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Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

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Synopsis|Excerpt|Table of Contents



General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today, yet his story is strikingly familiarbecause his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used his larger-than-life feats as inspiration for such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
     But, hidden behind General Dumas's swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: he was the son of a black slavewho rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time. 
     Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas made his way to Paris, where he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolutionuntil he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.
     TIME magazine called The Black Count "one of those quintessentially human stories of strength and courage that sheds light on the historical moment that made it possible." It is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.  



the sugar factory

Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie—father of the future Alex Dumas—was born on February 26, 1714, in the Norman province of Caux, a region of rolling dairy farms that hung above great chalk cliffs on the northwest coast of France. A scrawled scrap of paper from the time states that he was baptized “without ceremony, at home, because of the peril of death,” suggesting he was too sickly to risk bringing in to the local church. He was the firstborn son of an old family that possessed a castle, a scarcity of cash, and an abundance of conniving members, though Antoine would one day outdo them all.

The boy survived, but the following year his sovereign, King Louis XIV, the Sun King, died after seventy-two years on the throne. As he lay dying, the old king counseled his heir, his five-year-old great-grandson: “I loved war too much, do not imitate me in this, nor in my excessive spending habits.” The five-year-old presumably nodded earnestly. His reign, as Louis XV, would be marked by a cycle of spending and wars so extravagantly wasteful and unproductive that they would bring shame not only on his person but on the institution of the French monarchy itself.

But the profligate, war-driven habits of its kings could not hold France back. In fact the “Great Nation” was about to unleash the age of the philosophes, the Enlightenment, and all that would follow from it. Frenchmen were about to shake the world into the modern age. Before they could do that, they would need money. Big money.

Big money was not to be found in Normandy, and certainly not around the Pailleterie château. The family’s coat of arms—three golden eagles holding a golden ring on an azure background—looked impressive but meant little. The Davy de la Pailleteries were provincial aristocrats from a region more abounding in old glories than in current accounts. Their fortune was not enough to sustain grandeur without work—or not for more than one generation.

Still, a title was a title, and as the oldest son, Antoine would eventually claim the title of “marquis” and the ancestral estate of Bielleville that went with it. Next in succession after Antoine were his two younger brothers—Charles Anne Edouard (Charles), born in 1716, and Louis François Thérèse (Louis), born in 1718.

Faced with their limited prospects in Normandy, all three Pailleterie brothers sought their fortunes in the army, which then accepted nobles as young as twelve into its commissioned ranks. Antoine received a commission in the Corps Royal de l’Artillerie, an up-and-coming branch of the service, as a second lieutenant at sixteen. His brothers soon followed him as teenage junior officers. The Pailleterie brothers were kept busy by His Majesty’s plunge, in 1734, into the War of the Polish Succession, one of a series of dynastic conflicts that regularly provided excuses for the gory quaintness of eighteenth-century European combat. The big-power rivals behind this little war were the traditional competitors for European land domination, the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs, France and Austria. (England would soon play a bigger role, especially on the high seas and in the New World, but that was still one or two wars in the future.)

In addition to his commission in the artillery, Antoine served at the front as gentleman in the entourage of the Prince de Conti, the king’s dashing, fabulously rich cousin. Antoine saw his main action at the Siege of Philipsburg, in 1734—later written into the military annals by Karl von Clausewitz, in On War, as the “perfect example of how not to site a fortress. Its location was that of an idiot standing with his nose against the wall.” Voltaire was also there, fleeing a royal arrest warrant, and working as a kind of one-man eighteenth-century USO show during the siege, offering bons mots and brandy between bouts of battle and composing odes to the military men.

The most notable event in Antoine’s service at Philipsburg, however, was that he served as a witness to a duel that took place on the night of the Prince de Conti’s birthday party at the front: it was between the Prince de Lixen and the Duke de Richelieu. The duke took offense when the prince mocked the Richelieu pedigree. The duke’s grandfather had been Cardinal Richelieu (later immortalized as the mustache-twirling nemesis of the Three Musketeers), an adviser to Louis XIII who had managed royal financial and building projects to great advantage—both for himself and for France. But such accomplishments did not measure up to the high standards of snobbery practiced by Lixen, who regarded the Richelieu clan as parvenus. To make matters worse, the duke had recently offended the prince by marrying one of his cousins.

At midnight, the illustrious in-laws met in the field of honor between the dining tents and the trenches. They began lunging at one another there in the dark, their lackeys lighting the swordfight with flickering lanterns. The prince took the advantage first, wounding Richelieu in the thigh. The lackeys switched from lanterns to bare torches, and the combatants chased each other in and out of the trenches, their blades reflecting fire. The prince stabbed the duke in the shoulder. At this point an enemy barrage lit the field of honor. One of the lackeys was hit and killed.

Richelieu counterattacked, and with Antoine watching, the duke sank his blade into the chest of his unfortunate in-law. Contemporaries considered it a sort of poetic justice, since Lixen himself had recently dispatched one of his own relations, his wife’s uncle, the Marquis de Ligneville, for a similarly trifling offense. Such were the friendly-fire deaths of the eighteenth-century battlefield.

In 1738, when the war ended, Antoine took the chance to get out of the army and Europe altogether. While he was stationed at Philipsburg, his younger brother Charles had joined a colonial regiment that went to the French sugar colony of Saint-Domingue, on the West Indian island of Hispaniola. This was a fortunate posting.

Sugar planting was the oil business of the eighteenth century, and Saint-Domingue was the Ancien Régime’s Wild West frontier, where sons of impoverished noble families could strike it rich. Barely sixteen when he arrived in the colony as a soldier, by twenty-two Charles Davy de la Pailleterie had met and wooed a young woman, Marie-Anne Tuffé, whose family owned a sizable sugar plantation on the colony’s wealthy northeast coast. Antoine decided to join him.

Today, the world is so awash in sugar—it is such a staple of the modern diet, associated with all that is cheap and unhealthy—that it’s hard to believe things were once exactly the opposite. The West Indies were colonized in a world where sugar was seen as a scarce, luxurious, and profoundly health-giving substance.

Eighteenth-century doctors prescribed sugar pills for nearly everything: heart problems, headache, consumption, labor pains, insanity, old age, and blindness. Hence, the French expression “like an apothecary without sugar” meant someone in an utterly hopeless situation. Saint-Domingue was the world’s biggest pharmaceutical factory, producing the Enlightenment wonder drug.

