Balembouche Estate

Today's visitor to the Balembouche Estate in St. Lucia will find a charming colonial home nestled between century old trees, flowering bougainvilleas and singing birds. A careful inspection of the spacious grounds will reveal rusting machinery, relics of what was the Balembouche sugar plantation and sugar refinery of the 19th century.

If these relics could talk they would speak of the time, beginning in the 1830's, when Louis Gaillard de Laubenque, his wife Flore d'Encausse de Labatut and their three children, Irma, Jules and Flavien lived there. Louis and his family were part of the French plantation owner class which for one reason or another found itself on this French West Indian island and whose members earned their living by producing sugar and exporting it to Europe. Today the sugar plantations are gone and with them the French plantation owners. However, vestiges of their earlier presence remain in many of the present day St. Lucians whose ascendants were the offspring of mixed race or Negro mothers fathered by French plantation owners.

But relics do not tell tales, unless they happen to be written records that have survived their subjects. This was the case for the Gaillard family of Balembouche for we find that from 1847 to 1867 they wrote letters in French to their daughter and sister Irma who at that time lived in Europe with her husband James Macfarlane and their daughters. That these letters were kept by the Parisian descendants for over 150 years is a miracle in itself; that they have now been translated into English and are being made public for the first time through this publication further magnifies this miracle.

Louis Gaillard was born in 1785 in St. Lucia while it was a French colony but since by the Treaty of Paris (1814) it reverted to the British, he lived for most of his life under British rule. However, he and other members of his family continued to communicate in French and hence the reason why these letters were written in French. To help the reader understand why he was "so French" although living in a British colony, I have provided in this publication primary sources that identify his family roots in France as far back as the early 1600's. Proof of his ancestry includes letters written by other Gaillards as well as official documents, e.g. copies of birth, death and marriage certificates and testaments.

Louis's father was Honoré Marie Gaillard de Laubenque who was born in 1747 in Toulouse, France, left France in 1775 and is believed to have died after 1830 in Soufrière, St. Lucia. Honoré, a French nobleman and an officer in the French military, was stationed in St. Lucia and Martinique during the war for the independence of America. In 1783 he married Angelique Varin, a French woman living in St. Lucia, thereby establishing the St. Lucian branch of this old and prestigious French family. While there is a paucity of information on this transition period in this family's history, I am inclined to believe that but for the fact that he had married Angelique, Honoré would probably have returned to France in 1873, at the time when his brother Nicolas, also in the military, left the West Indies to return to France.

Most of the information in this book is told in the family's own words, that is, the letters that they themselves wrote. A résumé written by Honoré provides a synopsis of some of the major events in his life as a military officer in the service of King Louis XV. The letters written by Louis and his wife Flore afford us an opportunity to discover firsthand what life was like for some sugar plantation owners who lived in St. Lucia in the 19th century.

To further set the Gaillards of St. Lucia in perspective a chapter on Honoré's parents, Noble René Bernard Gaillard and his wife Claire d'Agède of Toulouse as well as a chapter on his earlier ancestors are included. This information was obtained from letters found in the Château of Frouzins as well as other sources so identified. Scanning of the originals into the publication was considered but that plan was abandoned because of the poor quality of the originals and also because they are not written in current French and that makes them even more difficult to read. French documents are included as written but with slight changes in punctuation and grammar to make them readable.

My maternal grandfather Hippolyte Gaillard was the illegitimate son of Louis's first son, François Louis Honoré Marie Gaillard de Laubenque, alias Jules. Pappy, as we called my grandfather, died in 1951 at the age of 96 years. I was quite young when he died so that growing up I never had the opportunity to speak to him about his family background. Outside of my immediate family the only Gaillards who I knew then were Percine Gaillard (alias Cousin Nini) and her family. Cousin Nini was also from the illegitimate branch and was my grandfather's niece. Although I was young when my grandfather died, I remember him as a kind old white man who used to sing French songs to me and my brothers and sisters as we sat around him at my grandparents' home on the Chaussée Road in Castries. It was not until after his death and indeed much later, around 1970, that I became interested in his lineage and began to inquire about him from my mother, Marie Foster, and from my Cousin Nini. I remember once after much prodding, that Cousin Nini told me to get pencil and paper and write down what she had to say because she was not going to repeat it. Cousin Nini was like that, very direct and very disciplined. The first thing she said was that I did not have the correct name - that it was not just Gaillard but Gaillard de Laubenque. Not knowing how to spell Laubenque I wrote it down as it sounded to me, i.e. Lowbank. She told me that her father Victor and my grandfather Hippolyte were the children of Elphise Cadet, a mulatto who lived in Laborie, St. Lucia all of her life. As told to Hippolyte and Victor by their mother Elphise, their father was Jules Gaillard de Laubenque, the oldest son of the French plantation owner of the Balembouche estate where Elphise worked and lived. I remember asking Cousin Nini why Jules had not married Elphise; she stared at me for a few seconds, then laughed but never answered my question. However, she did answer a question about my grandfather that had been a mystery to me. The question was, why did she always refer to him as "my Uncle Hippolyte" when I knew him as Samuel Jones? Again that brought another laugh from Cousin Nini as she related that in his youth he had left St. Lucia for Scotland under his real name, Hippolyte Gaillard but that many years later when he returned from Australia he announced that he now had a British name, i.e. Samuel Jones. She said that she and her father Victor continued to call him Hippolyte and that her father used the name Victor Gaillard all of his life.

