Towns Renamed During the French Revolution
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More Revolutionary Geography - Sections

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In 1790, democracy marched onward in France and voting was organised by commune and, in larger cities, by section. Properly speaking, sections were electoral districts, but they were also used informally by name or number as part of an address. Section names or numbers turn up at times in early civil registrations and can be very confusing. In property records, they are maddening.

Paris

The most well-known sections are those of Paris, for they were really the berserkers of Revolutionary radicalism. There were forty-eight sections revolutionnaires in Paris. When first established in 1790, they had names that linked to local landmarks, buildings or roads, such as Section du Temple (referring to the centre of the Knights Templar) or Section de la Halle-aux-Blés (referring to the grain market). In 1795, some names were changed the better to reflect the ideals of the Revolution, and such names as Section du Contrat-Social (Section of the Social Contract) and Section des Droits-de-l'Homme (Section of the Rights of Man) appeared. By 1811, many of them had reverted to old neighbourhood, or quartier, names. Wikipedia lists the Paris Revolutionary sections, with their names in 1790, 1795 and 1811.

The difficulty is in knowing exactly where they were. Using a modern map of Paris and the 1811 column from the Wikepedia page, you can get an idea, but as the sections were so much smaller than the modern arrondissements, it will be only a vague idea. As street names and names of squares, or places, also changed (for example rue de Richelieu was rue de la Loi) it is not always possible to use street names to find the location of a section. The history website, Emerson Kent, has a map created by the wonderful Stanfords for Cambridge University Press that shows the sections, with both the 1790 and the 1795 names, on a map of the old faubourgs.

 Other Cities

Less publicised and so, more difficult, are the sections of other cities. Marseille had thirty-two sections. Though the Departmental Archives of Bouches-du-Rhône writes that they had names, we cannot find a list of them anywhere. It seems that they were most often referred to by number. A map of the Marseille sections may be seen at the moment on page 42 of Michel Vovelle's "Les Sans-Coulottes marseillais: le mouvement sectionnaire du jacobinisme au fédéralisme 1791-1793" on Google Books.

Brest began with seven sections in 1790. Like in Paris, they had names linked with local identity:

  • Pont-de-Terre
  • La Place-d'Armes
  • Champ-de-la-Fédération
  • Saint-Louis
  • La Pointe
  • La Fontaine
  • Carpont

In 1793, they were changed to:

  • Egalité
  • Liberté
  • Sans-culottes
  • Raison
  • Montagne
  • Marat
  • Le Peletier

In 1794, about forty streets were renamed, just to complicate things.1 

To find the sections of other cities will be a struggle. The best sources that we have found are scholarly tomes about a city during the Revolutionary period. Quite a lot of these were published around 1989, as part of the commemorations of the two hundredth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Should any of you have found the sections of other cities, do let us know!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

 

1. Philippe Henwood and Edmond Monange, Brest : un Port en Révolution, 1789-1799, (Editions Ouest-France, 1989), p267.

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