1-The history of slavery in Martinique
Era of French colonial discovery and settlement, with slavery forbidden on French territory. Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc (wiki), a former pirate from Normandy, is dispatched to the Caribbean colonies by the Compagnie des Îles d’Amérique (“American Island Company”), one of the main shareholders of which was Cardinal de Richelieu (wiki), an original founding father of the French colonial movement..
Discovery and settlement of Martinique by
The Company begins importing both indentured servants (wiki) (French workers who have voluntarily committed to a 36-month work contract) and slaves purchased on the coast of Africa. Tobacco production is introduced into Martinique and requires little manual labor, which is performed mainly by the “concessionaire” (a person who has been awarded a land grant as a “concession” or a sort of homestead) and his indentured servants. At the end of the 36 months, the indentured servants could request their own homesteads (“concessions”).
The company, encountering severe financial problems, is forced to sell off the island to Dyel Duparquet, a Norman nobleman, who forms an alliance with the Caribbean Indians, and a royal edict is decreed forbidding their use as slaves, for strategic reasons. During this period, there are very few slaves on Martinican plantations (just a few dozen, approximately).
A group of Dutch Jewish colonists, driven out of northeastern Brazil by the Portuguese, land on Martinique, bringing with them the knowhow and technology involved in the production of sugar. Sugar-cane begins to replace tobacco as the primary crop in the West Indies and will eventually lead to a period of enormous prosperity in Martinique through the rest of the XVII century. The era of alcohol begins with the first techniques of distillation of juice from the sugar-cane plant , perfected by Père Labat (wiki). The first sugar refineries are established in Martinique, with the start-up capital coming from merchants from the various ports of France and the Paris region.
But it soon becomes evident that manual labor from indentured servants alone will not be adequate to stoke the broad development of sugar production, with the result that traders and ship-captains begin to promote the use of slave-labor. It is first the Dutch, then shortly thereafter the French, forming the Sénégal Company, who are to launch the full-scale slave-trade. The Company, earning a royalty from the French Crown (Louis XIV) for every slave brought to Martinique, turns Goree island (wiki), off the Senegalese coast near Dakar, into one of the main focal points of French slave-trading activity, with ships leaving from Le Havre, Nantes (wiki), and la Rochelle, bringing trinketry and other cheap goods to exchange with the slave-traffickers of the “slave coast” (the part of the African coast stretching from Senegal to what is now Nigeria).
Colbert, Finance Minister under Louis XIV, drafts a set of rules governing the status of slaves in the colonies, called the “Code Noir (wiki)”. 1685-1717 :
Sugar plantations progressively cover Martinique, which is bought back by the the French Crown. The economics of sugar production require two or three slaves per hectare, with the result that Martinique now has more slaves than free colonists, in turn resulting in twin social problems: one, a general rebelliousness among the slaves in various forms (revolts, poisonings, suicides); and, two, the high male-female ratio in the population, which has to be adjusted to allow for adequate levels of slave-breeding. Thus, the importation of slave women becomes a necessity. The status of all children derives from the status of their mother: a child born of a slave mother and a free father becomes a slave.
More than 1400 regular slave-trading sailings leave Nantes.
A revolt, called the “Gaoulé”, breaks out among white population, against the governor and the intendant, who are deposed by the regent. The port of Nantes gains the legal right to operate the slave trade.
Martinique becomes a trans-shipping point for arms being sent to the colonial revolutionaries in North America, for use against the British. Rochambeau (wiki), commander-in-chief of the French royal armies in North America, is sent to Martinique as governor at the outbreak of the American Revolution.
In response to British threats against the island, Rochambeau mobilizes the militia and recruits slaves into its ranks by promising them their freedom if they behave like proper soldiers. By the Bourbon Restoration of 1818, these freed slaves will have come to be known as “Rochambeau freedmen”, or, alternatively, “the de facto free” or “Savanna freedmen”. Since, during the French Revolution, the export of sugar to France and the importation of food supplies, especially for the slaves, have become exceedingly difficult or impossible in full revolutionary wartime, the slaves in the colonies are forced to plant crops for their own consumption — a practice requiring, and resulting in, a general erosion of the authority of the slavemasters.
1793 : French Revolution continues
Under pressure applied by the Society of Friends of Blacks and by humanists like Abbé Grégoire (wiki), the French Convention (revolutionary governing body in mainland France) proclaims the abolition of slavery. But Martinique refuses to recognize the abolition decree (unlike Guadeloupe, which did recognize it because the settlers there , led by Dubucq, were having their attention diverted by the British).
