Despite relative proximity to the major Paris – Strasbourg railway line, Esternay was off the beaten path until construction of a railway branch line in 1884. A small agricultural market town, its hinterland was well watered and forested, a number of wealthy proprietors, some them from old noble families and some who held prominent positions in Parisian society and government had estates in the area. Many of these last were clients of the Poirrier notarial office along with a host of smaller land owners, farmers and other inhabitants of Esternay.
The first Jean François Poirrier (1732 – 1800), was a notary at Charleville who married Marie Jeanne Cordoin (1731 – 1780) in 1751. Six children were born of this marriage: Marie Jeanne, Marie Catherine, Marie Louise, Marie Françoise, Jean François and Louis Augustin Poirrier. Marie Jeanne married Michel Masson and had two sons, Jacques François and Joseph André, Marie Catherine married Jacques Jerome, Marie Louise married Aimable Jeanneau, Marie Françoise married Jean Jolli(y) and Louis Augustin married Emelie Adelaide Thuvien and three children Emelie Aglae, Louis Jean Baptiste and Clarisse. Letters and references to the descendents of the Massons and Louis Augustin’s descendants are to be found on siteas do the surnames Thuvien, Jerome and Jolly.
Jean François Poirrier, son of a notary from a nearby commune (Charleville). born in 1766,died 1832. With the help of his father, he purchased the notarial office in Esternay at the very end of 1789 and married Rose Lebon in 1790. He had two surviving children Louis François (b.1798) and Clémentine (b.1806). Already a village functionary, he was named agent national (12/31/93) of Esternay and served as mayor of Esternay from 1800 à 1826 and given the Legion of honor by Louis XVIII,. Clearly an adherent of the Revolution and the Empire, probably leader of the revolutionary and Imperial faction in the commune, he was still closely connected with former Imperial army officers under the Restoration.He fell out of favor under Charles X. and was replaced as mayor. He retired from notarial office in favor of his son in 1824. A classic village notary, something of a fox in his dealings with his clients, he was not very careful with his records but he kept on the good side of his wealthy patrons (particularly the Baroness of Aurillac).His letters display considerable fondness for his children (but he married his daughter Clémentine off. to an abusive husband) .He got into considerable legal trouble about a botched will improperly registered in the late 1820’s and fled to Belgium fearing arrest for deliberate fraud. By 1830 the case was dismissed under a statute of limitations. He died of cholera in September of 1832.
Louis François Poirrier, (b.1798, d. 1848), married Louise Eulalie Prévôt, 1826 and had three sons, Alfred, (b.1826), Charles (b.1828) and Paul,(b. 1838). Notary and liciencié en droit. in1824-5, he was mayor of Esternay from1837 until his death in1848. He inherited his clientele from his father but his career as a notary gives evidence of the professionalization of the rural notariat. Politically some what indeterminate, though urged, he refused to run for the new National Assembly in March of 1848, (this may have been due to increasing ill-health) he was on the Arrondissment council and president of the Chamber of Notaries of the Arrondissement at the time of his death. He would appear to be much more scrupulous and organized in his business accounts then his father. Most probably his professional training included a stage in Paris where he obtained his legal degree. The Paris connection became much more important in LFP’s generation, Not only in terms of his clientele but also because his children and those of his in-laws were sent to school first in Auteuil, and then attended the College of Saint Barbe. There was much more travel between Esternay and Paris in this generation; clearly, the capital became something of a magnet for the Poirriers. Unlike the previous generation, the correspondence between LFP and his eldest sons, Alfred and Charles, from their childhood to their early maturity, assumes a considerable bulk on the Esternay site and in general we know much more about Louis François’ relationships with his family, his in-laws and his clientele as the volume of correspondence increased significantly towards the middle of the century.
Rose Françoise Clémentine Poirrier (Cochois) born 1806, died in her father’s house in 1832 during the same cholera epidemic as her father. She married Pierre Charles Cochois in 1824, and had two children, Auguste and Amelie. She had a very unhappy marriage with a brutal husband. Only a few of her letters survive, mostly about her debts and her fear of Pierre Charles. She appears to be psychologically quite fragile, there is one anonymous letter which her mother-in-law claimed she wrote and which describes Cochois’ adulterous behaviour.
Louise Eulalie Prévôt Poirrier, born in 1802 — died 1888; Louise Prévôt had two sisters, Fanny (married Isidore Bornot) and another who married Frederic Hébert and two brothers, Victor and Jerome. It was Louise Eulalie who first preserved the letters of her three sons and the extensive correspondence to her from her siblings and her nieces and nephews. She brought to the Poirriers an extensive kinship network with commercial and professional connections which remained in place well into the second half of the century. An ardent fisherwoman, active and strong-willed in family and business affairs during her long widow-hood (There is one letter which clearly indicates her displeasure at Alfred’s choice of a wife), she stayed in Esternay with Alfred during the German occupation in 1870 and remained a formidable presence until her death.
