Thomas Mansell's Profession and Historical Context
As any serious genealogist will tell you, Dear Readers, context is crucial to your research. Most will say that it is necessary in order to give a fuller picture of an ancestor's past but, as Alison Hare, CG, explained in her recent BCG webinar, "The Time of Cholera: a Case Study About Historical Context". You may even get quite lucky, as she did, and find a clear reference to one of your ancestors. We are hoping for such luck in searching for the origins of Marie Fouyol.
Thomas Mansell was a mécanicien and a tisserand, a machinist and weaver, as we learned in the previous post. He also was English. His daughter's obituary stated that he "went to France about 1801. Soon thereafter war arose between England and France, and, with hundreds of other Englishmen, he was made a prisoner at Paris and could not escape." This is where historical context can be important.
The industrial revolution was not a smoothly progressing event. A great deal of industrial espionage and poaching of expertise went on. As early as 1719 Britain had passed a law forbidding British masters of trades to take on foreign apprentices, in order to prevent expertise transferring to competitor nations and economies. To no avail. Technology was being transferred at a snapping pace. Even at that point, there were living in France over one hundred British technicians and their families, teaching their skills.1 By the late eighteenth century, the emphasis was on the technologies for creating textiles. From the 1790s, James, John and Juliana Collier, from Manchester, began to work for French textile manufacturers, constructing machines based on the English designs they had learned, and teaching French workers how to use them.2 Serge Chassagne, one of the experts on the subject, lists dozens more British and Irish textile workers and experts who brought their skills to France before and during the Napoleonic Wars, including the two Dean brothers, based in Normandy.3 He adds that the French state did not only poach technology and lure technicians, it also fostered "directly the innovations by the national competition for the best spinning machineries, in 1803, and by the opening, the following year, of a training school for the mule-spinning in the Conservatoire [des Arts et Métiers] in Paris." The number of spinning factories (filatures) jumped from six in 1789 to two hundred thirty-four in 1806.4 Though Thomas Mansell's name could not be found in any of the abovementioned studies, he almost certainly was just such a British expert in textile machinery who went to France to work and to teach his skills.
The obituary of Thomas Mansell's daughter, Françoise Joséphine Mansell, places his arrival in France in 1801, then says that war broke out and he was made a prisoner. This looks to be very close to what happened to many. The French Revolutionary Wars lasted from 1792 to March of 1802, when the Treaty of Amiens was signed. Hundreds of British travelled to France as soon as the peace made it possible to do so safely. The safety did not last. War broke out again in May of 1803 and Napoleon ordered that all British men in the country at that time be rounded up and detained as enemy aliens. (For more on this, see our post on the British détenus.) We suspect that Thomas Mansell may have arrived in France not in 1801, while fighting was still going on, but in 1802, when travel would have been much easier. We are also certain that he was rounded up with the other British nationals.
During her research, Madame J contacted Peter Clark, who created and maintains the British Prisoners of Napoleon database. He wrote to her:
"He was recorded on my DataBase as MANSSALL sic, Thomas, since that is how his surname was entered on the list of Detenus (or Detainees) that was compiled by the French authorities following the General Arrest of all British Visitors and British Residents in France on the orders of the then First Consul Napoleon BONAPARTE that was made in May 1803. This list is held in the Service Historique de l'Armée de la Defence (SHAD) [This is outdated; the current name is Service Historique de la Défense and the acronym used is SHD] at the Chateau de Vincennes in Paris, and I examined and transcribed that List of 1181 named Detainees [see détenus, above] at Vincennes now some 20 years ago. That list does not state his age (it does for several others), but very usefully it states his occupation as ’Tisserand’ meaning a Weaver. I have no reason to doubt that this is your relative.
At that point in time he was being held at Fontainbleau, which is where many of the British visitors were being gathered to live on parole until further arrangements were made for where they were eventually going to be allowed to live. At that early date in the detention process those five places were Paris, Fontainbleau, Verdun, Valenciennes, and Nismes [Nîmes].
In the story of the Detenus the Weavers were a very special group, since they were men, often in France with their families, who had been brought over to France by French Business Entrepreneurs in order to help develop the textile industry in France, which then very much lagged behind the British Loom Inventions of the Industrial Revolution. In due course almost all of these detained Weavers were allowed to return to their own dwellings and to their French Masters/Employers, and to the work places where they had been working. They were not free to go back to Britain, but they could live in peace with their families and carry on working for their French Employers.
