Zamor: The tale of a Bengali in the French revolution

When the French Revolution in the 1790s overthrew the French monarchy and gave power to the people, it changed the course of world history forever. One might have heard of the historic names associated with this revolution like Napoleon Bonaparte and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But not many of us know that the French Revolution also had a leader of Bengali origins.

Here’s the forgotten tale of Zamor, a young boy from Chittagong who participated in a revolution of people that changed the world forever.

The boy from Chittagong

From whatever little records can be found, Zamor was born in 1762, in Chittagong of Bengal. It is likely that he had little or some African lineage in him. Zamor was probably a member of the Siddi or Habshi community.

We make these assumptions based on Countess Du Barry’s mention of him as an “African boy” and his one portrait where his skin color gives off an impression that he’s African.

Kidnap by slave traders and ending up in France

Chittagong at that time was the finest port in the East. It was frequented by traders and businessmen from all over the world and slave trade was not an uncommon sight.

Read more: Chittagong port: Reliving the history of the oldest port in the East

BRITISH SLAVE TRADERS

Zamor was the victim of these slave traders. He was kidnapped by British Slave traders when he was 11 and was sold to King Louis XV of France as a palace slave. The king, however, gifted him to his mistress, Countess Du Barry, who named him Louis-Benoit Zamor. She also believed he was African which she writes about in her journal.

“The second object of my regard was Zamor, a young African boy, full of intelligence and mischief; simple and independent in his nature, yet wild as his country. Zamor fancied himself the equal of all he met, scarcely deigning to acknowledge the king himself as his superior.”

The countess wrote in her journal.

Becoming a leader in the French revolution

Zamor had a keen interest in philosophy and was inspired by the works of Rousseau. In 1789, by the time Zamor turned 27, the French revolution broke out.

A young man inspired by Russeau, Zamor took the side of the revolutionaries and the Jacobins. He began to detest the Countess and her lavish lifestyle.

As an informant to the Committee of Public Safety, he got the Countess arrested by the police for protecting the Aristocrats in 1792. After that, Zamor eventually got more vocal and actively involved in the revolution. He rose to become a secretary in the revolutionary government.

His charges against his countess eventually led to her execution by guillotine. At the trial, Zamor publicly announced his birthplace as Chittagong of Bengal Subah, breaking the long misconception that he was African.

The Aftermath of the revolution

The tale of the heroic rise, of a young boy from Chittagong to a leader of the French revolution has a bitter ending.

Zamor was arrested by the Girondins soon after the execution of Du Barry. He was tried and imprisoned but was able to secure his release.

Zamor fled from France only to return in 1815 after the fall of Napoleon.

He bought a house near the Latin quarters of Paris and spent the rest of his life in extreme poverty as a school teacher. Zamor died in 1820 and was buried in Paris in an unnamed grave.

Somewhere in the city of art and revolution, lies the remains of a boy from Bengal who lost his home when he was eleven years old. A boy who was sold as a slave to the other side of the world. A slave who became a hero in a revolution that changed the world. Somewhere in Paris, sleeps a son of Bengal who never returned home.

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