Thomas-Alexandre Dumas

This article is about the French general and father of the writer Alexandre Dumas (père). For other uses, see Alexandre Dumas (disambiguation).
Thomas-Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas, painting by Olivier Pichat
Birth name Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie
Born (1762-03-25)25 March 1762
Jérémie, Saint-Domingue (later Haiti)
Died 26 February 1806(1806-02-26) (aged 43)
Villers-Cotterêts, France
Allegiance  Kingdom of France
France Kingdom of the French
France French First Republic
Service/branch French Army
French Revolutionary Army
Years of service 1786–1801
Rank Divisional General
Commands held Army of the Eastern Pyrenees
Army of the Alps
Army of the West
Commander of Cavalry, Armée d'Orient (1798)
Battles/wars French Revolutionary Wars
War of the First Coalition
War in the Vendée
Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars
Siege of Mantua (1796–1797)
French Campaign in Egypt and Syria
Battle of the Pyramids
Relations Alexandre Dumas, père (son)
Alexandre Dumas, fils (grandson)
Alexandre Lippmann (great-great-grandson)

Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie (French: [tɔma alɛksɑ̃dʁ dyma davi də la pajətʁi]; also known as Alexandre Dumas; 25 March 1762 – 26 February 1806) was a general in Revolutionary France and the highest-ranking man of African descent ever in a European army.[1] He was the first person of color in the French military to become brigadier general, the first to become divisional general, and the first to become general-in-chief of a French army.[2] Dumas and Louverture (appointed a general-in-chief in 1797[3]) were the two highest-ranking officers of sub-Saharan African descent in the Western world until 1975, when "Chappie" James achieved the equivalent rank of four-star general in the United States Air Force.

Born in Saint-Domingue, Thomas-Alexandre was of mixed race, the son of Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, a white French nobleman and Marie-Cessette Dumas, an enslaved mother of African descent. He was born into slavery because of his mother's status but was also born into nobility because of his father's. His father took the boy with him to France in 1776 and had him educated. Slavery had been illegal in metropolitan France since 1315 and thus any slave would be freed de facto by being in the country.[4] His father helped Thomas-Alexandre enter the French military.

Dumas played a pivotal role in the French Revolutionary Wars. Entering the military as a private at age 24, Dumas rose by age 31 to command 53,000 troops as the General-in-Chief of the French Army of the Alps. Dumas's strategic victory in opening the high Alps passes enabled the French to initiate their Second Italian Campaign against the Austrian Empire. During the battles in Italy, Austrian troops nicknamed Dumas as the Schwarzer Teufel ("Black Devil," Diable Noir in French).[5] The French – notably Napoleon – nicknamed him "the Horatius Cocles of the Tyrol"[6] (after a hero who had saved ancient Rome[7]) for single-handedly defeating a squadron of enemy troops at a bridge over the Eisack River in Clausen (today Klausen, or Chiusa, Italy).

Dumas served as commander of the French cavalry forces on the Expédition d’Égypte, a failed French attempt to conquer Egypt and the Levant. On the march from Alexandria to Cairo, he clashed verbally with the Expedition's supreme commander Napoleon Bonaparte, under whom he had served in the Italian campaigns. In March 1799, Dumas left Egypt on an unsound vessel, which was forced to put aground in the southern Italian Kingdom of Naples, where he was taken prisoner and thrown into a dungeon. He languished there until the spring of 1801.

Returning to France after his release, he and his wife had a son, Alexandre Dumas, who became one of France's most widely read authors of all time. Alexandre Dumas Junior's most famous characters were inspired by his father's life.[8] The general’s grandson, Alexandre Dumas, fils, would become one of France's most celebrated playwrights of the second half of the nineteenth century. Another grandson, Henry Bauër, who was never recognized by the novelist Dumas, was a prominent left-leaning theater critic in the same period.[9] The General's great-grandson, Gérard Bauër, son of Henry Bauër, was also an accomplished writer in the twentieth century. A great-great-grandson, Alexandre Lippmann (grandson of the playwright Dumas fils), was a two-time gold medalist in fencing at the 1908 and 1924 Olympic games (he won silver in 1920).


Born 25 March 1762 in Jérémie, Saint-Domingue (today Haiti), Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie was the son of a French nobleman, the Marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie (Antoine)[10] (20 June 1714, Belleville-en-Caux–15 June 1786, Saint-Germain-en-Laye[11]) and Marie-Cessette Dumas (birth date unknown; d. 1772, La Guinodée, Saint-Domingue[12]), his black African slave.


Noble pedigree

Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie,[10] born 1714, was the oldest of three sons of the Marquis Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie (1674–1758)[13] and Jeanne-Françoise Paultre, (or Pautre) de Dominon (died 1757).[14] The Davy de la Pailleteries were provincial Norman aristocrats whose wealth was in decline.[15] The family had acquired the title of "lords" (seigneurs) by 1632.[16] The French kingdom granted the title "marquis" to the family by 1708.[17]

Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie ("Antoine") had two younger brothers, Charles Anne Edouard (Charles) born in 1716, and Louis François Thérèse (Louis) born in 1718. All three were educated at a military school and pursued careers as officers in the French military. They first served during the War of Polish Succession. Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, who reached the rank of colonel, notably saw action at the Siege of Philippsburg in 1734.

Career in Saint-Domingue

In 1732, Antoine’s younger brother Charles had been given a military posting in Saint-Domingue, a French colony in the Caribbean that generated high revenues from its sugarcane plantations, worked by African slave labor. In 1738, Charles left the military to become a sugar planter in that colony; he married Anne-Marie Tuffé, a rich local French Creole widow, and took over her estate.

