René Plassais: miller 1805 – 1820

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In my previous post I talked about the difficult period around the French Revolution, the things that were happening around the Moulin de la Roche at the time and how they might have impacted the miller, René Monsimier and his family. The story continues with the miller who took over Moulin de la Roche when René died.

René Plassais was born on the 3rd April 1749, at another mill in Auvers-le-Hamon, Le Cutesson. René’s father, Nicolas Plassais, was the third husband of René’s mother, Renée Beslot. (If you have been paying attention you will have realised that this lady was also the mother of René Monsimier, making the two Renés half brothers) Her previous husbands, both millers at Cutesson, had each died seven years after their marriage to Renée.

Little René would have grown up, helping in the mill, from a very young age, probably five or six, sweeping floors and running errands. Over the years he would have moved on to working the machinery and visiting local farms to collect grain for milling into flour and animal feed.

The river Erve at the site of Cutesson.

On 3rd August 1779, at the age of 30, René married Jeanne Baillif at Préaux in the Mayenne. Jeanne’s father was also a miller. The registration of their marriage states that while René’s father was still the miller at le Cutesson, René had moved out to another address in Auvers-le-Hamon.

In fact he had taken over le Moulin du Pont Neuf, a few hundred metres from Cutesson.

During the years that René and Jeanne worked the Moulin du Pont Neuf, France and particularly this part of France, was in turmoil. All the events that affected René Monsimier at Moulin de la Roche were also happening to the family at Pont Neuf, on the other side of the village.

René and Jeanne’s first daughter, Jeanne Renée Nicole, was born on 29th June 1780, followed by son René in 1781, Renée Nicole in 1782 (who sadly only lived for eight days), Renée Jeanne Nicole in 1784, Marie in 1786, Charlotte in 1789, Perrine in 1790, Jean Nicolas René in 1793 and Louis in 1794.

In the departmental archives, I found references to a couple of transactions made by the couple in the early 1800’s. In 18 Messidor Year X of the new revolutionary calendar (7th July 1802) René and his wife bought a meadow valued at 1000 francs and on 18 Vendémaire Year XIII (10th October 1804) they sold 2 houses and gardens for 444 francs. It would be interesting to find our more. Why did they spend so much money on land? The life of a peasant farmer was precarious. Was it for their own use or did they intend to let it? More research needed!

On the first of July 1805, (a Monday as stated on the official record) René Plassais’ half brother, René Monsimier, died at le Moulin de la Roche, aged 66. His widow Perrine would live another 31 years and although she died in Auvers, I don’t know whether she stayed at La Roche all that time. René Plassais moved to be the miller at le Moulin de la Roche. The lease for the mill at Pont Neuf was taken over by René Monsimier’s eldest son, René-François, who had spent most of his life at La Roche, farming the land adjoining the mill, which belonged to the Seigneur du Ronceray. The parish records show him as miller at Pont Neuf when he died on 9th July 1818.

Between 1800 and 1815,  as France see-sawed backwards and forwards between royal and republican rule, followed by a brief occupation by the Prussian army, in the town of Sablé and surrounding villages there continued to be sporadic outbursts of violence, changes to local administration, fear and hardship for the people who lived here.

And the battles being waged across Europe by Napoleon also touched the family.

While searching through records on the Geneanet website I discovered a reference to a military record for a René Plassais, son of our miller. I was struck by the young soldier’s date of birth, which was ten years later than the son mentioned above, of the same name. When I checked the departmental archives I found that there was indeed a Baptism act for this second René. The first son born in 1781 must have died sometime before November 1791(I haven’t yet found a record of his death), and as often happened, his parents gave the same name to their next-born son.

In 1811, at the age of 20, the couple’s son, René, was conscripted into Napoleon’s army and joined the 155e régiment d’infanterie de ligne, 155th line infantry regiment. This was a new regiment which had been formed following France’s disastrous retreat from Russia. The regiment would soon be embroiled in battles in Germany. As a grenadier in the 4th battalion he would have seen active service. His record describes him as 1m 68cm (5′ 6″) tall with brown hair, grey eyes, an oval face, round chin, a well-formed nose and average mouth. His height (I had to remind myself that the average height of an adult in the 1800’s was a lot less than nowadays) and broad shoulders from his profession as a miller (as mentioned in the record) would have made him an immediate choice for the grenadiers, who were first to engage in battle and chosen for their imposing stature.

René unfortunately never returned from the war. His record shows that he was admitted to hospital in Goldberg, Germany on the 25th July 1813 and “n’a pas reparu”, never reappeared. His record was closed on the 15th November.

The Plassais family must have longed for the uncertainty and struggle to end, and eventually life did start to get easier, despite the random attacks by the Chouans continuing until 1825.  

In 1809, there was a significant discovery which would change the fortunes of the area. A local farmer had brought a piece of black rock to the surface on the wheel of his cart and Monsieur Dugué, the owner of Le Ronceray, the farm just over the road from Moulin de la Roche, recognised it as anthracite. Over the next few years many concessions were granted for coal mines in the local area. The discovery brought new wealth to the local communes but today, no mines remain. There just wasn’t enough local industry to make the mines viable.

Throughout the turmoil of these years, René and his wife continued to work Moulin de la Roche. I’ll probably never know how badly these years of hardship affected the families of the two half brothers or if they just got on with life. Jeanne Plassais died in 1810, three years before the marriages of her daughters Marie and Perrine to René and Louis Brossier, sons of a farmer from Auvers. René followed 10 years later, passing away at the mill at the age of 70 on the 13th March 1820. The archives of the tax authorities show that he left a total of 8000 francs worth of property and belongings (a not inconsiderable sum compared to the average entries in the register of a few hundred) to his children when he died.

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