Columbus brought sugarcane to Hispaniola, the first European settlement in the New World, on his second voyage, in 1493. The Spanish and the Portuguese had been the first to cultivate sugar in Europe, and when they began their age of discovery, among the first places they “discovered” were islands off the coast of North Africa just perfect for sugar cultivation. As the Iberian explorers made their way down the African coast—the Portuguese going around the Horn to East Asia, the Spaniards cutting west to the Americas—both powers had two main goals in mind: finding precious metals and planting sugarcane. (Oh, and spreading the word of God.)

The Spanish established a colony on the eastern side of Hispaniola and named it Santo Domingo; eventually, the colony would extend over the eastern two-thirds of the island, roughly corresponding to the modern-day Dominican Republic. (The native inhabitants called the entire island by another name: Hayti.) The Spanish brought artisans from the Canary Islands, off the coast of West Africa, to build the elaborate on-site technology needed for sugar production—presses, boilers, mills—and then brought the most essential ingredient of all: African slaves.

Slavery, of course, had existed since antiquity. The Greek city-states had created democracy among a small elite by enslaving almost everybody else, in some cases up to a third of the population. Aristotle believed democracy could exist only because of slavery, which gave citizens the leisure for higher pursuits. (Modern versions of this argument held that American democracy was born of the slave society of rural Virginia, because slavery gave men like Washington and Jefferson the free time to better themselves and to participate in representative government.) In Greece and Rome, slavery was the fate of prisoners of war and barbarians, anyone not lucky enough to have been born Greek or Roman. When ancient slaves managed to buy their freedom or that of their children, they would assimilate into the free population, with no permanent mark on their descendants. Though ubiquitous in the ancient world, slavery was not based on any sense of “race.”

There was an ethnic connotation in the etymology of the word “slave,” which first appeared in the eighth century AD: the word was a corruption of “Slav,” since at the time nearly all slaves imported into Europe were ethnic Slavs. The Slavs were late converts to Christianity, and their pagan status made them vulnerable. “Slav markets” were established across Europe, from Dublin to Marseilles, where the people being bought and sold were as fair-skinned as those buying and selling them.

The rise of Islam led to a vast expansion of slavery, as conquering Arab armies pulled any and every group of “unbelievers” into bondage. Arab slave traders captured whites from the north via sea raids on European shipping, and blacks from the south via land raids or barter with the sub-Saharan kingdoms. Justified by religious faith, the Muslim slave trade was a huge trans-national business. Over time it focused more and more on black Africans. Yet there was still no fixed biological marker for bondage.

The European sugar trade changed this forever. As thousands of blacks were bought and sold out of Africa to harvest sugar, for the first time in history a biologically marked group of human beings came to be considered destined for slavery, created by the white landowners’ God for a life of permanent chattel servitude.

The Portuguese had first taken blacks to Madeira to cut sugarcane because the island was off the coast of North Africa and the Muslim traders there happened to deal in African slaves. When they sailed down the Guinea Coast, the Portuguese found the black African kingdoms were willing to supply them with slaves directly: the Africans did not consider they were selling their racial brothers to the whites. They did not think in racial terms at all but only of different tribes and kingdoms. Before, they had sold their captives to other black Africans or to Arabs. Now they sold them to whites. (The African kingdoms and empires themselves kept millions of slaves.) As time went on, Africans would learn of the horrors awaiting black slaves in the American colonies, not to mention on the passage over, yet they continued to export ever greater quantities of bois d’ébène—“ebony wood,” as the French called their cargo. There was no mercy or morality involved. It was strictly business.

Spain laid the foundations of this great wealth and evil in the Americas, then quickly became distracted and forgot about it. After introducing the plants, the technology, and the slaves into Santo Domingo, the Spanish dropped the sugar business in favor of hunting for gold and silver. They moved on to Mexico and South America in search of the precious metals, leaving the island to languish for nearly two centuries, until the French began to harness its true potential.

By the mid-to-late eighteenth century, the Saint-Domingue colony, situated on the western end of Hispaniola, where Haiti is today, accounted for two-thirds of France’s overseas trade. It was the world’s largest sugar exporter and produced more of the valuable white powder than all the British West Indian colonies combined. Thousands of ships sailed in and out of Port-au-Prince and Cap Français, bound for Nantes, Bordeaux, and New York. When the British, after winning the Seven Years’ War, chose to keep the great swath of France’s North American colonies and instead return its two small sugar islands, Guadeloupe and Martinique, they unwittingly did their archrival a favor.

Saint-Domingue was the most valuable colony in the world. And its staggering wealth was supported by staggering brutality. The “pearl of the West Indies” was a vast infernal factory where slaves regularly worked from sunup to past sundown in conditions rivaling the concentration camps and gulags of the twentieth century. One-third of all French slaves died after only a few years on the plantation. Violence and terror maintained order. The punishment for working too slowly or stealing a piece of sugar or sip of rum, not to mention for trying to escape, was limited only by the overseer’s imagination. Gothic sadism became commonplace in the atmosphere of tropical mechanization: overseers interrupted whippings to pour burning wax—or boiling sugar or hot ashes and salt—onto the arms and shoulders and heads of recalcitrant workers. The cheapness of slave life brushed against the exorbitant value of the crop they produced. Even as the armies of slaves were underfed and dying from hunger, some were forced to wear bizarre tin-plate masks, in hundred-degree heat, to keep them from gaining the slightest nourishment from chewing the cane.

The sugar planter counted on an average of ten to fifteen years’ work from a slave before he was driven to death, to be replaced by another fresh off the boat. Along with malnutrition, bugs and diseases could also eventually do in someone working up to eighteen hours a day. The brutality of the American Cotton Kingdom a century later could not compare to that of Saint-Domingue in the 1700s. There would be no shortage of cruel overseers in the United States, but North American slavery was not based on a business model of systematically working slaves to death in order to replace them with newly bought captives. The French sugar plantations were a charnel house.

Because Versailles loved laws and orders, France was the first country to codify colonial slavery. In doing so, King Louis XIV passed a law, in 1685, that changed the history of both slavery and race relations.

Le Code Noir—the Black Code. Its very name left no doubt about who were to be the slaves. It elaborated, point by point, the many ways in which black Africans could be exploited by their white masters. The Code sanctioned the harshest punishments—the penalty for theft or attempted escape was death—and stated that slaves could not marry without their master’s consent or pass on property to their kin.