That year Antoine also left the Army and joined his brother and his wife in Saint-Domingue. He lived with them and worked at the plantation until 1748. After the two brothers quarrelled violently,[18] Antoine left Charles's plantation, taking his three personal slaves.

At that point Antoine broke off contact with his brother and his family for a period of thirty years.[19] During that time, Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie purchased the slave woman Marie-Cessette "for an exorbitant price" and took her as a concubine. In 1762, she gave birth to their mixed-race son Thomas-Alexandre. During her time with Antoine, she also had three daughters with him. (Some accounts say two.) The French colonist made a living in Jérémie, Saint-Domingue as a coffee and cacao planter, under the assumed name of "Antoine de l'Isle."[19]

When the brothers’ parents, the Marquise Jeanne-Françoise and the Marquis Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, died in 1757 and 1758, respectively, Charles returned to Normandy to claim the title of Marquis and the family château. The British blockade of French shipping during the Seven Years' War reduced Charles' income from sugar exports, so he tried to smuggle the commodity out of Saint-Domingue from his plantation. He used a wharf in the neutral border territory (and tiny island) of Monte Cristo (today Monte Christi, Dominican Republic). (Some historians argue that this Monte Cristo was the "real" island that inspired Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.[20]) Charles died of gout in 1773;[21] Louis, the youngest of the Davy de la Pailleterie brothers, died three months later. He had served a 15-day sentence for being involved in selling defective weapons to the French military (a famous scandal at the time known as the Invalides Trial (le procès des Invalides).[22]


Marie-Cessette Dumas — described as a "great matriarch to a saga of distinguished men"[23] was a slave and concubine of African descent owned by the Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie.[18] They resided together at a plantation called La Guinaudée[18] (or Guinodée[24]), near Jérémie (formerly in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, now Haiti) until shortly before Antoine's departure in 1775. He sold Marie-Cessette Dumas, their other two children, and her daughter by another man to a baron from Nantes before leaving Saint-Domingue.[18][25]

The only source for her full name, "Marie-Cessette Dumas," with that spelling, is General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas's later marriage certificate and contract.[24] Her grandson's memoir gave her name as Louise,[26] and another source recorded Cécile.[27] Sources have spelling variations of her name, as standardization was not common at the time.[28][29] Some scholars have suggested that "Dumas" was not a surname for Marie-Cessette, but, meaning "of the farm" (du mas), was added to her first names to signify that she belonged to the property.[30] Others have suggested African origins of the names Cessette and Dumas, including Gabon, Yoruba or Dahomey.[31][32]

The two extant primary documents that state a racial identity for Marie-Cessette Dumas refer to her as a “négresse” (a black female) as opposed to a “mulâtresse” (a female of visible mixed race).[18][29]

Secondary sources on General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, dating back to 1822, almost always describe his mother as a black African (“femme africaine”,[33]négresse,”[34]négresse africaine,”[35]noire,”[36] or “pure black African”[37]).[38]


Sources differ on the date and circumstance of her death. Two documents signed by Alexandre Dumas – his contract and certificate of marriage to Marie-Louise Labouret – state that Marie-Cessette died in La Guinaudée, near Trou Jérémie, Saint-Domingue, in 1772.[24] Based on this death date, Victor Emmanuel Roberto Wilson speculates that she may have died in the mass outbreak of dysentery following a hurricane that struck principally the Grand Anse region of Saint-Domingue that year.[39]

Two other documents attest that Marie-Cessette was alive after 1772: a letter recounting her sale in 1775[18] and an 1801 document signed by Dumas, saying that “Marie-Cezette” will be in charge of General Dumas’s properties in Saint-Domingue.[40]

Thomas-Alexandre Dumas may have earlier claimed that she had died in order to avoid having to get her approval before marriage and revealing her slave status. In addition, he was in a hurry to leave for the military front.[41]


Dumas used several names in his life: Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie,[42] Thomas Rethoré (or Retoré), Alexandre Dumas, Alex Dumas, and finally Thomas-Alexandre Dumas-Davy de la Pailleterie. "Davy de la Pailleterie" is his father's family name. He used the name "Retoré" (sometimes spelled Rethoré) during and for some years after the period in which his father sold him and then re-purchased him (1775–1776). According to the biographer Tom Reiss, the name Retoré "was perhaps picked up from a neighbor in Jérémie (where the name can be found on official records of the period)."[43] The name Dumas is from his mother. The first record of his use of the name "Alexandre Dumas" is his entry in the registry book of the Queen's Dragoons, which he joined on June 2, 1786.[44] (It was known in his platoon that this was "not his real name."[45]) He used the simple form "Alex Dumas" starting in 1794.[46] General Dumas used the full name "Thomas-Alexandre Dumas-Davy de la Pailleterie" on his son's birth certificate.[47]


The enlistment roll-book for the 6th Regiment of the Queen's Dragoons, which Dumas joined in 1786, described him as "6 feet tall, with frizzy black hair and eyebrows... oval face, and brown skinned, small mouth, thick lips."[48] According to the earliest known published description of him (1797), he was “one of the handsomest men you could ever meet. [...] His frizzy hair recalls the curls of the Greeks and Romans.” It described his face as "something closer to ebony" than to "bronze."[49] ” Elsewhere General Dumas has been described as “dark — very dark.”[50]

Early life

Thomas-Alexandre had two siblings by his parents: Adolphe and Jeannette. They also had an older half-sister, Marie-Rose, born to Marie-Cessette before Davy de la Pailleterie purchased her and began their relationship. His father sold Marie-Cessette and her other three children before arranging to take Thomas-Alexandre with him to France.

