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#2551: Chevalier de Saint George (fwd)

From: Joel Dreyfuss <jdreyfuss@attglobal.net>

I just read a fascinating biography on the life of Joseph Boullogne,
Chevalier de Saint-George, the mulatto swordsman and musician who was a
popular figure in pre-Revolutionary France ("Monsieur de Saint-George, Le
Negre des Lumieres" by Alain Guédé,published in French by Actes Sude.)
Saint-George, the son of a powerful French aristocrat and a Senegalese
slave, was born in Martinique and raised in France. He lived several years
on a plantation in Haiti as a child(then Saint-Domingue) and returned much
later for a brief stay with the famed Sonthonax mission that freed the
His father's family's wealth and clout got him a gentlemen's education (the
best swordfighting school and music lessons) and opened doors for him in the
French aristocracy; his temper and willingness to duel also protected him
from frequent racial insults.
Saint-George was a virtuoso violinist who became conductor of one of Paris's
top orchestras, premiering works by Hayden and Mozart. His own compositions
were played all over Europe. He did encounter racial slights, first by being
turned down as conductor of the Paris Opera because two divas refused to be
conducted by him; and later, during the French Revolution when he led an
all-black regiment and was falsely accused of abandoning his post.
I first heard of him in the 1970s when several of his compositions were
featured on the CBS Black Composers series. However, I didn't know about his
two contacts with Haiti until I read this book. Guede says history slighted
Sant-George because Napoleon's reimposition of slavery made Saint-George's
story an embarrasing contradiction to prevalent racial stereotypes. The same
fate befell Gen. Thomas Dumas (father of Alexandre) who was a contemporary
and friend of Saint-George.
I have also found two CDs of his work on French labels.