Jean-Baptiste Belley, deputy of Saint-Domingue at the Convention

Jean-Baptiste Belley, deputy of Saint-Domingue at the Convention


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Home ›Studies› Jean-Baptiste Belley, deputy for Saint-Domingue at the Convention

  • Jean-Baptiste Belley, deputy of Saint Dominic at the Convention.

    GIRODET DE ROUCY TRIOSON Anne Louis (1767 - 1824)

  • Declaration of age and marriage of representatives of Santo Domingo at the National Convention.

  • Fortune situation of Jean-Baptiste Belley, representative of Saint-Domingue at the National Convention.

  • Secret instructions given by Bonaparte for the Leclerc expedition to Saint-Domingue.

Jean-Baptiste Belley, deputy of Saint Dominic at the Convention.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

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Title: Declaration of age and marriage of representatives of Santo Domingo at the National Convention.

Author :

Creation date : 1795

Date shown: 1795

Dimensions: Height 27 - Width 18.5

Technique and other indications: Declaration in execution of Articles 4 and 5 of the decree of 5 Fructidor Year III / 22 August 1795 Manuscript.

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Picture reference: C 352/1837/3 / piece 16

Declaration of age and marriage of representatives of Santo Domingo at the National Convention.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Fortune situation of Jean-Baptiste Belley, representative of Saint-Domingue at the National Convention.

Author :

Creation date : 1795

Date shown: 02 October 1795

Dimensions: Height 27 - Width 18.5

Technique and other indications: Fortune situation of Jean-Baptiste Belley, representative of Saint-Domingue at the National Convention, in execution of Articles 4 and 5 of the decree of 5 Fructidor year III / 22 August 1795. Declaration of 10 Vendémiaire year IV / 2 October 1795.

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: C 353/1838/10 / piece 43

Fortune situation of Jean-Baptiste Belley, representative of Saint-Domingue at the National Convention.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Secret instructions given by Bonaparte for the Leclerc expedition to Saint-Domingue.

Author :

Creation date : 1801

Date shown: October 31, 1801

Dimensions: Height 31 - Width 20

Technique and other indications: Instructions to Vice-Admiral Decrès, Minister of the Navy and the Colonies, to be given to the General-in-Chief, Captain General Leclerc. Chapter III Internal political instructions, relating to the Blacks and their leader. Minutes. 9 Brumaire year X / 31 October 1801. Page 32.Manuscript.

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AF / IV / 863/21 p.32

Secret instructions given by Bonaparte for the Leclerc expedition to Saint-Domingue.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Publication date: October 2006

Video

Jean-Baptiste Belley, deputy of Saint-Domingue at the Convention

Video

Historical context

An effective spokesperson for men of color

At the dawn of the Revolution, Belley, a former slave in Santo Domingo, freed thanks to his service in the army during the American War of Independence, is part of the new class of "free of color", developing in colonial towns. Infantry captain during the days of June 1793 in Cap-Français, he fought on the side of the civil commissioners against the white settlers and received six wounds. The arrival at the Convention of this first black deputy, accompanied by two others, Mills, a mulatto and Dufaÿ, a white, caused a sensation and encouraged the Assembly to decree the first abolition of slavery (16 pluviôse year II / February 1794).

The official abolition of slavery, however, did not disarm settler supporters in Paris. He proved to be an active spokesperson for men of color, at the Convention and then at the Council of Five Hundred, until 1797.

When Gouly, deputy for Ile de France (Mauritius), demands, after Thermidor, specific laws for the colonies, Belley denounces to the assembly the pressure group of the colonists, speech published under a title with a Creole flavor: "The Colonists' Tip or the Hotel Massiac system updated by Gouly ". After Belley, this elite from overseas who had known for a time to defend the rights of non-whites will be crushed.

Image Analysis

The strangeness of the black

The portrait of Jean-Baptiste Belley, full-length, against a backdrop of a cloudy blue sky, in front of the landscape of his constituency of Santo Domingo, innovates not only by its sumptuous aesthetic. Anne-Louis Girodet paints, as official representative of the Republic, this black in ceremonial costume whose mandate has just ended, even though the colonists take advantage of the royalist reaction to oust all the colored deputies from the assemblies of the Directory . At 50, with a serious face, Belley is leaning with ease on the plinth of the bust of Abbé Guillaume Raynal, sculpted by Espercieux. The artist makes him the living symbol of the emancipation of blacks announced by the philosopher.

