Police Reports on Disturbances over Food Supplies (February 1793)
The reports of the Paris police provide firsthand information about conditions in the city and about the leading role of women in food disturbances.
In Year Two of the French Republic, on February 24th, at 8 A.M., in 1793, we, Silvain Guillaume Boula [?], commissaire de police, assisted by André Lirey [?] Caillouet, secretary-registrar for the Section de l'Arsenal, as a result of remarks that were being heard everywhere, went through the streets of our arrondissement. We heard nothing but assurances concerning goods of prime necessity. Having made this round several times, we saw nothing openly contrary to public order. We received a letter from the police administration relative to bread. We believed we ought to hold off executing it after we conferred with the Committee. Recorded at 7 P.M., same day, same month noted above.
Signed [secretary's and commissaire's signatures appended]
And the following day, the twenty-fifth of the same month, same year, at 7 A.M., we went, still assisted by the citizen-secretary-registrar, to the doors of the bakers in our Section to see whether bread deliveries were being made without incident and to take remedial action, if possible. We had the satisfaction of seeing that the measures we had taken the night before, in joint action with the Committee, had produced the full effect we were hoping for. Consequently, we returned to the Committee to find out whether there wasn't some new order, and finding none, we returned to our arrondissement.
There wasn't what you would call a tumult, but [rather] small groupings of citizens and citoyennes at intervals. In some [of these groups] it was being said, "The bakers were rascals and deserved to be worked over." In others, "The grocers deserved the same, because they were hoarders," and finally, in others, "The majority of those who were directing the Republic were also rascals." And among others [there was] a drunk citizen who made himself conspicuous by saying, "We used to have only one king, and now there are thirty or forty of them." We did everything we could to restore calm in these groups. We succeeded in some; it was impossible in others; and lastly, it was folly in still others. All this [was happening] without our being able to arrest any of the leaders, who were absolutely unknown to us and not from this Section.
We returned to the Committee at 1 P.M. after having spent the whole morning on the business detailed above.
But at about 2 P.M. word reached us that a crowd was on the way to Citizen Rousseau's shop on the Quai des Armes.
We went there at once, still accompanied by the citizen-secretary, and notwithstanding the crowding, we got through to the counter. We climbed up onto it, and having called for silence in the name of the law, we got it. We took advantage of this to recall the oath to protect the safety of persons and properties. We couldn't keep this up, because we were interrupted by cries and apostrophies of all kinds, as much against us as against Citizen Rousseau and his grocery boy, who, at the beginning, had been imprudent enough to brutally push back a pregnant woman, even threatening to string her up from a beam. Five citizens from the [National] Guard arrived. They could not do anything, not even speak. This was a dangerous moment. We supported for the moment a demand to inspect the house made by citizens and citoyennes designated for this purpose. That was the business of the moment. We were even forced to accompany them. This inspection was made calmly enough, except for a few remarks. They wanted to inspect Citizen Arnoult's place as well, on the pretext that the aforementioned Rousseau had hidden his merchandise there. This inspection was agreed to by Citoyenne Arnoult. When we returned, we saw an officer, Citizen Colmet, arrive, accompanied by several armed citizens, who tried in vain to restore order. They retreated shortly afterwards.
