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Bonds of AllianceIndigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France$

Brett Rushforth

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780807835586

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: July 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807838174_rushforth

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The Most Ignoble and Scandalous Kind of Subjection

The Most Ignoble and Scandalous Kind of Subjection

Chapter:
(p.73) Chapter TwoThe Most Ignoble and Scandalous Kind of Subjection
Source:
Bonds of Alliance
Author(s):

Brett Rushforth

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/9780807838174_rushforth.8

Abstract and Keywords

The tension between antislavery sentiment in France and an expanding demand for enslaved laborers in its colonies profoundly shaped the culture and practice of slavery in the seventeenth-century French Atlantic. Unlike the Indians they would encounter in the Pays d'en Haut, the French drew a sharp distinction between the practice of slavery and the act of enslavement. This chapter discusses the debates about the legality and morality of slavery that shaped where slavery would be practiced and under what conditions and peoples would be targeted as slaves.

Keywords:   antislavery, enslaved laborers, French Atlantic, slavery, enslavement, legality, morality

About 1690 a slave trader known only as Captain Bernard sailed to the French Caribbean with a cargo of African captives. He sold nearly all of them to colonial buyers, but kept one, named Louis, to serve him on his return to France. Louis attended Bernard for a year or two before he was sold to Antoine Benoist, one of Louis XIV's personal portrait artists, famous as the foremost wax sculptor in France. Louis served the artist as a domestic slave for eight years in Paris until, in 1703, Benoist arranged for Louis to be shipped to his son in Martinique. Sometime during Louis's Atlantic crossing—the third in his young life—he heard a rumor that slavery was illegal in France and that merely setting foot on French soil should have freed him. Although his own experience must have made him doubt the claim, shortly after arriving in Martinique in 1703 Louis petitioned the island's Superior Council, “claiming to be free by the privilege of the Kingdom of France.”1

Louis built his appeal on a solid foundation. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, slavery, serfdom, and other forms of lifelong servitude in France slowly declined, replaced by a landed and relatively free peasantry. Although there were important exceptions, including Mediterranean galley slaves and a handful of domestic slaves in Atlantic port cities, French (p.74) slavery reached its nadir in the sixteenth century as France's Iberian neighbors began to exploit large numbers of Africans and American Indians at home and abroad. France's regional courts took pride in claiming that France was too free for slavery, repeating the notion so often that it became something of a mantra in French legal circles: “There are no slaves in France.” Some even claimed that the name of France, which derived from the wordfranc, or free, signified the kingdom's special commitment to liberty. In the first edition of its dictionary of the French language, published in 1694, the Académie Française followed the definition offrancwith one of the term's common uses: “Every slave who sets foot in France becomes free and independent.” A decade later, Louis hoped to capitalize on this sentiment, claiming that, having lived in France, he was no longer a slave but a free Frenchman.2

Learning of Louis's claim, his new master, the young Benoist, rushed his slave to the harbor and attempted to board a vessel bound for a Spanish port, hoping to sell Louis before colonial authorities could set him free. Refusing to be circumvented, the council intervened “to obviate the evil designs of the said Sieur Benoist,” ordering Louis's immediate emancipation. Furious with the decision, Benoist bludgeoned Louis for initiating the suit and publicly rebuked the Superior Council for depriving him of his human property. Benoist appealed the case, threatening, “in not very respectful terms,” to write directly to the royal court, where it seems he thought he could trade on his family connections. But in the end Benoist not only lost his slave but also earned a verbal thrashing “for speaking too freely” against his superiors.3

Louis's freedom suit launched a transatlantic inquiry into the place of slavery in France and its American colonies. None of the commentary was as informed as that of Michel Bégon, who wrote a memorandum on the case from La Rochelle in early 1704. Two decades earlier Bégon had been appointed intendant of the growing Caribbean colonies of Martinique, Guadeloupe, (p.75) and Saint Christophe (modern Saint Kitts), a post that included oversight of all commercial production and legal affairs. His first task, outlined in a royal commission, was to complete the drafting of a comprehensive slave ordinance, which, when issued in 1685, became the foundation for French slave law well into the nineteenth century. Following his service in the Caribbean, Bégon accepted a post in the Mediterranean managing the early modern world's largest fleet of galleys, manned by thousands of North African slaves and aimed at freeing enslaved Frenchmen. Since 1688, he had administered Rochefort, a growing port on France's Atlantic coast whose shipbuilding industry depended on overseas commerce, including the African slave trade. Having seen—and overseen—the development of French Atlantic slavery, Bégon found the notion that there were no slaves in France absurd: “a complete illusion.”4

From the establishment of Caribbean colonies in 1626, Bégon wrote, French settlers had owned slaves. “Either blacks, Indians, or mulattos, they have brought these three sorts into every French territory, and they have taken them back without their claiming to be free.” Slavery had become so central to the economic and social structure of the French Caribbean, he argued, that even freeing one or two slaves was regarded by the colonists as “destructive of their privileges, their commerce, and the establishment of their colonies.” Not only was there “neither law nor ordinance to authorize the freeing of slaves who came to France,” but long custom and formal law both supported the rights of French citizens to own slaves “and their posterity forever” as personal property. In short, Bégon described a vibrant French slave system that was economically necessary, legally protected, and socially demanded.5

(p.76) Bégon wrote to defend the legal foundation of French Atlantic slavery precisely because he understood that it had a brief and contested history. When he was born in 1638, only a few hundred French colonists lived in Atlantic colonies, and they owned a mere handful of slaves. Numerically, the French were far more likely to become slaves than slaveholders. But, by the time Bégon died in 1710, French colonists commanded more than sixty thousand slaves, whose labor provided a significant proportion of France's overseas wealth. Elaborate legal codes—the most important of which Bégon had drafted himself—attempted to manage slaves' lives and direct their labor to the benefit of French masters. But Bégon recognized that the expansion of French slavery had occasioned intense debate and that, in many respects, his arguments were out of step with trends that had come to define the institution by the end of the seventeenth century.6

Both Louis and Bégon drew from a shared legal and historical tradition to make opposite claims about the nature of slavery and freedom within the French kingdom. From the late-medieval period, strong impulses within France and across Europe fostered a widespread aversion to slavery as a legal and social practice, providing Louis with ample legal precedent to support his claim of freedom. Provincial and royal authorities had ordered similar emancipations many times in the century and a half preceding Louis's appeal. But these acts of emancipation existed alongside an equally (p.77) significant tradition of human trafficking in France that, for Bégon, belied the claim that French soil was too free for slavery. Particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, French privateers and royal galleys captured and enslaved vast numbers of North African Muslims, and French ports from Normandy to Provence supplied and hosted slave traders from France, the Netherlands, and Iberia. With American colonization in the seventeenth century, the demand for forced laborers grew exponentially.

The tension between antislavery sentiment in France and an expanding demand for enslaved laborers in its colonies profoundly shaped the culture and practice of slavery in the seventeenth-century French Atlantic. Bégon insisted on a uniform resolution to this tension, arguing, “The American colonies are so united and integrated into the body of the kingdom that they cannot be separated” and must be “governed by the same laws without distinction or difference.” Not only did the local Caribbean elite disagree with Bégon on this point—freeing Louis and rebuking his master—but royal officials in France also rejected his claims. In 1707, responding to this and at least two similar cases involving enslaved women in France, Louis XIV's minister clarified his position: “The intention of his majesty is that the Negroes who have been brought into the kingdom by the inhabitants of the islands, who refuse to return there, may not be constrained to do so.” Should slaves return to the Americas without invoking “the privilege of the soil of France,” however, they renounced their freedom “by their voluntary return to the place of slavery.” Bégon's notion of a unified French kingdom living under uniform laws, however much it served the needs of a centralizing state, did not apply to slavery. Replicating the legal pluralism of provincial France, where a baroque patchwork of distinct jurisdictions fragmented French legal practice, the law and practice of slavery divided the kingdom into zones of freedom and slavery, ensuring that those who held slaves were not the ones who enslaved them and that France could still protest its own unjust enslavement by North Africans while purchasing a spiraling number of slaves for the Americas.7

(p.78) Unlike the Indians they would encounter in the Pays d'en Haut, the French drew a sharp distinction between the practice of slavery and the act of enslavement. By placing all of the moral and legal burden on enslavement, the French distanced themselves from both the moral dilemmas and the practical problems associated with slaving violence. This maneuver allowed them to concentrate on the construction of an elaborate system of local power designed to maintain the enslaved population in perpetual bondage to extract maximum labor, operating on a scale and with a level of brutality unthinkable a century earlier. It also established the legal and cultural systems in which a variety of slaveries could flourish in different colonies within a single overseas empire. French colonists thus brought to the Pays d'en Haut a historically and culturally specific but still evolving form of slavery that would shape—and be shaped by—its North American counterpart.8

There Are No Slaves in France

In Fraunce, although there be some remembrance of old servitude, yet is it not lawfull there to make any slave, or to buy any of others.”

Jean Bodin, Paris, 1576

The specific legal and cultural precedents that resulted in Louis's freedom date to the sixteenth century, when slavery was at historic lows in France. As in much of western Europe, slavery declined and all but disappeared in France during the late-medieval period, persisting mainly in Mediterranean coastal communities that hosted galley fleets manned by enslaved North Africans. At this time, the most common manifestation of slavery (p.79) in France was the threat of Muslim slave raids around the Mediterranean and its coastline as French ships, and even a handful of French villages, were targeted by Barbary pirates and slave raiders. By the mid-sixteenth century the rarity of slaves in France, the widespread sense that Frenchmen had become the target of unjust enslavement, and a desire to discredit France's international competitors combined to produce a culture—both popular and legal—that resisted slavery and placed a high burden of proof on those claiming its legitimacy. But in the half century between the 1570s and 1620s, the question of slavery confronted French society in new ways, forcing a range of responses from outright rejection of the practice to its acceptance under restricted circumstances. These debates were synthesized in one of the most influential works of political and legal theory in the early modern world: Hugo Grotius'sRights of War and Peace. Published only one year before the French crown authorized the first permanent settlements in the Caribbean, Grotius's work both distilled and shaped the specific context within which French Atlantic slavery developed in the seventeenth century.9

Two legal cases from Toulouse in the 1550s reveal the profound French skepticism toward slavery that framed these debates. The first involved a group of Gascon peasants who, in 1558, brought a complaint against their seigneur, the lord of La Roche-Blanche. Appearing before Toulouse'sparlement, the city's chief judicial body, they acknowledged their willingness to show proper deference to their lord, “to trimme his vines, to till his grounds, to mow his meddows, to reape and thresh his corne,” and to perform a host of other tasks that he required of them. But they found one of his demands intolerable. To ensure that the peasants remained under his control and continued to provide rents and labor, he warned anyone leaving his lands without permission that he would hunt them down and “lead them home againe in an halter[chevestre].” Reminiscent of controlling domestic animals, the threatened harnessing of peasants intentionally evoked slavery to a degree that the parlement found unacceptable. Declaring the treatment “prejudiciall unto the right of libertie,” they forbade the lord to use it.10

