Sunday, 27 September 2020

A Radical deputy - Thyrus de Pautrizel

Here are a few biographical notes concerning one of the lesser known of David's prison companions, the deputy Jean-Baptiste Gabriel-Louis Thyrus de Pautrizel (1754-1836) who came from Guadeloupe.  It feels a bit random to write about one Revolutionary among so many, but David's portrait brings this man suddenly closer.  Like most of the radicals, his record proves deeply ambivalent.

What follows is mostly taken from a well-researched article by Pierre Bardin posted on the website Généalogie et Histoire de la Caraïbe.  The colonial background adds an extra dimension to Pautrizel's story.   

Early life

The Thyrus (/Thirus) de Pautrizel family, which originated in Berry, settled in the parish of Trois-Rivières in the western island of Guadeloupe in 1720. They were a military dynasty, allied by marriage to the other military and administrative families which were an important element in local colonial society. Pautrizel's father, a career soldier, enjoyed a minor title of nobility and signed himself "chevalier".

Our Thyrus de Pautrizel was born not in Guadeloupe but on the Île de Ré off La Rochelle where his father instructed the colonial troops of the garrison.  He was born 25th August 1753 and baptised on day of his parents' marriage, 23rd September 1754.  At age of fifteen he volunteered in the régiment de Vexin and a year later became a sub-lieutenant in the Dragoons. In 1778 a Company of 100 Musketeers was formed in Guadeloupe by the governor-general the comte d'Arbaud; most of the local nobility enrolled and Pautrizel was given the rank of captain "aide-major" under his uncle Charles Gabriel who commanded the brigade at Trois-Rivières.  It was a thoroughly aristocratic force: the troops, which included both cavalry and foot, wore splendid scarlet uniforms, with white trimmings, yellow buttons, gold epaulettes and black velvet hats. They were disbanded in 1785: According to one writer, "The inconvenience of the existence of such a force, created to flatter the vanity of a chief far from the metropolis,  was recognised so swiftly that it was dissolved soon after its formation".
Boyer-Peyreleau ·  Les Antilles françaises, vol. 2 (1826): p.144..

A decade later, in 1794,  Pautrizel sought to resume his active military career: hence the slightly unexpected inscription  on David's portrait which reads, "Captain of Cavalry in 1785".

In 1779 Pautrizel married the daughter of a fellow army officer. It was a society wedding; included among the guests was Pautrizel's close associate, the future Republican general Jacques François Dugommier.  His young wife was to die only two years later in 1781, after which Pautrizel made his home with his younger sister, Sophie [Catherine  Elisabeth "Sophie"(1758-1827)]. They lived on the family sucerie near Fromager in Trois-Rivières.

Trois-Rivières was an area of substantial plantations  - sugar, coffee, bananas, cassava - in which society was dominated by a few wealthy slave-owning families.  The majority of planation owners  were to rally to the English invaders in 1794 and to be caught up in the subsequent Revolutionary repression under Victor Hugues; so much so, that the number of whites in the parish fell from 417 individuals in 1772 to 213 in 1796.

See Lucien René Abénon, "La population de Guadeloupe pendant la Révolution.L’exemple de Trois-Rivières d’après le recensement de 1796" Bulletin de la Société d'Histoire de la Guadeloupe, 1990, p.47-51. 
The above study situates Pautrizel, the Revolutionary,  firmly in this milieu, his betrayal bitterly felt.  However, Pierre Bardin points to the report to the Convention  drawn up by Pautrizel in 1794; here Pautrizel  condemns the colonial "aristocracy" of planters as a closed group which consolidated its power by marriage into the titled nobility.  Might this perhaps echo a personal social resentment?

