Thomas-Alexandre Dumas: ‘Black Devil’ of Napoleon’s Army
(The Root) — Amazing Fact About the Negro No. 47: Which French general under Napoleon had African ancestry, and was a forebear to two French literary greats?
At the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, a mixed-race child born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue in the Caribbean grows up to cast aside his white father’s noble heritage — and his family name — to join the French military. With strength and courage in battle, he is eventually promoted to its highest ranks. Over time, the future emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, comes to resent this outsized “black devil,” but it is the soldier’s son, a novelist, who will have the last word. By immortalizing his father in legend, the son not only makes the family name immortal; he becomes one of the most celebrated French writers in history.
Prepared to be amazed, as Joel A. Rogers might have put it. “The real Count of Monte Cristo,” Thomas Alexandre-Dumas, was “a black man who rose to be a four-star general — the highest rank for a man of color in an all-white army before Colin Powell,” Dumas’ biographer, Tom Reiss, told The Root last November. When asked to describe the experience of researching his book, The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, which won the Pulitzer Prize this year, Reiss responded, “mind-blowing.” Rogers couldn’t have put it better.