The undelivered letters sent to French sailors during the Seven Years’ War have finally been opened. After more than 250 years when the dust settled on the letters, the British historian restored them, giving him a deep and very personal insight into the life of families in the 18th century.
“I could spend the night writing to you, I am your ever faithful wife,” Marie Dubosc wrote to her husband Louis Chamberlain, first lieutenant of a French warship in 1758. “Good night, my dear friend. It’s midnight. I think it’s time for me to rest.’
Marie never met her husband again. Her husband’s ship was captured by the British. Before he got out of prison, his wife died.
The letters became public almost by accident. In 1758, after the British captured the ship Galatee, which was bound from Bordeaux to Quebec, the personal messages were confiscated by the British authorities. The vast majority of them were evaluated as militarily insignificant and remained unopened in the archives. However, they did not escape the attention of Cambridge history professor Renaud Morieux.
“I ordered the box just out of curiosity,” Morieux, whose findings were published in the journal Annales on Tuesday, told the BBC. Histoire, Sciences Sociales. When he received three stacks of very small letters tied together with ribbon, “he realized that I was the first person to read these very personal messages since they were written. Their intended recipients did not get that chance. It was very emotional.”
I think about you more than you think about me
Morieux identified every member of Galatee’s crew of 181, with letters addressed to a quarter of them. He also conducted genealogical research on the identified persons of the men and their correspondents.
However, there can be thousands of similar stories. In 1758 alone, a third of French sailors were captured by the British. Over the entire period of the Seven Years’ War, the British imprisoned almost 65,000 of them. In addition, letters were the only way for sailors to connect with their families on land, the Baroons website points out.
“Those letters are about universal human experience, not unique to France or the 18th century,” he added. “They reveal how we all cope with life’s great challenges. When we are separated from our loved ones by events beyond our control, such as pandemics or war, we have to figure out how to stay connected, how to calm down, take care of people, and keep our passion alive. Today we have Zoom and WhatsApp. In the 18th century, people only had letters, but what they wrote about is very confidential,” said the historian.
This, after all, is also proven by a letter dated January 27, 1758. In it, the mother of the young sailor Nicolas Quesnel from Normandy criticizes his lack of communication.
“I think more of you than you think of me… In any case, I wish you a happy new year full of God’s blessings,” wrote the 61-year-old Marguerite in a letter that she probably dictated to someone else, the historian speculates.