The available evidence shows that, if not among the wealthiest, Pautrizel was certainly economically part of the planter class.  On 8 vendémaire an 4 (30 September 1795) deputies of the Convention were obliged to declare their financial assets;.  Pautrizel lists possessions in  Petit Canal, and Basse Terre to a total value of 540,000 livres for 1789.  A will from 1786 lists silver, houses, lands, slaves and livestock.  It should be noted, moreover, that for all his radicalism, Pautrizel was never an advocate of the abolition of slavery.

A glimpse of his restless spirit is preserved for us in the will of 1786, in which he leaves all his possessions to his sister. Apparently he  thought his life was  in danger at this time. The document ends  with a plea to the Supreme Being to be given in death the repose he had sought for vainly in life.(Lacour,p.10-12; in fact it was another fifty years before this prayer was to be answered.)  The wording  confirms that Pautrizel was a almost certainly a Freemason, presumably of the Lodge Saint Jean d’Ecosse in Basse-Terre. (We know certainly that he belonged to the Lodge "Napoléon le Grand" in 1806).

Revolution in Guadeloupe

Nothing is known of Pautrizel's activities in the late 1780s apart for a brief voyage to Bordeaux in 1789 - he hurried back, perhaps hoping to be the first to bring news of the Revolution.  In the course of 1790  Revolutionary institutions were introduced into the Antilles, with new municipal governments, judiciary and National Guards units based on the old militia.  Pautrizel, rapidly identified as an ardent Patriot, was elected mayor of Basse-Terre. The new municipality was soon in conflict with the royal governor, the baron de Clugny,  and with the rival port of Pointe-à-Pitre, which was  controlled by the plantation owners of  Grand-Terre.  Fear of slave risings, such as had occurred in Martinique, was ever present,  but sporadic unrest was suppressed.   By decree of the Legislative Assembly 4th April 1792, the free coloured and negro populations were accorded political equality and now became an important political constituency.

Engraving showing the town of Basse-Terre in 1780

In 1792 news of the flight to Varennes caused disarray.  Acting on false rumours of counter-revolution, the Guadeloupe  Colonial Assembly struck the tricolour and raised the white flag of the monarchy The elective representatives of the communes, 230 in number, did not know whom to follow;  a final session of the Assembly, which presided over its dissolution was attended by only seven members.  Pautrizel and other ardent Revolutionaries were temporarily exiled to St Domingue, where they set about electing deputies to the Convention.  Pautrizel was elected for Guadeloupe, with Elie Dupuch and Pierre Joseph Lion; at the same time  Dugommier was elected for Martinique.

In January 1793 sailors and patriots in Pointe-à-Pitre rose up and forced the Royalists out, ushering in a new radical phase of the Revolution. On 5th January the Convention's envoy Captain Lacrosse anchored triumphantly in his frigate Felicité; his first act on setting foot ashore was to exchange fraternal kisses with a man of colour.  Institutions in Guadeloupe now began to mirror those of the Terror in France;  power was wielded by a Commission générale et extraordinaire, which acted as interim executive and refused to defer to the authority of the moderate Revolutionary governor Victor Collot.  Pautrizel was once more at the epicentre, reinstated as mayor of Basse-Terre and now made a member of the controlling committee of the Commission. Local patriots fulsomely commended his fervent Republican sentiments and constant struggle against the forces of Counter-Revolution. 

The Massacre of 20th April 1793

The conflicts of the Terror translated readily into Guadeloupe society where the estate owners were opposed by patriots, small holders and artisans. Lists of suspects were drawn up at the end of 1792, parish by parish.  Guadeloupe was also not without its episode of lurid violence.  In the night of of 20th April 1793 a band of  slaves - possibly over two hundred in number -  came together  in the parish of Trois-Rivières,  and ransacked local properties. Twenty-three white people were killed, of whom 13 were women or children.  Nothing was ever definitely proven, but it is probable Pautrizel himself was directly involved. The targets were carefully chosen - the action began at the plantation of the former royal procurator, Claude Brindeau , and finished at the estate  of the Vermont family three kilometres from Trois-Rivières. Pautrizel's own  property was bypassed.The leader was a certain Jean-Baptiste, the trusted slave of Brindeau.  But witnesses also reported the presence of  two masked white men.  A certain Mlle de S, who narrowly escaped being killed, claimed to have recognised and challenged them.  All the evidence pointed to Pautrizel and to a doctor from Basse-Terre Jean Marie Esprit Amic (who later married Pautrizel's niece) . Pautrizel  had passed the evening in company in Basse-Terre until nine o'clock but this still allowed him plenty of time to journey to Trois-Rivières, fourteen miles away, where the violence began only after eleven.