(p.80) A few years later, a Genoese merchant traveled to Toulouse on business with his personal slave, an African he had bought during a visit to Spain. Recognizing the region's aversion to slavery, the “hoast of the house” where the merchant stayed “persuaded the slave to appeale unto his libertie.” When he appeared before the attorney general of Toulouse to answer the appeal, the merchant argued that “he had truly bought his slave in Spaine, and so was afterward come to Tholouze, from thence to goe home to Genua, and so not to be bound to the laws of Fraunce.” In response, the attorney general cited ancient law and modern precedent to prove “that slaves so soone as they came into Tholouze should be free.” Finding the court unsympathetic to his claim of ownership, the merchant argued that, should they “deale so hardly with him, as to set at libertie another mans slave, yet they should at least restore unto him the money hee cost him.” As the parlement discussed the possibility of compensation, the merchant—convinced that he would lose “both his dutifull slave and his money also”—emancipated the African on the condition that he serve the merchant until his death.11

These cases had a profound effect on Jean Bodin, a former Carmelite monk who was studying law in Toulouse when they were heard. Although Bodin was on his way to becoming Europe's most influential apologist for absolutist monarchy—by no means a champion of civil equality—he found slavery problematic, questioning the wisdom of allowing an institution “so dreadfull unto states and cities” to return to Europe after its four-century decline. The Toulouse cases grounded Bodin's antislavery sentiments and prompted him to write a brief history of slavery in Europe and the Mediterranean, (p.81) which he later inserted into his most famous work,Les six livres de la République, first published in Paris in 1576.12

Bodin argued that slavery—“a thing most pernitious and daungerous”—had been all but eradicated in medieval France and ought to remain a distant memory despite recent pressures to reintroduce it. “In Fraunce,” he wrote, “although there be some remembrance of old servitude, yet is it not lawfull there to make any slave, or to buy any of others.” Claiming that it had been “more than 400 yeares agoe, since that Fraunce suffered in it any true slaves,” he narrated an upward trajectory for French liberty flowing from a steady stream of decrees and court decisions that made slavery in France socially and legally unacceptable. Rooted in the tacit agreement of Christians not to enslave one another—a practice they adopted in imitation of Mohammed, “who set at libertie all them of his religion”—European suspicion of slavery grew as Christianity spread throughout the continent and as the threat of Islamic expansion forced Christian kingdoms into closer alliance with one another. Whether for religious, diplomatic, or economic reasons, then, beginning as early as the eighth century and picking up pace in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, “Christian princes by little and little released their servitude, and enfranchised their slaves.” The decline of slavery in medieval France occurred fitfully over many centuries, but by Bodin's time there were few jurisdictions that did not have some local precedent favoring liberty over slavery and similar forms of involuntary servitude.13

The most famous of these precedents, decided in Bordeaux in 1571, would be cited for more than two centuries to support French free soil doctrine. Human trafficking had been a long-standing practice for Norman seafarers, who began selling enslaved Guanches from the Canary Islands as early as 1402. By the mid-sixteenth century, French—particularly Norman—traders had established several strongholds along the West African coast, concentrating on gold and ivory but dealing in small numbers of slaves, including many seized illegally from Portuguese or Spanish ships. English, Dutch, French, and Iberian ships involved in the African trade had stopped at Bordeaux since at least the 1550s, and the city's vibrant Iberian merchant community was growing in importance, clearly involved in the slave trade abroad. Most of these slaves never reached France but were delivered to the more developed slave markets of Spain and Portugal. Some (p.82) slaves, particularly those taken by pirates, were sold as far away as Brazil or the Spanish Caribbean. So in February 1571, when a cargo of enslaved “negroes and moors” arrived on a Norman vessel stopping at Bordeaux, it was not the novelty of French slave trading that caught people's attention. It was the merchant's attempt to sell them in French territory.14

Bordeaux's parlement had prominent members who viewed their role as protectors of French liberties. Among the most influential, the good friends and fellow scholars Michel de Montaigne and Étienne de La Boétie argued that by the law of nature all were born free. If people were to live by the principles of natural law, La Boétie wrote, “we would be naturally obedient to parents, subjects to reason, and slaves to no one.” Neither of them was still in the parlement by 1571—La Boétie had died, and Montaigne had resigned—but their influence lingered. Invoking the free soil doctrine articulated in Toulouse just over a decade earlier, the parlement declared that all of the Norman's slaves “shall be set free,” proclaiming that “France, mother of liberty, allows no slaves.” Having both judicial and legislative powers, the court's decree became binding law.15

Decisions like these resonated with Bodin and throughout France at least in part because in the mid-sixteenth century the French were more liable to become slaves than slaveholders. Muslim corsairs in the Mediterranean went on a slaving spree in the sixteenth century, putting French sailors and coastal communities at risk. In 1579, it was estimated that Algiers alone (p.83) hosted a population of 25,000 European slaves, in addition to smaller but significant populations in Tunis, Morocco, and Tripoli. During Bodin's lifetime (ca. 1530–1596), North African states enslaved well more than 300,000 Europeans, tens of thousands of whom were French despite the crown's best diplomatic efforts with the Ottomans and their allies (known to defensive Christians as “the unholy alliance”).16

Sailors felt the fear of Barbary enslavement more than anyone else, as capture at sea was the most likely path into slavery. In a 1637 account of a voyage to the Cape Verde Islands, the Capuchin priest Alexis de Saint-Lo conveyed the urgency with which seafarers met the threat of possible attack by Barbary corsairs. As they approached the African coast before heading south, they saw another ship in the distance that seemed to be commanded by a Turk (a generic term for a Mediterranean Muslim). As they braced for attack, Saint-Lo catechized a group of young people as he urged everyone to fight to the death rather than be taken alive and forcibly converted to Islam. Several on board, including three officers, “had experienced the barbarity of the Turks and had often spoken to the rest of the crew about the cruelties that this fierce nation commits against the Christians.” The worst fate, according to the experienced crew, was to become a sex slave bound to “service” these men with “infamous, detestable acts against nature.” Eventually, when the ship approached close enough to see the men on board, they were relieved to discover that the other ship was commanded by fellow Christians. Although they had been in no immediate danger, their reaction illustrates the depth of French fear of Barbary enslavement and its many horrors.17

In the early seventeenth century, the French priest Pierre Dan described the Barbary Coast as “a bloody theater, where many tragedies are enacted,” calling upon the French king and French people everywhere to respond with compassion to “the cruelties and barbarities suffered by Christian slaves under the tyranny of Muslims, mortal enemies of our faith.” By (p.84) the 1630s he could claim, “It would not be stretching the truth to say that they have put a million [Christians] in chains” (a number shown by modern scholarship to be basically accurate). One among hundreds of clerics to devote themselves to the redemption of French slaves, Dan raised money from grieving families and affronted Catholics that he took to Muslim states to purchase French men and women. His account of Muslim slaveholders' depravity, published in Paris in 1637, ran more than five hundred pages and included lavish illustrations depicting snarling slaveholders terrorizing French Christians, verbal and visual images that garnered further support for his efforts. In defense of French victims, Dan's account insisted on “the violence and misery of slavery,” condemning the “continual labor” extracted from enslaved Christians by lazy Muslim masters who “forced them to [work] with blows from sticks, and gave them less rest than their horses.”18

Beyond print, Dan and his fellow redemptioners celebrated their victories in highly public processions, parading redeemed slaves through towns and cities to publicize their success and raise funds for more redemptions. As part of their obligation to their redeemers, former slaves were required to participate in the processions for up to three months. Beginning with a parade in the streets of Marseille, the party then walked as many as five hundred miles through the French countryside to Paris. All along the way, townspeople turned out to celebrate the end of their compatriots' slavery. For a majority of people throughout France, then, the primary—if not the only—face of slavery was French, making antislavery sentiment more a matter of self-preservation than about the high ideals of protecting others.19

The threat of French enslavement, whipped into what one historian termed “corsair hysteria,” contributed to the already widespread skepticism about slavery in sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century France. As early as 1538, when a court in southern France freed a Greek slave belonging to an Italian master, the court claimed to do so “by the common law of France.” (p.85)

The Most Ignoble and Scandalous Kind of Subjection

Figure 8. Missionaries Paying a Ransom to Release French Slaves.Pierre Dan, Histoire de la Barbarie et de ses corsairs.Paris, 1649. Courtesy Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

It might have overstated the clarity of the law on the matter, but by 1607 the renowned legal philosopher Antoine Loisel could synthesize the general legal climate in similarly hopeful terms: “Everyone is free in this kingdom: as soon as a slave reaches its borders, being baptized, he is freed.” His dictum would be repeated, almost verbatim, all over France in the seventeenth century, including in an oft-cited legal guide published by Hiérome Mercier, a counselor in the parlement of Paris. “By the general law of this kingdom all persons are free and independent,” wrote Mercier. “That is why, when a serf or a slave takes refuge in France, as soon as he reaches its borders and is baptized, he is freed.”20

(p.86) But saying there were no slaves in France did not make it so. Loisel, Bodin, and their contemporaries recognized that the freedom principle was more prescriptive than descriptive and that it was only one side of a contentious debate over slavery within France and throughout Europe. Although individual cases of legal emancipation gained widespread attention, like the Norman who brought a slave ship to Bordeaux in 1571, they also indicated a competing vision of French involvement in slavery. If the French were victims of enslavement in the Mediterranean, they also took thousands of North Africans as galley slaves, and as a result places like Marseille could never pretend to disallow slavery within their borders. So, even as Bodin saw all around him evidence of declining support for slavery, still the practice thrived. “If the Muslims have freed all the slaves of their religion … and the Christians have done the same,” he wondered, “how is it possible that the whole world is still full of slaves?”21

The piecemeal solidification of French free soil doctrine, then, occurred in the context of a vigorous debate in France and throughout Europe over the relationship between natural law and slavery, disputed most forcefully among Iberians who by the 1570s had become heavily involved in slavery in West Africa, Brazil, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The trade of the Portuguese in West Africa began in the mid-fifteenth century, and by 1482 they had established São George da Mina in modern Ghana. As the name of the fort implies, the primary target was gold rather than slaves, but by the time Bodin wrote his history between eight and nine thousand enslaved Africans were traded each year on European vessels. France's role in the slave trade was small but not insignificant, as both French and Iberian ships sailing from French ports frequented the West African coast in the second half of the sixteenth century. Operating from a stronghold on the Cape Verde Islands, by the mid-1550s Norman gold and slave traders were (p.87) raiding Portuguese ships and trading on their own account with coastal peoples near modern Senegal. By 1604, the Portuguese would complain that French interlopers arrived “every year,” ruining Portuguese commerce because the coast was “infested with French pirates who rob ships as they arrive or leave.” Most of these ships did not return to France, though, so their impact on debates over French slavery was relatively modest, the 1571 case being a prominent exception.22

By the mid-sixteenth century a considerable community of Portuguese and Spanish merchants had grown up in the French port cities of Bordeaux, Nantes, Rouen, and La Rochelle, meaning that some of what passed as Iberian trade with West Africa began in French ports with French goods on ships manned by at least some French sailors. In 1574 the French king acknowledged the importance of these communities when he issued a special order for their protection that seems to have covered their right to continue the slave trade despite local rulings to the contrary. The New Christian communities at Bordeaux presented a joint petition to the king's council, likely responding to the 1571 ruling in that city forbidding slaves from entering French ports. Citing the communities' importance to French commerce, the king offered them “special protection” from all local efforts to interfere with their families, their property, or their “servants,” ordering that “the said Spanish and Portuguese who have resided and do reside in our city of Bordeaux may freely and securely remain and continue the trade.” The protection seems to have bolstered the communities' confidence, and by 1602 one report identified as many as one thousand Iberian merchant families along the western coast of France.23