The figure of this Negro, exhibited in Paris in 1797 and 1798, aroused a real fascination in the public. The artist placed three-quarters of the head, an object of general curiosity, at this time when we compare the morphological characteristics of whites, blacks and apes. Throwing back already graying frizzy hair, the bony face, with the flattened nose, is lit by very lively eyes; the powerful jaw shows no prognathism.

The contrast between the costume, so extraordinarily refined that it alone evokes European culture, and the model’s somber face brings out the strange difference of this black man. This costume of deputy to the Convention, also recalls that Belley had its hour of glory during the first abolition of slavery, in 1794. The three republican colors, which surround the waist and the hat are melted in pastel shades and leave all the chromatic contrast to the ratio between black and white. The subtly degraded tones of Belley's black face stand out against the white marble of the sculpture, like her long brown hand on the light panties.

Belley's statements to the Convention

The adoption of the Constitution of Year III prompted the declaration by each deputy of his personal situation. With his own hand, Belley reveals that he was born on the island of Goree in Senegal, probably in 1747. He lived 46 years in the French Cape and was therefore deported at two years old. This part of Santo Domingo is "French territory" because the Constitution of Year III divides the colonies into departments.

Belley declares that her fortune in Santo Domingo consisted of "thinking property"; the expression which referred to the slaves possessed by both free of color and whites is indicative of the mentalities of the time.

His possessions, which, he wrote, were reduced to "the furnishings of my room" did not allow him to commission a portrait of this magnitude, so the initiative for this painting probably fell to Girodet.

Her term of office ended, Belley obtained the rank of brigade leader. Assigned to the Saint-Domingue gendarmerie, he returned there for several missions from 1798. In France, he still had an influential presence in the Society of Friends of the Blacks.

Bonaparte's Secret Instructions

A supporter of firmness in the face of Toussaint-Louverture's pro-independence activities in Santo Domingo, Belley advised Bonaparte to intervene in the military. The Consulate instructed him to reorganize the national gendarmerie there. He took part in the Leclerc expedition of 1802 and landed in Cape Town on February 11. But victim of an arbitrary arrest, from April 12, 1802, he was deported to Brittany, to Belle-Ile-en-mer.

His fate is not known; it was sealed before its embarkation by these secret instructions drawn up under the direct orders of the First Consul, as of October 31, 1801, and handed over to the leader of the expedition, General Leclerc, Bonaparte's brother-in-law. One of them directly concerns Belley without naming her: "We will reorganize the gendarmerie. Not to suffer that no black having had the rank above captain remains on the island ”. The document, precise in military matters, turns out to be very ambiguous on the status of blacks. In contradiction with the solemn maintenance of liberty at the beginning of the chapter, a pragmatism indifferent to principles must succeed the reconquest of the island: ”Whatever happens, it is believed that in the third epoch we must disarm all the Negroes , of whatever party they may be and put them back to culture ”. The reestablishment of slavery is looming.

Interpretation

Girodet delivers a masterful and symbolic image of Belley, at a time when the black man fascinates with his strangeness and raises political and economic concerns for the future. But Belley's personality keeps its mystery.

The instructions given by Bonaparte lead to the secret end, at the fortress of Belle-Ile, on August 6, 1805, of this soldier, fervent Republican, betrayed by the arbitrariness of another soldier, with the rising star.

  • abolition of slavery
  • deputies
  • Haiti
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • portrait
  • racism
  • Santo Domingo
  • overseas
  • West Indies
  • Mauritius

Bibliography

Sylvain BELLENGER (dir.)Girodet, 1767-1824Paris, Musée du Louvre Editions / Gallimard, 2005.

Thierry LENTZConsular policy in the West Indies, in Napoleon Bonaparte, General correspondence, T. 3 Pacifications 1800-1802.Paris, Fayard, 2006, pp. 1223-1236.

Erick NOELBeing black in France in the 18th centuryParis, Tallandier, 2006.

To Vice-Admiral Decrès, Minister of the Navy and the Colonies. Malmaison, 9 Brumaire year X / October 31, 1801.

Instructions to be given to the general-in-chief, captain-general Leclerc. in Napoleon Bonaparte, General correspondence. T. 3 Pacifications 1800-1802Paris, Fayard, 2006, pp. 837-843.

Guide to the sources of the slave trade, slavery and their abolitionDirectorate of Archives de France, La documentation française, Paris, 2007.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "Jean-Baptiste Belley, deputy of Saint-Domingue at the Convention"


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