In 1776 when Alexandre was fourteen years old, his father sold the boy for 800 French livres in Port-au-Prince, officially to a Lieutenant Jacques-Louis Roussel (but unofficially to a Captain Langlois). This sale (with right of redemption) provided both a legal way to have Alexandre taken to France with Langlois and a temporary loan to pay for his father's passage. The boy accompanied Captain Langlois to Le Havre, France, arriving on August 30, 1776, where his father bought him back and freed him.[51]

From his arrival in France until Autumn 1778, Alexandre (then using the name Thomas Retoré) first lived with his father at the Davy de la Pailleterie family estate in Belleville-en-Caux, Normandy. After his father sold that estate in 1777, they moved to a townhouse on the rue de l'Aigle d'Or in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. There, Alexandre studied at the academy of Nicolas Texier de la Boëssière, where he was given the higher education of a young nobleman of the time. At this school, he learned swordsmanship from the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, another mixed-race man from the French Caribbean.[52]

Flush with cash from the sale of his family estate, Davy de la Pailleterie for many years spent lavishly on Dumas. His notary said that the boy "cost him enormously."[53] From 1777 to 1786, from age 15 to 24, thanks to his father's wealth and generosity, Dumas lived a life of considerable leisure.

In 1784, at age 22, Alexandre moved to an apartment on Rue Etienne, near the Louvre Palace in Paris, socializing at venues such as the Palais-Royal and Nicolet's Theater. In September 1784, while seated at Nicolet's Theater in the company of "a beautiful Creole" woman, he and his companion were harassed by a white colonial naval officer, Jean-Pierre Titon de Saint-Lamain, and one or two others. Following Dumas's verbal protests, the men "tried to force him to kneel before his attacker and beg for his freedom." The police report on the incident shows that Titon chose not to press charges as he might have, and all participants were released.[54]

Military career

Enlistment and service in the Queen's Dragoons

In February 1786 his father Davy de la Pailleterie married Françoise Retou, a domestic servant from the Davy de la Pailleterie estate.[55] Dumas did not sign as witness to the marriage contract. According to his son's memoir, the marriage precipitated a "cooling off" which led the father to tighten Dumas's allowance.[56]

Soon after, Dumas decided to join the French Army, a common occupation for gentlemen. Unlike his noble peers, who took arms as commissioned officers, Dumas enlisted as a private. A 1781 rule enabled men who could show four generations of nobility on their father's side to qualify to be commissioned as officers. Dumas had this, but the French race laws "made it hard for a man of mixed race to claim his rightful title or noble status."[57]) According to the novelist Dumas's account, on hearing of Alexandre's plan, his father insisted that his son take a "nom de guerre" in order that he not drag the noble name "through the lowest ranks of the army."[58] He signed up for the 6th Regiment of the Queen's Dragoons as "Alexandre Dumas" on June 2, 1786;[44] 13 days later, his father died.[11]

Dumas spent his first years in the Queen's Dragoons in the provincial town of Laon, Picardy, close to the border with the Austrian Netherlands. On August 15, 1789, following the beginning of the French Revolution, his unit was sent to the small town of Villers-Cotterêts. The town's newly formed National Guard leader, innkeeper Claude Labouret, had called for them to come in response to a wave of rural violence known as the Great Fear. Dumas lodged at the Labourets' Hôtel de l'Ecu for four months, during which time he became engaged to Claude Labouret's daughter Marie-Louise.[59]

Dumas' regiment was in Paris on July 17, 1791, where they served as riot police along with National Guard units under the Marquis de Lafayette during the Champ de Mars Massacre of the French Revolution. Troops killed between 12 and 50 people when a large crowd gathered to sign a petition calling for the removal of the French king. When, two years later, someone denounced Dumas to the Committee of Public Safety, he claimed that his intervention in the conflict had saved as many as 2,000 people from massacre.[60]

A corporal by 1792, Dumas had his first combat experience in a French attack on the Austrian Netherlands in April of that year. He was one of 10,000 men under the command of the General Biron. Stationed on the Belgian frontier in the town of Maulde, on August 18, 1792 Dumas captured 12 enemy soldiers while leading a small scouting party of 4 to 8 horsemen.[61]

Second-in-command of the Black Legion

In October 1792, Dumas accepted a commission as lieutenant colonel in (and second-in-command of) the Légion franche des Américains et du Midi, founded a month earlier by Julien Raimond. This was a "free legion" (i.e., formed separately from the regular army) composed of free men of color (gens de couleur libres). It was variously called the "American Legion," the "Black Legion," or the Saint-George Legion, after its commanding officer, the Chevalier de Saint-George, Dumas' former instructor in swordsmanship. The young officer Dumas frequently commanded the legion, as Saint-George was often absent from duty. In April 1793, General Dumouriez attempted a coup d'état; Saint-George and Dumas refused to join it and defended the city of Lille from coup supporters. In the summer of 1793, Saint-George was accused of misusing government funds, and the Legion was disbanded.[62]

Commander-in-chief of the Army of the Western Pyrenees

On July 30, 1793, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in the Army of the North. One month later, he was promoted again, to general of division. In September, he was made commander-in-chief of the Army of the Western Pyrenees.[63] In this brief assignment (September–December 1793), Dumas' headquarters were in Bayonne, France, where (according to his son's memoirs), he was nicknamed "Mr. Humanity" (Monsieur de l'Humanité) by local sans-culottes; they wanted to intimidate him to conform to their political line at a time when French generals were extremely vulnerable to accusations of treason that often led to execution.[64]

Commander-in-chief of the Army of the Alps

On December 22, 1793, Dumas was given command of the Army of the Alps.[65] His campaign in the Alps centered on defeating Austrian and Piedmontese troops defending the glacier-covered Little Saint Bernard Pass at Mont Cenis, on the French-Piedmont border. After months of planning and reconnaissance from his base in Grenoble, he had to wait for snow conditions to be favorable to his troops' passage. In April and May 1794, Dumas launched several assaults on Mont Cenis. In the final attack, Dumas's army, equipped with ice crampons, took the mountain by scaling ice cliffs and captured between 900 and 1,700 prisoners.[66]

