Montauban: Sources and Saliceae

Le Pont Vieux from Quai Villebourbon. Photo C. Davis

Le Pont Vieux from Quai Villebourbon. Photo C. Davis

The few days I spent in Montauban were encouraging and productive. With some help from the staff at the CIAP (Centre d’interprétation de l’architecture et du patrimoine), I was able to find my way to and spend two full days in the Archives départementales de Tarn-et-Garonne. These archives house not only municipal records for Montauban but also archival material from throughout the surrounding region. While there, I took note of all documents, maps, and other material from 1680 through to 1764 and where to find the physical copies. I later found out that this was partially madness because the birth, death, and marriage records for Montauban’s denizens, both protestant and catholic, for this time period are digitized and available online. Though I had looked online multiple times, I was not looking in the right places on the website. These are the things that only visiting an archives center in person or asking colleagues with more experience with particular archives can help you with. This is excellent though, because now I will be able to do all sorts of demographic and genealogical analysis on the town and my seal-associated merchant families from the comfort of my office back here in Williamsburg!

"Sourcezilla": Rent records for the 1740s. Note size in comparison to tables and normal sheets of paper. Photo C. Davis

“Sourcezilla”: Rent records for the 1740s. Note size in comparison to tables and normal sheets of paper. Photo C. Davis

Apart from this revelation, I discovered something that might prove very useful to my research in the undigitized portion of the archives. Though I have also referred to it repeatedly as “Sourcezilla” because of its impressive size, I found a book of baux (rent records) from the 1740s that included several members of the Mariette, Dumas, and Rauly families that may eventually help me explore the possibility of dwelling proximity as a motivator or a result of social connection between merchant families. This is especially helpful considering the mysterious disappearance of a map of cadastral (property) information from the 1740s overlaid on a modern map of Montauban. Though the map existed in the card catalogs, none of the archivists were able to locate it. As we say in Québec, that’s certainly a mystère et boule de gomme!

Lead cloth seal from Montauban, Fortress Louisbourg NHS. Photo C. Davis

Lead cloth seal from Montauban, Fortress Louisbourg NHS. Photo C. Davis

Montauban's willow heraldry around town. Photo C. Davis

Montauban’s willow heraldry around town. Photo C. Davis

Visiting Montauban I felt almost as though all of the stars had aligned in my research. The willow tree symbol I had seen on several lead seals in North American collections was everywhere around me. I remember how long it took me to stumble across the meaning of the heraldry and to link these seals to Montauban. The roots of the willow tree symbol are in the distant past of Montauban, when Occitan was the primary language. Montauban was originally known as Mont Alba, which when converting from Occitan to French translates either as “white mountain” or “willow mountain.” Apparently the latter meaning stuck, and the saule (willow) has served as a symbol of the town ever since. However, when I first saw the stylized tree on seals from Montauban, it looked nothing like a willow in my mind. I generally picture the iconic weeping willow variety, perhaps because it is the most recognizable, but also because until this summer I was unaware (until I was informed by my awesome new colleague from Belgium that I met in the archives) that there are many different varieties of willow in the willow family, Saliceae (hey, nobody is perfect). In fact, Saliceae includes over 400 different species of trees and shrubs, many of which are closer matches to the shape of the tree seen on seals from Montauban.

Mariette house selfie!

Mariette house selfie!

Aside from learning all about archives and willows, I also was able to “fangirl” in front of the Mariette family’s house in Villebourbon, listed as a historic building (The Mariette-Auriol house). It is now home to private residences and a crêpes restaurant, which was closed on the day I had planned to eat there- giving me yet more goals for the next time I visit! I was also fascinated to see the backside of the building that runs up to the former banks of the Tarn, with several large doors and ramps to facilitate the entrance and exit of goods and materials that would have been necessary in the dyeing of cloth in the factory portion of the building.

Quaiside face of the Mariette house. Photo C. Davis

Quaiside face of the Mariette house. Photo C. Davis

The concept of the maison-usine (factory-house) was also unknown to me before visiting Montauban. I had always assumed that textile production or dyeing must have taken place in a specialized building separate from the residence of the merchant and his family. Seeing several and coming to understand that the merchants’ business required such an investment and involvement as to insist upon residences above production floors gave me a new appreciation for the artistry and care present in the textile industry of the 18th century. The row of houses that includes the Mariette home is the location of several other maison-usines belonging to their contemporaries. Throughout this trip I was constantly floored by how many buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries (an even before) are still standing. Luckily, Montauban recognizes the importance of their architectural history and public tours and historical education are very accessible to the average citizen. I admittedly came to Montauban expecting a sleepy little town in an economic slump and found very much the opposite- a thriving town with a prominent arts and culture community and a love for sharing its history with the next generation and whoever happens to chance on this gem of southern France. On my last night in Montauban, with a glass of local armagnac I toasted to the city– may its bricks stay pink and its welcome stay warm!

 

-Cathrine

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