Recently one of my aunts told me that Pappy had two other brothers and one sister and indeed I did find church records for Florent, Léonce and Fandile. Why had Cousin Nini not mentioned these other children? One should remember that among older generations, illegitimacy was not something that family members were anxious to talk about, and if they did, as was done in this case, they did so under duress and supplied as little information as possible.

Once when my mother was visiting me at my home in Borex, Switzerland I asked her what she remembered of her father. That got her talking because from her perspective, her father loved her very much, let her sit on his lap while he ate and gave her choice morsels from his plate. She added that her father often said that she looked like his mother. She said that her father had fond memories of his father Jules and that on Sundays Jules would take his sons for rides on his horse Joséphine. Not being a "horseperson" myself, I found it strange that one would give a horse a woman's name. And that name stuck in my mind. When I read one of the letters in this collection and saw the name Joséphine as the name of Jules's horse, the connection came to me in a flash. My late father Ernest Foster was also privy to some of my mother's family background. Just a few years before he died he told me that my grandfather had always said that the Duboulay family of St. Lucia was related to him but he had never said how. He was right as one will read in Chapter 4.

I took early retirement from employment with the United Nations in Geneva but decided at that time that I wanted to stay in Europe for a while before returning to California where my daughter Heather, my sister Patsy and other family members live. I had visited many parts of France during my residence in Switzerland but it was during a 1996 trip to Toulouse that I fell in love with that city and decided to move there for a few years, just for the fun of it. My brother Joey died in 1997 and it was while I was in St. Lucia to attend his funeral that I visited a dear family friend, Winnie King. We chatted for a while, during which time Winnie told me much of what he had learnt about Toulouse while he had worked at the St. Lucia Archives. He mentioned several names of old St. Lucian families who he believed had come from Toulouse, the Gaillards being one of them. I remember that the next day, Winnie called me to verify. Yes, the Gaillard family had come from Toulouse. I believe that it was fate that brought me to Toulouse for it was at the last minute that I had decided to move to Toulouse instead of Paris. At that time I did not realize what a significant role Toulouse had played in my past.

I returned to Toulouse from my St. Lucian trip but this time with the name of René Bernard Gaillard who had been a Capitoul (i.e. magistrate) in Toulouse in 1744. Winnie King, of course, supplied this information. A trip to the Municipal Archives in Toulouse started my quest and now, years later, I have enough information on the Gaillard family to write volumes. In the early days of my research I found out that René had owned the Château of Frouzins that is about a twenty-minute car ride from Toulouse proper but is in the same department, i.e. Haute Garonne. One day I decided to take a chance and make a trip to the château. The present owner, Madame Uberti was very gracious and during our conversation she mentioned that somewhere in the attic there were some old papers belonging to the Gaillards. My luck was holding out because within minutes we had found the boxes, complete with rat droppings and holes made by insects in the yellowing paper. These family papers were the source of some of the information on the earlier Gaillards which I have included in this book.

I had found a reference to René with regard to another château, the Château of Gémil, also in the Department of Haute Garonne and so I also made a visit there. Again another gracious lady received me; she brought out a document listing past owners and indeed, René's name was listed. My luck was holding and I was smiling.

I now had enough information to write about the Gaillards of Toulouse but still did not know much about the Gaillards of St. Lucia. A message put out on the Internet led me to Michael Gaillard de Laubenque in England who told me about Jérôme Himely of Paris, a descendant of Jules's sister. I had no doubt about my luck when I received an e-mail answer from Jérôme. He just happened to remember that at his ancestral home in Verdun (Meuse, France) he had about 65 letters written during 1847-1867 by members of the Gaillards in St. Lucia to his ancestors in Paris. Then he put the icing on the cake; he said that he also had pictures including one of my great grandfather Jules. Now I knew that anything I would write would have to include Jules because he was, as my Cousin Nini once called him, "the adventurous Gaillard".

