Two generations of Dumas, each a compelling character

Thomas Alexandre Dumas, the father of Alexandre Dumas père, who was a general in Revolutionary France, was the highest-ranking man of mixed African descent ever in a European army

The Dumas clan epitomised French derring-do and prolific creativity, writes Samantha David

You would be forgiven for thinking Alexandre Dumas was a famous French writer, but, in fact, there are two of them: Alexandre Dumas père (who wrote The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo) and Alexandre Dumas fils, (who wrote
La Dame Aux Camélias which was adapted in the opera La Traviata). To be clear, let’s call them ‘Dumas père’ and ‘Dumas fils’.  

Dumas père (1802-1870) was born in Aisne in Picardy. His own father, born in Haiti, was mixed race, the illegitimate result of a liaison between the Marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie and Marie-Cessette Dumas, a slave of Afro-Caribbean descent, making Dumas père mixed race too.

Dumas père’s father arrived in France at the age of 13 and having attended a military training academy, he joined the French army. Having fallen out with his father, he adopted his mother’s name, Dumas, and by the age of 31 he was the first mixed-race man to be promoted to the rank of general. He married an innkeeper’s daughter, but died of cancer in 1806 when Dumas père was only four years old, leaving his widow in dire poverty.

Dumas père did not receive much of a formal education, but he was an avid reader and the family ...

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