But the very existence of a written legal code—a novelty of the French colonial empire—opened the way for unexpected developments. If there were laws governing slavery, then slave owners, at least in some instances, could be found in violation of them. By articulating the rules of white domination, the Code, theoretically, at least, limited it, and gave blacks various opportunities to escape from it. It created loopholes. One of these was on the issue of sexual relations between masters and slaves, and the offspring resulting from such relations.

Table of Contents

prologue, part 1 • February 26, 1806  
prologue, part 2 • January 25, 2007  
book one
chapter 1 • The Sugar Factory  
chapter 2 • The Black Code  
chapter 3 • Norman Conquest  
chapter 4 • “No One Is a Slave in France” 
chapter 5 • Americans in Paris  
chapter 6 • Black Count in the City of Light  
chapter 7 • A Queen’s Dragoon  
book two
chapter 8 • Summers of Revolution   
chapter 9 • “Regeneration by Blood”   
chapter 10 • “The Black Heart Also Beats for Liberty”   
chapter 11 • “Mr. Humanity”   
chapter 12 • The Battle for the Top of the World   
chapter 13 • The Bottom of the Revolution   
chapter 14 • The Siege   
chapter 15 • The Black Devil   
book three
chapter 16 • Leader of the Expedition   
chapter 17 •  “ The Delirium of His
chapter 18 • Dreams on Fire   
chapter 19 • Prisoner of the Holy Faith Army   
chapter 20 • “ Citizeness Dumas . . . Is Worried
    About the Fate of Her Husband”   
chapter 21 • The Dungeon   
chapter 22 • Wait and Hope   
epilogue • The Forgotten Statue   
Author’s Note on Names   
Tom Reiss

About Tom Reiss

Tom Reiss - The Black Count
TOM REISS is the author of the international bestseller The Orientalist. He lives in New York City.
Praise | Awards


Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Biography!

“Tom Reiss wrings plenty of drama and swashbuckling action out of Dumas’ strange and nearly forgotten life, and more: The Black Count is one of those quintessentially human stories of strength and courage that also sheds light on the flukey historical moment that made it possible.”

“A remarkable and almost compulsively researched account…The author spent a decade on the case, and it shows.”
—Christian Science Monitor

“Fascinating…a richly imaginative biography.”
—New York Times Book Review

"It would take an incredibly fertile mind to invent a character as compelling, exciting and unlikely as Gen. Alexandre (Alex) Dumas [hence] you might forget, while reading, that The Black Count is a work of nonfiction; author Tom Reiss writes with such narrative urgency and vivid description, you'd think you were reading a novel…The Black Count reminds us of how essential stories, whether true or invented, can be.”
—National Public Radio
“Vibrant…Sometimes the best stories are true.  This is one of them.”
“Reiss details the criminal forgetting of Alex Dumas…This remarkable book stands as his monument.”
—Washington Post
“Superb... as improbable and exciting as [Dumas’s] best books… but there is much more to this book than that.”  
—Newsweek/The Daily Beast
“Lush prose and insightful details make The Black Count one of the best biographies of 2012…a tale that is as easily engrossing as one of Dumas’ page-turning and timeless works.”
“Impressively thorough…Reiss moves the story on at an entertaining pace…fascinating.”
Wall Street Journal
“To tell this tale, Reiss must cover the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and the rise of Napoleon toward Empire; he does all that with remarkable verve.”
—Boston Globe
“Fascinating [and] swashbuckling...meticulously evokes the spirit of Revolutionary and Napoleonic France...Dumas comes across as something of a superhero...a monument to the lives of both Dumas and his adoring [novelist] son.”
—The Seattle Times
“A piece of detective work by a prize-winning author...brilliantly researched.”
The Daily Mail (U.K.)
“Sometimes real life does, indeed, trump even the wildest of fiction…With a narrative that is engaging and entertaining, Reiss sets the literary table for one of the most satisfying adventure stories of the autumn.  Richly detailed, meticulously researched and beautifully written, this is the unlikely true story of the man behind one of the greatest books in literature.”
Tucson Citizen
“Triumphant…Reiss directs a full-scale production that jangles with drawn sabers, trembles with dashing deeds and resonates with the love of a son for a remarkable father.”
The Herald (U.K.)
“Fascinating….Reiss argues that Dumas is an important, criminally neglected figure [and] it’s difficult to argue with him…A truly amazing story.”
“A story that has everything…The Black Count has its own moving narrative thread, made compelling by Reiss’s impassioned absorption with the general’s fate.”
—The Literary Review
“A thoroughly researched, lively piece of nonfiction that will be savored by fans of Alexandre Dumas.  But The Black Count needs no partner: It is fascinating enough to stand on its own.”
“A compelling new work by literary detective Reiss, author of The Orientalist, tracks the wildly improbable career of [Count of Monte Cristo author] Alexandre Dumas’ mixed-race father…Reiss eloquently argues the General’s case.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Alex Dumas, an extraordinary man whose sensational life had been largely lost to history solely because of his race, takes the spotlight in this dynamic tale…Reiss capitalizes on his subject’s charged personality as well as the revolutionary times in which he lived to create an exciting narrative.”
Publishers Weekly
“Thrilling…Reiss makes clear that Alex lived a life as full of adventure, triumph, and tragic loss as any of his son’s literary creations…This absorbing biography should redeem its subject from obscurity.”