Louis Alfred Poirrier (1826 — 1898), the eldest of the three brothers, Alfred lived the longest and had a successful career in politics. Married to Sophie Augustine Guillemain in 1853, he succeeded to the family’s notarial office after his father’s death and after the end of his apprentice-ship as a clerk in a Parisian notarial office in1852. He abandoned the notariat in 1868 by then a wealthy land-owner and pursued an active career in politics. In turn Justice of the Peace, then mayor of Esternay, he sat on the arrondissment council and was elected first to the Marne’s general council, then to the vice-presidency of that council and finally, in 1894 and again in1897 to the Senate.of the National Assembly. Aside from a few samples of his later career as an important regional power broker, we have not yet put on site the thousands of letters in the Poirrier archive that spans this later period of his life. Currently, site contains a number young Alfred’s letters, first as a school boy in Paris, as a student at university and when he apprenticed at various notarial offices in the capital. Young Alfred was a driven student at Saint Barbe. He kept a rather over-zealous eye on the stumbling efforts of his younger sibling Charles, but himself was much given to music, particularly to his skill with the violin which he continued to play for many years. With the death of his father and in the parlous business climate of the aftermath of the ’48 revolution, we see him assuming a kind of gravitas as the responsibility and burden of the family’s fortunes quickly descends upon him.
Charles Pierre Louis Poirrier (1828 — 1864), the middle brother was not nearly as fortunate. Frequently in ill health, and though quite intelligent, an indifferent student, he never married. Like Alfred, he is an eye-witness to the 1848 revolution in Paris and like his elder brother wrote some sharply observant letters on the events of February and the subsequent months ending in the June uprising. Scraping through his exams, he became a minor functionary in a succession of provincial offices of the Interior Ministry finally ending up (partially through Alfred’s influence) in Poissons (Hte-Marne) a town not far from Esternay in 1862. His last letters are full of complaints about the isolated and solitary life he’s leading in his various postings. Delighted to finally be closer to home, his death in 1864 seems to have been the result of his continuing bouts of ill health.
Paul Louis Constant Poirrier (1838 — 1869) Paul Poirrier’s life took a different turn. Much younger than his two brothers, left in the care of his mother and particularly his eldest brother after his father’s death, he too pursued his studies at the Auteuil pension and then the College of Saint Barbe. He too trained to be a notary but unlike his eldest brother sought opportunities far from home, indeed far from France. Something of a spendthrift, he was accepted into the Foreign Service as a consular official at what he thought was quite a munificent salary. He was appointed to the French consulate in Sierra Leone in 1866. He took ship for London that same year and then from Liverpool to Sierra Leone. As far as I know, he was the first Poirrier to travel abroad and his letters back to his mother and brother describing his voyage and his sojourn in Sierra Leone are some of the most interesting in the collection. At that time Sierra Leone was a fever-ridden pest hole for Europeans (not for nothing was this neophyte official assigned so large a salary) which his consular superiors consistently avoided. By the summer and fall of 1868 Paul is desperately ill (a parasitical infection?) and he died there early in 1869. His last letter to his mother in October 1868, quite long, is full of his colonialist and racist perceptions of life in Sierra Leone, his eagerness to provide his family with exotic gifts from the colony such as tiger skins (in Africa?) and finally a painfully long description of his illness and decline and still his hopes to escape his fate and return home. N’ayez pas peur, don’t be afraid he tells his mother, and deep in denial he signs his name with an almost indecipherable scrawl that is a clear harbinger of his death.
Marie Marguerite de Dreux, Baronne d’Aurillac, (1763 — 1844). Daughter of a high court noble family, sister of that young Marquis de Dreux Brézé, the royal master of ceremonies whose summons on June 23, 1789 to the Third Estate to disperse after the King’s speech led to it proclaiming itself the National Assembly and who later served in that same function in the beleaguered reign of the last Bourbon King Charles X. She married Pierre François Saint-Martial, Baron of Aurillac and Marquis of Esternay in early 1790. An émigré, her husband was proscribed by the revolutionary government. She divorced Saint-Martial in early March 1794. Claiming he had dissipated her dowry, she asked and received some part of the Esternay properties in compensation employing a tactic frequently used by noble families to preserve all or some of their holdings from confiscation by revolutionary governments. By the end of the decade Saint-Martial has returned to France. He died at the end of November, 1803 and by 1805 the whole of the Esternay property is in her hands. For almost the next forty years she reigned over Esternay as chatelaine, lady bountiful, primary land-owner and intercessor under the Restoration and July Monarchies with Jean François and Louis François Poirrier serving as her estate managers and general men of business. With her important family connections, fervently Catholic, jealous of her rights, a careful manager but tolerant of her subject’s sensibilities, she reigns over a peaceable kingdom unlike her heirs whose fortunes dramatically fall in the ensuing decades after her death.