The son of a former councillor in the Parlement at Metz and an African slave from Guadeloupe, Joseph Bologne, le Chevalier de Saint-Georges was born near Basse Terre, Guadeloupe, and lived for some time on an estate on St Domingue (now Haiti) before his family finally settled in Paris in around 1749.
In the course of his colourful career he won great fame as violinist, composer and music director. When his musical fortunes fluctuated Saint-Georges, considered to be the finest swordsman in Europe, fought exhibition matches. In his desire to take a more active part in the Revolution, Saint-Georges formed a corps of light troops in the summer of 1792.
Known as the Légion Nationale du Midi, the corps enjoyed little military success. Saint-Georges was relieved of his command, imprisoned for 18 months, and on his release forbidden to live near his former comrades.
Unemployed again, Saint-Georges led a vagabond existence and lived for a time on St Dominque. Around 1797 he returned to Paris where he served briefly as a director of a new musical organization, the Cercle de l’Harmonie, based in the former residence of the Orleans family. He died in Paris in June 1799.