Because of Spanish and Portuguese reliance on forced labor, Iberian legal scholars explored the nature and law of slavery with unique urgency, (p.88) and their sixteenth-century writings informed French practice in the seventeenth century. Not only did French jurists and philosophers engage Iberian ideas, but they also used Spanish and Portuguese actions as negative examples that demonstrated the depravity of slavery. These Spanish debates took place during the sixteenth-century Renaissance when French humanists encountered slavery as a philosophical and legal problem in classical texts. Following the French invasions of Italy at the end of the fifteenth century and the subsequent arrival in Paris of classical scholars like Desiderius Erasmus and Jacques Lefevre d'Étaples, French readers took a profound interest in Italy's humanistic revival, drawn particularly to texts from ancient Greece and Rome. Generously patronized by François I, French intellectuals—especially in Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse—began translating classical texts into French; vernacular editions of Aristotle, Plato, Seneca, Justinian, and other classics appeared during the first half of the sixteenth century. Because slavery was so pervasive in the classical world, discussions of the institution appeared in nearly every text. Engaging these writings, French thinkers began to discuss the justice and merits of slavery despite the marginalization of the institution in France itself. What is more, the holding of galley and domestic slaves around Marseille, the growing involvement of French merchants in the Atlantic slave trade, and international competition with Iberian powers meant that, despite being a relative outsider to the Atlantic slave trade, France was deeply invested in international discussions about the legality and morality of slavery.24

Among the most influential French humanists discussing the issue was Louis Le Roy, a Norman intellectual with a classical education from Paris and legal training from Toulouse. His most influential work, a French translation of and commentary on Aristotle'sPolitics, became the definitive edition, such that another French translation did not appear for two centuries. Introducing Aristotle's view that some people were natural slaves, born with qualities that made them more fit to serve than to rule, Le Roy recognized that the point had become highly contentious. “Here,” he wrote, “the Philosopher (p.89) enters into a very serious dispute.” But, in the end, Le Roy agreed with Aristotle and his Spanish followers that some “are born to obey, others to command.” “Natural slaves,” he concluded with Aristotle, were stupid and strong, “having slow, feeble minds but powerful bodies to do necessary work.”25

Despite his acclaim, Le Roy met overwhelming resistance for his support of Aristotelian natural slavery. French legal scholars followed the Spanish debates closely, distinguishing themselves from their Spanish counterparts by rejecting natural slavery, justifying slavery by the law of nations rather than the law of nature. Bodin and his contemporaries rejected natural slavery in part to distance France from its Spanish competitors and lay moral claim to French presence in West Africa and the Americas. Bodin followed the debates about Spanish slavery with great interest, contrasting what he saw as his kingdom's superior approach to the issue. Praising Charles V for outlawing the enslavement of Indians, he still took satisfaction that in France “the slaves of strangers so soone as they set their foot within Fraunce become franke and free.” He had seen this happen in the case of the Genoa merchant in Toulouse, and Iberians in Bordeaux had to seek royal protection to avoid a similar fate. If slavery were natural, and therefore divinely designed, no human law interfering would be defensible.26

According to Bodin, the history of the institution proved that masters often ruled over their intellectual and moral superiors, and owning slaves brought out the very worst in slaveholders, inspiring them to tyranny and violence. To accept Aristotle's logic—that the enslaved were inferior by nature and thus fit for slavery—would also have been an indictment of enslaved Christian compatriots and an acceptance of the superiority of their Muslim masters. Implying as much, Bodin asked, “For wise men to serve fools, men of understanding to serve the ignorant, and the good to serve the bad; what can bee more contrarie unto nature?”27

Rather than expressing innate inequality, then, Bodin argued that slavery arose from human rather than natural law, specifically the doctrine of just war, which he described as “the first beginning of slaves”: the origin of slavery itself. Bodin accepted the captor's right to enslave his captives (p.90) rather than kill them, even if he doubted the purity of the captor's motives. “For who is hee that would spare the life of his vanquished enemie,” he asked, “if he could get a greater profit by his death than by sparing his life?” Yet, despite his personal antislavery sentiments, Bodin acknowledged what he saw as a clear consensus on the matter of enslavement, which nations from ancient times to the present seemed to embrace. “The consent of all nations will that that which is gotten by just warre should bee the conquerours owne, and that the vanquished should be slaves unto the victorious.” Unjust wars, including slave raids undertaken by a sovereign “to make of freemen his slaves,” were tyrannical and indefensible under either natural or international law.28

Bodin'sRepublicgarnered immediate attention in France and by 1600 was already in its fourteenth French edition. Only three years after its publication, one Englishman noted, “You can not steppe into a schollars studye but (ten to one) you shall likely finde open either Bodin de Republica or Le Royes Exposition uppon Aristoteles Politiques.” On the issue of slavery, however, Bodin's position became by far the more influential. Impressed by Bodin's work, Henry III called upon Bodin as a political consultant, a role he played well into the 1580s. Although primarily concerned with the politics of kingdoms rather than international relations, Bodin profoundly influenced French thinking about slavery as a function of international law. Subsequent French thinkers followed his lead, justifying slavery abroad, even as domestically the institution eroded under a stream of decisions affirming French free soil doctrine. Bodin's contemporary, Estienne Pasquier, for example, argued that Aristotle's notion of natural slavery could neither explain nor justify human bondage. Yet, like Bodin, he found in international law ample support for the the institution. “When a man has been made a prisoner of war,” he wrote in a discussion of Roman law, “it was found more expedient to keep him than to kill him.”29

Hugo Grotius agreed. Having escaped imprisonment in the Netherlands, Grotius fled to Paris in 1621, where he publishedThe Rights of War and Peace (De jure belli et pacis) in 1625. Like Bodin, Grotius rejected Aristotle's (p.91) notion of natural slavery: servitude derived, not from the law of nature, but from the law of nations.

There is no Man by Nature Slave to another, that is, in his primitive State considered, independently of any human Fact … but it is not repugnant to natural Justice, that Men should become Slaves by a human Fact, that is, by Vertue of some Agreement, or in Consequence of some Crime.

No one, in other words, was made for slavery, however base or backward one's culture. Only human law, “introduced by Custom and tacit Consent,” could create slaves. The original and universal enjoyment of natural liberty was, in fact, central to the justice of slavery for Grotius. The tacit consent that allowed states to rule individuals and nations to deal with one another in the name of their people originated in human agency exercised in liberty. That same liberty allowed a prisoner to yield his or her life to a captor in exchange for lifelong slavery.30

For Grotius, as for Bodin and many others stretching back to the Roman laws compiled by Justinian, the law of nations provided that captives taken in a just war could be enslaved rather than killed. “Life is far preferable to Liberty,” he explained. “Therefore god himself imputes it as an Act of his Favour, that he did not cut off his People with the Sword, but made them Captives.” Where Bodin disparaged the greed that motivated captors to protect prisoners only to make them slaves, Grotius argued that captors' self-interest was the very reason the law was successful: aligning the state's desire to spare captives' lives with individual captors' desire for the spoils of war. Nothing could induce captors to spare their slaves' lives “but a Motive drawn from Interest.” The prisoner could choose to die or to accept lifelong slavery. “The most ignoble and scandalous Kind of Subjection,” Grotius (p.92) wrote, “is that by which a Man offers himself to perfect and utter Slavery,” “which obliges a Man to serve his Master all his Life long.” Even if the only alternative was death, the law of nations treated the prisoner's choice as voluntary and permanent.31

Because prisoners could have been killed rather than kept alive, the captor granting a prisoner's life now possessed it, making slavery both perpetual and inheritable. “Neither do only they themselves become Slaves,” Grotius reasoned, “but their Posterity for ever; for whosoever is born of a Woman after she is a Slave, is born a Slave.” Explaining the perpetuity of servitude that originated in just war, Grotius argued that slavery granted life not only to the mother but also to the child, since her death in war would have prevented any future offspring: “If the Captor had been pleased to have used his utmost Power, he might have prevented their being born.” Then, too, given the uncertainty of paternity in this pre-dna age, Grotius accepted the Roman practice that a child's status would follow the mother's, “as the young ones of Beasts, so the Children of Slaves follow the Condition and Circumstances of the Mother.” A child with a free father and an enslaved mother would be born a slave: as Tacitus had written, “she hadServitio subjectum uterum, a Womb subjected to Bondage, that is, her Child would be a Bondslave.”32

The law of nations required that captives be taken in a justifiable war, leaving the burden of proof on the enslavers to demonstrate that they had undertaken the attack for generally acceptable reasons, fighting in defense of one's own sovereignty or an ally's safety. Because, in the eyes of Bodin, Pasquier, and Grotius, no humans were natural slaves, only the process of enslavement could determine the legality of anyone's slave status. By general agreement, according to Grotius, Christians exempted one another from bondage, even when it resulted from a just war. But it did not follow that all non-Christians were automatically lawful targets of enslavement. The circumstances of their capture still determined their legal position among their captors, even if one could argue that slavery would be the best thing for them: “For I must not compel a Man even to what is advantageous to him. For the Choice of what is profitable or not profitable, where People enjoy their Senses and their Reason, is to be left to themselves, unless some (p.93) other Person has gained any Right over them.” These rights could be gained only in just wars, properly declared and executed.33

But international law applied only to the act of enslavement, not to the practice of slavery. Once persons were determined to be justly enslaved, they became the property of the person or nation that captured them. Significantly, this stripped the moral freight from buying slaves once they had been enslaved by another. “The Law of Nations,” Grotius explained, “has in this Case put Men in the same Rank with Goods.” The circumstances of enslavement were governed by the law of nations, but slavery—including the master-slave relationship—was governed only by the society in which the slaves lived. As a matter of human law, those relationships could be regulated, but states were under no obligation to do so, as “the Effects of this Right are infinite, so that there is nothing that the Lord may not do to his Slave … no Torment but what may be inflicted on him with Impunity, nothing commanded him but what may be exacted with the utmost Rigour and Severity; so that all manner of Cruelty may be exercised by the Lords upon their Slaves; unless this License is somewhat restrained by the civil Law.” Regulating the practice of slavery thus became a separate category of legal and moral activity, governed by the slaveholding society rather than the law of nations.34

Grotius recognized that he did not write his treatise in a legal or political vacuum. He published in early-seventeenth-century Paris, where he interacted with many who had embraced France's drift away from slavery in the previous decades. Like Bodin, though, Grotius characterized France's free soil principle as a royal privilege specific to that kingdom rather than a legal or moral imperative governing European, or even French, actions abroad. From ancient times, he wrote, there had always been kingdoms that chose to exempt people within them from the burdens of slavery. These kingdoms enacted “peculiar Laws” which made them a “Place of Refuge for Slaves.” This was the foundation, Grotius learned during his time in Paris, “on which that Privilege seems grounded among theFrench, given to Slaves to enter (p.94) again on Possession of their Liberty, the Moment they come into the Dominions of that Kingdom, which is also now allowed, not only to those taken in War, but to all others whatever.” Rather than a universal privilege granted by natural law, French free soil was a privilege particular to the kingdom of France that could exist alongside the kingdom's acknowledgment of the legality of slavery abroad. By the law of nature no one was a slave. By the law of nations some could be enslaved. By the laws of France even those justly enslaved elsewhere would regain their original liberty in France.35