“From pike-wielding mobs to prisoners locked in a fortress tower, The Black Count is as action-packed as The Count of Monte Cristo. Unlike Dumas’s famous adventure novel, however, Reiss’s incredible tale is true.”
Candice Millard, New York Times bestselling author of The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic
“Tom Reiss has literally drilled into locked safes to create this masterpiece…. His portrait of a man who was arguably our modern age’s greatest unknown soldier is remarkable.”
James Bradley, New York Times bestselling author of Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys
“A masterful biography, richly detailed, highly researched, and completely absorbing. The Black Count is a triumph.”
Amanda Foreman, New York Times bestselling author of A World on Fire and Georgiana
“It’s hard to imagine a more colorful or engaging subject than the man who inspired The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. In the wonderful hands of Tom Reiss, Alex Dumas comes to vivid life, illuminating far-flung corners of history and culture. This is a terrific book.”
Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston
The Black Count is a dazzling achievement. I learned something new virtually on every page. No one who reads this magnificent biography will be able to read The Count of Monte Cristo or any history of slavery in the New World in the same way again.”
Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University
 “Rousing and thought-provoking, The Black Count is an adventure like no other. I marveled at every twist and turn of this remarkable true story, brought to life with the charm and personal touch that has become the trademark of Tom Reiss.”
Laurence Bergreen, New York Times bestselling author of Columbus and Over the Edge of the World
“A riveting, beautifully written and well-researched story of the seemingly impossible. It could never have happened in the United States, and with great skill, Reiss shows how the moment that produced Alex Dumas was lost with the rise of nineteenth-century racism.”
Annette Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for
The Hemingses of Monticello
 “In the early 1800s, General Alex Dumas was purposefully disappeared by his enemies, and for too long his story has remained silenced. The Black Count vividly vindicates the great general, restoring him to his rightful place at the center of the Age of Revolution. Carrying us from the plantations of the Caribbean to Paris, the Alps, and Egypt, Reiss tells an engrossing tale of a life of social struggle, adventure, and courage—and of the frustrations and joys of a researcher on the trail of a forgotten truth.”
Laurent Dubois, author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History
“A tale worthy of Dumas himself—of impossible odds, shrinking before the irresistible forces of daring, ingenuity and in-your-face talent.”
Ted Widmer, author of Ark of the Liberties
“The real-life history of General Alex Dumas is as poignant and swashbuckling a tale as any his novelist son could have dreamed. Tom Reiss has the dramatist’s sense of setting and scene, the reporter’s persistence, and the historian’s eye for truth. Would that the imprisoned Count of Monte Cristo had a copy of this book!”
Darrin M. McMahon, author of Enemies of the Enlightenment and Happiness: A History
“Tom Reiss can do it all: gather startling research and write inspired prose; find life’s great stories and then tell them with real brilliance. In The Black Count the master journalist-storyteller opens the door to the truth behind one of literature’s most exciting stories, and opens it wide enough to show the delicate beauty of the lives within.”
Darin Strauss, National Book Critics Circle Award–winning author of Half a Life
“Tom Reiss tells this amazing story, largely unknown today, with verve, style, and a nonpareil command of detail.”
Luc Sante, author of Low Life, Evidence, and The Factory of Facts
The Black Count is a complex work of political and social history gallantly masquerading as a fantastic adventure story. As he did in The Orientalist, Tom Reiss has traveled far to stalk a forgotten legend, and has recovered for us a vivid, dramatic tale that delights, moves, and inspires.”
Gideon Lewis-Kraus, author of A Sense of Direction
The Black Count is totally thrilling—a fascinating, beautifully written, and deeply researched biography that brings to life one of history’s great forgotten characters: the swashbuckling, flamboyant, and romantic mulatto count whose true life belongs in a Hollywood movie or Alexandre Dumas story.”
Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Jerusalem: The Biography and Young Stalin
“Tom Reiss tells the incredible story of Alex Dumas with the same excitement about uncovering history that he brought to The Orientalist.
Nina Burleigh, New York Times bestselling author of Mirage: Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt
 “We believe we know the glories of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. We believe we understand the horror of slavery and the oppression of Africans. But what is the relationship between the grand goal of liberation and the deep tragedy of racism? As Reiss shows us, answers can be found in the extraordinary life of a forgotten French hero of the great revolutionary campaignsa hero who was black.”
Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands and The Red Prince
“Reiss combines the talent of a thorough English detective with the literary flair of a French novelist to produce a story that is as fresh as today’s headlines but as old as the Greek classics.”
Jack Weatherford, New York Times bestselling author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
“Colorful and utterly captivating . . . This is history that is vibrant, gripping, and tragic.”
William Dietrich, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author of Napoleon’s Pyramids and The Emerald Storm
 More Praise for Tom Reiss
"A wondrous tale, beautifully told… mesmerizing, poignant and almost incredible."   
The New York Times
“Spellbinding history… part detective yarn, part author biography, part travel saga… completely fascinating.”  
The Dallas Morning News
 “Thrilling, novelistic and rich with the personal and political madness of early twentieth-century Europe.”  
Entertainment Weekly
"An elaborate wonder-cabinet… as page–turningly compelling as any fiction."  
The Los Angeles Times 
 “Exhilarating… an endlessly inventive saga.” 
San Francisco Chronicle
“A brainy, nimble, remarkable book.” 
Chicago Tribune


WINNER 2013 Pulitzer Prize
FINALIST 2012 National Book Critics Circle Awards
NOMINEE 2013 NAACP Image Award
NOMINEE 2012 Plutarch Award
WINNER 2013 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography
FINALIST 2013 Phillis Wheatley Book Award
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


about the book

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss, tells the fascinating true story of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, a black man whose achievements distinguish him as one of the greatest military leaders of his time. The son of a French aristocrat and a black slave from the colony of Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti), Dumas enlisted in the French army in 1786 and quickly rose to the highest rank that would be achieved by a man of color until Colin Powell—nearly 200 years later. The story of an underdog who triumphed against all odds, Dumas’ saga is at the same time the story of the world’s first civil rights movement, with France’s march toward what Reiss calls a “revolutionary age of racial emancipation,” and the heartbreaking reversal of equal rights that took place after Napoleon’s ascent to power.

At its core, however, The Black Count tells a story of enduring bonds between fathers and sons. Although General Dumas died when his namesake, Alexandre Dumas, was only four years old, his son became one of the most beloved novelists of all time. While General Dumas ended up largely forgotten by history, the novelist Dumas used his remarkable life story to create some of literature’s most iconic heroes in classics such as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. Yet the father’s life is in many ways more unbelievable than the son’s novels.

Here is a history book that teens can love. “Mom, if they taught history like this in school? The children would never want to go home. They’d beg the teacher to keep reading.”  That’s what one excited teenager told his mother when she gave him The Black Count. For another young man, “[I]t trumped the big screen, the Xbox, and all the games and toys.”  Sensing the book’s appeal to youth, many adult readers have urged that it be assigned in high schools. “If I ever had the chance to teach the French Revolution or Napoleonic France,” wrote one, “it would certainly be with this book. Sweeping world events are personalized . . . in a way that makes them meaningful and understandable.”  Others have emphasized how The Black Count would bring passion into otherwise “boring” history classes: “I am not one who grew up loving history, but if the books had been written like this, I would have fallen in love with the subject and not dreaded the classes.”  Numerous others echo the sentiment.

