From France to Demopolis

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Although a historian by trade, Eric Saugera, originally of Pontivy, France, has become more of traveler in the last several years.

Saugera spent two years living in the Laird Cottage near Downtown Demopolis working on research for an upcoming book about the connection between France and the communities of Marengo County.

This week, Saugera was back in Demopolis again to present his finished product, titled &8220;Reborn in America&8221; to the University of Alabama Press, whom he hopes will publish his book later this year. He also made a stop at Amie Attaway&8217;s French class to discuss with them the early history of Demopolis and also a little bit about French culture.

Saugera&8217;s book is largely based on the information he gleaned from collection of approximately 250 letters written by Jacques Lajonie, which were sent from Demopolis back to France from 1817 to 1829.

Demopolis, often referred to as &8220;the Vine and Olive Colony&8221; &8212; which was founded by French Bonapartists in 1817 &045; was named such because the land was given to them in return for their cultivation of grape and olive crops.

The French later went on to found Aigleville, which was about a mile away on the Black Warrior River. The Napoleonic influence continued when Marengo County was named after a victory over Austrians at Marengo, Italy.

In addition to colonization, Saugera found in his research the early settlers of the area struggled to adapt to new life in America. This fact became particularly obvious by viewing Lajonie&8217;s collection of letters from beginning to end.

Another condition, as Saugera himself said he had to adapt to, was the Southern heat, which is not as common in France.

As Saugera explained, these conditions often became too much for the colonists. Many of them died of yellow fever or were killed by wolves or snakes. By 1830, most of the early colonists of Marengo County left for good, leaving the area to be settled by migrating cotton farmers from Virginia and South Carolina.

Another topic Saugera found in his research about the area is about slavery. It was assumed the French came here and worked the land without the help of slaves, as was common in other colonies. Saugera found this was not true.

He noted early paintings and murals painted to depict Demopolis and its surrounding communities often did not include slaves, be he knows they were a part of the Vine and Olive Colony and its history. One painting in particular can be found inside the downtown branch of Robertson Bank.

In 2017, Demopolis will hold its 200th anniversary celebration of being &8220;the city of the people.&8221; Saugera said he hopes to continue to be a part of Demopolis history.

Kelli Wright is the staff writer for The Demopolis Times. She can be reached at kelli.wright@demopolistimes.com