Despite being a newcomer to the French intellectual scene, it would be difficult to overstate Grotius's influence on French thinking about slavery and its place in international law. Pierre Bayle, author of the monumentalDictionnaire historique et critique, characterized him as “one of the greatest men of Europe,” noting thatThe Rights of War and Peace“received exceptional honor from the public.” As one intellectual historian has written, because Grotius “was universally read, everyone working in any of the fields which he touched had to go through him before they could progress to their own ideas.” The publication of this treatise, according to another, “launched the modern era of international law.”36

As much as anything, the timing of Grotius's work ensured that it would shape the legal and political conversations that informed French colonialism in the seventeenth century. In the summer of 1626, less than a year after the publication ofThe Rights of War and Peace, Cardinal Richelieu—France's architect of overseas policy—offered to hire the author to help him craft charters for overseas colonization. For various personal reasons Grotius resisted, limiting his role to the translation of key documents from the Dutch East and West India Companies and some personal consulting with the cardinal on matters of international law. Despite Grotius's demurral, Richelieu made it clear that he read and followed Grotius as he crafted overseas policy. In fall 1626, when Richelieu commissioned the first French companies to colonize the Caribbean, they reflected Grotius's Dutch-to-French translations and embraced many of his central ideas. WithThe Rights of War and PeaceGrotius punctuated a conversation that had developed over (p.95) the better part of a century in French legal and political culture. His synthesis also provided a model that would allow for the simultaneous rejection of slavery within the geographic bounds of the French kingdom and the expansion of French involvement in slavery overseas.37

The widespread rejection of Aristotelian natural slavery meant that French ethnic and religious chauvinism would not suffice to justify enslavement, particularly considering the depth of legal precedent that would challenge anyone claiming slave property on that basis. Slavery existed in France, particularly galley slavery in Marseille, and the slave trade operated from that and other port cities. But before the 1620s those activities occurred either in such a specific context (like the galleys) or among specific populations (like the Iberian New Christians in Bordeaux) that clashes were rare. As Caribbean colonial expansion began in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, French colonists, merchants, jurists, and royal officials were forced into a sustained discussion about the legality and morality of slavery that shaped not only where slavery would be practiced and under what conditions but also which peoples would—and would not—be targeted as slaves.

Slaves to the King

“In their own country most of them are slaves to the king or to others; they are sold to the Europeans at quite a good price.”—Jacques Bouton, Martinique, 1640

Although Michel Bégon was right that slavery existed from the beginning of French colonization in the Americas, in the early seventeenth century it would have been difficult to predict a French colonial world dependent on enslaved labor, and not only because of France's ambivalence toward the practice. From the very early stages of French colonization in the Atlantic world, slavery was only one among many labor strategies available to investors and colonists, and exactly the role it would play was far from certain. Not only was slavery still rather poorly defined as an institution, but the social and political models that would allow it to flourish had yet to be developed. By the end of the century, the enslavement of Africans, in particular, (p.96) would come to dominate Caribbean economies, and the particular process by which that happened would shape slavery in the Caribbean and profoundly influence the law and culture of slavery in France's North American colonies. It would also guide decisions about who would be enslaved, ensuring a preference for African over Indian laborers.

For all the discussions on the law of slavery in France, at the beginning of the seventeenth century it was still not entirely clear what slavery was, so clarifying slaves' legal status included developing a clearer definition of who they were and what function they were bound to serve. The vast majority of French people had such a limited experience with slavery during the sixteenth century that they hardly knew how to define the term, which, according to period dictionaries, vaguely comprised servants, prisoners of war, serfs, galley oarsmen, and convict laborers. There were many possible pathways a slave's life could follow, including many that ended in freedom. This was nowhere more true than in the Caribbean, where French involvement in slavery predated officially sanctioned settlement by at least seventy years. Since the mid-sixteenth century, French pirates had seized and sold Iberian cargoes that included slaves, both Indian and African. Yet many of these captives became free members of buccaneer communities scattered around the islands, none of which depended on the kinds of labor that would favor slavery.38

French ships began plying the Caribbean basin shortly after its discovery by the Spanish, but colonizing efforts did not begin in earnest until the mid-1620s, when the first permanent and officially sanctioned colonies were established. With Brazilian and, more recently, Virginian models of profitable staple production, French investors hoped to cash in on the growing European demand for sugar and tobacco as well as other crops like cotton and indigo. But the development of these commodities began slowly, with most French farms yielding a variety of subsistence grains, vegetables, and a small staple surplus. By 1640 there were about one thousand French colonists on Martinique, living on terraced farms along the island's western and southwestern shores to avoid constant friction with the Caribs, who inhabited the remainder of the island. On Hispaniola and nearby Tortuga a few (p.97)

The Most Ignoble and Scandalous Kind of Subjection

Map 2. French and Neighboring Settlements in North America and the Caribbean. Drawn by Jim DeGrand

hundred French buccaneers scratched out a living, and, beginning in the 1590s, many of them began to farm, employing indentured servants and seasonal wage laborers but as yet few slaves. As colonists began to rely on slaves in growing numbers in the 1630s and 1640s, they drew on the legal and philosophical discussions of the previous decades to formulate a remarkably consistent rationale for enslavement that reconciled a widespread French commitment to pursuing free soil at home and slavery abroad.39

(p.98) The widespread French understanding of African societies as law-bound kingdoms combined with the French understanding of the law of nations to produce the dominant rationale for the enslavement of Africans in the Americas. These ideas, far more than abstract if pervasive notions of Africans' ethnic inferiority, justified African slavery to most French colonists in the early seventeenth century on both sides of the Atlantic. It is obviously difficult to gauge how widely these ideas were shared, especially given the scarcity of sources. But among those who commented on the early French colonies, the law of war dominated discussions of Africans' enslavement, even among many whose primary relationship with slavery would have made them sympathetic to other explanations.

As early as the fourteenth century, French writers began to describe African polities as kingdoms, in which powerful—sometimes despotic—kings ruled over violent subjects who lived to “glut themselves with revenge.” The resulting wars produced great numbers of slaves, presumed legitimate because they originated under the sovereignty of an African state. Explanations of African kingdoms' relationship to slavery varied in their particulars—some noting the absence of private land ownership, others stressing the importance of arbitrary law—but they all shared the theme that sovereign polities, rather than individual slave raiders, controlled enslavement and thus possessed the right to sell those slaves to foreign merchants. In the sixteenth century, André Thévet emphasized that sub-Saharan Africa was a land of kings and that their warring kingdoms captured so many prisoners that “their greatest wealth” and “the greater part of their traffic” consisted of “men whom they sell.”40

French travel writers in the early seventeenth century reinforced this vision of African kingship, explaining the production of slaves by appealing to a combination of African and international law. In 1637, for example, Alexis de Saint-Lo described African society as a series of competing (p.99) monarchies governed by elaborate systems of law and protected by well-established militaries. He called African headmen “kings,” who ruled over “subjects,” rightly subduing those who denied their authority. Strongly influenced by his familiarity with the more centralized Islamic states to the north, Saint-Lo characterized all African polities as kingdoms. His contemporary Claude Jannequin went to Africa in 1637 to seek the riches of the Niger River, which he had heard could rival those of Mexico. There he found coastal kings jealous of their territory and suspicious of French motives. Trading animal skins, ivory, gum arabic, and a little gold, Jannequin related reports of a vast profusion of kingdoms along the Niger River, including some that had long since crumbled like the “Kingdom of Senega” and the “Kingdom of Tombuto [Timbuktu].” Reinforcing the French understanding of African polities as centralized—even idealized—kingdoms, Jannequin emphasized the great authority and respect commanded by African kings. “These people have such great respect for their Kings,” he wrote, “that they never pass by them without kneeling on the ground and throwing sand on their backs as a sign of humility.”41

Although Jannequin did not acknowledge his own involvement in the slave trade, he saw it all around him in these local kingdoms. Rather than pursuing war for territorial gain, he explained, African customs dictated that they fight “in a completely different manner from that which is practiced in Europe.” Finding their greatest prestige in cattle and captives, Jannequin wrote, “they only make incursions, ravage the enemy territory, take captives, whoever they can catch, carrying off cattle and goats, which are their only riches.” André Brüe, director of France's commercial operations in Senegal at the end of the seventeenth century, offered a similar assessment. “This is the way negro kings ordinarily make war,” he wrote. “Decisive battles between opponents rarely occur; the campaigns consist of incursions and pillages. Each side seizes from the other a large number of their subjects, which they then sell as slaves to the merchants who visit their coasts.” Enslavement, then, was a recognized aspect of the law of war in this part of the world, practiced by sovereigns against the subjects of competing kingdoms with recognizable patterns and predictable reciprocity.42

(p.100) Later French accounts of West Africa perpetuated this tradition. “They live under the dominion of a king,” reported another French traveler in 1671, “who has governors in the places that are far from him, and when they go to war, these governors have orders to bring him the soldiers that he demands of them.” When Nicolas Villault de Bellefond described the Africans he encountered in Senegambia a few years later, he found them mostly contemptible: “They are naturally great lyers, and not to be believed,” prone to theft and other crimes. Yet he never associated these qualities with Africans' enslavement. Instead, he placed the responsibility for slavery on the shoulders of sovereign African polities that traded along the coast with the French and other Europeans. Villault's description of West African trade partners as kings meant that, whatever their negative qualities, he acknowledged their sovereignty, if only for self-serving purposes. For example, Villault depicted the “King ofBoure,”or Sierra Leone, as heading a mediocre court and living in a palace that “would not make a good residence for a justice of the peace.” Despite these shortcomings, he was still identified as a king, and his brother as a “prince” who was “grave, and intelligent enough in his affairs.”43

Farther south, on the coast of modern Liberia, Villault narrated his encounter with another West African king who made a much greater impression. As they traded with his subjects, without warning a sudden panic struck the villagers, and they scattered. Fearing attack, Villault armed himself, only to find out that the commotion had come from word that the king was approaching. The pomp of the king's entrance underscored his importance, reinforcing the image of African kings' authority over their people. “Before him marched his Drum, and his Trumpet,” Villault wrote, as well as “eight or ten of his kindred and friends, and the rest were his Officers: his Wives, and his Daughters, marched on his side, behind him his slaves followed…. (p.101) By him he had four Slaves marching, two of them covering him with two large Bucklers, and the other carrying his bow and arrows, and javelin.” His appearance awed his subjects, who lined the road “singing, and dancing, and leaping up and down, and testifying their joy in a thousand different postures.” The king himself was “a grave and venerable old man … very sensible and majestick.” Villault conducted negotiations in Portuguese with the king, who assured him that “the French should be always welcome to him.”44

This king and his personal slaves epitomize French description of enslavement in West Africa throughout the seventeenth century. Sensitive to French critiques of slavery and eager to ensure the legal protection of purchased captives, everyone with an interest in the trade made a point of appealing to centralized West African states as the legal provider of slaves. When the African slave trade was first sanctioned by French law in trade company charters, the right to this trade rested on a relationship between European and African sovereigns, who sold slaves to the French in conformity with the law of nations. In 1681 Louis XIV issued letters patent for the Compagnie de Sénegal, charged with delivering slaves to the Americas, citing the “treaties made with the Negro kings” from Cape Verde to the Gambia River as the basis for trade. Four years later, when the Senegal Company failed to deliver enough slaves to the Caribbean, the crown created the Compagnie de Guinée, granting it full authority to make independent treaties with “les Rois Negres,” or “Negro Kings,” who controlled the West African coast to obtain a regular supply of captives. The 1696 charter reorganizing the Senegal Company used similar language, citing “treaties made with Negro kings” as the key to French trade in Africa.45

