Following the Leads

Toulouse

La mendiante à la sébille. Jacques Callot, 1723. BnF Gallica.

La mendiante à la sébille. Jacques Callot, 1723. BnF Gallica.

Though I arrived in Paris, I was there only long enough to catch the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) south to Toulouse, a six hour trip. On the long ride I peered out the window as I passed other locations I would later be visiting more in depth- Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Montauban. Toulouse was my starting point, and there I hoped to find more information concerning textile production at the old general hospital of the city, l’Hôpital Saint-Joseph de la Grave. Based on the markings on several seals from Fort Ticonderoga and my MA research, a partnership between Daniel Mariette l’aîné (“the elder”) and a member of the Dumas family (also of Montauban) supplied blankets somehow associated with the hospital to the fort, most likely as equipment for the French soldiers stationed there in 1757-1758. From 1647 through most of the 18th century, l’Hôpital Saint-Joseph de la Grave was not a hospital in the medical sense we usually think of today, but rather a place of confinement for the city’s poor, disabled, elderly, fallen women, and orphans. Inside the hospital’s walls this diverse body of inmates received the bare minimum in food and board, wore simple work uniforms provided by the hospital, and were taught various trades in order to “work in the manner that is judged most advantageous by the directors of the said hospital.”* This program was in alignment with mercantilist thought at the time concerning the formation of skilled workers that would improve the overall economic situation of the state. According to my research, prostitutes and able bodied workers were instructed in the production of blankets and other woolens. What was life like for those confined to La Grave? What was the connection or relationship between La Grave and the Mariette and Dumas families of Montauban? Certainly visiting the museums associated with the hospitals would help answer my questions to some degree!

Photo C. Davis

The Dome of La Grave towering over its rooms and courtyards. Photo C. Davis

However, while exploring the hospital complexes of Saint-Cyprien quarter it became clear to me that the celebrated medical history of Toulouse far took precedent over discussing the history of La Grave. Apart from a short panel about the 1647 Grand Renfermement, the act which created the confinement situation in La Grave, there was virtually no discussion of the lives of those once confined there, or even the production of textiles in the hospital. Visiting other local museums and asking around about textile production inside La Grave, the overall response was “on ne connaissent pas ca.” This history of confinement seems to have been largely forgotten in plain sight, as have the grounds of La Grave. The hospital is an interesting irony in itself: its chapel dome is one of the most cherished symbols of Toulouse and features prominently in the skyline, but the complex itself is in disrepair and has seemingly always been a place of intentional forgetting and seclusion. In its first life La Grave was a plague hospital, built across the river from the rest of the city in order to isolate the diseased. Later the Grand Renfermement cleared the streets of Toulouse of those that the “general public” did not want on display- beggars, prostitutes, the disabled, and kept them confined, out of sight, and largely forgotten, except when their presence was allowed and controlled in the occasional religious parade. Later in the nineteenth century the hospital gradually began acting more as an orphanage and center for the elderly in need, and finally solely the latter, noted only on the donation boxes in local churches.

Church donation box for the care of the elderly in La Grave and l'Hôtel Dieu. Photo C. Davis

Church donation box for the care of the elderly in La Grave and l’Hôtel Dieu. Photo C. Davis

While exploring the grounds I was alone except for a few homeless persons sleeping in the shadow of the hospital walls. This was an unexpected detour from the main focus of my study, but one that made me realize the importance of my research in shedding light on histories that have been forgotten and should be addressed as a means of reexamining the present. The seventeenth and eighteenth-century residents of La Grave have turned into a singular entity party to a forgotten event in 1647, and their stories obscured by time. The history of poverty is unwritten, spanning both the past and present of Toulouse, and its implications extend far beyond la Ville Rose itself and across the Atlantic.

Carcassonne

Ramparts of La Cité, Carcassonne. Photo C. Davis.

Ramparts of La Cité, Carcassonne. Photo C. Davis.

Though visiting Carcassonne was not part of my original plan, accessibility issues (namely the lack of a rental car) caused me to make the best of an unanticipated situation. Carcassonne is a popular destination with tourists because of its medieval Cité, an ancient fortified city with structures dating from as early as the Gallo-Roman period, and I was interested to see this UNESCO site myself, but my visit to Carcassonne was also driven by an interest in learning more about seventeenth and eighteenth century woolen broadcloth production there. Carcassonne is often mentioned in eighteenth-century accounts of New France as a supplier of many of the écarlatines and other fine woolens that were common in the clothing of various Native American tribes in eastern North America. Much to my excitement the place of production for draps (woolen broadcloths) in Carcassonne is still standing and has been lovingly restored by a private owner.