Though his victory won Dumas praise from political leaders in Paris, he was called before the Committee of Public Safety in June 1794, for reasons unspecified but probably to face charges of treason, as this was the period of the "Great Terror," a period of accelerated political executions in the final months of the Reign of Terror period of the French Revolution. Dumas delayed his arrival in Paris until mid-July, and was lucky enough not to be seen by the Committee before the Terror ended with the execution of Robespierre on July 27, 1794.[66]

Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, c.1800, in Republican Army uniform

Commander-in-chief of the Army of the West (1793) in the Vendée

In early August 1794 Dumas was briefly assigned (for two weeks) to command the Ecole de Mars military school at Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris.[67] He was reassigned to lead the Army of the West from August to October 1794. In this position, he was responsible for consolidating the recent government victory over a massive insurgency in the region of the Vendée against the French revolutionary government. He focused on increasing military discipline and eliminating soldiers' abuses of the local population.[68] One historian, despite or because of his pro-royalist sentiments, would characterize Dumas in this command as "fearless and irreproachable," a leader who "deserves to pass into posterity and makes a favorable contrast with the executioners, his contemporaries, whom public indignation will always nail to the pillory of History!”[69]

General in the Army of the Rhine (France)

In September 1795 Dumas served under General Jean Baptiste Kléber in the Army of the Rhine. He participated in the French attack on Düsseldorf, where he was wounded.[70]

General in the Army of Italy

Siege of Mantua

General Dumas joined the Army of Italy in Milan in November 1796, serving under the orders of its commander-in-chief, Napoleon Bonaparte. Tension between the two generals began in this period, as Dumas resisted Napoleon's policy of allowing French troops indiscriminately to expropriate local property. In December 1796, Dumas was put in charge of a division besieging Austrian troops at the city of Mantua. By Christmas he had intercepted a spy carrying a message to the Austrian commander with important tactical information. On January 16, 1797, Dumas and his division halted an Austrian attempt to break out of the besieged city and prevented Austrian reinforcements from reaching Mantua. The French were thereby able to maintain the siege until French reinforcements could arrive, leading to the city's capitulation on February 2, 1797.[71]

Campaign in Northern Italy

Following the January 16 fighting, Dumas felt insulted by the description of his actions in a battle report by General Berthier, Bonaparte's aide-de-camp, and wrote a letter to Napoleon cursing Berthier. Dumas was subsequently omitted from mention in Napoleon's battle report to the Directory, France's government at the time. He was then given a command well beneath his rank, leading a subdivision under General Masséna, despite a petition from Dumas' troops attesting to his valor. Under General Masséna in February 1797, Dumas helped French troops push the Austrians northward, capturing thousands of them. It was in this period that Austrian troops began calling him the der schwarze Teufel ("Black Devil", or Diable Noir in French).[72]

In late February 1797, Dumas was transferred to a division commanded by General Joubert, who specifically requested Dumas out of admiration for his republicanism. Under Joubert, Dumas led a small force that defeated several enemy positions along the Adige River. Dumas' crowning achievement in this period came on March 23, when the general single-handedly drove back an entire squadron of Austrian troops at a bridge over the Eisack River in Clausen (today Klausen, or Chiusa, Italy). It was this feat for which the French began referring to Dumas as "the Horatius Cocles of the Tyrol" (after a hero who had saved ancient Rome). Napoleon called Dumas by this nickname, and rewarded him by making him cavalry commander of all French troops in the Tyrol; he also sent Dumas a pair of pistols. Dumas spent much of 1797 as military governor, administering the province of Treviso, north of Venice.[73]

Commander of Cavalry in the French Campaign in Egypt

Dumas was ordered to report to Toulon, France in March 1798 for an unspecified assignment. He joined an enormous French armada massing there in preparation for departure to a secret destination. The armada departed on May 10, 1798, destination still unannounced. It was only on June 23, after the fleet had conquered Malta, that Napoleon announced that the mission's main purpose: to conquer Egypt. Aboard the Guillaume Tell, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Dumas learned that he had been appointed as commander of all cavalry in the Army of the Orient. The armada arrived in the port of Alexandria at the end of June, and on July 3 Dumas led the Fourth Light Grenadiers over the walls as the French conquered the city. After the fighting, Napoleon sent Dumas to pay ransom to some Bedouins who had kidnapped French soldiers. The expedition's chief medical officer recounted in a memoir that local Egyptians, judging Dumas' height and build versus Napoleon's, believed Dumas to be in command. Seeing "him ride his horse over the trenches, going to ransom the prisoners, all of them believed that he was the leader of the Expedition."[74]

From July 7 to 21, Dumas commanded the invading army's cavalry as it marched south from Alexandria to Cairo. Conditions of heat, thirst, fatigue, and lack of supplies for the troops on the desert march were harsh; there were a number of suicides. While camped in Damanhour, General Dumas met over watermelons with several other generals (Lannes, Desaix, and Murat). They vented criticisms of Napoleon's leadership and discussed the possibility of refusing to march beyond Cairo. Dumas soon participated in the Battle of the Pyramids (following which he chased retreating Mameluke horsemen) and the occupation of Cairo. At some point during the occupation, Napoleon learned of the earlier mutinous talk, and confronted Dumas. In his memoirs, Napoleon remembered threatening to shoot Dumas for sedition. Dumas requested leave to return to France, and Napoleon did not oppose it.[75] Napoleon was reported to have said: "I can easily replace him with a brigadier."[76]