When the insurgents arrived in Basse-Terre in the morning, with Jean-Baptiste at their head,  they were greeted as saviours by the Commission and it was proposed to organise them into a patriotic legion. 

In the Convention

The governor Collot struggled to bring the Commission to heel.   To this end, he associated Pautrizel with him as a supernumerary aide-de-camp (15 March 1793) and sent him to Philadelphia to canvas American support.  Facing down the radicals, he also proposed  that he should take up his place in the Convention.  Pautrizel can only have stayed in America a short since he arrived in Bordeaux in June 1794, accompanied by his sister.  On 20 July the Revolutionary Committee in Bordeaux affirmed his patriotism. In the meantime the English definitive occupied Guadaloupe in March 1794 and Collot was obliged to capitulate. In August Pautrizel acquired a domain in Lot et Garonne for 100,000 livres, which confirms he had substantial financial resources, and also suggested he did not intend to return to Guadaloupe in the foreseeable future.

On 9 fructidor (26th August) Pautrizel was formally admitted to the National Convention.   His interventions in the assembly were confined to the affairs of Guadeloupe: he demanded the liberation of Lacrosse and, together with his fellow deputies from Guadeloupe,  opposed the dispatch of representatives from the Convention to the colonies.  In February 1795 he published a report asking for a committee of enquiry into the situation in Guadeloupe.  In his view the colony had become a victim of the Revolution.  Whites, Coloureds and Blacks had been set against each other, whilst Collot had been allowed to act as a despot with unlimited powers.  The great majority of plantation owners had become "the most inveterate aristocrats" , whilst patriots were left to languish in prison.

In the long term, Pautrizel hoped to resume his military career.  In November 1794 he was awarded a 
a medal, the Médaillon Des Deux Épées in recognition of his service as aide-de-camp to Collot, but  was refused 
a rank higher than that of batalion commander since he had not served in a regiment of the line.

Accusation and Arrest

There now intervened the insurrection of Prairial.  On the proposal of Clauzel, a Military Commission was set up (23 May) to try those implicated in the uprising; fourteen deputies had been immediately arrested.

In the Convention Pautrizel spoke in favour of the prosecution of the supposed agitators, but  on 6 Prairial (25th May) he found himself  implicated.  He was accused of  having advised General Morgan  not to oppose the action but to allow Thuriot and Cambon at the head of the people to confront the Assembly.  He was said to boast "thirty or forty" correspondents among the people of the faubourgs.  Clauzel also denounced him for demanding the abolition of the death penalty, supposedly after he had seen the head of Féraud promenaded before the Assembly.  Pautrizel  took the tribunal to protest his innocence. He claimed to scarcely know  General Morgan but to have warned him of the danger of dissension in the sections. Bourdon de l'Oise claimed that Pautrizel was no more entitled to immunity as a member of the Convention than was Pitt; he had usurped the title of deputy after several voyages in South America and had proposed the abolition death penalty to encourage new crimes.  Pautrizel pointed out to him that he was deputy not for Saint-Domingue as Bourdon stated but for Guadeloupe; his conduct was pure; his papers must be be examined. He explained that his opposition to the death penalty was intended to "to stop the effusion of blood that these scélérats want to spread".

It was all to no avail.  Pautrizel  was marked as a "Robespierrist", even though he denied the epithet. His immediate arrest was decreed, and his papers ordered to be delivered to the Comité de Législation. No one came forward in his defence.


