At this day, 22 January, in 1703, my 5th great-grandfather Anthony (Antoine) Vincent Walsh was baptised in the cathedral in Saint Malo, Brittany France. In terms of my own family history he is quite a significant and controversial figure.
The city of Saint Malo, where he was born, is definitely on my list of place I wish to visit. It is situated on the English Channel and on the right bank of the estuary of the Rance River. It is described as having the old walled city standing on a granite islet that is joined to the mainland by an ancient causeway and by an avenue bridging the inner harbour. The city was named for Maclou, or Malo, an Irish monk, born in what is now known as Wales, who fled to Brittany, making his headquarters on the island in the 6th century. Saint Malo Cathedral church is the city’s centrepiece dating from the twelfth century and with its spire still the tallest building in the city.
Saint Malo was a long way from the traditional Walsh family home in Kilkenny. Anthony’s Jacobite grandfather James had forfeited his estates of Ballynacooly in the Walsh Mountains in about 1665 in the face of protestant William of Orange’s war in Ireland. Anthony’s father Philip, had been a merchant in Waterford, but then established himself in Saint Malo by about 1685 as a shipbuilder. He came to prominence being recorded as having transported the defeated King James II on board his ship from Kinsale, County Cork to France in July 1690 after the Battle of the Boyne and the unsuccessful bid to reclaim the throne of England. This started the family connections to the Stuarts and was Anthony’s heritage.
Antoine served in the French navy before settling in Nantes, which had emerged as France’s chief slaving port and where there was a large close-knit Irish community. In 1741 he married Mary O’Shiell, a French-Irish businesswoman in Nantes.
In 1744 he commissioned a new French privateer the Du Teillay of 18 guns, in Nantes. She played a central role in the Jacobite rising of 1745, ferrying Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) to Ardmolich with supplies and funds to support his cause.In recognition of his support and his noble Irish ancestry, in 1745 James III bestowed upon Anthony the title of Earl Walsh.
Much has been recorded and written about Antoine and the life he led as a successful merchant, a major figure in the slave trade and wealthy sugar plantation owner in the Caribbean. He was instrumental in the triangular trade between Europe, Africa and the French West Indies in Martinique, Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue.
‘Aeneas McDonald describes him in 1745 as “an eminent merchant of Nantz … This Mr. Welch chiefly trades to Martinico. He has 24 merchantmen and provateers” (The Lyon in Mourning, Scot. Hist. Soc., vol. i, p.293)’
In his book Murder, Mutiny & Mayhem: The Blackest-Hearted Villains from Irish History, Joe O’Shea‘s suggests that this exiled Irishman:
“…had personally bought and sold over 12,000 African slaves and launched 40 cross-Atlantic slave voyages. He was the greatest – or worst – of the Irish-Nantes slavers…”
He died at Cap Francais, San Domingo (now Haiti), on 2 March 1763 and his Jacobite peerage passed to his second and only surviving son, Antoine Jean Baptiste Paulin Walsh.
Today it is difficult to reconcile his slave trading with our world. But while not excusing it, those were obviously different times when it seems to have been viewed almost as a legitimate business activity. It is ironic that his grandson Thomas Walsh (see my post of August 28, 2017) would father a daughter with a descendant of an African slave.