Following the destruction of the French armada by a British fleet led by Horatio Nelson, however, Dumas was unable to get out of Egypt until March of the following year. In August 1798, Dumas discovered a significant cache of gold and jewels beneath a house in French-occupied Cairo, which he turned over to Napoleon. In October, he was instrumental in putting down an anti-French revolt in Cairo by charging into the Al-Azhar Mosque on horseback. Afterward (according to his son's account, drawn largely from the memories of Dumas's aide-de-camp Dermoncourt), Napoleon told him: "I shall have a painting made of the taking of the Grand Mosque. Dumas, you have already posed as the central figure." The Girodet painting, however, which Napoleon commissioned eleven years later, shows a white man charging into the mosque.[77]

On March 7, 1799, Dumas boarded a small ship called the Belle Maltaise in the company of his fellow General Jean-Baptiste Manscourt du Rozoy, the geologist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu, forty wounded French soldiers, and a number of Maltese and Genoan civilians. Dumas had sold the furnishings of his quarters in Cairo, and purchased 4,000 pounds of moka coffee; eleven Arabian horses (two stallions and nine mares) to establish breeding stock in France; and hired the ship.[78]

While returning to France, the ship began to sink, and Dumas had to jettison much of his cargo. The ship was forced by storms to land at Taranto, in the Kingdom of Naples. Dumas and his companions expected to get a friendly reception, having heard that the Kingdom had been overthrown by the Parthenopean Republic. But that short-lived republic had succumbed to an internal uprising by a local force known as the Holy Faith Army, led by Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, in alliance with King Ferdinand IV of the Kingdom of Naples. He was at war with France.[79]

Imprisonment in the Kingdom of Naples

The Holy Faith Army imprisoned Dumas and the rest of the passengers and confiscated most of their belongings. Early on in the captivity, Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo tried to trade Dumas for a Corsican adventurer named Boccheciampe, an imposter posing as Prince Francis, son of Ferdinand IV, in order to aid the Holy Faith movement. Boccheciampe had been captured by French forces north of the Neapolitan kingdom, shortly after he had visited the prisoners in Taranto, but Ruffo lost interest in a trade when he learned Boccheciampe had been killed by the French.

Dumas was malnourished and kept incommunicado for two years. By the time of his release, he was partially paralyzed, almost blind in one eye, had been deaf in one ear but recovered; his physique was broken. He believed his illnesses were caused by poisoning. During his imprisonment, he was aided by a secret local pro-French group, which brought him medicine and a book of remedies. In November 1799, Napoleon had returned to Paris and seized power. Dumas' wife lobbied his government for assistance in finding and rescuing her husband, to little result. Napoleon's forces, under the command of Dumas' fellow general Joachim Murat, eventually defeated Ferdinand IV's army and secured Dumas's release in March 1801.[80]

Political views

Dumas made few political statements, but those he made suggest deeply felt republican beliefs. One month after the French National Convention abolished slavery (February 4, 1794), Dumas sent a message to troops under his command in the Army of the Alps:

Your comrade, a soldier and General-in-Chief. . . . was born in a climate and among men for whom liberty also had charms, and who fought for it first. Sincere lover of liberty and equality, convinced that all free men are equals, he will be proud to march out before you, to aid you in your efforts, and the coalition of tyrants will learn that they are loathed equally by men of all colors.[81]

Marriage and family

In November 1792, stationed with the Black Legion in Amiens, Dumas married Marie-Louise Labouret in Villers-Cotterêts.[82] She stayed in Villers-Cotterêts with her family during his military campaigns. Dumas bought a farm of 30 acres there. They had daughters Marie-Alexandrine (born September 10, 1794), Louise-Alexandrine (born 1796, died 1797), and a son, Alexandre Dumas, who became a prolific and notable author, with numerous successes in plays and especially adventure novels.

Later years and death

After he finally gained release in 1801, Dumas was not awarded "the pension normally allocated to the widows of generals" by the French government[83] and he struggled to support his family after his return to France.[84] He repeatedly wrote to Napoleon Bonaparte, seeking back-pay for his time lost in Taranto and a new commission in the military.[85] He died of stomach cancer[86] on 26 February 1806 in Villers-Cotterêts.[87] At his death his son Alexandre was three years and seven months old. The boy, his sister, and his widowed mother were plunged into deeper poverty.[88] Marie-Louise Labouret Dumas worked in a tobacconist's shop to make ends meet.[89] For lack of funds, the young Alexandre Dumas was unable to get even a basic secondary education. Marie-Louise persistently lobbied the French government to be paid her military widow's pension.[90] Marie-Louise and the young Alexandre blamed Napoleon Bonaparte's "implacable hatred" for their poverty.[91]

