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I've came across a ~2005 email thread with "life curiosities" that stated:

  1. Jean-Baptiste Mouron, de 17 años de edad, fue acusado de incendiario y condenado a galeras durante cien años y un día. Mouron cumplió el castigo integro y quedo libre a la edad de 117 años.

Which roughly translates to:

  1. Jean-Baptiste Mouron, aged 17, was charged with arson for 100 years and 1 day. Mouron served the whole time, and got free aged 117.

I've found a couple of Spanish-speaking websites mentioning the same story, but with no sources — and mostly the same wording (I never heard the phrase "condenado a galeras" here in Argentina).

Did Jean-Baptiste Mouron actually exist? Are there any reliable sources confirming the story, or is it an internet myth?

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    For people trying to research this, the similar threads (unsupported) I've found point to him being sentenced in 1684. Some of them claim he appears as a record in Guinness, but I'm pretty sure this is inaccurate; they claim he lived to the age of 124, but Guiness's "Oldest person ever to have lived" record is only 122 years and 164 days (for a French woman). I'm incredibly skeptical, especially since some of the source claim he was a galley slave for all 100 years, and there is zero chance anyone lived to that age as a functional galley slave. Nov 23 at 16:07
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    @ShadowRanger I found another site (in Spanish) claiming Mouron died only a few days after he was released. That would still make him the oldest man in history - the Guinness record is currently held by Jiroemon Kimura, who died at 116 - but more crucially, it seems there are inconsistencies in the story.
    – F1Krazy
    Nov 23 at 16:21
  • @ShadowRanger it's in fact exceedingly unlikely that anyone lived to over 100 years at all in 17th century France, let alone as a prisoner of any kind :) As a slave I can see someone courting favours and being placed on milder duties and better treatment (including diet) allowing for a longer lifespan (from galley slave to personal servant of some high ranking official for example) but that too wouldn't allow such a long lifespan.
    – jwenting
    Nov 24 at 9:40
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    Pre-revolution, documents should have existed for baptism, marriage and sepulture, at least for Catholics. If those documents existed, then they should have been kept in parochial archives, which are now kept at the archives of the relevant département, and a double might exist at the relevant city hall. These may or may not be available online. If you know where they were born/died, and when, that would be a way to confirm it. Nov 24 at 10:04
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    "Condenar a galeras" was a quite common punishment for many crimes not warranting a death penalty. It was tantamount to one, nevertheless. You were made into an oarsman in the galley fleets that most countries possessed in the Mediterranean sea. Life expectancy for these poor prisoners was but a handful of years. Initially in Spain the sentence to the galleys was for life, but it was reduced to a maximum of ten years, since nearly nobody survived that much.
    – Rekesoft
    Nov 28 at 8:45

1 Answer 1

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The source of this is the 1930s American serial Ripley's Believe It or Not, which gives a place, Toulon, a date range, 1684-1784, and a citation: Jean Marteilhe's Mémoires d'un protestant, condamné aux galères de France pour cause de religion. However, this citation is impossible, as that book was written in 1757, and Marteilhe died in 1777. The end!

Well, except not really! Because there is a kernel of truth:

In 1684, Louis XIV had five hundred Huguenot prisoners marched in chains from Paris to Toulon, where they were condemned to the living death of the galleys. (S. Dearden, A Nest of Corsairs: The Fighting Karamanlis of Tripoli, 1976)

Marteilhe's book does not mention this anywhere, so this claim seems separate from the impossible citation; the person making the claim seems to have been reading about galley slaves somewhere. However, I was unable to follow this trail any further; Gallica and RetroNews may have more details but my research skills are failing me today.

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