Bordeaux: Customs and Coliseums

Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux. Photo C. Davis

Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux. Photo C. Davis

After saying goodbye to my awesome hosts in Montauban and taking a taxi back to the train station, I was once again flying further west on the train towards Bordeaux and the Atlantic. This trip was much longer than the one from Toulouse to Montauban, causing me to ponder how merchants in Montauban kept up so many relationships with people so far away from the town itself. Correspondence, of course, moves with goods and people, but in order to even correspond with someone, you have to establish some kind of rapport first, no? This would be especially true when that contact is going to be managing the production or shipment of goods that you are responsible for providing to consumers.

Merchants houses along the Saint Lawrence River, Québec City. Photo C. Davis

Merchants houses along the Saint Lawrence River, Québec City. Photo C. Davis

From prior research I knew that the Mariette family sent at least one son-in-law to Québec City to work as a clerk for their procurateur, Jean Taché. Procurateurs (in English, procurators) were people who legally represented absent individuals, often French merchants in this case, for business or judicial purposes. Jean Taché, for example, represented several other merchants and partnerships at the same time as the Mariettes, handling their affairs and ensuring the delivery, transportation, and reception of payment of goods imported from France. At one point, Taché is even charged with collecting loan debt owed to the Mariettes by a prominent noble and military officer, Louis Liénard de Beaujeu. If you read French, you can learn all about the misadventures of Beaujeu in Inconquis, a book by my colleague and friend Joseph Gagné: https://www.septentrion.qc.ca/catalogue/inconquis. Sending a family member to Québec must have had several advantages; they could watch over the work of the procurateur, send updates on the market back to France, and even learn the trade.

Interior of a wine merchant's house from the 1720s. Photo C. Davis

Interior of a wine merchant’s house from the 1720s. Photo C. Davis

The Mariettes’ connection in Bordeaux, however, was David Gradis, a Jewish merchant whose family was originally from Portugal. Luckily for historians and archaeologists, the extensive Gradis family papers are archived and accessible to researchers. Though I had originally planned a trip to the town of Roubaix in northern France to the Archives du monde du travail, where I had located copies of the Gradis papers, my travel budget this time around wouldn’t allow for a visit. However, in exploring the holdings of the archives in Bordeaux I was excited to find that the Gradis papers were housed there, in a much more accessible location in my primary region of study. David Gradis was the liaison between the Mariettes and Joseph Michel Cadet, munitionnaire du roi (purveyor general) in New France. Though most of the shipping records I have found mentioning textiles from the Mariettes are from embarkation at Rochefort, the arsenal of the French Navy, their link to Gradis suggests that some of their goods were exported at Bordeaux. How they fostered their connections with Gradis and Cadet, however, is yet to be fully explored.

Copy of a detail of "Intérieur d'une douane" (The inside of a customs house) Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié 1775. Photo C. Davis

Copy of a detail of “Intérieur d’une douane” (The inside of a customs house) Nicolas-Bernard Lépicié 1775. Photo C. Davis

The only seal I have seen from Bordeaux in North American lead seal collections is a large, heavy seal with two tunnels- what I suspect is a true bale seal. Lead seals are often referred to in archaeological literature as “bale seals,” but in truth, only a very small portion of lead seals are likely to actually be bale seals. Bale seals were used to record taxation and customs information and may have been attached to packets of textiles within a larger bale of goods, or to the outside of a bale along with a slip of paper. These seals were attached by running string or cord through one of the tunnels, through or around the packaging of a bale or packet, and then through the second tunnel before the tunnels of the seal were hammered closed, securing the cord. The hammering closed of the seal was when it was stamped with a design that provided further information. Bale seals are very different than lead cloth seals, which had a different attachment style that allowed them to be more effectively secured to textiles. As part of my future research, I hope to study bale seals and determine how they are distributed throughout New France, and whether finding them archaeologically (within trash deposits) corresponds to their removal during the repackaging of goods into smaller trade bales that would fit properly into canoes. Hoping to learn more about bale seals and the customs process in Bordeaux, I visited the Musée nationale des douanes (National Customs Museum).

Douanes at Place de la Bourse, 1738. Photo C. Davis

Douanes at Place de la Bourse, 1738. Photo C. Davis

The Musée nationale des douanes was arguably one of the coolest and most educational parts of my trip to France. Located in the old customs office from the 18th century in Place de la Bourse (the heart of the old port of Bordeaux, once known as Place Royale). The customs building was constructed between 1735 and 1738 to house the customs inspection offices. The inspection organization that performed inspection and taxation on imports was then known as the Ferme générale, the phrase that appears on the seal I identified at Fortress Louisbourg.

Lead seal of the ferme générale, Bordeaux. Photo C. Davis

Lead seal of the ferme générale, Bordeaux. Photo C. Davis

Model of the customs process, Musée nationale des douanes. Photo C. Davis

Model of the customs process, Musée nationale des douanes. Photo C. Davis

Inside, not only did I see a seal on display with the exact same markings as the one from Louisbourg (thus affirming my identification), but also a very detailed model of the customs house and how it worked. Set next to an enormous set of scales once used to determine the price owed in taxes on goods, this model showed bales of goods going into the custom house unsealed and leaving it with seals and tiny tags to designate inspected goods. Further on in the exhibit space, in the sections housing 20th century material, there were more modern lead seals with the same attachment style as the older 18th century seals, but that were secured with wire. It was really interesting to see a bunch of seal blanks and the different types of clamps and stamps used to seal them onto merchandise after inspection. I have seen a few sites that have not only 18th century seals in their collections, but also newer lead seals associated with railroads or more modern commerce.

20th century lead seal blanks, Musée nationale des douanes. Photo C. Davis

20th century lead seal blanks, Musée nationale des douanes. Photo C. Davis

Bordeaux has been a bustling place of trade for centuries, since the Roman period, and even before then! While visiting the Musée d’Aquitaine, I saw many testaments to the very ancient trading history of the Port de la lune. Not only did their Roman galleries display Roman period lead seals, but they also presented me with market scenes and even a wonderful depiction of an ancient Roman cloth merchant and his store. The Mariettes, though using the innovations and business practices of their time, were following an ancient tradition in France. In ancient France as in early modern France, trade was the bringer of wealth and notoriety, and Bordeaux, with its wines and cloth, had in ancient times a luxurious coliseum, and in early modern times its architecturally ravishing Place de la Bourse. I did of course learn a little bit about the wine trade while in Bordeaux, but I’m certainly still no sommelier. I’ll stick to textiles, thanks!

Cloth merchant's store- note the figure with his hand on a pile of finished cloth for sale. Musée d'Aquitaine. Photo C. Davis.

Cloth merchant’s store- note the figure with his hand on a pile of finished cloth for sale. Musée d’Aquitaine. Photo C. Davis.

 

-Cathrine

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