Legacy and honors

See also


  1. Toussaint Louverture was commissioned as "general-in-chief" of the army in French Saint-Domingue during the Haitian Revolution. Alfred-Amédée Dodds, who was of one-eighth African descent, became a general of division in 1898 and general-in-chief in 1900, but commanded only colonial troops. La Revue hebdomadaire, 2nd series, 4th year, v. 9, 4 August 1900, n.p., and in Mariani, Angelo and Uzanne, Joseph, eds., Figures contemporaines: Tirées de l'album Mariani v. 6 (Paris: H. Floury, 1901), n.p."Le Général Dodds". Abram Petrovich Gannibal had achieved major general rank in the Imperial Russian Army by 1752. In continental Europe, however, Alexandre Dumas is the only general of division and general-in-chief in modern history.
  2. Alexandre Dumas was made brigadier general (the entry-level rank for generals in the French military hierarchy) of the French Army of the West on July 30, 1793, general of division one month later, and general-in-chief of the Army of the Western Pyrenees. Tom Reiss, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012), 145 and 147. The next black people to make brigadier general in the French military were Toussaint Louverture, André Rigaud, and Louis-Jacques Beauvais, all promoted to that rank on July 23, 1795. Madison Smartt Bell, Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography (New York: Vintage Books, 2007), 119. Note: Alexandre Dumas was the first French general of African descent, and was of mixed race; Louverture was the first French general of purely African descent. The assertion that Louverture was "the first black general in French history" is true if mixed-race men are not considered in this category, or if Dumas is overlooked. The claim has been made by Pierre Pluchon, Toussaint Louverture: Un révolutionnaire d'Ancien Régime (Paris: Fayard, 1989), 554, quoted in Daniel Desormeaux, Deborah Jenson and Molly Krueger Enz, "The First of the (Black) Memorialists: Toussaint Louverture", Yale French Studies no: 107 (2005), 138.
  3. Madison Smartt Bell, Toussaint Louverture: A Biography (New York: Vintage Books, 2007), 144.
  4. Christopher L. Miller, The French Atlantic triangle: literature and culture of the slave trade. Duke University Press. p.20
  5. Report by Dumas's aide-de-camp Dermoncourt, quoted in Alexandre Dumas, père, Mes mémoires, v. 1 (Paris, 1881), 110.
  6. Alexandre Dumas, père, Mes mémoires, v. 1 (Paris, 1881), 127.
  7. Tom Reiss, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012), 213.
  8. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 12–14. See also Gilles Henry, Les Dumas: Le secret de Monte Cristo (Paris: France-Empire, 1999). A. Craig Bell argues for Porthos in Alexandre Dumas: A Biography and Study (London: Cassell and Co., 1950), 7.
  9. Marcel Cerf, Le mousquetaire de la plume: La vie d'un grand critique dramatique, Henry Bauër, fils naturel d'Alexandre Dumas, 1851–1915 (Paris: Académie d'Histoire, 1975.).
  10. 1 2 Madison Smartt Bell, (6 October 2012). "'The Black Count' by Tom Reiss". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2013-05-04.
  11. 1 2 Death certificate of Alexandre-Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, June 16, 1786, Musée Alexandre Dumas (Villers-Cotterêts, France).
  12. Tom Reiss, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012), 54.
  13. Fernand Gaudu, "Les Davy de La Pailleterie, seigneurs de Bielleville-en-Caux, Rouen," Revue des Sociétés savantes de Haute-Normandie, no. 65 (1972), 44–45.
  14. Receipt, signed by Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, June 29, 1757, Archives départementales du Pas-de-Calais (Dainville and Arras, France), 10J34.
  15. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, 24.
  16. Fernand Gaudu, "Les Davy de La Pailleterie, seigneurs de Bielleville-en-Caux, Rouen," Revue des Sociétés savantes de Haute-Normandie, no. 65 (1972), 43.
  17. Robert Landru, À propos d’Alexandre Dumas: Les aïeux, le général, le bailli, premiers amis (Vincennes: R. Landru, 1977), 22.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Letter from M. de Chauvinault, former royal prosecutor in Jérémie, Saint Domingue, to the Count de Maulde, June 3, 1776, privately held by Gilles Henry. Note: It says Dumas's father (then known as Antoine de l’Isle) “bought from a certain Monsieur de Mirribielle a negress named Cesette at an exorbitant price,” then, after living with her for some years, “sold... the negress Cezette” along with her two daughters "to a... baron from Nantes." Original French: "il achetais d’un certain Monsieur de Mirribielle une negresse nommée Cesette à un prix exhorbitant"; "qu’il a vendu à son depart avec les negres cupidon, la negresse cezette et les enfants à un sr barron originaire de nantes." (The spelling of her name varies within the letter.)
  19. 1 2 Count de Maulde’s request at the Parliament, November 30, 1778, Archives départementales du Pas-de-Calais (Dainville and Arras, France), 10J35.
  20. Tom Reiss, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012), pp. 13–14 and 49; Gilles Henry, "Alexandre Dumas, Les dessous d'une légende: La véritable histoire de Monte-Cristo," Historia Magazine, (May 2002), 42–67.
  21. Leroux to Maulde, July 8, 1773, Archives départementales du Pas-de-Calais (Dainville and Arras, France), 10J26.
  22. Gilles Henry, Les Dumas: Le secret de Monte Cristo (Paris: France-Empire, 1999), 47.
  23. Jacobo Valcárcel, "A black slave, Marie-Cesette Dumas", GuinGuin Bali website, 3 February 2010, accessed 16 October 2012.
  24. 1 2 3 Marriage contract and marriage certificate, both November 28, 1792, Musée Alexandre Dumas (Villers-Cotterêts, France). A copy of the certificate is also held in Archives de l’Aisne (Laon, France), 304 E 268.
