good use of his popularity among the mulattos to separate them of Toussaint. It worked at first.
But Rigaud quickly generated tensions between mulattos & blacks by asking the black general Laplume to give him back his estates, which Laplume had seized when Rigaud got in exile. Laplume refused, and Leclerc quickly had to make a choice between the two of them: by forcing Laplume to give back the estates, he would send a bad messages to the Blacks that were more and more rallying him against the promise of safety for them and their properties ; but by siding with Laplume, he will weakened his grip on the mulattos.
Leclerc finally decided to get rid of Rigaud. In mid-April 1802, he invited the mulatto leader to join him on a review around the island, by sea. But when Rigaud was on board the ship, the captain set sail without Leclerc and annouced Rigaud he was now a prisonner en route to France.
Rigaud's officers, among whom were the future Haïtian presidents Petion & Jean-Pierre Boyer, were deeply saddened by the news of his arrest. Petion had no illusions from the begining of the real motives of the expedition (he knew from an informant in the Marine minister in Paris that slavery was to be reestablished), but he may have hoped that by showing their loyalty, Rigaud, himself and the other mulatto leaders could change things, or at least avoid that fate for those of their color.

In France, Rigaud was emprisonned in the fortress of Joux ... alongside his arch-ennemy Toussaint-Louverture. Freed in 1804, he was still under close watch by the Police. In 1810, he finally succeeded in escaping and going back to Haïti. French general Pamphile de Lacroix, which was a veteran of Leclerc's 1802 expedition, has an interesting story about that escape. Serving with the army of Italy in late 1809, he was summoned in Paris, where he had an immediate interview with Napoleon, whom asked him a lot of questions about Haïti. But Lacroix had the sensation that the real subject of the interview was Rigaud, especially when Napoléon asked him if Rigaud could be useful to France if he was sent back to Haïti? Lacroix answered that he did believed it, that Rigaud's return would spread chaos among the various factions. A few monthes later, Lacroix red in the press that Rigaud had escaped from France: the French general couldn't help thinking that his interview with Napoléon and Rigaud sudden successful escape may not be just coincidences ...

Rigaud went back to Haïti in 1810. He was greated by his former subordinate Pétion, now president of a small republic. But Rigaud could not accept being a general under his former lieutenant, and mutinied, creating his own republic inside Petion's own, and generating a civil war between the two. But he died less than a year later, and Petion reunified his republic ...

Matthieu

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