The Republican government agrees to a broader enforcement of the law of equality voted in March, 1792, by the Legislative Assembly. The majority of the freedmen of color change sides, while their former allies negotiate the surrender of the island to the British, who, upon the capitulation of March 1794, deport to France the defenders of the Republic. The decree of abolition of slavery voted by the Convention on February 4, 1794, has no effect in Martinique due to the fact that the island belongs to the English at that time. This is in contrast to the situation in Guadeloupe, where slavery has already been abolished during the administration of Victor Hugues, the prefect. But slavery was to be re-established there, eventually, too (on May 19, 1802, under the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte).
The majority of the white population believe that only a non-egalitarian regime, free of separation of powers and a representative system, will permit the colony to survive. In 1814, during the drafting of the constitutional charter of that year (“La charte de 1814”), they manage to win inclusion of provisions for the reinstatement of slavery-related Ancien Régime institutions. Gradually, though, the various governments under the Bourbon Restoration will make huge efforts to get the colonists to accept the new laws forbidding slavery.
Deteroration of the economic situation due to import duties imposed by the French government upon entry to the mainland, and the beginning of the sugar beet industry, produces various forms and incidents of rebellion among slaves and freedmen alike, who begin to be held suspect of separatist sedition, with some even being accused of including the use of poison as part of their tactical arsenal. In October, a rebellion of the “half-free” population breaks out in le Carbet. Neither charges of subversion lodged in December, 1823, against an activist of color named Bissette, nor massive deportations in 1824 designed to discourage the burgeoning desire for egalitarian reform, are able to prevent the representative system from reappearing in 1826, in the form of a General Council, elected by only a tiny percentage of the population. However, two years later, an attempt to reform the justice system was to fail completely.
Sugar loses a third of its value while the improvement of the quality of life of the slaves requires increased government spending. On the homestead, replacement of the hoe by the plough contributes to a lightening of workload. The appearance of the first steam mills, however, brings changes.
Despite the freed slaves’ newly-won eligibility for any job or profession or position, and the right to vote and hold office, and despite the emergence of a state primary-education system, social progress still remains modest. In Dec., 1833, during the lead-up to the election of a colonial council to replace the General Council which causes some social unrest, in the parish of Grand’Anse (today Le Lorrain) the planters reject the appointment of a colored officer of militia, and a revolt ensues in the town of Marigot, precipitating the complete dissolution of the royal militia.
The improvement of the freed slaves’ lot brings a spike in the birth-rate which compensates for the loss of black population due to cessation of the slave trade. This partially counteracts the efforts of the State, which, in the wake of the freeing of 26,000 slaves, is really able to help only the de facto freed slaves, persons freed in fact but whose freedom is not officially recognized by the law or the administrative bureaucracy.
The first sugar-cane mill (“usine”), belonging to one John Thorp, is built, resulting in a shift in power relations by limiting the function of the surrounding plantation (wiki) to that of mere suppliers. On the other hand, the plantations no longer require nighttime labor, and their revenues increase. But the need for manual labor in the mill, which will be readily available to the company only under the social conditions necessary for each person to have the right to offer his labor freely, contributes to social acceptance of the replacement of slave-labor by paid labor.
In February, the revolution in mainland France is greeted with relief. A decree of emancipation is signed in Paris on April 27, but it will finally only become publicly announced on June 3. In April, the March 4 decree which has created the Emancipation Committee has the population buzzing about official (as opposed to de facto) emancipation “because no French territory should have the right to hold slaves any longer”. Instead of trying to recapture the marrons (wiki), the slaveholders start to drive the strongest of their leaders off the plantations.
Strikers at work places begin to demand housing, surrounding property, and wages, as the perquisites of freedom. Victor Schoelcher(wiki), Secretary of State for the navy and the colonies, is a very important figure of this period: he is the sworn enemy of Bissette, who has refused to appoint him to the Emancipation Committee. His political allies mobilize to gain redress for this injustice, and rioting breaks out.
May 22, 1848:
While capitalists clamor for immediate emancipation, the abolitionists, who have been awaiting the arrival of the colored, technocratically-educated François Auguste Perrinon(wiki), decide to take things back into their own hands. The local decision on abolition of May 23 provides the occasion for the Martinican population to proclaim proudly that they have taken over their own affairs at this dramatic moment in their history. The riots of May 22 have forced a de facto proclamation of emancipation eleven days before the arrival of the official decree. The blacks break and throw off their chains (“Nèg pété chenn”).