When the French wrote about the kings of “les Negres,” they meant to suggest something more specific than the fact that these kings had dark skin. The language of the slave trade charters reflected a specific French (p.102) understanding of the nature of West African states that reinforced the notion that Africans were enslaved according to the law of nations. Since the fourteenth century, notions of powerful and wealthy kingdoms dominated French understanding of sub-Saharan Africa. In 1375, for example, the French king received an elaborate map of the known world as a gift. Just south of the Sahara Desert, the map depicted an African king seated on a throne and boasting a crown and scepter of pure gold. In his hand he held a giant nugget of gold toward the trans-Saharan trade routes. Along those routes, even the tents of the Saharan traders were capped with golden orbs. Dozens of cities littered the region, represented by turreted castles flying welcoming white flags. The map identified the king as the “Senyor dels Negres,” or Lord of the Negroes, and the accompanying text identified him as Musa I, the great Mansa—or emperor—of the Mali Empire. The empire was at the time likely the world's greatest producer of precious metals, an essential source of salt for North Africa and Egypt, and one of the world's most important centers of Islamic learning. Unencumbered by competing nobles and shielded by a protective ring of fortified towns, the Malian ruler must have seemed powerful indeed, underscoring Ibn Battuta's description of Mali just a few years before. “There is complete security in their country,” Battuta wrote in 1359. “Neither travellers nor inhabitants in it have anything to fear from robbers or men of violence.”46

References to a large and powerful kingdom in “distant lands” along the Niger River, dubbed the Kingdom of the Negroes, thus drew from deep tradition. Echoes of that tradition are recognizable in French narrative accounts of the region of Nigritie throughout the seventeenth century. The most developed treatment, simply titledRelation de la Nigritie, appeared in 1689. Authored by the missionary Jean-Baptiste Gaby, the book combined firsthand observations from Gaby's 1687 voyage to Senegal with plagiarized selections from another French explorer's manuscript account. Even as he criticized Europeans' limited understanding of the Niger River valley, Gaby himself inaccurately conflated the Senegal and Niger Rivers, mapping a massive, imaginary waterway stretching eastward from the Atlantic across much of the African Sahel. All along the banks of the Niger—“so named,” (p.103) he thought, “because it watered the Country of the Negroes”—he described the existence of kingdoms that, several generations before, had formed a single, unified kingdom. Oppressed by an unjust king, a group of princes fomented a revolution. The resulting warfare splintered the original kingdom into several smaller states, collectively known as the Negro kingdoms, whose territory constituted Nigritie. The lingering wars between these kingdoms, fought mostly on defensive terms by the coastal peoples, generated large quantities of captives, who were “then sold and delivered to foreign merchants as slaves.”47

Although Gaby criticized the slave trade, he nevertheless framed enslavement in terms of the law of nations and its demand for formal state declarations in a just war. The Negro kings pursued war according to the law of nations, he insisted, taking care to make a formal declaration according to solemn ceremonies recognized by both parties to the conflict. Tales of the original despotism that led to the kingdom's fragmentation also reinforced the notion that French allies fought a defensive war, the one unambiguous category of just war under the law of nations. When a king allied to the French was successful in these wars, the king sorted the captives, keeping the best for himself. Then “the high officers are to sell to the French, or to the Portuguese, the prisoners they have made, and keep the rest of the spoils for their own use.”48

Seventeenth-century French maps registered this understanding of Nigritie, which formed a distinct region south of the Sahara and north of the coastal area they labeled “Guinea.” In a 1650 map of Africa by Nicholas Sanson, straddling a poorly plotted Niger River were the words “Pays des Negres,” or in one English copy of the map: “Negroland.” Just five years later Pierre DuVal drew a very similar map clearly identifying the “partie,” or region, of Nigritie. Although the cartographer claimed to list “kingdoms that are known to Europeans, within their territory, according to the latest information,” his depiction of the Niger River flowing due west into the (p.104) Atlantic from East Africa suggests how little this latest information had to offer about the Sahel. Thirty years later Louis XIV's Italian cartographer, Vincenzo Coronelli, drew a map of Africa that better reflected what Europeans knew, or rather did not know, about the continental interior. Telling as a measure of French geographic knowledge, it also vividly illustrates the way that Nigritie named a vast unknown. Beyond the plotted limits (called “costes” or borders) of familiar coastal regions lay the “Pays des Negres,” or “Country of the Negroes.”49

The placement of Nigritie in the French geographic imagination made it uniquely suitable as the presumptive source of slaves. Whether slaving raids headed north from Guinea or east from Senegambia, the vast interior of Nigritie would have been the presumed target. Indeed, Nigritie functioned best in the fiction of the just slave trade when it remained distant and dimly understood, pliable enough to cover a wide range of circumstances and geographies. Actual knowledge of the peoples and politics governing the interior kingdoms would threaten the categorical acceptance of all Africans captured from this region as legitimate slaves. As one Englishman noted when he visited Gorée off the coast of Senegal, Frenchmen carefully maintained the fiction of just enslavement through willful ignorance: “It is well known no questions are asked concerning the means by which they gain possession of them.” As French knowledge of Senegambia pressed deeper into the continent, the imagined boundaries of Nigritie receded in direct proportion to their new understanding.50

In the Caribbean, too, the French narrated African enslavement as a product of the law of nations rather than the law of nature, with captives bought from sovereign African allies rather than enslaved by the French. Among the earliest observers of the French Caribbean was Jacques Bouton, a petulant Jesuit who levied insults at nearly everyone he met. Although the islands as yet boasted no large plantations when Bouton visited in the late-1630s, he already recognized the benefits of African slave labor to the development of France's Caribbean economy. “Among the French there is (p.105)

The Most Ignoble and Scandalous Kind of Subjection

(above)Figure 9. Nigritie and the Niger River.Pierre DuVal, Costes de Guinée. Paris, 1677.Courtesy Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

The Most Ignoble and Scandalous Kind of Subjection

(below)Figure 10. “Country of the Negroes.”Vincenzo Coronelli, Route maritime de Brest à Siam, et de Siam à Brest.Paris, 1687. Courtesy Bibiothèque Nationale de France, Paris

(p.106) a good number of blacks, or Moors of Cape Verde and elsewhere,” he reported, “[but] not so many that one would not want more of them.” Because they served for life, demanded no wages, adapted well to the tropical climate, and subsisted on leaner rations, Bouton concluded that “a black slave is much more useful than a French servant.”51

Bouton had no shortage of contemptible things to say about the Africans he encountered. He described them as “rude and stupid,” “impertinent,” suffering from “an intolerable ignorance” of European religion and manners. They were “extremely lazy,” and unless driven to work “they would pass their time sleeping or chatting.” Bouton concluded that Africans were overly fond of alcohol and, of course, not fond enough of clothing: “They need only a little linen to cover their shame.” Despite his negative reading of African conduct and culture, however, Bouton did not use these characterizations to justify their enslavement by the French. In fact, Bouton seemed to feel no need tojustifyFrench slaveholding at all, but he didexplainslavery in terms that people in metropolitan France could accept. “This miserable nation seems destined for nothing but servitude and slavery,” he wrote, “and in their own country most of them are slaves to the king or to others; they are sold to the Europeans at quite a good price.” Although recognizing slaves' misfortune, Bouton invoked the two key factors that indemnified the French from their enslavement under the law of nations: African sovereignty (slaves to the king) and their purchase, rather than capture, by Europeans.52

(p.107) Later visitors to the French Caribbean made the link between African sovereignty, the law of nations, and African enslavement even more explicit. Writing in 1655 another Jesuit, Pierre Pelleprat, discussed the role of slavery in the burgeoning, if still modest, agricultural economies of Martinique and Guadeloupe. “The French use neither oxen nor horses in cultivating their lands,” he reported, “but only slaves who were brought to them from Africa, or from the coasts of America farthest from the islands.” Explaining the source of African slaves, Pelleprat wrote:

The continual wars made by the kings and lords of the Negroes are the principal cause of the slavery of so many people, because the conqueror sells as slaves the prisoners of war he takes among his enemy, and takes for the same purpose the women and children who live in these places and in villages that he attacks. Moreover, the Lords have the right, by the laws of the country, to enslave their subjects whenever they see fit…. Fathers and mothers have the same power over their children and frequently make use of it to discharge their family or to punish their disobedience. The kings sometimes even sell their own wives, who in their captivity always retain some mark of their original dignity.53

For Pelleprat, the “principal cause” of Africans' enslavement was neither racial inferiority nor heathenism. Instead, even this Jesuit, who might be expected to favor a religious explanation, appealed to sovereignty and the law of war. African polities, specifically the kingdoms of Nigritie, were headed by powerful kings who exercised their arbitrary authority according to their own systems of law. As leaders of recognizable polities, these kings had the right, according to the law of nations, to enslave the prisoners they captured among their enemies. The sovereignty of African “lords” allowed (p.108) them to operate according to the laws of their country, which condoned the enslavement of criminals or family members at the sovereign's discretion. As if to underscore his readers' appreciation for Africans' monarchical political structure, Pelleprat claimed that, even as slaves, African queens received deferential treatment from their captors and fellow slaves, “as if they were still their queens. Such is the veneration these peoples have for royalty!”54

It is worth noting that neither Pelleprat nor Bouton, both deeply committed to their Christianizing mission, appealed directly to Africans' heathenism to justify their enslavement. But both men hoped to turn slavery into salvation. “It is their good fortune to be among the French,” Bouton claimed, “who treat them quite gently, and among whom they learn that which is [necessary] for their salvation.” Bouton doubted Africans' ability to comprehend Christianity, but Pelleprat was more sanguine. To make the point that slavery could be profitable to slaves as well as to French investors, Pelleprat told the story of “a young Negro,” who looked on the bright side of his servitude. He “once told us … that had he remained free he would be a slave to Satan,” Pelleprat remembered. “Instead by being made a slave to the French he was made a child of God.” A realist, Pelleprat acknowledged, “They are not all so spiritual or so perceptive.” Such self-serving tales justified the Jesuits' access to slaves and their demands that masters attend to slaves' religious instruction. But neither Bouton nor Pelleprat ever used them to explain enslavement itself.55

Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre, a Dominican missionary who became one of the first to chronicle the French Caribbean, spoke out against slavery after a four-year stint in the islands in the 1640s. Having seen the suffering of slaves—people he insisted were fellow “children of God”—he lamented, “Our inhabitants treat these poor wretches exactly as we treat horses in France.” In addition to his unflinching assertion that Christianity “rejects and abhors all slavery,” he also called upon key aspects of French slavery (p.109) discourse to discredit the practice. Where Bouton, Pelleprat, and dozens of West African chroniclers maintained that slaves were taken in just wars according to the law of nations, Du Tertre claimed otherwise. “The strangest thing,” he wrote, “is that they are not content making slaves of their enemies taken in war; but for the smallest theft one is enslaved and subject to being sold to foreigners with his whole family.” Some even sold their own children, or themselves, in exchange for brandy: “committing to a lifetime of harsh servitude to get drunk once.” Invoking an image with which nearly all French readers would sympathize, he compared African slaves' suffering to that of European slaves in Muslim control, writing that French colonists beat their slaves with switches and bull pizzles “just as the Turks beat their slaves with batons.”56

Not that Du Tertre liked Africans. He found their culture, their bodies, and even their odors offensive and difficult to explain to a European audience. He regarded them as stupid, undisciplined, and lacking even the basic human emotion of familial attachment. But he did hope for their conversion to Christianity, which he believed would, in time, improve their manners and elevate their culture. Despite their “ignorance and stupidity,” he took comfort in the belief that “most among them, after having been instructed and baptized, are very constant in the faith, very good Christians, and often serve as an example of piety to the French.” His disdain for Africans could not be considered racial in any modern sense. Not only did he insist that African deficiencies were religious and cultural, and thus malleable, but he also drew sharp distinctions among various African peoples. Nor did his ethnic chauvinism translate into justification of enslavement or support for slavery. Although many have explained the origins of African enslavement by citing Europeans' negative ethnic images of Africa and its peoples, for (p.110) Du Tertre—as for his proslavery contemporaries—there was no direct relationship between the two.57

Du Tertre's antislavery sentiments, like opposition to slavery in metropolitan France, made the fiction of just enslavement all the more important, not least because he implicitly accepted its logic. Offered over a century in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, these justifications amounted to much more than an abstract set of ideas. Because French free soil was rooted in dozens of local and royal precedents, slavers ran up against powerful forces that they could meet only with evidence, however contrived, that their participation in slavery met the requirements of the law of nations even if it ran counter to the royal privilege that guaranteed higher liberties in France itself. These stories might have been little more than a cynical rationalization of a practice that people wanted in any case, but these rationalizations shaped the system of slavery in important ways, determining who could be enslaved and how.