That evening at ten o'clock the police arrived at the first floor lodgings Pautrizel shared with his sister at 474 rue de Chartres. Seals were placed on the cupboards, chests and other furniture, and he himself was immediately transferred to the Maison d’arrêt in the former Collège des Quatre-Nations.

 Published letter from Pautrizel to the Convention, dated 5 fructidor an 3

Pautrizel knew that his situation was grave.  Like several of his fellow prisoners, he penned a published defence in detention and wrote a long series of letter to the Committee of General Security requesting release.  Soon, worn down by the strain of weeks of waiting, his health began to suffer. On 12th July he enclosed a report from the prison doctor which stated that he was subject to attacks of nerves, colic and fever, and recommended fresh air, baths and exercise. In letter of 16th July, he asks to be held at home since there was no infirmary in the prison and his only attendant was a miserable clerk.  Like the other deputies interned with him, he demands his case to be heard: "My life, my blood belongs to the State, but my honour was  my own; no-one has the right to take it from me...It is a matter of justice to judge if I am innocent or guilty, but it is a matter of humanity to hasten my punishment or liberation (quoted Bardin, p.17) On 2nd August, the Committee indicated its intention to allow him home. However, in a letter letter dated 15th his sister was still asking for this to happen: A second doctor reported that Pautrizel suffered dangerously from shortage of breath and dysentery due to  "un vice scorbutique" which was rife in the islands.

Pautrizel complained that he had languished for sixty-six days among common criminals;  as in the prisons of the Terror, "barred windows stop the circulation of air, humidity destroys health,  grilles, ten doors, a multitude of locks attest to the confinement of crime and infamy". In another letter, dated 22nd August (5 Fructidor) he wrotes:" Worn out by suspicion, overcome by injustice, I have lost the ability to express my thoughts....By making me die this slow barbaric death...I am presumed to be guilty...I demand justice.(p.18)

The Committee meanwhile investigated the case against Pautrizel.  The lodging he had taken when he first arrived in Paris, said to be inhabited by Englishmen, were searched, and his sister's servant, a mulatto boy of 15, was briefly arrested. However, the exiles from Guadaloupe in Paris, deported after the English conquest,  petitioned in his defence.  On 26th August a further petition was made for the detainees, including David,  be held in house arrest.   Pautrizel was finally allowed home on on 20th September.  On 19th October, the day the Convention dissolved to give way to the Directory,  he was finally set at liberty.

Later life

After his release, Pautrizel and sister retired to Bordeaux.  In 1800 he was reintegrated into the army as a captain and served under the Empire.  A passport from November 1795 preserves the following description of the man:

- Jean-Baptist Thirus Pautrizel, 42 years old, five feet seven inches, blond hair and eyebrows, large nose, high forehead, medium-sized mouth, pointed chin, oval face. (Quoted Bardin, p. 21)

In 1810 Pautrizel sold his property at Saint-Pardoux in Lot et Garonne, which he had bought before his arrival at Convention.  Having offered his services to Louis XVIII and been refused, he retired with his sister to Bordeaux, where he died in 1836, leaving his estate to his  valet,  Pierre Marcel, who was perhaps his natural son.


Pierre Bardin, "Thyrus Pautrizel, un révolutionnaire guadeloupéen",  Généalogie et Histoire de la Caraïbe

Rodolphe Marie Émile Enoff, "Jean-Baptiste Louis Thirus de Pautrizel  (1754-1836)" and  Notice for the Pautrizel family, Généalogie et Histoire de la Caraïbe, .Bulletin 87, November 1996, p.1772-

Notice for Pautrizel in La base de données des députés français depuis 1789

Auguste Lacour, Histoire de la Guadeloupe, vol.2: 1789 à 1798 (1857)

Les Trois-Rivières, Ouvrage patrimonial de la bibliothèque numérique Manioc, published 2012.

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