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Thu, 03.25.1762

Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, Military Officer born

Thomas-Alexandre Dumas

*Thomas-Alexandre Dumas was born on this date in 1762. He was a Black French general in Revolutionary France.

Born in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie was the quarteron son of Marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, a white French nobleman, and Marie-Cessette Dumas, an African slave. He was born into slavery because of his mother's status, but his father took him to France in 1776 and had him educated. Slavery had been illegal in metropolitan France since 1315, and thus any slave would be freed de facto by being in France. His father helped him enter the French military.

Dumas played a large role in the French Revolutionary Wars. Entering the military as a private at age 24, Dumas commanded 53,000 troops as the General-in-Chief French Army of the Alps by age 31. Dumas's victory in opening the high Alps passes enabled the French to initiate their Second Italian Campaign against the Austrian Empire. During the battles in Italy, Austrian troops nicknamed Dumas the Schwarzer Teufel ("Black Devil").   The French, notably Napoleon, nicknamed him "the Horatius Cocles of the Tyrol" (after a hero who had saved ancient Rome) for defeating a squadron of enemy troops at a bridge over the Eisack River in Clausen (today Klausen, or Chiusa, Italy).

Dumas failed to conquer Egypt and the Levant on the Expédition d’Égypte when he was a commander of the French cavalry forces. In March 1799, Dumas left Egypt on an unsound vessel, which was forced to put aground in the southern Italian Kingdom of Naples, where he was taken prisoner and thrown into a dungeon. He languished there until the spring of 1801. Returning to France after his release, he and his wife had a son, Alexandre Dumas, who became one of France's most widely-read authors.

Along with Toussaint Louverture in Haiti and Abram Petrovich Gannibal in Imperial Russia, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas was the first person of color in the French military to become brigadier general, divisional general, and general-in-chief of a French army and two highest-ranking Black officers in the West until 1975, when Daniel "Chappie" James achieved the equivalent rank of four-star general in the United States Air Force. Thomas-Alexandre Dumas died on February 26, 1806. His father inspired his son Alexandre’s most famous characters.

The general's grandson, Alexandre Dumas, fils, became a celebrated French playwright in the second half of the nineteenth century. His great-great-grandson, Alexandre Lippmann (grandson of the playwright Dumas fils), was a two-time gold medalist in fencing at the 1908 and 1924 Olympic Games, winning silver in 1920.

To Have a Military Career

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