The Black Count provides teachers with material for thought-provoking classroom discussions and writing assignments on social issues such as racial prejudice and the possibility of overcoming it, imperialism, democracy and dictatorship, and the role of the military in society. It delivers food for thought as well on broader topics such as leadership, courage, principle, and ambition.
An enthralling adventure that “reads like a novel but packs the facts of a textbook,” as one reader put it,  The Black Count makes an ideal text for Western Civilization or World History studies. It offers students a stunning example of the unexpected turns past societies have taken, the fickleness of historical memory, and lessons in judging the merits of primary and secondary sources—not to mention an engrossing narrative of Caribbean slave society, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic era.

Paired with The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, The Black Count presents an outstanding nonfiction choice for World Literature as well. Students will be fascinated by the real-life background of the novelist’s fictions. Comparing the enthralling events of General Dumas’ life with his son’s action-packed tales generates ready-made topics for writing and discussion.
Carrying a message from the French and Haitian past that resonates with today’s American promise of racial equality, The Black Count will be a unique and popular addition to the high school curriculum.

about this guide

The questions and activities in this Teacher’s Guide were written to support standards-based instruction. Because content of The Black Count is aligned with curriculum in courses most commonly taught at the 9th- or 10th-grade level, World History and World Literature, the decision was made to align the guide with 9th- and 10th-grade history and English standards. However, the text meets the standard for Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity for grades 11–12 as well as 9–10, so this guide is easily adaptable for junior or senior classes. 

A complete list of the Common Core State Standards can be found at http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards.
This Teacher’s Guide is divided into three sections. The first section, “Guided Reading Questions,” will help students with reading comprehension and analysis. These questions can be used as a guide for annotating the text, written responses, or group discussions. The second section, “Writing Prompts,” is subdivided into genres based on the writing standards. The topics in the third section, “Topics for Further Research,” will require students to conduct and synthesize significant outside research on subjects related to the text.

note to teachers

While The Black Count is a text that can be read in either English or history classes independently of the novels of Alexandre Dumas The Count of Monte Cristo, it is an ideal choice for a multidisciplinary unit that includes this classic as a literary text and encourages reading and writing across the curriculum. 
before you read
Teachers may want to begin by assessing the level of background knowledge that students have about the French Revolution and leading them in a guided research activity to answer the “Five W Questions” about the Revolution. A short journaling activity about the meaning of the words “Liberty,” “Equality,” and “Fraternity” will help engage students in concepts that are critical to understanding the Revolution.

guided reading questions

Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Prologue, Part 1

What sources for information did Dumas use when he wrote about his father? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Explain the connection between the childhoods of Dumas and Haydée. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Prologue, Part 2 

Consult general or specialized reference materials to determine the meaning of the term “ancien régime.” CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4c

What unexpected obstacle did Reiss encounter when he traveled to the Musée 
Alexandre Dumas to view primary sources related to the life of General Dumas? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Reiss refers to General Dumas as a “soldier’s general” (page 8). Based on the context, what do you think the term “soldier’s general” means? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4a CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4

Conduct a Web search to find contemporary figures that have been described as “soldier’s generals” and compare them with General Dumas. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6

According to Reiss, what was the “world’s first civil rights movement” (page 10)? How did this political climate impact the life of General Dumas? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

What story did Dumas publicly claim as the inspiration for The Count of Monte Cristo? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Who are the “Dumasians,” and how did they help Reiss? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1
Book One

The Sugar Factory

Compare the map of colonial Saint-Domingue (page 22) with a modern-day map of Haiti and discuss the changes. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Explain the importance of the sugar trade during the eighteenth century. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Explain the circumstances that led the De la Pailleteries to become sugar planters in the colony of Saint-Domingue. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

Explain how the slave trade changed over time. What factors led to Africans becoming a population disproportionately associated with slavery? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

What was the Code Noir? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4

Describe the relationship between Charles and Antoine de la Pailleterie. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

The Black Code

Explain the meaning and etymology of the word “marron.” CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4c

Where did Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie go after the falling out with 
his brother Charles? What factors made it especially difficult to locate him? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

According to the Code Noir, under what circumstances was a mixed-race child considered legitimate? Explain how this provision might provide a “route to social mobility for people of color” (page 39). Explain the term “libre de fait” (page 40). 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4

Where did Thomas-Alexandre grow up? Describe the social, political, and cultural climate of the city. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Describe the laws that were passed as an attempt to suppress the cultural influence of mixed-race men and women in the colonies. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Norman Conquest

Why did Charles de la Pailleterie return to France? Since his elder brother, Antoine, could not be located, what title did Charles claim? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Explain Charles’s connection to Monte Cristo. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Describe the circumstances that led to Antoine’s return to France. What did he do with his mistresses and mixed-race children when he left the colonies? What provision did he make for his favored son, Thomas-Alexandre? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

“No One Is a Slave in France”

Describe Thomas-Alexandre’s education. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Explain how Joseph Boulogne became the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

In your own words, explain the “freedom principle” (page 61). In 1691, what did Louis XIV acknowledge regarding the rights of slaves once they landed on French soil? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4

The trial of Jean Boucaux laid the foundation for legal arguments against slavery. Summarize the key points that Jean’s lawyers used to define and defend the rights of blacks in France. Summarize the Verdelins’ lawyer’s arguments. What was the court’s decision? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

In aftermath of the trial of Jean Boucaux, what edict did Louis XV pass as an attempt to halt more “freedom suits”? What was the immediate effect of this edict? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

Who was Guillaume Poncet de la Grave? What did he believe about the rights of blacks? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

What was the Police des Noirs? What were some of its key provisions? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Americans in Paris

Describe the qualities that made the young Thomas-Alexandre especially successful in French society. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 

What did the term “American” mean in late-eighteenth-century France? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4

Explain the role that France played during the American Revolution. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Based on the details in the text, how would you describe the relationship between Antoine de la Pailleterie and his son Thomas-Alexandre? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Black Count in the City of Light

In your own words, paraphrase the incident involving Thomas-Alexandre and Jean-Pierre Titon de Saint-Lamain at Nicolet’s theater. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

What changes did Dumas make to the story of his father’s arrest when he wrote about it in his autobiography? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

A Queen’s Dragoon

What event appears to have caused a rift between Thomas-Alexandre and his father? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Thomas-Alexandre chose to pursue a military career. What unusual choice did he make about the way he enlisted? What choice did he make about the name under which he enlisted? Why do you think he made these choices? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

What happened to the De la Pailleterie estate and fortune? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