La Manufacture Royale des draps, Carcassonne. Photo C. Davis.

La Manufacture Royale des draps, Carcassonne. Photo C. Davis.

The Manufacture Royale of Carcassonne on the banks of the Aude River is a very large building with traces of the past on its walls. The “Royale” in its name has been purged from the inscription above its entrance, a result of the late eighteenth-century revolutionary reform that forever changed every aspect of daily life in France. The woolens produced in this building were probably those represented by lead seals found at trading posts in the Great Lakes region that were identified in my thesis research, including one marked “Drap de Carcassonne.” Apart from still standing places of production, the enormous wealth generated by the textile trade is still apparent in the form of the sturdy and elegant houses of cloth merchants scattered about the bastide, the newer part of the city across the Aude from the turrets and ramparts of medieval Carcassonne.

Montauban

Willow tree symbol on a medaille de pauvres (a medal that granted the owner the right to beg for money) from Montauban, 17th century. Musée Ingres "hors des murs" exhibition at the Centre de Patrimoine de Montauban. Photo C. Davis

Willow tree symbol on a medaille des pauvres (a medal that granted the owner the right to beg for money) from Montauban, 17th century. Musée Ingres “hors des murs” exhibition at the Centre de Patrimoine de Montauban. Photo C. Davis

As the central point in my research, Montauban was of particular interest to me as I walked the same streets as the merchants who left their names in lead over 250 years ago. My hosts in Montauban were excited about my research and quickly suggested that I check in at the Centre d’interprétation de l’architecture et du patrimoine. As luck would have it, many artifacts from the currently closed-for-renovation Musée Ingres were on display at the centre d’interpretation. This allowed me to see multiple medieval and early modern artifacts exhibiting the willow tree emblem of Montauban. The willow tree (saule, in French) is a symbol of the town due to the linguistic particularities of the local Occitan language. The original Occitan name for Montauban, Mont Alba, could translate as either “white mountain” or “willow mountain,” but clearly the later iteration stuck. The willow as seen on Montauban’s many buildings and historic objects is not the weeping willow that immediately springs to mind, but rather one of the many less distinctive species of willow that populate the banks of the Tarn and the town’s public gardens and parks.

Detail shot of a Cadis jacket from the 19th century. Musée Ingres "hors des murs" exhibit at the Centre de Patrimoine de Montauban. Photo C. Davis.

Detail shot of a cadis jacket from the 19th century. Musée Ingres “hors des murs” exhibit at the Centre de Patrimoine de Montauban. Photo C. Davis.

Visiting these collections and communicating with the staff allowed me to touch an original piece of Montauban cadis, a light yet compact and rough wearing worsted (a variety of woolen with more ordered fibers, a result of processing differences during production). Though Montauban was a hub in the transit of various local and regional textiles, it was also a major production center for cadis. The staff member I spoke with at the centre d’interpretation was in the process of researching the production of cadis by the locally famous family Vialette d’Aignan, which held the permission to operate a manufacture royale for cadis in Montauban. With many locals insisting on the renown and importance of the Vialettes d’Aignan, I was confused as to why they were not represented in the lead seal collections I had analyzed back in the US and Canada. Were they truly Canada merchants or simply textile producers?

View of Montauban and the prominent tower of Église Saint-Jacques across the Pont de Vieux over the Tarn, as seen from Villebourbon. Photo C. Davis

View of Montauban and the prominent tower of Église Saint-Jacques across the Pont de Vieux over the Tarn, as seen from Villebourbon. Photo C. Davis

My next stop in Montauban were the Archives départementales de Tarn-et-Garonne, where I surveyed all of the materials relating to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and where I learned that all of the records for births, deaths, and marriages for both Catholics and Protestants were available online (sometimes it takes a discussion with an archivist to learn how to navigate a website!). While in the archives I found a few large books of rent records that could help to do a future spatial analysis of the activities, residences, and daily lives of merchants in Montauban. Also potentially useful but mysteriously lost piece of evidence is a cadastral map for the 1740s which archivists there were unable to locate for me. Future correspondence with the local archaeological and historical society may possibly help me locate a copy or at least compile a new one. The highlights of my visit to Montauban were my multiple promenades in Villebourbon along the Quai du Villebourbon and Rue de Général Sarrail, between which are found many of the residences and businesses of prominent Canada merchants, including the Mariette family.

