Over the quiet Christmas season, I have been re-reading Guy-Jean Michel’s excellent Verriers et verreries en Franche-Comté au XVIIIe siècle (Erti, 1989). The workers in these glass-blowing factories of northeastern France, who had come around AD 1700 from areas of Germany and Switzerland, were craftspeople who show interesting commonalities with the West African blacksmiths and other technical specialists whom I have been considering in the book I’m writing on the role of outsiders in the West African past.
The glass-blowing factory worked on a different rythm to that of surrounding society – not structured by the religious calendar, the seasons and by day and night but by whether the furnace was firing or not – “tiendra-t-il trois ou trente semaines? on ne peut le prévoir” (Michel 1989: 135). This firing demanded vast quantities of wood and placed the factories in remote wooded areas, away from the bulk of society – a marginal position that a different language (they still spoke German for two generations – Michel 1989: 389) and high degrees of mobility and endogamy tended to foster. This wasn’t, however, an community that was turned inwards, but one which created links – employment, last rites, wine, wheat, godfathering – with the surrounding communities.
In the second half of the eighteenth century, the glassblowers started moving southwards to the Lyon area, where coal was becoming available to power their furnaces. I spent quite some time in the 1990s researching in geneaological archives the Haour family, and was able to go back to a Jean Haour born around 1700 who probably worked at the Miellin factory and whom I am pretty sure is a direct ancestor. The trail goes cold then – the family’s origin may well be in the Black Forest or the Swiss Jura, as was that of the better-known families, but the documents stay mute on this (and see Michel 1989: 388-9).
If I can find a good way to, I will put these verriers into the book.