by Céline Foster Walker
|This is probably the first book ever written which gives
details of life as it was for the French plantation owners in Laborie, St. Lucia
in the 19th century. This information is presented in the form of 60 letters
written by the Gaillard de Laubenque family living on the Balembouche sugar
plantation in the parish of Laborie.
The letters start in 1849 and end with the last one written in 1867. Irma Macfarlane (née Gaillard de Laubenque), living in Paris and London was the recipient. They were written by her family in Balembouche, i.e. her father, Louis, mother, Flore (née d'Encausse de Labatut), her brothers Jules and Flavien and her uncle Charles; the latter lived on the Malgrétout sugar plantation in Soufriére, St. Lucia. Fortunately these letters were kept by Irma's descendants who still live in Paris. It is Irma's great-great grand son, Jérôme Himely who has made these letters available.
Many of the Gaillard's ancestors, as far back as the 17th century, are identified. French genealogists who are familiar with Villain's many publications on noble and bourgeois families in the Toulouse area will be surprised to learn that the ancestors of René Bernard Gaillard, Capitoul in Toulouse in 1744 were not from Toulouse as Villain claims but rather from Laignelet in the department of Ille and Vilaine. The author of this publication cites numerous primary sources that substantiate this fact.
How did this family, originally belonging to the merchant class of Fougéres in Bretagne become ennobled? How did a branch of this family find itself in Toulouse? How did the Laubenque branch end up with descendants in St. Lucia? Why would they find a gift of toothbrushes and toothpaste sent by Irma as "luxuries" to which they were not accustomed? How did they survive during times of famine, when as indicated in one of Flore's letters, "there was nothing to eat - only rum to drink?" How did they interact with the newly freed African slaves originally brought to the island by the British? And then the bombshell - how did these aristocrats react when they found out that one of their sons, Jules was having children with Elphise, a woman of mixed race who lived in the village for emancipated slaves on their estate? These and other issues are touched upon by the Gaillards in the 60 letters included.
In their letters, the Gaillards often wrote of their interactions with other Europeans living on the island. Some of these were the following:
General d'Argout, Charles Augier, Colonel d'Auxerrois, Count de Begue, Croquet de Béligny, Dr. René Boucher, Marquis François Claude Amour de Bouillé, Count de Brache, Magistrate Brossard, Father Cortical, Father Culan, Viscount Claude Charles de Damas, Robert Joseph Mathurin Despointes, Marianne Donkerque, Doctor Droisdat, Count d'Estaing, Mathurine Fessale, Father Fontaine, Mr. De Geoffroy, Admiral de Geridon, Charles Giraudy, Chief of Police Givens, Count de Grasse, Count de Guichen, Father Jacquart, Magistrate Jennings, Alexandré Lafargue, Charles de Larochetière, Archbishop Rossini de Mathira , Cardinal Morlot, Father O'Donohue, Father Petrito, Father Spaccapietra, Mr. Torsen, Chief of Police Zolheki.
This book, a compilation of letters and other primary sources is being made available by Jules and Elphise's great grand daughter. It documents the existence of the early Gaillard family and also provides a snapshot of what life was like for the 19th century sugar plantation owners in Laborie, St. Lucia.
It will be available in early 2005. Enquiries can be made to the author at CELIW9@aol.com