Portion of Rue de Général Sarrail in Villebourbon and its centuries-old merchant houses and workshops. The Mariette house is the bright yellow one in the center of the image. Photo C. Davis.

Portion of Rue de Général Sarrail in Villebourbon and its centuries-old merchant houses and workshops. The Mariette house is the bright yellow one in the center of the image. Photo C. Davis.

The Mariette home is striking from both sides, with multiple doors and ramps facing the quai, a testament to the importance of the Tarn both as a means of transportation and as an essential tool in the dyeing process that was carried out inside. It stands just a few doors down from the workshops of the Vialettes d’Aignon, which were moved closer to the center of town in the late eighteenth century as a result of intense flooding in Villebourbon. These floods only magnified the economic downturn experienced by the cloth industry in Montauban which began with the loss of the Canadian market after the surrender of Québec in 1759 and subsequent mass bankruptcy among the merchant class. While the good times lasted, however, Rue de Général Sarrail, formerly known as the Grand Rue of Villebourbon, was probably a place of work, wealth, and color. I will be certainly returning to Montauban in the future and I hope perhaps to eventually work with the community in bringing their history to light on an international level.

Bordeaux

Detail of a Roman carving of a cloth merchant's shop showing a merchant with his hand on a pile of woolens. Musée de L'Aquitaine. Photo C. Davis.

Detail of a Roman carving of a cloth merchant’s shop showing a merchant with his hand on a pile of woolens. Musée de L’Aquitaine. Photo C. Davis.

Bordeaux is situated in a bend in the Garonne River, earning it the name Le Port de la Lune (The Port of the Moon). The rich red wine and sidewalk cafés that its name evokes have deep roots in Bordeaux, which has a long history of commercial prowess stemming from Roman times, when its shops overflowed with amphorae from the far reaches of empire and its denizens flocked to markets and forums. Textiles filled these ancient markets, and centuries later the entry of goods into the fabulously wealthy port city was subject to meticulous surveillance carried out in the shadow of the impressive gates of Place Royale (now known as Place de la Bourse). My visit to Bordeaux allowed me to come face to face with evidence of the antiquity of French textile tradition as well as to gain a more secure and intimate understanding of the way in which an 18th century French customs office functioned.

On my visit to the Musée nationale des douanes I was excited to see an example of a Bordeaux custom’s seal of the fermes générales (the spiritual and nearly identical predecessor to the more modern bureaux des douanes) on display. Viewing this seal further confirmed my identification of a Bordeaux customs seal found at Fortress Louisbourg (Louisbourg NS). This seal notably still contained traces of sizeable hemp cording inside of its tunnel that seem to firmly establish the attachment of customs seals to the outside of baled goods. This hunch of mine was further confirmed as I discovered through the exhibits in the museum the customs process, which resulted in a clear mark of positive inspection being applied to the outside of packaged goods. The customs museum also had examples of early twentieth-century lead seals used to mark inspected goods that were stamped closed around a cord using pliers, rather than the most common eighteenth-century method that used a die, stamp, and mallet.

Detail of a model of a working customs house of the 18th century showing goods awaiting inspection. Musée nationale des Douanes Bordeaux. Photo C. Davis.

Detail of a model of a working customs house of the 18th century showing goods awaiting inspection. Musée nationale des Douanes Bordeaux. Photo C. Davis.

Rochefort 

Detail of a copy of Joseph Vernet's Vue du port de Rochefort, prise du magasin des Colonies, Musée nationale de la Marine, Rochefort. Photo C. Davis.

Detail of a copy of Joseph Vernet’s Vue du port de Rochefort, prise du magasin des Colonies (1762), Musée nationale de la Marine, Rochefort. Photo C. Davis.

I was able to explore Rochefort and La Rochelle for one day each, but in the future I plan at least on returning to do more in depth and archival research in La Rochelle. Rochefort was of interest to my research because it is the port at which at least two shipments of goods provided by the Mariette family were loaded to be sent to Québec, according to archival evidence examined for my MA thesis. In addition to this, the arsenal at Rochefort was the home base of the French navy from the time of Louis XIV onwards through the 18th century. The goods loaded onto ships here were apparently secured through government contracts with merchants that were recommended by colonial authorities and consumers, as in Canadian archives there are recommendations from the intendant promising his French correspondents that the Mariettes were among “les meilleurs négociants de Montauban.”

