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Friday, August 19, 2022


During the past several years, the descendants of the French immigrants from Saint-Barthelemy have celebrated their French heritage, on St. Thomas, during the week of July 8 through the 14, which is Bastille Day. During this time many special activities are observed.
As we celebrate our French heritage, let us remember that it was a people in revolt against tyranny and injustice that made this day memorable. The storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 and the time of terror which followed, eventually culminated in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which was adopted on August 26, 1789. This declaration was reaffirmed by the Constitution of 1958.
The French immigrants from Saint-Barthelemy have always celebrated Bastille Day at the Carenage, even when there were only a few of them living in their tiny cabins.
In the early years, the men would gather at a saloon and drink a toast to the Tricolors and to France. "Vive notre drapeau, le Tricolore, Vive la France," could be heard after every toast. At every little cabin the French flag flew high in a stiff breeze, while the men at the saloon sang the Marseillaise and other patriotic songs. They sang ballads about life in France and a few romantic French songs. They related stories about other Bastille Days on Saint-Barthelemy before their migration to St. Thomas.
About mid-afternoon the musicians came to the saloon with their accordions, violins, harmonicas and tambourines and the hearty singing continued the evening.
As the years sped by and with the turn of the century more and more immigrants arrived to settle at the Carenage. Now also began the practice of holding bals, (dances), on Sundays and on Bastille Day. At last the ladies got their chance to join in the celebrations which had previously been done only by the men of the village. Soon, some of the residents of the town of Charlotte Amalie flocked to the Carenage and people of every hue and ethnic group became Frenchmen for a day as they joined in the singing of the Marseillaise.
On July 14, 1908, Louis Ste. Rose Questel and his wife, Virginie, nee Olive, became the proud parents of a son whom they named, Louis Anthony. When the time arrived to baptize the child, Louis Ste. Rose and Virginie selected the French Consul, M. Cyril Daniel, to be their son's godfather. From that day on, the celebration of Bastille Day centered around this son of France. When Louis Anthony was grown and owned a saloon, the Bar Normandie, the Bastille Day celebration was centered at the Normandie. All the members of the Municipal Council and later the Senate, gathered at the Normandie. Even the Municipal Community Band brought their musical instruments to make it a grand feast, celebrating both Anthony Quetel's birthday and Bastille Day.
During the early years, the Northside Community did not do much celebrating of Bastille Day. As farmers, they were busy from dawn to dusk every single day except Sunday morning when they went to church. After the end of the second World War, the Northside community began celebrating Bastille Day in a big way.
Editors' note: Anne-Marie Danet is an historian and writer who has compiled a history of the French people in the Virgin Islands.

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