"Letter to Fréron: Émigrés Return" by Thérèse Bouisson

Once in power, the Directorial government appeared poised to preserve the gains of the Revolution while undoing what some considered the excesses of the period of Jacobin ascendancy. Yet precisely what the Revolution’s gains were—beyond the elimination of the monarchy and remnants of feudalism—remained unclear. One perspective, that of the émigré nobles, held that the fall of the Convention signaled a restoration of their confiscated lands, which they reappropriated from those who had purchased them earlier in the decade. In this letter, the widow of one such purchaser, a sailor killed in combat, appeals to the government to recognize her right to the newly acquired lands over the claims of the returning noble family from whom they had been seized.


To Citizen Fréron, Government agent.

Citizen,

Citizen Bouisson, the Widow Janniquet, with full confidence in the justice you represent, shall describe for you how, on 22 Brumaire [12 November 1794] of last year [Year III], she had stopped at the district's administrative board on a matter concerning some farmland. She had spared no expense on this nation's asset in order to keep it in good condition and to produce an abundant harvest. At that point, Citizen Augustin Baux, émigré and former owner of the house prior to his fleeing the country, took advantage of the law of 22 Germinal [11 April 1795] and 22 Prairial [10 June 1795] which allows workers, seamen, sailors, bakers, and health officials to return to the territory of the republic. He had learned, through plotting and subterfuge, how to change his profession from being a merchant in wholesale cloth, to being a health official. Under this spurious pretext, he was able to give the illusion of being a member of this occupation. Through bribes, he was wrongly and without basis struck from the record. He then attacked our speaker, the Widow Janniquet, bringing her before the arbitration committee, which sent her to the district court. His claims went so far as to demand half of the harvest. [After his request was rejected], she was left in peace for a brief period. However, Citizen Baux again appealed to the same court, which, this time, judged in favor of this émigré, granting him not just half the harvest, but all of this year's crop. As a result, he had the olives seized that the aforementioned Citizen Janniquet had had taken to a mill to have pitted. Upon seeing herself deprived of an asset that she believed to have been legitimately due and accorded to her by this unforeseen and arbitrary bureaucratic stroke, she now turns to you for recourse to obtain the restoration of the above-mentioned olives which are rightfully hers. Imbued with the humanity and justice that are the tenets of your work, she hopes that you will look kindly upon her lawful claim.

Sincerely in brotherhood,

Signed Thérèse Bouisson, the widow Janniquet.

Source: Louis-Marie Stanislas, Mémoire historique sur la réaction royale, et sur les massacres du Midi; avec des notes et des pièces justificatives (Paris: Chez Louvet, 1796), 249–51. Translated by Exploring the French Revolution project staff from original documents in French found in John Hardman, French Revolution Documents 1792–95, vol. 2 (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1973), 285–86.