Click here to learn more about the amazing life of the Chevalier de Saint-George, free from chevaliersaintgeorges.com, a project of the United Nations' organization UNESCO, Rotary International and various others.
For even more information about Saint-George, visit AfriClassical.com. Special thanks to William Zick, webmaster of AfriClassical.com.
The quotation is from The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow, written by Gabriel Banat and published by Pendragon Press in May, 2006
He was born in Guadeloupe to Nanon, a Guadeloupe-born woman whose parents were abducted into slavery and brought there, and a French aristocrat, Guillaume-Pierre Tavernier de Boullongne, who owned her and the plantation where she lived and worked.. Their baby was named after his uncle George de Boulogne Saint-Georges, but without the "s".
At the age of 10 he went to France with his family. His father's support help him get an aristocrat's education. In school he took an in interest in fencing and became one of the top fencers in France. He was feared as a duellist.
His father gave him early music lessons,and at school he became a violin virtuoso, and later a top composer and conductor.
In 1771, he was appointed maestro of the Concert des Amateurs, and later director of the "Olympique"-orchestra, the biggest orchestra of his time (65-70 musicians). He wrote and composed of many concertos for violin, of the string quartets, the symphonia concertantes.
His bid to become the director of the Royal Opera of Louis XVI was prevented by the racism of three Divas; two singers, Sophie Arnould and Rosalie Levasseur, as well as a dancer, Marie-madeleine Guimard, addressed a claim to the queen “to represent with Her Majesty that their honor and the delicacy of their conscience would never enable them to be subjected to the orders of a mulatto.”
He gained the favor of the Louis XVI. He played violin with Marie-Antionette, setting off a scandal attended by rumors of a sexual liason, and a possible attempt at his assassination by secret police agents, but later he lead soldiers against the monarchy in the Revolution.
With the coming of the French Revolution, Saint-George settled in Lille and joined the national guard with the rank of captain.
On September 7,1792, a delegation of African-descended men, presented themselves to the National Assembly to offer the country their support. The next day, the Assembly decreed the forming of a body of light troops and appointed Saint-Georges as Brigade Commander of the regiment. This "free cavalry legion of the Americans and the South" would later be known as the "Saint-Georges Legion". One of his officers was Alexandre Dumas, future general and father of the writer. Saint-George lead his regiment against the Austrians.
In spite of his support of the Republic, Saint-Georges was arrested on a false accusation as a political suspect, relieved of his command and imprisoned. The Saint-George legion was disbanded. He was liberated after 18 months of imprisonment.
He would later journey back to the Caribbean, where he took part in the struggle against slavery there.
Saint-George was the first Black mason in France.
He died in destitution in Paris in 1799.
The shifting political loyalties that attended the rise of Napoleon and a wave of racism through France lead to the disfavor of Saint-George's works and he was all but forgotten.
He's made a comeback of sorts, though, and his work is available in various forms through the internet. There's a street named for him in France and a movie of his life is in the works.