What were the Dragoons? Where did they get their name? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4

Summarize the tales that the novelist Dumas and others told about the strength and valor of Private Dumas. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Explain the factors that contributed to the start of the French Revolution. What role did the French military play in the overthrow of the ancien regime? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

Book Two

Summers of Revolution

Explain the circumstances that led to Private Alex Dumas meeting Marie-Louise Labouret. What impression did the young soldier make on the Labouret family? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Describe the creation of the National Assembly. What important document was drafted as a result? How did the National Assembly initially deal with Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

What was the Jacobin club? What role did it play in the Revolution? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

How did Claude Labouret respond when Dumas asked permission to marry his daughter, Marie-Louise? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Although King Louis XVI was not immediately deposed, his role changed significantly after the initial wave of the Revolution. Explain the symbolic significance of his new title: “King of the French.” CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4

How did the leaders of surrounding European countries initially respond to the French Revolution? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

After describing the events surrounding the Champs de Mars Massacre, Reiss states that, as revolutionary fervor intensified, “Alex Dumas would be threatened with the guillotine for his mere presence on the field that day.” Explain why it could be potentially dangerous for Dumas to have been associated with the queen’s regiment. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

Regeneration by Blood

What American ideals did Jacques-Pierre Brissot embrace? What issue did he disagree with American politicians about? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Explain how Brissot’s belief that any soldier who fought against France was a “slave” helped shape France’s military policy. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

Describe the military reforms that were initiated by Count Jacques de Guibert and other French military philosophers. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

What was the target of the first preemptive military strike by the revolutionary government? What role did Corporal Dumas play in the strike? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Describe the events that led to Dumas being promoted to the rank of sergeant. What patriotic gesture did he make after his promotion? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

The Black Heart Also Beats for Liberty

What did the Edict of Fraternity (page 133) promise to revolutionaries in other nations? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

What were the “free legions” (page 133)? Which legion did Alex Dumas join? What rank was he offered in exchange for his service? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Examine the factors that led to the extension of full citizenship to free blacks and “citizens of color” in both the colonies and France. Who supported this movement? Who opposed it? What was the immediate effect of the declaration on the French military? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

After Dumas’ enlistment in the Black Legion, what personal milestone was he able to achieve? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Describe one of the acts of Dumas’ heroism. By July 30, 1793, what military rank had he earned? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Mr. Humanity

How quickly did Dumas advance in the military? What factors do you think contributed to his rapid rise? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Why was the Committee of Public Safety established? Who were key leaders of the Committee? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

What was the levée en masse? Why was it necessary? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4
What was Dumas’ first assignment as a general? According to his son’s memoir, what nickname was he given by the townspeople? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Describe the relationship between Dumas and Paul-Ferdinand Dermoncourt. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Why was Dumas initially reported to the Committee of Public Safety? How did he respond to the allegations against him? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

According to Reiss, what set Dumas apart from his contemporaries (page 157)? What was it about his personal history that made him such a loyal defender of the Republic? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2
The Battle for the Top of the World

Explain the strategic and symbolic importance of securing a military victory in the Alps. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

What was the source of the disagreement between General Dumas and Carnot? How was the situation resolved? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

In what specific ways did his friendship with Commissioner Gaston help Dumas? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

When preparing his final assault on Mount Cenis, what strategic move suggests that General Dumas was able to learn from the past? What was the outcome of the assault? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

The Bottom of the Revolution

Research the life of Maximilien de Robespierre. What role did he play in the Reign of Terror? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RHST.9-10.7
Why might it have been fortuitous that Dumas delayed his return to Paris to appear before the Committee of Public Safety? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 

Explain the situation in Vendée. Why were the peasants angry with the Republic? How did Dumas handle the situation when he was placed in charge of the military forces in Vendée? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Why did Dumas request leave from military service? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

In the late 1790s, what significant achievements were made in the movement for racial equality? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

The Siege

Using both the map on page 188 and Reiss’s text as a reference, describe the political landscape of Italy in the early 1790s. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Who was appointed to lead the French Army of Italy? What was the goal of this military offensive? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

What tactics did Napoleon Bonaparte use to increase the wealth of the French military? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

What was Dumas’ response to these tactics? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Why was Mantua a strategically important city to conquer? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Describe the military campaign over control of Mantua. What role did Dumas play in the eventual military victory? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

What upset General Dumas after the French defeated the Austrians and gained control of Mantua? What did he do that angered Napoleon? How did Napoleon respond? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

The Black Devil

What nickname did the Austrians give General Dumas? Do you think he deserved this title? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

What personal tragedy befell General Dumas during this time period? How did his personal anguish affect his performance on the battlefield? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

What evidence suggests that the rift between Napoleon and Dumas was repaired after Dumas’ heroism in the Tyrol? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1
Book Three

Leader of the Expedition

Why do you think Dumas may have considered resigning from the military? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

What preparations did Dumas find when he reported to his position in Toulon? What did this suggest about the nature of the military campaign he was joining? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1  

Who were the “savants”? What did their presence suggest about the objectives of Napoleon’s campaign? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

Who was Admiral Horatio Nelson? Where did he think Napoleon was heading? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

What dire prediction did the philosopher Volney make about attempts to seize or colonize Egypt? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

What reason did Napoleon give for wanting to seize Egypt? Do you think this would have been a reasonable explanation for invading the country? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 

Why did Napoleon invade Malta before heading to Egypt? Explain who the Knights of Malta were and how Napoleon tricked them into helping the French army infiltrate the city. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

Describe some of the altruistic and not-so-altruistic things Napoleon did after he conquered Malta. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 

What position was Dumas given during the Egyptian campaign? What was ironic about his assignment? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.5

Describe the impression that Dumas made on the Egyptians. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 
The Delirium of His Republicanism

Describe the brutal conditions that the French troops faced in Egypt. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Explain the circumstances of Dumas’ critique of Napoleon. When and where did the conversation take place? What was the source of Dumas’ frustration with Bonaparte? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

How did the Egyptians react to being “liberated” by the French? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

What tactic did Napoleon use to try to align himself with the Muslim population of Egypt? Was he successful? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Examine the conflicting accounts of Dumas’ response when confronted by Napoleon (pages 249¬–251). Whose account do you find the most believable? In both versions of the confrontation, what did Dumas request? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 


Summarize the key details of the naval battle (Battle of the Nile) that ended in the sinking of the Orient. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Dreams on Fire

