Click on any link below to learn more about the French worker of the 18th & 19th Centuries

Workers' Organizations

Worker & State Relations

Working Conditions

Living Conditions

Workers' Personal Experiences

Bibliographic Credits


Tour de France

Chip Poteet

    Agricol Perdiguier (1805-1875), one of nine children, was not the most educated person in his family, but perhaps the most ambitious. He was a true child of the Midi, or southern region of France (116). Like his father, he became a joiner or skilled carpenter. At the age of thirteen, Perdiguier began his first lesson as an artisan. By the age of sixteen, Perdiguier worked for a man named Mr. D and learned the ritual of getting up at five a.m. and ending his workday by eight p.m. After learning all he could from his master, as was customary at the time, he held another job before joining the Tour de France. During his tenure at Mr. Poussin’s shop, he was "placed on a piece rate [i.e., paid by the amount of work he finished] and went to eat at the inn like the workers on the tour" (126). Mr. Poussin "employed gavots, or Compagnons du Devoir de Liberte," which was a brotherhood or fraternity of workers who went on the Tour de France (127).

    There were two main brotherhoods or fraternities at the time, Compagnons du Devoir de Liberte and Compagnons du Devoir. They were brotherhoods because men were the only people who went on the Tour de France. The Compagnons du Devoir were considered the more rough group and willing to fight for their brotherhood, whereas the Compagnons de Liberte would rather pass by without an altercation. "Leaving to do one’s Tour de France was almost like leaving for war" due to the fact that there were many fights among the compagnon along the way (131). Another difference between the two groups was the way in which members would speak to one another. In the French language there are to forms of the word 'you': tu and vous. The former is used when speaking to non-adults or friends and the latter when talking amongst adults or superiors. The Compagnons de Liberte used the vous, whereas, the Campagnons de Devoir used the tu form in addressing people.

    Upon joining the Tour de France, Perdiguier was given five francs, which was enough to get started on the journey. The "roller" [membership secretary] gave the money to him as part of the hiring ceremony. The roller was the person in charge of the money and expenses that were given out and brought in. The five francs were to help him get on his feet. The Tour de France was a four-year journey in which these joiners honed their skills before returning home. On his journey, for example, Perdiguier learned other dialects besides that spoken in his native region of southern France. This was somewhat amazing because many of these men on the Tour de France, like Perdiguier, received only a primary education if any before making the Tour de France. The Tour de France helped him not only learn how to read and write, thus making it a form of education, but more importantly it perfected his skills as an artisan. This was the transition artisans had to make to become an adult.

    One of the good things about the Tour was that you were on your own. The only stipulation was that you had to have your debts cleared before you could leave the town you were in. The roller would take the worker back to the boss and/or 'Mother' [the proprietor of the workers' inn] and ask, "if our accounts were square;" if so, they could move on (146). These men on the Tour were from different regions in France. In each town, they had one place where they could go for security such as shelter, food, and to ask where they could find work. The 'Mother' ran these places and made sure that there would always be a place where they could stay. Upon arriving in a town, a master would ask where a person is from. This might have a lot to do with a person’s hiring because if the person on the Tour came from that region of France, a master more often than not would not let them work there. "Masters prefer compagnons and journeymen who are engaged on their Tour de France or who have already completed it to youths from the local area who have stayed in their nests…their preference is based on experience" (149). Whenever a person on the Tour came to a new town, it was customary to bring out wine and share it with the new arrivals, which showed a desire to be friends (137).

    During the 1800s, many of the men on the Tour de France became sick. When a man became sick, a list of the other compagnons would be drawn up by rank and seniority. "Each man must go and pay a visit in turn, taking whatever object or comfort the patient needs, reporting on his condition to the First Fellow, and finally passing the list to the next person after stating what new requests he might have made (142). Another rule was that if someone was convicted of a crime, he was to be expelled from the Tour de France and each town was notified of his identity. The men on the Tour de France traveled for up to four years and then settled down, either in their hometown, in a place where they found good work, or sometimes when they found a woman they wanted to marry. In all, the whole Tour de France experience provided freedom and adventure and at the same time let a man learn skills to help him in adulthood. However, the men had to be on the lookout for trouble coming from the opposing brotherhood.

    The artisans' Tour de France does not exist today, although there still is something called the Tour de France. The Tour de France nowadays is a bicycle race where people from across the world come and race across the roads of France. This race only simulates how the men went across the country to the different towns; however, the men in the 19th century did this all by foot! The Tour de France of the 19th century does not exist today due to the industrial revolution. Something that may be comparable to this tour would be almost any major corporation of today. Many of these corporations send their new employers around while receiving training as well as a good resume. The resume shows how a person has perfected his or her skills as a professional worker. This comparison is a bit of a stretch, but there are similarities.



All design copyright Sara Hinds 2002

All essays copyright students of History 541,  University of Kentucky 2002

Comments? Comments on this site should be sent to Professor Jeremy D. Popkin, 

Department of History, University of Kentucky, email