  25. Judgment in a dispute between Alexandre Dumas (named as Thomas Rethoré) and his father’s widow, Marie Retou, Archives Nationale de France, LX465. "En consideration des obligations cy dessus contractees par led. S. Rethoré es par suite de la presente transaction Mad DeMarquise de la Pailleterie a par les presentes cede es transporté aud. S. Rethoré ce acceptans tous les droits de proprieté quelle a et pouvoir avoir sur Marie Cezette negresse mere dud. S. Rethoré, Jeannette es Marie Rose, Creoles, filles de lad. Cezette es sœurs dud. S. Rethoré es sur leurs enfans nés es a Naitre consentant quil exerce lesd. droits es en jouisse fasse es dispose en toute propriété es Comme de Choses lui appartenant au Moyen des presentes, mad. De dela Pailleterie se dessaisissans a son profit de tous les droits de propriété quelle pouvais avoir sur lesd. negresses cy devans nommées es leurs Enfans [...]." Translation: "Considering the obligations contracted above by the said Mr. Rethoré and following the present transaction the Lady Marquise de la Pailleterie has by the present yielded and carried to the said Mr. Rethoré, thus accepting, all the property right that she has and has the power to have over Marie Cezette negress mother of the said Mr. Rethoré, Jeannette and Marie Rose, Creoles, daughters of the said Cezette and sisters of the said Mr. Rethoré and over their children, whether they were born or will be born, agreeing that he exercise these rights and benefits from them and dispose in full property and As Things that bring her by the Means of the present document the Lady de la Pailleterie relinquishing, to his profit, of all the ownership rights that she used to have on the said negresses named before and their Children [...]."
  26. Alexandre Dumas, père, Mes mémoires, v. 1 (Paris, 1881), 14.
  27. Service historique de l'Armée de terre, G.D. 2/S 91, Dossier Dumas de la Pailleterie (Thomas Alexandre), certificat de services, cited by Erick Noël, “Une carrière contrariée: Alexandre Dumas, homme de couleur et général révolutionnaire,” Etudes Françaises, no. 5 (March 1998), 61.
  28. Registry of the Dragoons in the Regiment of the Queen, Dumas entry, the name is spelled "Cecette," June 2, 1786, privately held by Gilles Henry.
  29. 1 2 Judgment in a dispute between Alexandre Dumas (named as Thomas Rethoré) and his father’s widow, Marie Retou Davy de la Pailleterie, Archives Nationale de France, LX465. His mother's name is Marie-Cesette Dumas (spelled "Cezette") and referred to as “Marie Cezette, negress, mother of Mr. Rethoré” (“Marie Cezette negresse mere dud. [dudit] S. Rethoré”)
  30. Gilles Henry, Les Dumas: Le secret de Monte Cristo (Paris: France-Empire, 1999), 73; Victor Emmanuel Roberto Wilson, Le général Alexandre Dumas: Soldat de la liberté (Sainte-Foy, Quebec: Les Editions Quisqueya-Québec, 1977), 25.
  31. Albert M’Paka, Félix Eboué, 1884–1944, gouverneur général de l'Afrique équatoriale française: Premier résistant de l'Empire: Grand Français, grand Africain (Paris: Editions L'Harmattan, 2008). Note: The francophone novelist Calixthe Beyala suggested that the name “Dumas” was initially “Dûma”, of Fang origin, meaning “dignity”.
  32. Hans Werner Debrunner, Presence and Prestige, Africans in Europe: A History of Africans in Europe before 1918 (Basel : Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 1979.), 128. Note: Debrunner suggests she was more likely of Yoruba or Dahomey origin, given slave trading patterns.
  33. Antoine-Vincent Arnault, Antoine Jay, Etienne de Jouy, and Jacques Marquet de Norvins, “Dumas (Alexandre Davy-de-la-Pailleterie),” in Biographie nouvelle des contemporains, v. 6 (Paris, 1822), 160; Marie Nicolas Bouillet, Dictionnaire universel d'histoire et de géographie, 9th ed., pt. 1 (Paris: Librairie de L. Hachette, 1852), 525.
  34. Alphonse Rabbe, Claude-Augustin-Charles Vieilh de Boisjoslin, and Francois-Georges Binet de Boisgiroult, baron de Sainte-Preuve, “Dumas (Alexandre-Davy),” in Biographie universelle et portative des contemporains, v. 2. (Paris, 1834), 1469; Eugène de Mirecourt, Les contemporains: Alexandre Dumas (Paris: Gustave Havard, 1856), 10; Edmond Chevrier, Le général Joubert d'après sa correspondance: Étude historique (Paris: Fischbacher, 1884), 98; André Maurel, Les Trois Dumas (Paris: Librairie illustrée, 1896), 3.
  35. Philippe Le Bas, “Dumas (Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie),” in Dictionnaire encyclopédique de la France, v. 6 (Paris, 1842), 773; Charles Mullié, Biographie des célébrités militaires des armées de terre et de mer de 1789 à 1850, v. 1 (Paris: Poignavant, 1851), 462
  36. Alexandre Dumas, fils, “Préface,” in Frédéric Fèbvre, Journal d'un comédien, 1870–1894, v. 2, (Paris: Paul Ollendorff, 1896), vii
  37. Percy Fitzgerald, The Life and Adventures of Alexandre Dumas, v. 1 (London, 1873), 1–2
  38. Anonymous, “Contributors’ Club: The Dumas Lineage,” Atlantic Monthly (January 1896), 142. This article describes her as “colored,” saying that “she can hardly have been a full-blooded negress” because she could not have had fully African ancestry because “she had all the education and energy to take charge of all the details of the marquis’s property.”
  39. Victor Emmanuel Roberto Wilson, Le général Alexandre Dumas: Soldat de la liberté (Sainte-Foy, Quebec: Les Editions Quisqueya-Québec, 1977), 49–51.
  40. “Par-devant le notaire public du departement de Seine-et-Oise [...] était present Thomas Dumas Davy de La Pailleterie, connu et nominé Dumas, general de division, demeurant a Villers-Cotterêts, departement de l'Aisne [...]. Lequel a fait et constitue pour son procureur general et special Marie-Cezette, sa mere, a la quelle il donne pouvoir de, pour lui et en son nom, d’agir, gerer et administrer les biens, terres, habitations et propriétés appartenant au constituant, comme fils et heritier d'Antoine Alexandre Davy de La Pailleterie son pere, le tout situé cote et ile de Saint-Domingue ; de se mettre en possession du tout pour et au nom du constituant [...] ; et generalement, faire par ladite procuratrice constitue tout ce que sa prudence et les circonstances exigeront; le constituant entendant conferer a ladite procuratrice constitute tous les pouvoirs les plus illimites pour la regie desditeshabitations et autres proprietes, encore bien qu'elles ne soient pas litteralement énoncees ou representees.” Legal document, November 8, 1801, quoted in Raphäel Lahlou, Alexandre Dumas ou le don de l’enthousiasme (Paris: Bernard Giovanangeli, 2006), 13 (antique syntax in Lahlou).
  41. Claude Ribbe, Le diable noir: Biographie du général Alexandre Dumas, 1762–1806, père de l'écrivain (Monaco: Alphée, 2008 and 2009), 14–15.