Why was the Battle of the Nile a key strategic victory for the British? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

What social and cultural contributions did the savants make during their tenure in Egypt? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Describe the role that slavery played in the economy of Egypt. Explain why this was at odds with the basic tenets of the French Revolution. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

How did Dumas respond when he discovered a treasure of jewels and gold beneath an abandoned house? What does his response suggest about his character and ideology? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

How did Napoleon end his involvement in the Egyptian campaign? What does this suggest about his leadership style? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

What arrangements did Dumas make for his return to France? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Prisoner of the Holy Faith Army

What was the first difficulty that Dumas encountered on his journey back to France? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Why Dumas’ ship dock in the port of Taranto? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Why did Dumas expect to receive aid from the government of Taranto? What sort of welcome did they receive? Explain the political shifts that had occurred in the Kingdom of Naples prior to the arrival of the Belle Maltaise.CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

What was the goal of the Holy Faith Army? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Why did the Holy Faith Army consider Dolomieu an enemy? In what ways does his story parallel the character of Abbé Faria in The Count of Monte Cristo? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

Describe Dumas’ treatment during his captivity. How did his treatment change after
 the collapse of the Neapolitan republic? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

“Citizeness Dumas . . . Is Worried About the Fate of Her Husband”

Whom did Dumas’ wife appeal to for information about her husband? How did this individual respond? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Describe the domestic and foreign crises that threatened the stability of the French Republic. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Explain how Napoleon, with the help of his brother Lucien, seized control of the French government. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

The Dungeon

What caused Dumas to suspect that he was being poisoned? What evidence seemed to support his suspicion? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

What objects did the Friends of the French at Taranto manage to secretly give to Dumas? Why were these objects particularly useful? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Describe the friendships that Dumas made while he was in prison. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Explain the circumstances that led to the release of Dumas. How long did he spend 
in prison? What physical condition was he in when he was released? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

What information about his imprisonment did Dumas chose to hide from his wife? Consult the endnotes for this chapter (pages 381–383) and describe the sources that Reiss used to research the details of Dumas’ time in prison. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Wait and Hope

How did the government of Napoleon’s France treat Dumas after his release from prison? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

How many years of emancipation and equality did citizens of color in France experience before their rights began to be taken away? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Why did French plantation owners feel that Napoleon would be sympathetic to their requests to reinstitute slavery in the colonies?
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

What steps did Napoleon take to strip citizens of color (both in the colonies and in France) of their rights? How were black or mixed-race soldiers treated? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

What is the Legion of Honor? Why should Dumas have been eligible for this honor? Who originally petitioned for Dumas to be admitted to the Legion? Why was the request denied? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

When was Alexandre Dumas, the future novelist, born? Describe his relationship with his father. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

How did the death of General Dumas change the financial circumstances of the Dumas family? What benefits should she have been entitled to as the widow of a general and war hero? Why do you think she did not receive any assistance or compensation from Napoleon’s government? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

How was Dumas’ experience growing up as a mixed-race child different from his father’s experience? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

The Forgotten Statue

How was General Dumas’ biography changed between its publication in 1797 and 1808? What political events could have precipitated this change? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3

What happened to the statue honoring General Dumas that once stood in the Place des Trois Dumas? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Who is Claude Ribbe? For what recognition has he campaigned for General Dumas to receive? What were the results of his campaign? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Describe the new statue in honor of General Dumas. Do you think it is an appropriate tribute to his life? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

writing prompts

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

argumentation topics
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1a-e

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

On page 231, Reiss describes Napoleon’s “maddeningly contradictory legacy” and states that Napoleon was “a dictator, a destroyer, and a harbinger of totalitarian leaders to come; he was also a liberator from a tyranny that had stalked Europe for a thousand years.” Select one of these contradictory labels and construct an argument paper that makes a case for the label you believe is the most accurate description of Napoleon Bonaparte. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Compose an argument for posthumously awarding General Alex Dumas the designation of Chevalier in the Legion of Honor. As you construct your argument, consider the reasoning for excluding Dumas from this honor and offer a counterclaim. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.8

Consider the recently installed memorial statue to General Dumas, which Reiss describes on page 330. Research and view images of the statue and discuss its symbolism. Do you believe the statue is an appropriate tribute to the life of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas? If so, explain your reasoning. If not, compose an argument for the design of a monument that would be an appropriate memorial. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

In the Epilogue, Reiss discusses the fact that the biography of General Dumas published in 1808 differs from an earlier version in that it neglects to mention the racial components of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas’ story. How important was Dumas’ racial identity in the context of his biography? Contrast the role that race played in Dumas’ life with the role that it plays today. To what extent does race continue to define identity? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

The Revolutionary leader Jacques-Pierre Brissot believed that the French military had a moral responsibility to launch a “crusade for universal freedom.” Should a nation’s military be used only for defense, or do governments have the right to use military force to promote their political ideology? At what point, if ever, should the military become involved in foreign conflicts that do not immediately threaten national security? Develop an argument regarding the role the military should play in domestic and foreign affairs. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.8   

What makes a person a good leader? By all accounts Thomas-Alexandre Dumas had a remarkable military career. Examine his biography and consider the personal qualities he possessed that helped him to become a successful soldier and leader. What lessons can his life teach us about leadership? Use specific examples from the life of General Dumas to develop your thesis. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1

During General Dumas’ lifetime, he saw enormous progress in racial equality. Born into slavery, he grew into adulthood at a time when, suddenly, race was not a barrier to marriage, education, career advancement, or social status. Unfortunately, he also lived to see a reversal of civil rights and equality. Has our society finally achieved the vision of liberty and equality that Dumas fought to promote, or is there still progress that needs to be made? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

General Dumas passionately believed in the causes of liberty, equality, and brotherhood—so much so that he was willing to sacrifice his life to defend them. What ideal or cause are you passionate about? Craft a persuasive presentation to convince your classmates to take specific action about a cause that matters to you. Incorporate multimedia elements into your presentation to enhance the effectiveness of your argument. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4

Examine the bibliography of the text and consider the primary sources that Reiss used to reconstruct the details of Dumas’ life. What role did written correspondence (letters) play in his research? Two hundred years from now, how do you think technology will impact the historical record? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1  
explanatory prompts

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10a-f
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and 
information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Compare the theme, plot, and characters from The Count of Monte Cristo with the life of General Dumas. What elements of his father’s story did Alexandre Dumas incorporate into the story of Edmond Dantès? Compose a thorough literary analysis that examines the text as it relates to Dumas’ biography. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1

