1793: Olympe de Gouges, a head of her time

9 comments November 3rd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1793, Olympe de Gouges’ forward thoughts were removed from her shoulders in the Place de la Revolution.

Most recognizable today for her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen* — a proto-feminist call for equality of the sexes issued in response to the day’s revolutionary but guy-centric Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizende Gouges was much more than a one-issue woman.

Fully engaged with the liberal intellectual currents of the Enlightenment, de Gouges spent the 1770’s and 1780’s in Parisian salon circles cranking out plays (over 40) and petitions, pamphlets and manifestos on animal welfare, poverty, the treatment of orphans, and ending slavery.

The latter issue, and not women’s rights, was the cause her contemporaries would have most associated with her.

But the natural-born gadfly didn’t pick her battles with injustice, and the Terror was a bad period to be indiscriminate. Like some of her Girondist associates, she risked the Paris mob’s wrath by openly opposing Louis XVI‘s execution — right in character, Olympe was down on the whole idea of the death penalty — and she carried principle into foolhardiness by printing broadsides savaging Robespierre.

Show trial time.

There can be no mistaking the perfidious intentions of this criminal woman, and her hidden motives … calumniating and spewing out bile in large doses against the warmest friends of the people, their most intrepid defender.

Misogynist condescension veined the prevailing interpretation of this misbehavior.

Olympe de Gouges, born with an exalted imagination, mistook her delirium for an inspiration of nature. She wanted to be a man of state. She took up the projects of the perfidious people who want to divide France. It seems the law has punished this conspirator for having forgotten the virtues that belong to her sex.

And strange to say, that condescension outlived Robespierre by centuries.

Only recently, as mainstream thought has (sort of) caught up with de Gouges, has the scope of her work (French link) attracted renewed appreciation, and Olympe been acknowledged an Olympian herself.

* Article 10: “Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum.” The work was dedicated to Marie Antoinette.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Freethinkers,Guillotine,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Public Executions,Treason,Women

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1795: Tula, Curacao’s Nat Turner

1 comment October 3rd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1795, the slave whose rebellion had shaken the Dutch Caribbean colony of Curaçao was publicly tortured to death with his chief confederates.

The Landhuis Knip commands the plantation where Tula’s revolt began — the dark history behind the Dutch Antilles’ charming facade.

On August 17, 1795 Tula (English Wikipedia page | Dutch) launched a well-planned insurrection on the island, one of the major transit points in the Atlantic slave trade.

Inspired by the Haitian Revolution — and reasoning that, since France occupied the Netherlands, that whole Declaration of the Rights of Man thing ought to be trickling down to Dutch colonies — the rebels freed slaves plantation to plantation and quickly swelled near 1,000.

Of course, Jean-Jacques Rousseau aside, the slaves were also irate that they were damn slaves.

Although the outside forces of international geopolitics played a role in inspiring the 1795 revolt, slaves could find sufficient justification for insurrection in the domestic policies that Dutch planters employed to keep their slaves laboring in Curacao. The planters maintained a harsh regime in which many privileges that had traditionally been bestowed upon slaves had been removed in order to heighten productivity and increase plantation profitability. By 1795, most slaves were being forced to work on Sundays, which had generally been a day of rest in the past, and many planters hired their slaves out to maximize profits by exploiting their labor. It had also become customary for all of the slaves on a plantation to be punished in response to the offense that an individual slave among them had committed. (Source)

A priest was sent as envoy from the worried white community to the rebel encampment, with an offer of amnesty for submission.

Tula (sometimes surnamed as Tula Rigaud) and fellow leaders Bastiaan Karpata (or Carpata), Pedro Wakao (or Wacao) and Louis Mercier received him politely, hosted him overnight, and told him to get lost. This is Tula:

Father, do not all the persons spring from Adam and Eve? Was I wrong in liberating twenty-two of my brothers who were unjustly imprisoned? Father, French liberty was a disaster for us. Each time one of us is punished, we are told: “Are you also looking for your freedom?” One day I was arrested, and I begged mercy for a poor slave; when I was liberated, my mouth was bleeding. I fell on my knees and I cried to God: “O Divine Majesty, O Most Pure Spirit, is it Your will that we are ill-treated? Father, they take better care of an animal.”

And subhuman was the torture Tula, Karpata and Wakao* bore for their insistence on freedom when a fellow slave finally — inevitably? — betrayed them.

At a spot now commemorated by a beachfront monument, the three had their bones systematically shattered with an iron rod, their heads lopped off, and their bodies tossed into the sea. (Despite the metadata on this post, it wasn’t precisely “breaking on the wheel” — but the bone-shattering was pretty much the same idea.)

Curacao remains today a Dutch possession; slavery was abolished there in 1863. August 17, the dawn of these Dutch slaves’ inspiring and fatal revolt for freedom, is now honored on the island — and off it.

* It’s unclear to me whether Mercier, who was captured earlier, was also executed with the others, or whether Mercier’s sentence had already been carried out by this time.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Gruesome Methods,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Netherlands,Netherlands Antilles,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Slaves,Soldiers

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