“Engraving depicting the exterior of Exeter Hall, reproduced on a 1905 postcard.” (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)[i]
The 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention, was held in Exeter Hall, a Masonic Hall. In fact, Exeter Hall is a synonym for the Anti-Slavery Society.
Quakers played an important role in the abolition of slavery. One of their leaders was French-born American Anthony Benezet (Antoine Bénézet). However, the Age of Enlightenment saw a rebirth of Freemasonry whose members took very seriously what would become the motto of France: liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, brotherhood [fraternity]).
Prince Hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
However, African-Americans could not join Masonry, except that Prince Hall (1735 – 1807) was allowed to establish Prince Hall Masonry during the eighteenth century. Yet, Freemasonry played an important role in the abolition of slavery, but it should be noted that although Freemasonry flourished during the Age of Enlightenment (the 17th and 18th centuries), Masonic Lodges did not and do not always consider other Lodges as “regular.” For instance, one condition of membership is a belief in a supreme being and scripture. Given this condition, current French Masonic lodges are not considered legitimate.[ii] (See Freemasonry, Wikipedia)
However, as mentioned above, eighteenth-century Masonry shared the ideals of abolitionism. For instance, John Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu KG, KB, PC (1690 – 5 July 1749, made sure Ignatius Sancho was educated, and the Montagu family always protected Sancho. John Montagu was a Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England. Montagu family always protected Sancho. John Montagu was a Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England. Moreover, Blacks and mulattoes[iii] have been active abolitionists and Freemasons, including Joseph Boulogne, chevalier de Saint-George, the “Black Mozart,” Europe’s finest swordsman, not to mention an accomplished equestrian.
The struggle to abolish slavery is linked with the Enlightenment which subjugated tradition to the rule of reason and promoted tolerance. Yet, a large number of French slave owners were cruel.
Joseph Boulogne, chevalier de Saint-George
Famed mulatto Joseph Boulogne, chevalier de Saint George, (spelled Saint-Georges by Tom Reiss and Gabriel Banat*) the “Black Mozart,” was a Freemason. He was a friend of George IV, a future king of England and a Freemason.
* author of The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow
La Loge Olympique
Moreover, Saint-George (c. 1745 – 1799) was the conductor of the largest orchestra of his era, the Loge Olympique, founded by French Freemasons and, among French Freemasons, Joseph Boulogne, the “Black Mozart” himself.
In fact, Joseph Boulogne, was “the first person of African descent to join a Masonic Lodge in France. He was initiated in Paris to ‘Les 9 Sœurs,’ [The 9 Sisters] a Lodge belonging to the Grand Orient of France.” (See The Chevalier de Saint-George, Wikipedia.) He premiered, as conductor, Joseph Haydn’s “Paris Symphonies” at the Loge Olympique. Coincidentally, Joseph Haydn (31 March 1732 – 31 May 1809) was also a Freemason, as was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Moreover, in 1791, Joseph Boulogne (c. 1745 – 1799) was appointed colonel of the the “Black Legion,” or Légion franche des Américains et du Midi. The “Black Legion,” or Saint-George Legion, was comprised mainly of men of color with 800 infantry and 200 cavalry personnel. Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, who was trained as a fencer by Joseph Boulogne at La Boëssière‘s Academy, would be Joseph Boulogne’s second-in-command. For more information, please click on Joseph Boulogne.
As for Thomas-Alexandre, Alexandre Dumas père‘s father, nicknamed “le diable noir” (the “Black Devil”), he joined the Queen’s Dragoons as a mere private and under the name (nom de guerre) Alexandre Dumas in 1786. I believe he was a Freemason but cannot confirm that he was.
In 1775, Antoine sold the four children born to him and Marie-Cessette Dumas to pay for his return trip to France. The children were probably sold à réméré, or “conditionally, with the right of redemption” (Reiss’ wording, p. 55), but Thomas-Alexandre is the only one of the four children Antoine redeemed. According to Alexandre Dumas, père, the author of The Count of Monte-Cristo and The Three Musketeers, his grandmother, Marie-Cessette, died of dysentery in 1772. (See Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, Wikipedia.)
Haitian Revolution, Battle of Vertières (18 November 1803)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Toussaint Louverture, nicknamed the “Black Napoleon,” was the leader of the Haitian Revolution (1791 -1804). According to Wikipedia, Toussaint Bréda was a Freemason. (See Toussaint Louverture, Wikipedia.)
Toussaint Bréda, probably born on All Saint’s Day, la Toussaint, had been a free man of color since 1776 or 1777 and he owned property in Saint-Domingue. Initially, Toussaint was an ally of the Spaniards in Santo Dominguo, but he changed allegiance when France abolished slavery under Robespierre on 4 February 1794. Toussaint Bréda, who became Toussaint Louverture or L’Ouverture (the opening), during the Haitian Revolution, was of African descent. He was not a mulatto. He spoke French and French créole, but did not acquire a good knowledge of written French.
By 1801, Haiti was unofficially free. However, Napoleon sent his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc to the island. Toussaint was betrayed, arrested and deported to France, where he was imprisoned, at Fort-de-Joux, and died in 1803.