They Also Use Indians

“The French not only use Negroes as slaves; they also use Indians, taken from various American nations.”—Pierre Pelleprat, Martinique, 1655

By the time the Caribbean became a serious object of French interest, Europeans had used West African slaves for two hundred years, creating trade networks and narratives of justification that made French adoption of African slavery an immediately viable option for supplying labor to their new colonies. But, like all Europeans, the French also enslaved Indians in their Caribbean settlements, relying on hundreds (and probably thousands) of slaves who came from nearby islands or the South American mainland. Where Iberian models clearly supported the adoption of African slavery, the case was more complicated for Indians. During the first century of European colonization, Iberians had enslaved several hundred thousand Indians in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America, and in the 1630s Brazil still acquired thousands of enslaved Indians each year. The sugar estates of northeastern Brazil, which inspired such envy in the minds of French colonists, had been cleared and constructed by far more Indians than Africans, and the transition to predominantly African labor there had (p.111) occurred only a few decades before. In Brazil as a whole during the 1630s there was likely a rough balance between the number of Indian and African slaves. Indians had successfully cleared and planted land, constructed estates, and set up the semi-industrial operations that would become iconic in the late-sixteenth century when Africans took them over.58

Yet the Iberian experience also provided many reasons to avoid Indian slavery. In the century before settling in the Caribbean, the French had followed the debates about Spanish cruelties in the New World, turning their rivals' mistreatment of Indians—including enslavement—into an argument to support French colonization. As early as the 1570s, long before French plans for Caribbean colonization took shape, Jean Bodin condemned Spain's enslavement of Indians and praised Charles V for attempting (however unsuccessfully) to eradicate the practice from his New World colonies. Bartolomé de Las Casas is only the best known of a whole chorus of Catholic voices raised against the Indian slave trade, not because Indians were somehow less suited to slavery than Africans, but because American colonization created a distinctive relationship between Europeans and Indians. The papal land donations that undergirded Iberian geopolitical claims to the New World required them to Christianize and care for the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere, and it was difficult to support territorial claims with a papal decree when its provisions were openly flouted.59

French colonists responded to these mixed messages in ways that were equally divided, some embracing Indian slavery as a necessary and useful (p.112) source of labor, others wishing to trade French benevolence as a kind of international currency to weaken Iberian land claims and to open new doors for trade and exploration. Indian slavery was initially justified in terms very similar to African slavery, but the proximity of Indian populations and the shifting demands of French commerce and diplomacy eventually discredited Indian slavery in the Caribbean, and it rapidly declined. Like African slavery, colonists discussed Indian slavery in terms of the law of nations. No one in seventeenth-century France argued for Indians' enslavement based on Aristotelian principles of natural slavery. But maintaining the fiction of just enslavement became impossible in the Caribbean as the French squeezed into the islands' tight quarters. It was one thing to appear on the African coast prepared to believe in the just enslavement of a distant enemy kingdom. It was quite another to settle and trade among a wide variety of peoples who could become targets of enslavement. The characteristics that made Nigritie work as a model for just enslavement were the very things hardest to replicate in France's Caribbean colonies. And often they found that they could gain more by protecting Native allies from Iberian slavers than they could by enslaving Indians themselves.

For the first half century of colonization, settlers used Indian slaves in many different capacities. Pierre Pelleprat lived in the Caribbean basin (first at Martinique and then in Guiana on the northeast coast of South America) a full generation before African slavery would become the default form of labor on French plantations. Mid-seventeenth-century Martinique, for example, still had many mixed-use farms through much of the seventeenth century, before sugar monoculture choked out the many alternatives that had characterized the early generations of farming in the islands. Mixed agriculture was produced by a diverse labor pool of Indians, Africans, and French laboring side by side. “The French not only use Negroes as slaves,” Pelleprat noted upon his arrival; “they also use Indians, taken from diverse nations of America.” Although he noted that Indian slaves were not as numerous as Africans, he hopefully assessed their potential as enslaved agricultural workers. “They are better formed, more intelligent, more agreeable, and more tractable” than the African slaves he had encountered, a judgment leading him to compare them favorably to France's largest and most successful body of productive farmers: “They are no less intelligent than our peasants in France.”60

(p.113) For his part, Bouton had little good to say about the moral or intellectual character of Indian slaves, but he did acknowledge their usefulness as laborers. Like the Africans he described earlier, they were “libertines, idlers, idiots.” But they were also excellent fishermen and skilled hunters, which were indispensable skills in the early days of colonization when food supplies were still insecure. French colonists drew upon enslaved Indians' knowledge of the region. “Indian slaves … are very adept at fishing and hunting,” wrote Du Tertre, “for these tasks just one is worth as much as and often more than two Negroes.” Many French colonists relied on Indian slaves for their food supply because, as Du Tertre explained, “it takes only one to feed quite a large family.” Although Du Tertre reported that Indians were rarely used as agricultural workers, the assertion likely resulted less from their inability to farm (as later colonists would assert) than from the high demand for their knowledge and skills. Significantly, no writer in the seventeenth century mentioned enslaved Indians' getting sick or dying of disease, a story that would come to dominate later discussions of why colonists shifted to a nearly exclusive reliance on Africans.61

If Caribbean colonists found Indian slaves useful, they also found it difficult to support their enslavement over time. Having vilified their Iberian predecessors in the Americas for enslaving the Natives, the French established legal and moral imperatives to protect, rather than enslave, American Indians. Colonists also struggled to maintain the fiction of Indians' just enslavement in the same way that they could for Africans. Assertions of African sovereignty effectively supported European domination of enslaved Africans. But to argue for the sovereignty—and thus territorial control—of Indians in the Americas would invalidate European colonization. If Indians lived in sovereign kingdoms, their enslavement could easily be attributed to the wars and laws of those kingdoms. But the same argument would brand European settlements as violations of the law of nations: illegal invasions of sovereign territory. What is more, because French settlers (p.114) lived and traded among Indians on a much broader scale, they continually faced claims by competing colonists that Indians had been enslaved illegally: in slave raids rather than just wars. The situation was clearly the same in Africa, but there were no French interests vested in the African interior to raise credible objections.62

Living within a world of enslavement also generated a set of practical concerns that made Indian slavery less desirable than African slavery. The closer French colonies were to the source of slaves, the more they risked falling victim to violent reprisals for slave raids. These problems arose very quickly on the smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles, but, as French interests spread onto the South American mainland, the violence of raids and counterraids associated with slavery forced colonists to rethink their reliance on enslaved Indians. Small in numbers but with great ambitions, French colonists chose, instead, to ally themselves with Indians facing slave raids by other Europeans, positioning themselves as protectors rather than predators. Practically useful as an argument for Indian alliance, these claims were also politically and legally useful in arguments against European competitors in South America.63

From the earliest stages of French colonization in the Caribbean, metropolitan planners and colonial officials went to great lengths to contrast their activities with those of the Spanish. Reflecting the language of his Spanish predecessor Bartolomé de Las Casas, the Dominican priest Pierre Pelican expressed his hope that the French could “gain by gentleness the naturals of this island,” using friendship rather than force to establish themselves in the islands. Thirty years later Charles de Rochefort believed that Pelican's ideals had been realized, claiming that French settlement succeeded by alliance rather than domination. “When the French established themselves at Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Grenada, they did so by agreement with the Caciques and chiefs among the Caribs,” he wrote. “We are not guilty of the same violence as the Spaniards; … the establishment of our colonies in the Islands had no resemblance to theirs.” Avoiding Indian slavery allowed France to claim more than the moral high ground: it supported France's (p.115) contention that Spain's legal claim to the Americas, if it had ever been just, was invalidated by its mistreatment of Indians.64

These ideals—genuine for some, anti-Spanish posturing for others—-influenced the founding legal texts of French colonialism. In the 1626 act of association establishing the first Caribbean trade company, the islands' proximity to Spanish claims (“situated at the entrance of Peru”) was among the document's primary concerns. The charter justified French presence in the Caribbean only on those islands “not possessed by Christian princes,” and only to the extent that they settled there “in order to instruct the inhabitants of the said islands in the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion.” The explicit goal was trade rather than conquest, but, unlike seventeenth-century charters for African trade companies, the American charters made no mention of kings and no pretentions to Indians' territorial sovereignty. Instead, the only islands off limits were those occupied by other Europeans. Still, trading with and converting Indians provided the legal rationale for French presence in territory that was already claimed by Spain. By 1642 the French crown dictated that Catholic Indians become full French subjects, possessing all the rights of the French. In a royal edict concerning the islands, the king decreed, “The descendants of the French living in the said Islands, as well as the Indians who convert to and follow the Christian faith, shall be counted and considered natural-born Frenchmen.”65

Added to the already-challenging burdens posed by French skepticism (p.116) toward slavery, these provisions made the justification of Indian enslavement all the more tenuous. Drawing on the law of nations, which allowed the purchase of those already enslaved, French descriptions of Indians' enslavement were nevertheless far weaker than their arguments for Africa. Indian slaves, Pelleprat noted, were taken from nations, like the Arawaks, who were “enemies of those who are allied to us.” Yet, unlike the sovereign kingdoms of Africa, French writers argued that the societies producing Indian slaves had no standing as nations and were virtually bereft of law. According to Pelleprat, Indians “have neither laws nor Magistrates, and only recognize their Captains, whom they respect and obey, but more by inclination than duty…. The children obey their parents only when they want to, because they do not punish them, and do not even admonish them.” When Indians, who ran in “bands” rather than resided in kingdoms, went to war, they did so by surprise, intending to kill the men and capture women and children. They “take the girls and the women to make them slaves,” Pelleprat claimed, “who, to tell the truth, have nothing but the name [of slaves], because they treat them as if they were from their own nation.” These slaves, through rituals of alliance, came into French hands in large enough numbers to constitute a significant proportion of the Caribbean labor force.66