At this point I decided to write about both the Gaillards of St. Lucia and those of France but with emphasis on the former by the inclusion of the 60 letters that document events in their lives over some twenty years and also because I am a direct descendant of that line. I had accessed Honoré's file in the military archives in Paris, therefore I also included some of these originals.

I had two objectives in mind for this project. The first was to gather information from diverse reliable sources and incorporate it into one source that would be useful for present and future generations of the Gaillard family. The second was to make available unpublished and difficult-to-obtain primary material that would be useful to researchers and others interested in both the people identified and the times in which they lived. To my knowledge no other publication exists that gives this much original information on day-to-day life of sugar plantation owners in the Laborie area of St. Lucia in the 19th century. There is also nothing else that has been published that includes this much information on the Gaillards of France and St. Lucia. If I have succeeded in carrying out either or both of these objectives then I feel rewarded for the time spent unearthing and compiling all of this information.

As much as possible, I sought out primary sources in order to set the record straight as relates to past generations of Gaillards. For example, with reference to the Dictionnaiare des Families Françaises, Anciennes ou Notables, I could verify that it was not Jacques de Gaillard who went to St. Lucia in the 18th century and that the Gaillard family is not extinct as is reported in that source. I am sure that past writers had good intentions when they wrote about the pre-French Revolution Gaillards but by seeking out the original records, sometimes with great difficulty, I am satisfied that the information presented in this text is authentic and represents a true history of the family.

The sources of the primary material were (1) the Municipal Archives of Toulouse, (2) the Departmental Archives of Toulouse (3) The French military archives of the Château de Vincennes in Paris, (4) the Archives in Martinique, (5) the Registers of the Roman Catholic Church in St. Lucia (6) the Archives of Saint-Malo, (7) the Archives of Castres (Tarn, France), (8) the documents found at the Château de Frouzins (9) the letters and pictures provided by Jérôme Himely (10) the Archives of Rennes and (11) The Archives of Fougères. Equally important was the family oral history passed down from one generation to another through my great grandmother, my grandfather, my granduncle, my mother, my aunt, and my cousin.

I am not a professional translator of French, English or of any other language and the reader should bear this in mind when reading the English translations for which I take sole responsibility. Letters are presented in French and English. The French letters which I have included were written by the Gaillards who used French as their everyday language although St. Lucia was under British rule at that time. In some instances it was necessary to add punctuation, accents and minor grammatical corrections in order to make the French originals understandable. Other than these minor amendments, the letters are presented as they were written. By including both the original French and the English translations, I believe that I have widened the reading audience to include French as well as English readers.

Readers of the French originals will be able to discern a shift from the French language of that era towards the St. Lucian patois (a French Creole language) that is spoken today. I believe that if I was not a native speaker of this patois I would not have been able to interpret some of the "French" text presented in the letters. In one letter Louis Gaillard says that his new niece in law spoke to him in current French. This leads me to believe that he knew that what he spoke and wrote was not current French and indeed from my perspective, his French represents more a stage in the evolution from French to St. Lucian patois. These changes are also likely to be of some interest to linguists because the languages spoken in St. Lucia today are St. Lucian patois and English. For example, Flore uses the Creole words "Da" (i.e. a child's nurse) and "un pille" (i.e. "a lot" or "many); Louis includes English words in his letters, e.g. "Free Trade" and "excise". In these examples one sees the beginning of language change. But grammar and language are not what this book is about - rather it is about the two objectives stated earlier. To anyone who reads the French text and objects to any reference to Louis's writings as French, my apologies - I am simply representing the historical information as it was written and referred to at that time.

I would have preferred to scan the letters with the original handwriting into the publication rather than keying them in as I have done. I chose the latter because as can be seen in Louis's handwritten letter (included), the words were often quite difficult to decipher and therefore would have made understanding them quite a task for the reader. The first letter written by Louis that I keyed into the computer took days to decipher!

I have omitted information on living persons as much as possible. I do not pretend to have identified all Gaillards of France and St. Lucia of that period so that the names included should not be considered as all inclusive. For those that I have missed, it will be possible for present day Gaillards who have this information to insert it into their copies. This could be useful for future generations.

I would also hope that descendants will not be offended by the inclusion of the letters that contain snippets of the rift between the Laborie and Soufrière Gaillards over the French inheritance, but instead will view the conflict as being part of family life; what family has not had its conflicts? I believe that to make these disagreements public one hundred and fifty years later takes them out of the realm of family conflicts and documents them instead as history, which is where I think that they now rightfully belong.

The reader should accept this publication for what it is, namely, a record of this family and the times that they lived in, as found in family documents, supplemented by official civil records. This information should be of interest not only to the descendants of the Gaillard family but also to researchers and others interested in events in St. Lucia in the 19th century.