Calypso, Who Called Herself “Victoire”

calypsoMy name is Zachary Rousseas, I am a junior at SUNY New Paltz currently pursuing a double major in History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies with a minor in Political Science.  This is my first semester interning at Historic Huguenot Street.  My current focus of investigation has been a woman who ran away from enslavement named Victoire in the late 18th century.  I have been researching the experiences of enslaved women through historical journals; examining newspaper articles pertaining to runaway enslaved people, looking through 18th century maps of New York City, as well as doing some groundwork research on jails in the late 18th century.

Throughout my project thus far, I have mainly used primary sources to discover more about the experience of Victoire during her historic moment.  My first step was to transcribe the Daily Advertiser article titled “Eight Dollars Reward.” dated April 15, 1795, which was about Victoire, the reward for her capture, and her experience running away in Manhattan.  The article has a few points that captured my interest; first, Victoire, the 18 year old girl, changed her name during her time of enslavement.  It was not uncommon for enslaved people to refer to themselves as a different name than their master had assigned to them; it was a way for enslaved people to re-humanize and gain a sense of agency for themselves.  Calypso, who changed her name to Victoire did so to pay some sort of tribute to the princess of France at her time in history.  Princess Victoire was royalty in France from her birth of May 11, 1733 to when she died of breast cancer on June 7, 1799.  Victoire changing her name would have made sense because the newspaper article also makes mention of her ethnicity of French and African descent.

Her mixed ethnicity and “pale complexion” led me to think that her father was most likely a white man and may have been her master.  It is documented that many enslaved women were sexually assaulted by their masters. Rape was often a reality for enslaved women since the children of enslaved women were by law enslaved themselves; the white-male masters would not have to claim the children as their own.  Furthermore, the dehumanization of enslaved women allowed for white masters to take control of their enslaved women’s reproductive rights, this in a macabre way, to a degree, incentivized the rape of enslaved women; because the masters could sell these children or work them as enslaved people.

Scrofula

Scrofula

Another point that caught my attention was that the article makes mention of “the king’s evil” which had scarred her neck.  At first glance it was assumed that this was possibly a scar left by a shackle that had been put around her neck.  Upon further research I found that “the king’s evil” was actually a form of tuberculosis that would affect the lymph-nodes of the infected person.  We can assume that Victoire had a serious case of tuberculosis because of how in depth the article goes to describing her “remarkable scars.”

An additional detail that fascinated me was the depth that the article goes into when describing her escape in Lower Manhattan.  I was able to find a map from The New York Times that dates to about the same time of Victoire’s escape.  With this map I was able to highlight the exact route that Victoire ran through to her freedom.

map nyc

1836 map of NYC

Despite my efforts, it is impossible to gain a comprehensive understanding of the mindset of Victoire when she was enslaved and during her flight through the streets of New York City.  Upon completing my research, I was left wondering whether Victoire had ever been caught.  Finding that information out would be an extremely fulfilling part of my research.  Ultimately, I realized that studying Victoire through these historical documents can only leave me with so much information; and I may never find the conclusion to Victoire’s flight to freedom.

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3 Responses to Calypso, Who Called Herself “Victoire”

  1. singallslewis says:

    Great research, Zachary. As you realized, you often can’t find out everything you would like to about the topic you are pursuing. Yet I always think that the mysteries left for us to ponder are just as interesting as what we are able to find out.

    • Thanks for the comment Professor. I agree, and I will continue to research the subject, but as you mentioned it will always leave me with more questions; which may be better incentive to continue researching.
      – Zachary

  2. Chris says:

    Very interesting post and great research. It would be really wonderful to some day be able to find out what ultimately happened to Victoire. I hope she never got caught.

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