Other French observers likewise compared African polities (which they had never visited) with those of the Americas. In 1655, for example, Charles de Rochefort assessed the Indians of the Caribbean and Guiana to be driven, not by law, but by “inhumanity, barbarity, and rage.” In a chapter entitled “That which Passes for Government among the Caribs,” Rochefort noted that Caribbean Indians had neither kings nor lords, unlike the Africans. “None of these chiefs command all of the nation, and they have no influence on the other captains,” he wrote. The resulting lawlessness and instability forced him to “dip [his] plume in blood and create a horrifying tableau” to adequately describe Native Caribbean slave taking.67

(p.117) In contrast, Rochefort applauded Africans for embracing an idealized royal authority that even absolutist France would never achieve. “In the Kingdom of Congo in Africa,” Rochefort declared with no personal knowledge, “all the subjects speak kneeling to the king, having in their hands a vase filled with sand that they pour on their heads. The Negroes in the country of Angola also cover themselves with earth when they face their prince, to testify that they are but dust and ashes before him.” Although he made no explicit references linking this to African slavery, his work illustrates how widely the French idea of African kingship had spread by the middle of the seventeenth century.68

Because of their successful employment of Indian slaves, French authorities continued to support their acquisition through allied Indians. But the use of Indian slaves posed special practical risks to the colonists, who stood in danger of becoming party to the destabilizing violence that produced captives in the first place. The most direct threat to stability and peace arose as a result of French colonists' attempts to capture Indian slaves directly. As early as 1636, only a few years after French settlement, a French colonist attempted to acquire a few Indian slaves by kidnapping some Carib Indians on the island of Dominica, which lies between Martinique and Guadeloupe. In reprisal, the Caribs attacked several French settlements on Dominica, threatening to spread the violence to the larger villages on the other islands. The French counsel harshly disciplined the offender and forbade anyone to participate in slave raiding.69

As a matter of colonial security, settlers preferred to obtain their Indian captives from the mainland, keeping the French population a safe distance from their allies' raids and their enemies' revenge. Writing just four years after the kidnapping incident, Bouton implied as much when he noted that Indian slaves came from “the mainland,” not from the island Natives who surrounded them. Pelleprat's description of Indian slaves' origins incorporated this idea also, writing that they arrived from the American mainland “farthest from the Islands.” Du Tertre emphasized the distinction as well. “The slaves that ordinarily serve our settlers are of two kinds, namely (p.118) Negroes, whom we call in France Moors or Ethiopians; and Indians from the mainland, and not those of the islands.” The idea of a distant slave supply was to become a recurring theme in French discussions of American slavery, shaping the construction of the plantation labor system during the second half of the seventeenth century.70

Nothing reinforced the need for insulation from Indian warfare more than a series of battles between the French and the Caribs from 1654 to 1660, which dramatically transformed the physical and diplomatic landscape of the Caribbean. Following the 1636 violence sparked by a French slave raid, colonists reestablished a working, if often tense, relationship with the Caribs, based largely on the barter of French goods (especially guns) for Caribbean pearls, fish, birds, and crocodiles. Caribs utilized French weapons to fight their Taino enemies, trading captives to the French as slaves.

In 1654, a ship's captain named Parquet blurred the line between alliance and slavery, enraging the Caribs by capturing one of their people and beating-him in public. Parquet came to believe that the Carib, taken from the island of Saint Vincent, had killed his brother. So, according to Du Tertre, “he had him attached to the mast of his boat, and had him whipped by his sailors with such cruelty that they cut up his whole body.” The sailors then released the Carib, apparently to send a warning message to his people. Rather than cowering, however, “this outrage done to one of their Nation” persuaded the Caribs to “destroy the new French Establishments,” first on Saint Christophe and then throughout the neighboring islands.71

Facing reprisals, Parquet rounded up a small group of Caribs and sentenced them to be executed “by a hatchet blow, in the same manner that they have killed several Frenchmen.” Predictably, another public display of French violence against the Caribs did little to ameliorate their anger, “serving only to foment war.” During the following year, as Caribs and French clashed in Saint Vincent, the war slowly spread to Martinique and Guadeloupe, where Caribs raided French settlements throughout 1655 and 1656.72

(p.119) As alarming as Carib raids were to the French settlers, Native violence inspired an even more terrifying development. In 1656, a large number of slaves in Guadeloupe, presumably both African and Indian, took advantage of the instability to rise against their French masters. Having been armed by their masters for defense against the Caribs, these slaves “fought for their liberty” using French arms against the colonists. Two of the ringleaders secretly planned to overthrow the French and establish “two Kings of their Nations” to rule over the island. For two weeks, the slaves ranged freely around Guadeloupe, pillaging and destroying French property and “threatening to cover the whole Island in fire and blood.” Martinique slaves' participation in Carib violence was less direct, but many refused orders, stole or destroyed their master's property, or went to live in Native villages from which they would raid French plantations. This low-level violence lasted nearly two full years on Martinique before the colonists could suppress it.73

The destruction of these years reminded colonists of the danger they faced when capturing local Indians whose people were in a position to retaliate. Parquet's whipping of the Carib captive, a particularly symbolic form of cruelty, sparked massive reprisals and inspired a multi-island slave rebellion. The collusion between warring Caribs and the slaves also suggested the need to divide slaves and free Indians, who together greatly outnumbered French settlers. French colonists also came to recognize that supplying slaves through capricious local alliances could be frustrating, especially when alliances shifted and thus cut off access to Indian slave imports. It could also be dangerous. Having armed local Indians to provide slaves, the French found their own weapons turned against them.

Of course, similar dangers attended the African slave trade, but French planters were insulated from its effects. Living an ocean away, Caribbean societies never had to experience the instability of West African slaving, which increased dramatically during the second half of the seventeenth century as European demand for slaves rewarded African warfare with valuable manufactured goods. Moreover, because they bought nearly all of their African slaves from Dutch or Spanish ships, the French were doubly removed from the instability and insecurities of enslavement. This distance allowed them to utilize slaves without participating in—or even thinking much about—their capture, reinforcing their tendency to rationalize African (p.120) slavery in terms of international law, categorically distinct from the slaving violence they witnessed in the Americas.

In this context, African slavery expanded steadily throughout the Americas in the second half of the seventeenth century. In addition to the general expansion of slaves' availability, two specific developments in the 1660s and 1670s created a significant rise in the French demand for slaves. The first was the growth of sugar cultivation. Following the Portuguese expulsion of the Dutch from Brazil in 1654, many Dutch planters and their slaves fled to French islands for refuge, bringing with them knowledge and experience in producing sugar on a large scale. French planters learned quickly, and by the mid-1660s they had established several estates after the Brazilian model. The second was a sharp drop in French immigration to the islands, which produced a serious labor shortage in all the French islands, prompting a surge in African slave imports. By the 1680s, the enslaved population on France's Caribbean islands had exploded to nearly twenty-five thousand, surpassing the colonies' European populations and transforming colonial society.74

As African slavery expanded, French enslavement of Indians receded. Embedded in the indigenous world of slaving that produced American captives, Indian slavery became hotly contested and was thus a less secure prospect for colonists' investment. Colonists did not much care where their slaves came from, particularly during times of international war when France's outsourced African slave trade became insecure. The porous world of the seventeenth-century Caribbean ensured that ships from all around the Americas passed through French colonies frequently, engaging in all manner of smuggling, including the trafficking of enslaved Indians. But, by the early eighteenth century, Caribbean officials had formally outlawed the enslavement of Indians, hoping to deter smugglers by making slave raiding a capital offense. A case before Martinique's Superior Council in 1704 confronted the issue of Indian slave raiding and confirmed the colonies' prohibition. (p.121) In the summer of 1703, two petty traders from Martinique were imprisoned by French officials as they returned from a slave-raiding expedition along the Oyapock River, which separated French Guiana from neighboring Brazil. Ascending to a remote village beyond the river's impassable rapids, the men and their Native partners had attacked an unsuspecting community, capturing ten women and eight children and killing four others “as they defended themselves.” Before leaving with their slaves, the raiders set fire to the victims' homes and crops. As they returned with their prey, the traders' hopes must have been high. Sold at several hundred livres apiece, eighteen slaves would yield a profit that would have taken years to accumulate in legitimate trade. And by raiding Native villages near their Portuguese rivals in a time of war, they might have rationalized they were doing the colonies a favor.75

Colonial leaders disagreed. Concluding that the slave raiders had targeted Natives who were longtime allies of the French, Martinique's Superior Council “condemned them to death and confiscated their goods,” setting aside some of the profits from the seizure to provide “presents for reconciliation with this nation.” The council acted quickly and publicly, believing it was essential to “make an example of such violence” before it set a precedent that could be “detrimental to commerce” with the South American mainland. When news of the execution reached Paris, French officials offered terse but clear approval: “Bon,” they wrote in the margin. “Good.”76

Their endorsement of the executions reflected not only the legal and moral weight attached to enslavement but also serious geopolitical concerns about France's territorial ambitions in South America. From a meager base in Guiana, French colonists hoped to make incursions into territories claimed by the Portuguese by protecting Indians from Portuguese slave raids. As François Froger observed when he visited Brazil in 1695, Portuguese colonists were importing into São Paulo alone as many as three hundred enslaved Indians each year “whom they drive as herds of oxen; and having tamed a little, they dispose of them in the country to till the ground, or employ them in fishing for gold.” When he arrived in Guiana he noted that France's Indian allies offered a similar trade in slaves to the French, but the governor, Pierre Eléonore de Férolles, had prohibited it because he (p.122) wanted to pursue commerce in the continental interior. The only way to do so would be to forbid slaving and offer protections to potential victims of Brazilian raids. Despite this stance, and Férolles's role in the French slavers' execution, he was accused of supporting a slaving expedition of his own in 1704, targeting the Portuguese-allied Arrouas Indians. This about-face so angered the Jesuits that they refused to grant absolution to anyone who bought slaves from this raid, including the governor's wife. Enraged that the missionaries questioned the virtue of a woman who “lived as if she were in a convent,” Férolles defended his support for raids against the Arrouas, “who would destroy the colony if I let them.” That Férolles defended his wife's honor and his own policy by portraying the raid as a defensive and, therefore, just war only reinforced the logic that had made justifying Indian slavery so difficult to begin with.77

Perfect and Utter Slavery

“The most ignoble and scandalous Kind of Subjection is that by which a Man offers himself to perfect and utter Slavery … which obliges a Man to serve his Master all his Life long.”—Hugo Grotius, Paris, 1625

In 1682 Michel Bégon received notice that his first cousin, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, had arranged to have him appointed as intendant, or chief civil and legal official, of France's Caribbean colonies. His family connections and strong legal credentials were not all that set him apart for the position. The previous year he might have been involved in the rechartering of the Senegal Company, familiarizing him with at least the African side of the slave trade. Colbert charged Bégon with an enormous but rather straightforward task: the writing of a comprehensive ordinance to regulate slavery in all of France's Caribbean colonies. Bégon's predecessor had begun the synthesis, sketching a rough outline containing general principles of slave governance. (p.123) But, working with the islands' governor, Charles de Courbon de Blénac, Bégon would have to complete it. Eager for this opportunity to advance in the royal administration, he sailed for the Caribbean that fall.78