Columbus is credited with discovering the pineapple on the island of Guadeloupe in 1493, although the fruit had long been grown in South America. He called it piña de Indias, meaning “pine of the Indians.” During the 17th century, the Caribs fought against the Spanish settlers and repelled them. After successful settlement on the island of St. Christophe (St. Kitts), the French Company of the American Islands delegated Charles Lienard (Liénard de L’Olive) and Jean Duplessis Ossonville, Lord of Ossonville to colonize one or any of the region’s islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Dominica. Due to Martinique’s inhospitable nature, the duo resolved to settle in Guadeloupe in 1635, took possession of the island, and wiped out many of the Carib Amerindians. It was annexed to the kingdom of France in 1674. Over the next century, the British seized the island several times. The economy benefited from the lucrative sugar trade, which commenced during the closing decades of the seventeenth century.
One indication of Guadeloupe’s prosperity at this time is that in the Treaty of Paris (1763), France, again defeated in war, agreed to abandon its territorial claims in Canada if the British returned Guadeloupe, which they had captured in the British Invasion of Guadeloupe (1759). In 1790, following the outbreak of the French Revolution, the monarchists of Guadeloupe refused to obey the new laws of equal rights for the free people of color and attempted to declare independence. The ensuing conflict with the republicans, who were faithful to revolutinoary France, caused a fire to break out in Pointe-à-Pitre that devastated a third of the town. The monarchists ultimately overcame the republicans and declared independence in 1791. The monarchists then refused to receive the new governor that Paris had appointed in 1792.
In 1793, a slave rebellion broke out, which made the upper classes turn to the British and ask them to occupy the island. In an effort to take advantage of the chaos ensuing from the French Revolution, Britain seized Guadeloupe in 1794, holding control from 21 April until December 1794, when Victor Hugues obliged the English general to surrender. Hugues succeeded in freeing the slaves, who then turned on the slave owners who controlled the sugar plantations. In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte issued the Law of 20 May 1802. It restored slavery to all of the colonies captured by the British during the French Revolutionary Wars, but did not apply to certain French overseas possessions such as Guadeloupe, Guyane, and Saint-Domingue. Napoleon sent an expeditionary force to recapture the island from the rebellious slaves.
Louis Delgrès and a group of revolutionary soldiers killed themselves on the slopes of the Matouba volcano when it became obvious that the invading troops would take control of the island. The occupation force killed approximately 10,000 Guadeloupeans. On 4 February 1810 the British once again seized the island and continued to occupy it until 1816. By the Anglo-Swedish alliance of 3 March 1813, it was ceded to Sweden for a brief period of 15 months. However, the British administration continued in place and British governors continued to govern the island. In the Treaty of Paris of 1814, Sweden ceded Guadeloupe once more to France. An ensuing settlement between Sweden and the British gave rise to the Guadeloupe Fund. The Treaty of Vienna in 1815 definitively acknowledged French control of Guadeloupe.
Slavery was abolished on the island on 28 May 1848 at the initiative of Victor Schoelcher. Following the signing of the Whitehall Accord by (representing Guadeloupe), a British task force successfully invaded the island in April 1794. The planters and other Royalists had signed the Whitehall Accord with the British and colluded with France’s rival as a way of rejecting revolutionary events, particularly the abolition of slavery. When Hugues disembarked on 21 May 1794, he had a small force of 1,150 soldiers. He immediately declared an end to slavery and so rallied the slaves and gens de couleur. Within five days he took the capital, Pointe-à-Pitre. Hugues was able to retake the island by 6 October 1794, when he obliged the English general to surrender in his camp of Barville with his whole force, in which were comprised 800 French emigres and 900 soldiers of African descent.
Even though he abolished chattel slavery, he still maintained a system of unpaid obligatory work. He reorganised the army, recruiting a large number of African former slaves, until his armed force amounted to around 10,000 men. Soldiers of both African and European descent were integrated imnto the same units with no racial distinctions. He ruled for four years before being recalled to France and was replaced by General Edme Desfourneaux. During that time, he purged the island of counter-revolutionaries, using a guillotine brought from France, and also worked to create a viable post-slavery regime, in which the island’s farms and plantations still functioned. Hugues is perhaps best known for authorizing privateers to attack shipping through the Caribbean, which brought great wealth to the island but also was part of the tensions between France and the United States (known as the Quasi-War in American history). With an army composed of White, Mulatto and ex-slave soldiers, Hugues worked to export the revolution to neighboring islands, including Dominica, Saint-Martin, la Grenade, Saint-Vincent and Saint Lucia.