And finally, there was a woman of fairly good appearance, unknown to me but whom we would recognize perfectly. She was about five feet, one inch tall, thirty years old, with blond hair, white skin, and slightly red eyes. She wore her hair in a demi-bonnet to which a rose-colored ribbon was attached. She was dressed in a déshabillé made out of linen with a blue background and a standard design on it. She wore a mantle of black taffeta and a gold watch on a steel chain. The way we knew she had one [a watch] was that when she emerged from the crowd and came over to the counter, she looked for her watch, [and] drew it out, saying, "I thought it had been taken." This woman did everything in her power to add to the sedition. She had gone on the inspection. And once they returned, it was she who set the price for soap at twelve sous per livre; and for sugar at eighteen. After that, the aforementioned merchandise on hand at the aforementioned Rousseau's place was handed over with an unbelievable impetuosity. Everyone wanted to pay, to be waited on, and to get out, all at the same time. We were compelled to take in the cash in order to prevent a total loss. The aforementioned woman took the aforementioned goods, for which she paid us, and we barely had the time to take in the money, hand over the goods, and put the money in the drawer. In this crowd of citizens and citoyennes we couldn't observe everyone attentively enough to be able to point out anyone except for the woman described above. We clearly recognized some of the citoyennes from our Section, but it would be impossible for us to recall the faces and descriptions except for Citizen Jolly, captain of the company in this Section, who is known to be a good patriot, whom we saw near the aforementioned counter and who, like everyone else, was paying the prices noted above, and who took some soap. We didn't hear him say anything relevant to the circumstance. And we believe absolutely that he was there only because of the perfidious advice of some enemies of the public good, whom he took for patriots and who, knowing how to wrap themselves in this cloak, could address themselves only to citizens whose pure hearts dictated that they would be unable to uncover the foulness of which they [these enemies of the people] are capable.
Several citizens having signaled us to get out fast, we left and went to the shop of Citizen Blauguernon [?] also a grocer, on the rue de l'Etoile, where we had the good luck to calm the people. On demand we went to the shop of Citizen Cain, also a grocer, on the rue Saint-Antoine, where, again, notwithstanding the numbers, we reached the counter.
Our call and entreaty got us a hearing, which allowed us to recall the most recent oath, but in vain, the tumult and the cries indicating [?] that the time for oaths had passed and that what was necessary was the goods. Once again we believed it was our duty to call for the necessary calm and order. We were heard, and we spoke for about five minutes. We were listened to with pleasure, and calm was restored.
We left, and it might have been about five o'clock when we were asked once again to go the Quai des Armes, given that there was a new crowd of citizens there. We went there immediately. And once there, we saw what we were told we would see. But we had brought along with us many armed citizens who dispersed this mob. We saw there a citoyenne, well dressed, who was influencing people and stirring up trouble. Having listened to her during a period allowed for this moment, we apprehended her, calling upon constituted armed force for support. [There followed] another perilous moment, given that the people were opposed to her being taken away.
Finally we brought her before the Committee, where we drew up a procès-verbal, and we sent this citoyenne to the commissaire de police of the Section de la Maison Commune so that whatever the laws dictate might be done.
Once this business had been attended to, we left, and seeing a tumult at the door of Citizen Houllier's shop, we once again restored calm, having called in advance for a cavalry patrol to carry out our orders, which they did. And then we went to the shops of Citizens Cain, Lessard, and Prevot, also grocers on the rue Saint-Antoine, where the tumult was almost over, and having called upon all these citizens to close their shops at nine o'clock, having even handed them over, under consignment, to Captain Roquet, we returned at last to the Committee at 8 P.M. without any notable incidents, and we were fully convinced that the People are always good. It has been tricked for hundreds of years now, but it has lost neither heart nor its love for the general good. It requires only to be educated and it will do and sacrifice everything once it is led along a route where it will see an end to its misfortunes, and the hope of attaining happiness, if only for its posterity.
Drawn up and concluded on the day, month, and year indicated above. Signed [signatures of secretary and commissaire appended]
And the twenty-sixth of the same month and year indicated above, still accompanied by the citizen-secretary-registrar, we toured, during the course of the day, all the streets in the Section, and as a large proportion of the citizens were under arms, and as successive patrols were set up, nothing noteworthy occurred. We can offer assurances that things were quiet during the night.
Consequently, we drew up the present [report] to be seen and be of value, as reason dictates.
Terminated at 8 p.m. same day and year as indicated above. Signed [signatures of secretary and commissaire appended]
From Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1795, edited and translated by Darline Gay Levy, Harriet Branson Applewhite, and Mary Durham Johnson. Copyright 1979 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press, 137–141.