All of this is very much examined and discussed in a Thesis by Margaret AUDIN that was submitted for an MA at the University of Birmingham, and copies of that Thesis can be seen in the Library at Birmingham University, and there is a copy in the Library of the Society of Genealogists in central London ........ When you say that Thomas MANSELL was in some later document recorded as a ‘Mecanicien’ Mechanic, this is particularly interesting. This may well indicate that he was not just acting as an artisan weaver, but that he was perhaps constructing and maintaining the Weaving Looms which required much knowledge and skill, and that is why so many Weavers had been recruited to work in France. Very early on it looks as if he had been given permission to live on parole and work in or around the Paris area. There was little interference with such a group of workers as long as they were employed and did not cause trouble.
If he needed to ask for any special privileges from the Police or from the Government, then his letter/s to the French authorities may well of ended up in the Archives at the Chateau de Vincennes...."
We were able to provide Madame J with a copy of the page of the Fontainebleau list of prisoners showing Thomas Mansell.5
The list also contains the names of a number of other weavers, machinists, textile workers and factory directors, many of whom are mentioned in Chassagne's "Les Anglais en France", including the Dean brothers.
- Archer, George, Mécanicien
- Avington, John, Oeuvrier en coton
- Bowie or Bosvie, John, Tisserand, aged 25
- Callon, Thomas, Fabriquant de coton, aged 42
- Callon, Charles Fabriquant de coton, aged 39
- Callon, Jean, Fabriquant de coton, aged 30
- Clark, William, Tisserand, aged 26
- Dean, Edward, Mécanicien, aged 22
- Dean, John, Mécanicien, aged 26
- Dawin, Francis, Mécanicien, aged 26
- Flint, James, Directeur d'une filature de coton, aged 30
- Fleming, William, Mécanicien, aged 25
- Honels, John, Mécanicien, aged 37
- Keaivesnay, John, Mécanicien, aged 36
- Kestledam, Robert, Inspecteur d'Indienne [Indian-patterned fabrics], aged 28
- Le Roy, Michael Alexander, Mécanicien, aged 34
- Lacy, Peter, Mécanicien, aged 26
- Macfie, Daniel, Mécanicien, aged 33
- Macloude, John, Mécanicien, aged 53
- Mansall, Thomas, Tisserand, aged 34
- Orell, James, Director of a filature de coton at Gisors (Eure)
- Oxford, Thomas, Mécanicien, aged 38
- Richardson, Alexandre, Imprimeur en Indienne, aged 24
- Riller, Edward, Mécanicien, aged 23
- Robson, William, Mécanicien, aged 29
- Richardson, James, Mécanicien, aged 26 (possibly listed twice) employed at a
manufacture de filature à Malaunay (Seine-Inférieur)
- Tailord, James, Oeuvrier mécanicien, aged 40
This confirms the details in the obituary of Thomas Mansell's daughter and clearly places him amongst the group of British textile workers in France taken prisoner in 1803.
There is correspondence file in the archives of the SHD relating to Thomas Mansell and we shall obtain a copy of it for this Free Clinic case. With luck, it will contain a request from Mansell for permission to marry. Such permission was required for military prisoners to marry, but it may not have been for civilian prisoners allowed to continue working and to live outside of the prisons. If Mansell's file does contain such a request, it could give details as to the identity and origins of his future wife, Marie Fouyol.
As it can be seen here how useful to genealogical research a bit of historical research can be, we hope that you all, Dear Readers, are now committed historians as well as genealogists. In the next post, we will look at a different aspect of context: geographical context.
©2021 Anne Morddel
- Chassagne, Serge. "Les Anglais en France, et plus particulièrement en Normandie, dans la «révolution industrielle» (1715-1880)". Études Normandes, 62e année, n°2, 2013. [Theme:] "L'art d'être original - Singularités, reprises et innovations dans l'art et la culture en Normandie du XIX° siècle à nos jours". pp. 121-140; doi : https://doi.org/10.3406/etnor.2013.1904. https://www.persee.fr/doc/etnor_0014-2158_2013_num_62_2_1904. Accessed 29 July 2021.
- Hémardinquer Jean-Jacques. "Une dynastie de mécaniciens anglais en France : James, John et Juliana Collier (1791-1847)". Revue d'histoire des sciences et de leurs applications, tome 17, n°3, 1964. pp. 193-208; doi : https://doi.org/10.3406/rhs.1964.2344 https://www.persee.fr/doc/rhs_0048-7996_1964_num_17_3_2344
- Chassagne Serge. "L'innovation technique dans l'industrie textile pendant la Révolution". Histoire, économie et société, 1993, 12ᵉ année, n°1. [Theme:] "Entreprises et révolutions". pp. 51-61; doi : https://doi.org/10.3406/hes.1993.1660 https://www.persee.fr/doc/hes_0752-5702_1993_num_12_1_1660.
- Chassagne. "L'innovation technique", p51.
- France. Archives de l'Armée de la Terre. Prisonniers de Guerre anglais. "Etat nominatif des anglais considerés comme prisonniers de guerre..." Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes. code: Yj 33.