  42. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 91
  43. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 57
  44. 1 2 Registry of the Dragoons in the Regiment of the Queen, Dumas entry, June 2, 1786, privately held by Gilles Henry.
  45. Ernest Roch, “Le Général Alexandre Dumas,” Bulletin de la Société Historique de Villers-Cotterêts 2 (1906), p. 91, quoted by Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 109.
  46. The first letter he signed "Alex Dumas" appears to be General Dumas to Minister of War Bouchotte, January 11, 1794, Service historique de la Défense (Vincennes, France), 3B9.
  47. Alexandre Dumas, père, Mes mémoires, v. 1 (Paris, 1881), 4.
  48. Registry of the Dragoons in the Regiment of the Queen, Dumas entry, June 2, 1786, privately held by Gilles Henry, quoted Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 91
  49. Author unknown, “Le général Alexandre Dumas, homme de couleur,” n.d. [1797], Bibliothèque nationale de France, NAF 24641, quoted by Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 325
  50. Arthur Davidson, Alexandre Dumas, père: His Life and Works (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1902), 4.
  51. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 54–55.
  52. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 59.
  53. Delisson to the Count de Maulde, June 25, 1786, Archives départementales du Pas-de-Calais (Dainville and Arras, France), 10J35.
  54. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 83–87.
  55. Marriage contract between Marie Retou and Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, February 13, 1786, privately held by Gilles Henry.
  56. Alexandre Dumas, père, Mes mémoires, v. 1 (Paris, 1881), 21.
  57. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 91–92. Note: One law required non-whites living in Paris to carry special identification. A 1780 law prohibited non-whites from using the titles "Sieur" or "Madame."
  58. Alexandre Dumas, père, Mes mémoires, v. 1 (Paris, 1881), 21–22.
  59. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 102–115.
  60. Reiss, The Black Count, pp. 120, 156–157.
  61. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 129-130.
  62. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 133–145
  63. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 145–146, 150.
  64. Alexandre Dumas, père, Mes mémoires, v. 1 (Paris, 1881), 40, quoted by Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 152.
  65. National Convention decree, December 22, 1793, Service historique de la Défense (Vincennes, France), 7YD91, and memo published in Le Moniteur, December 24, 1793, reprinted in Réimpression de l’ancien Moniteur, Vol. 19 (1863); Executive Council decree, December 28, 1793, Musée Alexandre Dumas (Villers-Cotterêts, France), cited Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 152–153
  66. 1 2 Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 160–176.
  67. 114) S. H. A. T., G. D. 2/S 91, Dossier Dumas de la Pailleterie (Thomas Alexandre), ampliation du 15 thermidor an II, cited by Erick Noël, “Une carrière contrariée: Alexandre Dumas, homme de couleur et général révolutionnaire,” Etudes Françaises, no. 5 (March 1998), 69–70.
  68. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 177–183
  69. Henri Bourgeois, Biographies de la Vendée militaire: Alexandre Dumas (Luçon, France: M. Bideaux, 1900), 23, quoted in Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 181.
  70. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 183.
  71. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 190–204.
  72. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 204–207.
  73. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 206–214.
  74. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 218–237.
  75. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 240–251
  76. J. Christopher Herald, Bonaparte in Egypt (London: H.H. Hamilton, 1962), 213.
  77. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 260–263.
  78. John G. Gallaher General Alexandre Dumas: Soldier of the French Revolution (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997), 114–118; Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 262–263.
  79. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 264–272.
  80. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 264–303.
  81. Dumas to his “brothers in arms,” March 6, 1794, SHD 3B9, quoted by Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 159.
  82. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 139–141.
  83. General Alexandre Dumas to First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, October 17, 1803, and Marie-Louise Labouret-Dumas to the minister of war, October 2, 1814, both in Service historique de la Défense (Vincennes, France), 7YD91.
  84. General Alexandre Dumas to First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, September 29, 1801, cited in Alexandre Dumas, père, Mes mémoires, v. 1 (Paris, 1881), 193
  85. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 318.
  86. Charles Glinel, Alexandre Dumas et son oeuvre (Reims, 1884), 23.
  87. Alexandre Dumas's death act, February 27, 1806, Musée Alexandre Dumas (Villers-Cotterêts, France).
  88. Marie-Louise Labouret-Dumas to Madame Carmin, December 4, 1806, Musée Alexandre Dumas (Villers-Cotterêts, France).
  89. Antoine-Vincent Arnault, Antoine Jay, Etienne de Jouy, and Jacques Marquet de Norvins, “Dumas (Alexandre Davy-de-la-Pailleterie),” in Biographie nouvelle des contemporains, v. 6 (Paris, 1822), 162.
  90. Alexandre Dumas, père, Mes mémoires, v. 1 (Paris, 1881), 233.
  91. Marie-Louise Labouret-Dumas to the minister of war, October 2, 1814, Service historique de la Défense (Vincennes, France), 7YD91 and Alexandre Dumas, père, Mes mémoires, v. 1 (Paris, 1881), 231.
  92. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, pp. 327–329.
  93. Driss Sans-Arcidet
  94. Jean-Joël Brégeon, La Nouvelle Revue d'Histoire, No. 42 (May–June 2009).
  95. Reiss (2012), The Black Count, p. 330.
  96. "Pétition à Nicolas Sarkozy pour qu'il décerne la Légion d'honneur au général Dumas". Retrieved 3 September 2015.

Further reading

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