Before leaving Saint-Domingue, Toussaint said, prophetically:
“In overthrowing me you have cut down in Saint Domingue only the trunk of the tree of liberty; it will spring up again from the roots, for they are many and they are deep.” (See Toussaint Louverture, Wikipedia.)
On 18 November 1803, during the “second” Haitian Revolution, Jean-Jacques Dessalines defeated General de Rochambeau at the Battle of Vertières. Napoleon’s army had been weakened. It had lost two-thirds of its men to yellow fever. Haiti was proclaimed the Republic of Haiti on 1 January 1804. Dessalines named himself Emperor. The Haitian Revolution has been associated with the French Revolution. Authority was being questioned, which entailed enslavement.
Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants, oil painting by Agostino Brunias, Dominica, c. 1764-1796 (Photo and caption credit: Wikipedia)
The Enlightenment: liberté, égalité, fraternité
The objectives of Freemasonry were in fact the objectives of the Enlightenment. As I mentioned above, they are summed up by the French motto: liberté, égalité, fraternité. Tom Reiss writes that
French Enlightenment philosophers liked to use slavery as a symbol of human, and particularly political oppression. ‘Man is born free but is everywhere in chains,’ wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the The Social Contract in 1762. (p. 60)
But to be more precise, eighteenth-century Freemasonry recognized an aristocracy of the mind rather than an accidental aristocracy, i.e. a mere accident of birth. However, aristocrats and American Presidents, beginning with George Washington, wasted no time in applying for membership in an aristocracy above aristocracy. They joined composers such as Joseph Haydn and the “White Mozart,” the composer of the all-but-Masonic Zauberflöte (K. 620) (The Magic Flute). (See The Magic Flute, Wikipedia)
In other words, eighteenth-century Freemasonry sought equality for both the “White Mozart,” who could never have married an aristocrat, and the “Black Mozart,” who could never have married a white woman. Freemasonry played an important role in the abolition of Slavery, but so did other elements and other groups, such as France’s Société des amis des Noirs (the Society of the Friends of the Blacks), the salons, cafés, etc.
However, I would agree with Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon (born January 5, 1930) who writes that “Mozart’s position within the Masonic movement … lay with the rationalist, Enlightenment-inspired membership, as opposed to those members oriented toward mysticism and the occult.” (See Mozart, Early Life, Wikipedia.)
French Colonialism: The Code Noir
However, despite a number of massacres, French colonialism was less harsh on slaves than colonialism in other parts of the world. The Code Noir, promulgated in 1685 by Louis XIV, prohibited the abuse of slaves. In 1691, records of an incident read as follows:
“‘The King has been informed that two negroes from Martinique crossed on the ship the Oiseau,’ reads the laconic record of the incident in the Royal Naval Ministry. ‘[His Majesty] has not judged it apropos to return them to the isles, their liberty being acquired by the laws of the kingdom concerning slaves, as soon as they touch the Soil.’ The slaves were free.” (Reiss, pp. 61-62)
Would that Louis had acted as magnanimously with respect to the Huguenots, French Calvinist protestants. He didn’t. The Edict of Nantes, an edict of tolerance issued on 13 April 1598, was revoked in 1685. They were brutally persecuted.
In short, I can’t help thinking that the lumières themselves (Voltaire, Diderot, both of whom were Freemasons, and other major figures associated with the French Enlightenment) shuddered in their grave when the guillotine severed the head of Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and scientist Antoine Lavoisier. The French Revolution went way too far.
Carmontelle‘s watercolour (1763) of Leopold Mozart with Wolfgang Amadeus and Maria Anna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Dumas Dynasty repeated
Le Code Noir pdf (accessed under Le Code Noir entries)
The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow,
by Gabriel Banat (2006)
- Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie (20 June 1714, at Belleville-en-Caux – 15 June 1786, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye) (arrived in France, aboard the Trésorier, the first week of December 1775); (Reiss, p. 52)
- Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (25 March 1762, at Jérémie, Saint-Domingue, current Haiti – 26 February 1806, at Villers-Cotterêts [Aisne]), born to a black slave Marie-Cessette Dumas (arrived in France on August 30, 1776); (Reiss, p. 55)
- Alexandre Dumas, père (24 July 1802 at Villers-Cotterêts – 5 December 1870, at Puy, near Dieppe), the legitimate son of Marie-Louise Labouret;
- Alexandre Dumas, fils (Paris 27 July 1824 – 27 November 1895), the illegitimate son of Marie-Laure-Catherine Labay, a dressmaker.
[i] The 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention was held in Exeter Hall, a Masonic Hall. In fact, Exeter Hall is a synonym for the Anti-Slavery Society.
[ii] At the moment, the Grand Orient de France is not considered as “regular” because its members have ceased to recognize a “supreme being.” (See Frédéric Desmons, Wikipedia.)
[iii] Tom Reiss, The Black Count: glory, revolution, betrayal, and the real Count of Monte Cristo (New York: Crown Publishers, 2012).
The “White Mozart” (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791)
The Magic Flute (Queen of Night Aria)
Diana Damrau as Queen of Night
Dorothea Röschmann as Pamina
Royal Opera House
Colin Davis, conductor
© Micheline Walker
30 January 2014
- Toussaint L’Ouverture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)