Louis Delgrès (177 66 – 1802) was a mulatto leader of the movement in Guadeloupe resisting reoccupation (and thus the reinstitution of slavery) by Napoleonic France in 1802. Delgrès was born free in Saint-Pierre, Martinique. An experienced military officer who had a long background fighting Great Britain in the many wars that country had with Revolutionary France, Delgrès took over the resistance movement from Magloire Pélage after it became evident that Pélage was loyal to Napoleon.
Delgrès believed that the “tyrant” Napoleon had betrayed both the ideals of the Republic and the interests of France’s colored citizens, and intended to fight to the death. The French army led by Richepance drove Delgrès into Fort Saint Charles, which was held by the slaves. After realizing that they could not overcome the French forces and refusing to surrender, Delgrès left with 400 men and some women. At the battle of Matouba on May 28, 1802, Delgrès and his followers ignited their gunpowder stores, committing suicide in the process, in an attempt to kill as many of the French troops as possible.
Victor Schoelcher (1804-1893) was born in Paris in 1804 into a family of porcelain manufacturers, originally from Alsace. Sent to the Americas in 1829-30 by the family’s commercial house, he visited Mexico, Cuba, and the southern United States. That voyage occasioned several studies of American slave society which appeared in the Revue de Paris (“Letters from Mexico”, “The Blacks”). This began a long career as an abolitionist writer. A series of articles followed between 1833 and 1847: De esclavage des noirs et de la législation coloniale (1833), Abolition de l’ésclavage: examen critique du préjugé contre la couleur des Africains et des sang-mêlés (1840), Des colonies françaises: Abolition immédiate de l’esclavage (1842), Colonies étrangères et Haïti: résultats de l’émancipation anglaise (1842-43), Histoire de l’esclavage pendant des deux dernières années (1847). His writings between 1841 and 1848 were esspecially consecrated to descriptions of the advantages from the abolition of slavery, drawn from a long comparative analysis of the results of emancipation in the British colonies (1834-38), the often pointed and precise denunciation of the “anti-social enormities of colonists”, and the elaboration of a project of social, economic, and political reorganization of the colonies after the juridical suppression of the slavery system.
Advocating the rationalization of sugar production by the construction of large central factories, establishment of credit agencies in the colonies, a movement of concentration of land parallel with the constitution of a category of part-time agricultural workers, Schoelcher recommend finally a recourse to immigration of European farmers to the colonies. Engaged since his youth in the republican movement, a free mason, member of the society “Aide-toi, le ciel t’aidera”, Schoelcher was a regular contributor to La Réforme. The first European abolitionist to visit Hati after independence, he alone recognized and markedly influenced all three phases of the abolitionist process in the French Caribbean colonies: the pre-abolitionist period, the juridical abolition, and long post-slavery period.
His actions in 1848 as under Secretary of State for colonies in the Provisional Government–named by François Aragoto this function–, his presidency of the commission for the abolition of slavery and the preparation, under his direction of the French decree abolishing slavery of April 27, 1848–which made slaves “newly freed” and “new citizens”–gave birth to a republican political movement in Guadeloupe and Martinique, “Schoelcherism”. The “Schoelcherist” tendency, especially strong in Guadeloupe, received a majority of votes in legislative elections between 1848 and 1850 and after 1871. Closely tied to local free masons, the Schloecherist current sustained the appearance of a republican press in the French colonies during 1849. Schoelcher was the foremost French specialist on the Caribbean in general and on colonial questions in the 19th century.
Exceptionally well informed by his political functions and by his membership on all the commissions which the Ministry of Marine and Colonies formed between 1848 and 1851 and after 1871, he fashioned a network of correspondents throughout the entire Caribbean, Great Britain, and the United States. In the National Assembly, Schoelcher sat on the extreme left. In 1849 he wrote his electors in La Vérité aux ouvriers et aux cultivateurs de la Martinique, “Above all one is never pardoned for being called a ‘montagnard,’ a socialist. . . . [That is not] because I am one but rather I was a socialist that they so label me.”
Schoelcher analyzed no less minutely the political effervescence experienced in the French Caribbean colonies. He published notably Le procès de Marie-Galante in 1850. Schoelcher and “schloelcherism” created in 1848 a myth, the myth of slavery, savior of the colonial population bound in servitude, defender of civil rights which recognized the decree of abolition of 1848. The myth of colonial assimilation, the principle of the inheritance of 1789, European colonists and colonial administrators have judged dangerously “revolutionary” since that period. The carrier of profound contradictions, the myth has been narrowly associated with the ambiguities of the French republican movement’s attitude toward colonial questions.
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