Joseph de Bologne, a largely forgotten figure in French history, was a fixture at the court of Versailles under Louis XVI and fought alongside the revolutionaries. His life is to be the subject of a blockbuster film, while the Bologne distillery is working on a special edition in his honour.
The estate on which today’s Bologna distillery is located originated with the Van Bologien family, a Protestant family from the Netherlands. Their name had been Frenchised since their time in France, before they emigrated to Brazil, which they had to flee in 1654 when the Portuguese reclaimed their entire colony (they occupied several towns, including Recife and Natal).
The Bologneses then arrived in Guadeloupe. “They were the ones who started the cane industry, and the name of the brand is a tribute to them. What’s more, our colour code of yellow and green is a nod to the origin of their expertise in sugar cane from Brazil,” explains Maëva Flandrina, Bologne’s marketing and communications manager. Some of our plots have been planted with sugar cane for more than 3 centuries, even if rum production began later, in 1887″.
A freedman at the king’s court
Joseph de Saint-Georges was born in Guadeloupe in 1745, the product of a relationship between the colonist and nobleman Georges Bologne, who had bought a position as Gentleman Ordinary in the King’s chamber in 1757, and his slave mistress, Nanon. Georges Bologne officially recognised his son and settled him in France, hoping to give him the best possible education. At the time, any person of colour, even those born of a slave mother, arriving on French soil, was enfranchised, in accordance with Article 59 of the Code Noir (“enfranchised persons have the same rights, privileges and immunities as those born free”). Joseph’s father also bought him a charge.
A fencing and violin virtuoso
Little Joseph excelled in two areas in particular: the violin and fencing, which he learned from the fencing master and writer Nicolas Benjamin Texier de La Boëssière. He was so gifted that, at the age of 15, he took up the uniform of the gendarmes of the King’s Guard commanded by Charles de Rohan, Prince of Soubise.
Joseph de Bologne, alias the Chevalier de Saint-George, also became a true virtuoso on the violin, which enabled him to attract the good graces of Queen Marie-Antoinette. He even became a renowned composer. Today people say he was the black Mozart, but that’s wrong,” explains Maëva Flandrina.
Mozart was born 11 years after him. It’s only a short step from there to saying that Mozart was the white Saint-George! In 1776, with the support of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, the Chevalier de Saint-George was even offered the directorship of the prestigious Royal Academy of Music at Versailles. Like Icarus, he burnt his wings and had to face up to the intolerance of a section of the music world at the time.
Fight against slavery and relative oblivion
He returned to the profession of arms. He was the first French officer of mixed race (rank of colonel in a legion made up of men of colour, during the Revolution). More anecdotally, he was also the first Métis Freemason. Despite this exceptional destiny, Joseph de Bologne is a little-known figure in mainland France, although he is still celebrated in Guadeloupe (a music school and hotel bear his name) and… in the United States (where an international music festival bears his name).
After the Revolution, where he took up the cause of the revolutionaries and worked for the abolition of slavery, he fell into relative obscurity. His pro-independence stance on Haiti and his close ties with Toussaint Louverture probably led Napoleon’s government to marginalise him in the collective memory. Forgotten after his death in 1799, his music was supplanted by Romantic composers, a phenomenon undoubtedly accentuated by the reintroduction of slavery in 1802 and the rise of racial theories.
A new cuvée as a tribute to ageing
There has already been a Chevalier de Saint-George cuvée at Bologne, which was an amber, at a time when not many old rums were produced,” recalls Maëva Flandrina. We’re going to make another cuvée, but it will be a very old rum, a fine decanter, and we intend to make it an ultra-premium reference.
The knight’s coat of arms can already be seen on the bottle of our Black Cane cuvée, as well as on the Old Black Cane. If France has turned its back on a historical figure of such importance that the Americans have made him the subject of a biopic, then that’s not the case for the people of Guadeloupe, and even less so for the Bologna distillery.
However, in the biopic “Chevalier”, directed by Stephen Williams and starring Kelvin Harrison Jr, there is little mention of Guadeloupe and even less of rum. Pity. “We tried to get in touch with the film’s production company, but it didn’t work out.
That said, we’re delighted that this emblematic Guadeloupean character is coming to life on the big screen,” concludes Maëva Flandrina. For the moment there is no release date in France, but it was released in the United States on 23 April. It can be seen on the Disney + platform.
Watch the trailer: