Letter from Rabaut de Saint–Étienne to the Minister of the Interior (27 February 1791)


Letter from Rabaut de Saint–Étienne to the Minister of the Interior (27 February 1791)


In this document, Jean–Paul Rabaut de Saint–Étienne, a Protestant pastor from Nîmes who had been a deputy to the National Assembly and who would later be elected to the National Convention, warns the central government of the ongoing violence in the Midi and the role of refractory priests and religious issues in that violence. Throughout southern France, revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries were involved in a struggle for power within the municipalities and more broadly. Rabaut de Saint–Étienne fears what would happen to the Revolution and by implication its supporters if, with help from abroad, counterrevolutionaries should seize control of the region.


La Révolution française, 105 vols. (Paris, 1881–1934), 35:270–73. Translated by Exploring the French Revolution project staff from original documents in French found in J.M. Roberts, French Revolution Documents, vol. 1 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1966), 388–91.


February 27, 1791






Sir, I seek to enlighten you about a threat that you would have regretted not having foreseen. Blood is about to flow, everything is ready, and if the ministry waits any longer, it will not be a few regiments that you will have to send this way, but an army. . . .

Arles is in a complete state of counterrevolution. The city is dug in. They have seized some cannons and rifles that the ministry left for them. Patriots are treated cruelly, and already seven to eight hundred of them have left. They have a rally button there that the men are wearing on their lapels, and the women are wearing as rings. I just saw an example of one. The more foolhardy among them are wearing a white cockade, but the mayor said that it was not yet time to wear it. They have chased away those priests who took the oath and reinstalled those who had refused. The patriots dare not either complain or write to their friends, lest they be hung. They are recruiting people from the surrounding areas and have sent emissaries to Jallès, where they were told that money would not be a problem. They are equipped with boats so that they can have access to the sea, but we should not spring into action unless war is declared. . . .

Additionally, Aigues-Mortes, which chased away its priest, is in a difficult mood. They refused to accept the frontier guards whose vigilance they feared, and everything points to the idea that they hoped to receive help from the sea. They also rallied partisans from the towns along the Rhône in order to make a connection between the sea and Avignon, a town that we have been rambling on too much about. . . . You will receive well-worded denials and well-acted protestations of how attached to France they are, but it is Italian powder that is blinding us, until the time comes when we explode. And if you notice, Sir, that these plans have existed and spread in the Midi for two years, and if you also notice that Spain is our most bitter enemy and that there is nothing easier for her to do than to give aid to the rebels by means of coastal boats, this matter will seem to you, I hope, worthy of your attention.


“Letter from Rabaut de Saint–Étienne to the Minister of the Interior (27 February 1791),” LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY: EXPLORING THE FRENCH REVOUTION, accessed July 17, 2024, https://revolution.chnm.org/d/549.