Detail of copy of Joseph Vernet's Vue du port de Rochefort, prise du magasin des Colonies, Musée nationale de la Marine, Rochefort. Photo C. Davis.

Detail of copy of Joseph Vernet’s Vue du port de Rochefort, prise du magasin des Colonies (1762), Musée nationale de la Marine, Rochefort. Photo C. Davis.

I also wanted to visit the Musée de la Marine in Rochefort because they apparently had an original painting of the port of Rochefort in the 1750s by Joseph Vernet, though it turned out to be a well done copy instead (the originals are all in the Musée de la Marine in Paris). Vernet’s port scenes are well loved by historians and archaeologists of the eighteenth century for their detailed depictions of port life and commerce, with scenes showing the various steps in the process of creating bales and the packaging of many other types of trade goods. When I picture the past I always try to imagine myself in one of Vernet’s port scenes and take note of who exactly is present: soldiers and merchants feature prominently, but the figures in the background also had their own place in society and their own often overlooked stories to tell.

La Rochelle

Port of La Rochelle. Photo C. Davis.

Port of La Rochelle. Photo C. Davis.

La Rochelle, with its medieval towers guarding the entrance to the port, is today perhaps the most remembered of all the ports involved in the Canada trade. The flag of Québec province is often seen flown above one of its towers as a reminder of its involvement in the history of Canada, and it is frequented by most researchers studying trade goods or imports to New France in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. Though La Rochelle certainly has a monopoly on memory, it was only one of a few ports, including Bordeaux, that did regular trade with the French colonies in North America. La Rochelle is rather distant from Montauban, but the two cities are connected in their shared history of the Wars of Religion in that both were Protestant strongholds that underwent siege by the Catholic government. The Protestant merchants of La Rochelle, like those of Montauban, were protected from persecution as residents of a “safe haven” location as specified in the edict of Nantes. The Mariette family had partners here, arguing for the potential importance of shared religion in the formation of social and business connections.

The 18th century chamber of commerce building in La Rochelle as seen from interior courtyard/forum. Photo C. Davis

The 18th century chamber of commerce building in La Rochelle as seen from interior courtyard/forum. Photo C. Davis

The eighteenth-century chamber of commerce building is a splendid example of the wealth of La Rochelle merchants, and once acted as a place where partnerships and business connections were made, strengthened, tested, and broken. This forum for the négociants of La Rochelle includes architectural details that evoke the importance and the international expanse of Rochelais shipping in the period. Though the Museum of Protestantism was closed until the height of tourist season and I did not have enough time to spend in the archives, exploring the port nonetheless helped me better appreciate the still palpable connections between France and New France before my long flight back to Detroit.

Epilogue: Finding the Old in the New

My trip to France has helped me continue to evolve my research since my return to the states. I have many, many new plans for my research and a lot of reading ahead of me! Since my return I attended the French Colonial Historical Society Conference in Longueuil (a suburb of Montréal). Not only did this conference allow me to reconnect with colleagues that have offered to share some of their research materials on the Montauban merchants, but exploring old Montréal and Pointe-à-Callières allowed me to view many lead seals on display, many of them familiar. Through examining a very well preserved seal of the Mariette family in the museum I was able to confirm that the identity of the watercraft included on similar seals in the Great Lakes region- not a canoe, but a rowboat. I plan in the future to potentially visit the museum’s collections and examine the many other lead seals that have yet to be fully identified or researched.

Seal of the Vialettes d'Aignan. Mackinac State Historic Parks Collection. Photo C. Davis.

Seal of the Vialettes d’Aignan. Mackinac State Historic Parks Collection. Photo C. Davis.

Additionally, my summer travels on this side of the Atlantic brought me to Fort Michilimackinac, a prominent trading post at the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Fort Michilimackinac is one of the longest running archaeological investigations in North America, with roots in the 1950s tied to the building of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the two peninsulas of Michigan (it is also the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere). Its publications and artifacts are a standard reference for French Colonial archaeologists and specialists in the fur trade. I was privileged enough to record and study the lead seals in this collection up close and found something unexpected that truly highlighted the value of my time in France. Right there in front of me on the table was a seal of the Vialette d’Aignon family of Montauban. It would have gone unremarked and unidentified if not for my discussions with the passionate local historians of Montauban a month before. I suppose that this confirms it: sometimes in order to understand the people of the past and to recognize the clues they left behind, you have to walk in their footsteps!

 

-Cathrine

*translation of a portion of the Capitouls’ (the governing body of Toulouse) order for the Grand Renfermement, 1647.