Interspersed throughout the text are passages from the memoir of Dumas the novelist. Reiss often presents the excerpts along with evidence from other primary sources that verify or call into question Dumas’ version of his father’s story. Examine these sections (an example can be found on pages 144–145) and consider the sources that a memoirist uses versus the sources a biographer or historian uses. Thoughtfully examine the ways that memoir differs from biography. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.8  

How does the relationship between a father and son impact a person’s identity and values? Examine the relationships between fathers and sons in The Black Count. Describe the relationship that Thomas-Alexandre had with his father, Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie. How did his father impact his life? Describe the relationship that Alexandre Dumas had with his father. How did it impact the novelist’s life and writing? If you have read The Count of Monte Cristo, examine the relationship between Edmond Dantès and his father. In what ways was their fictional relationship drawn from the life of Dumas? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2  

Using specific examples from his professional and personal life, explain why the nickname “Mr. Humanity” is an appropriate epithet for General Dumas. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2  

Examine the relationship between Napoleon and General Alex Dumas. What was the source of rivalry between the men? Why did Dumas dislike Napoleon? Why did Napoleon hate Dumas? How did the conflict between the men impact Dumas’ career? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3  

Examine the love story between Marie-Louise Labouret and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. Using specific details and excerpts from their correspondence whenever possible, explain how their relationship evolved and endured. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3   

At one point Napoleon compared Dumas to the classical figure Horatius Cocles. Research the story of Horatius Cocles and explain why Napoleon’s comparison was appropriate and relevant. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RHST.9-10.7   

narrative prompts

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10a-e
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective techniques, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

Reiss’s book gives details of several military campaigns (the battle for the French Alps, the Egyptian campaign, and so forth). Choose one of the campaigns that you found particularly interesting and compose a narrative account from the point of view of an enlisted soldier. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5  

The novelist Dumas took stories that he had been told about his father and used them to craft his memoir. Interview an older family member or friend of the family and ask him or her to tell a story about one of your parents or siblings. Compose a narrative account based on the story that this individual tells you. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5  

Reiss writes: “To remember a person is the most important thing in the novels of Alexandre Dumas. The worst sin anyone can commit is to forget” (page 3). Consider the role that memory plays in our lives. What memories have impacted your life? Compose a detailed personal narrative of a specific memory that has impacted your life. Include a reflection that examines how this memory has shaped you. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5 
On pages 83–87, Reiss examines the circumstances involving the arrest of young Thomas-Alexandre Dumas and the excerpt from his son’s memoir that relates the event with a much more triumphant and comical tone than the police reports suggest. Compose two narratives of an event that you have experienced or witnessed. In the first narrative, relate the events as objectively as possible. In the second narrative, use descriptive language and exaggeration of selected details to create a specific mood. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5  

It’s clear that the novelist Dumas’ hero was his father. In fact, he used elements from his father’s life to create some of the fictional heroes in his novels. Who is your hero? Using the steps of the archetypal Hero’s Journey as your guide, compose a narrative account of your own personal hero’s life. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5   

topics for further research

Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Compare primary documents from one of the “Freedom Principle” lawsuits mentioned in The Black Count with documents from the Somerset case in England and the Dred Scott case in the United States. What similarities and differences exist between the arguments from the prosecution and defense in all three cases? Were later lawsuits influenced by earlier rulings? As a class, re-create one or more of the trials and discuss the ways that the legal battle concerning emancipation has changed over time. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1a-d

The French were responsible for several advances in military philosophy and technology that gave them a military advantage and helped revolutionize warfare. Research the history of the development of a specific weapon that revolutionized combat in the past century. What were the intended and unintended consequences of its development? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9

Compare the primary texts: The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (France) and The Declaration of Independence (United States). What do the two documents have in common? Philosophically, where do they differ? Debate which of the two documents does a better job of ensuring individual liberty and which of the two documents is better for the common good. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1a-d

Examine the systematic infringement of civil rights that Napoleon imposed on citizens of color and compare his tactics with those of another dictator who systematically deprived a minority group of their liberty and equality. What lessons can history teach us about the protection of civil liberties? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 

Research the history of the levée en masse (military draft). Under what circumstances has a military draft been deemed necessary? Which groups of people suffer the most when a draft is imposed? What has been the public response to military drafts? Debate whether or not a period of military service should be mandated. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 

Research the history of General Dumas’ birthplace, Saint-Domingue. What role did imperialism play in Haiti’s history? Explain how the history of Haiti is linked to the history of New Orleans. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1  

Research the biography of Dumas père (the novelist) and his son, Dumas fils. How were they impacted by their father (and grandfather’s) legacy? What role did their racial identities play in their lives? CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 

What is imperialism? Research the role that a commodity such as sugar or coffee played in the development of empires during the era of colonialism. Focus your research on a specific colony, such as Saint-Domingue. What were the economic risks and benefits of colonization? What happened to the colony? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.1 

Research the establishment of the Committee of Public Safety and the subsequent Reign of Terror in France. How do government regimes use fear and intimidation to strip individuals of their rights? You may want to compare the tactics used by Napoleon with the totalitarian regimes in the writings of George Orwell. 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9 

In The Black Count, Reiss examines the impact that the French Revolution had on race relations in France. Research the way the Revolution impacted another disenfranchised population, such as women or another minority group. What gains were made in terms of liberty and equality? Were those gains later reversed? 
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3 CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3 

other titles of interest:
1984—George Orwell
All Souls Rising—Madison Smartt Bell
Animal Farm—George Orwell
Georges—Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo—Alexandre Dumas
The French Revolution: A History—Thomas Carlyle
The Three Musketeers—Alexandre Dumas

also by Tom Reiss:

The Orientalist
Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life
Random House | TR | 978-0-8129-7276-4 | 496pp. | $17.00/$21.00 Can.
e-Book: 978-1-58836-444-9 | $13.99/$13.99 Can.

about this guide’s author:
Amy Jurskis is the author of a number of teaching guides, including The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca S­­kloot and In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Georgia and an M.A.T. from Agnes Scott College. She currently serves as a chairperson of curriculum and an English teacher at Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, FL.
Download a PDF of the Teacher's Guide

  • The Black Count by Tom Reiss
  • May 14, 2013
  • History - Europe - Western
  • Broadway Books
  • $16.00
  • 9780307382474

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