When Bégon arrived in Martinique, Blénac presented him with the meager efforts of the previous two years. Bégon spent the next three months poring over every surviving slave ordinance issued on all of the French islands except Saint Domingue, which was at the time France's only Caribbean colony without a majority-slave population. Bégon then met with the local governors and superior councils of the three most-populated island colonies (Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Saint Christophe), and discussed slave management with the islands' “principal inhabitants”: all of whom would have been wealthy planters with slaves. Informed by these conversations, he synthesized existing law and practice into a sixteen-page memorandum containing dozens of provisions for slave management. Sent to Versailles in February 1683, Bégon's memoir became—with only a few minor adjustments—the first comprehensive slave code in the French Caribbean and one of the most influential bodies of slave law in the early modern world.79

When Louis XIV issued the edict declaring royal policy on the matter in March 1685, he included a cover letter asserting the royal authority behind the law:

(p.124) Our beloved and faithful, having considered it fitting to establish in our French American islands the law that must be observed regarding the slaves who are there, we have dispatched our letters patent in the form of an edict, which you will find attached, which we mandate and order you to implement without any restriction, modification, or difficulty, nor finding fault, for such is our pleasure.80

The king wished to give the impression that this slave code (dubbed the Code Noir in the eighteenth century) reflected the imposition of his unalterable will. Yet, read carefully, the code provides an ethnographic lens onto the daily operation of French slavery in the late-seventeenth-century Caribbean, not because colonists and slaves precisely observed the law, but because the law grew out of a series of power struggles between the enslaved and their would-be masters. These struggles, first registered in local acts designed to solve immediate human problems, expressed masters' and slaves' opposing interpretations of slavery and competing aspirations for life in the colonies. They thus reveal not only the ideals of French masters but also the actions of enslaved Africans and Indians whose daily assertions of their own humanity challenged the fiction of their status as property.81

(p.125) Perhaps the most-telling aspect of the 1685 slave ordinance was a topic that it omitted. Neither Bégon's memoir nor the king's edict included any statement about who could be enslaved and under what conditions. In part this reflected the nature of the document as a set of laws governing local practice, but similar slave codes often made at least some statement on the conditions of enslavement or particular populations that could be enslaved. The ability of the French to so clearly separate the process of enslavement from the practice of slavery proved essential to the system of controls that masters erected around their slaves. Taking the justice of enslavement for granted, the ordinance focused only on making the system of slavery work to produce maximum rewards for individual French slaveholders and for French colonial society. Following Grotius, who declared that the law of nations placed slaves “in the same Rank with Goods,” the code clarified slaves' status as movable, inheritable property. Slave status was also passed from mother to child, meaning that a child of an enslaved mother would be a slave irrespective of the father's legal standing.82

If the law considered slaves to be property, it also reluctantly acknowledged their humanity. Indeed, most of the provisions of the 1685 slave ordinance reflected slaves' unwillingness to cooperate with a system so manifestly against their interests. If there is a single story of the first half century of slavery in the Caribbean, it is the story of colonists' daily struggle to structure systems of punishments and rewards that would keep enslaved people—Africans and Indians—under control and working productively. In many cases slaves acted to meet their most basic human needs (food, shelter, safety, and community), forcing slaveholders into compromises that shaped French society even as the French struggled to control the lives of the enslaved. Yet alongside those compromises French slaveholders found the means to develop a remarkably brutal regime of control that, although designed to keep slaves alive and working productively, willingly sacrificed slaves' bodies and lives whenever it served broader French interests.

When Patoulet first sketched the contours of Caribbean slave law, he identified four categories that he felt made sense of the chaos of particular (p.126) issues facing slaves and slaveholders: “maintenance,” “policing,” “justice,” and “punishments.” In his much-expanded memoir, Bégon added two more: religion and manumission. The first category dealt with slaves' basic requirements for food, clothing, medical care, and shelter. So long as slaves could remain strong enough to work, masters had every incentive to avoid providing such necessities. They skimped on rations. They allowed slaves to hunt or forage for their own food, or even to tend subsistence gardens on weekends to supplement the master's provisions for them. Some gave their slaves a cheap, sugar-based liquor called “guildive” to mask hunger. Others failed to give them adequate clothing. Not surprisingly, in the face of these deprivations slaves found creative ways to provide for themselves and their families. They stole pigs, goats, chickens, and garden vegetables from neighboring plantations, creating friction among planters and encouraging slaves to wander beyond their masters' surveillance. They engaged in hunting, which required them to carry weapons and travel away from French settlements toward Indian and maroon communities. The more these methods moved slaves toward full subsistence, the less masters could control them by withholding necessities. So slaveholders agreed, as a matter of public order and a mechanism of control, to ensure slaves' reliable and complete dependence on their masters for daily needs. In the final version of the 1685 slave ordinance, masters agreed to mandatory minimum subsistence requirements for their slaves and forbade one another to encourage slaves' independence by requiring their self-sufficiency. To prevent slaves from becoming independent, they also declared that anything belonging to a slave would become the master's property.83

Seeking other forms of independence and craving the community of family and friends, even the best-fed slaves still tried to move independently around the island. They gathered for weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies, trade, and communal subsistence activities like fishing and hunting. They met for sex and conversation, to fight an enemy or to visit a friend. A whole string of colonial ordinances between the 1660s and 1680s attests to slaves' desired mobility and the threat it posed to masters' authority. In 1664, for example, colonists had to ensure, by law, that slaves did (p.127) not sneak around at night, sell goods without a pass from their masters, or go to other plantations to steal sugar. Noting slaves' tendency to escape to maroon communities, in 1672 Martinique's council ordered the death penalty for all maroons, offering reimbursement to masters for the price of the slave. According to the governor, this ordinance “did not have the success” they desired, with widespread desertion still very common throughout the island. To curb the problem, he issued an ordinance ordering the militia to sweep the island in search of maroons and to require all slaves encountered outside their master's plantation to produce a pass giving them permission to be abroad. Endorsing limitations on unregulated slave travel, Martinique's officials wrote, “Nothing is more necessary for the security of the inhabitants of the islands and for preventing slave revolts.” Unregulated movement continued to be a problem for the next several years, but colonial authorities addressed it repeatedly until slaves without passes found it much more difficult to travel the main roads and mill about town and were forced into the backcountry. Martinique's officials ordered a one-thousand-livre penalty for anyone allowing slaves to gather on his property, even for dances, or “calindas,” a fine twenty times higher than for buying stolen goods from a slave. The severity of the punishment registered the height of their obsession with perpetual control and the depth of their fear that such control was impossible.84

Over time colonists recognized that one way to allay the dangers of slaves' inevitable mobility was to police their use of potential weapons. Beginning in the 1660s and culminating in the 1685 ordinance, French slaveholders forbade slaves to carry large sticks, guns, knives, or other menacing objects, and they punished French merchants who sold these implements to the enslaved. Masters could allow their slaves to hunt and fish for them, but they had to provide the slave with papers or some other pass recognizable to neighboring colonists. But it was almost impossible to completely restrict (p.128) slaves' acquisition of weapons, particularly knives and machetes that were used in cutting cane. This was doubly true of Indian slaves, whose work hunting and fishing required that they carry weapons and work somewhat independently.85

Because they could not legislate slaves' submission, planters relied on violence to coerce them. Determining the most effective forms of this violence occupied a great deal of slaveholders' attention during the early generations of slavery. Given the legal precedent granting masters complete control over slaves' bodies, even to the point of death, these discussions centered on practical rather than moral concerns. The first had to do with masters' interest in slaves' bodies as instruments of labor. Killing or destroying a slave undermined the master's reason for having the slave in the first place. Slaveholders also feared that overly severe punishments would lead slaves to risk flight or, worse, armed rebellion. Over time, these collective fears were registered in a series of laws stipulating uniform punishments for slaves' crimes. When slaves ran away the first time, for example, they would have their ears cropped and be branded on the face with a fleur-de-lis. Their second offense would lead to the severing of a leg (moderated to a severed hamstring in the 1685 ordinance). The third offense brought death. When slaves stole pigs, canoes, sugar, horses, cattle, indigo, ginger, and tools—for subsistence or sale—they could be punished by having a leg cut off. Stealing cattle or horses brought execution. By 1677 a slave's attacking a French person also became a capital offense. In his 1682 memoir, Patoulet's solution to the menace of unauthorized slave gatherings was that any French colonist discovering slaves engaged in such activity could “kill them without scruple.” This was moderated by Bégon to encourage free colonists to take offending slaves to prison, though it did provide that a colonist could justify killing slaves in self-defense, defined as vaguely and broadly as possible. The final ordinance removed the license to kill, but stopped short of stipulating the lengths to which colonists could go to enforce the provision.86

The tension between punishments that destroyed slaves' bodies and masters' desire to extract from them a lifetime of labor fueled a sadistic creativity among slaveholders. Cutting off someone's leg, assuming one survived (p.129)

The Most Ignoble and Scandalous Kind of Subjection

Figure 11. Slave Torture and Bodily Preservation.François Froger, A Relation of a Voyage Made in the Years 1695, 1696, and 1697.London, 1698. Permission The Mariners' Museum, Newport News, VA

the trauma and blood loss, seriously limited the person's working capacity. Severing a hamstring was little better. In the interest of preserving productivity, one French planter devised an alternative: chaining the slave's ankle to a metal band around his throat. Whenever the slave relaxed the leg he would choke, but, when he held the leg up, his muscles would fatigue, cramp, and spasm. There is no question that this was a torturous experience, but in the end the master preserved the slave's body for labor. Other devices, adapted from the tools of medieval torture, kept slaves from eating, secured them to trees for whipping, and, of course, chained them in place.87

Masters' punishments were rarely regulated by law, but public interest (p.130) demanded some limits. In 1671 the state punished one cruel owner with a light fine for beating his slave nearly to death and burning her genitals with a firebrand. The state's intervention came during the height of tensions between maroon communities and French colonists, which had amplified some colonists' fears that slaveholders' violent punishments could spark widespread reprisals. This fear, apparently expressed to Bégon during his interviews, led him to stipulate that masters themselves could only chain, whip, or beat their slaves with sticks or rods—but not torture them. Poorly defined, the only guidance the law gave on the meaning of torture was the prohibition of dismemberment and mutilation by private parties. These penalties, as well as branding and execution, could be carried out only by the island's Superior Council. If a master or overseer killed a slave during punishment, he could face criminal charges, but enforcement was structured to protect masters rather than slaves. Not only would the master's fellow slaveholders have to choose to pursue a case against him, but the Superior Council was empowered to grant a pardon to masters or overseers should they determine that the death was accidental or justified.88

Masters sometimes overlooked slaves' misdeeds either because the crime did no harm to the master or because the declared punishment for the slave's crime risked the loss of the slave. Afraid of losing their slaves to public execution, for example, colonists concealed their slaves' acts of defiance, prompting the council at Martinique to offer payment to masters who “brought their criminal slaves to justice.” Punishments that would maim or kill a slave eventually fell under public authority, ensuring that masters, to save their property, would not allow dangerous or rebellious slaves to live. By 1685 planters had worked out an elaborate system of reimbursement. When a master delivered a slave for execution, provided that the master was not an accomplice to the capital crime, two other planters would assess the monetary value of the slave, and the state would pay the master that amount to compensate for his loss. As a further inducement to bring dangerous (p.131)

The Most Ignoble and Scandalous Kind of Subjection

Figure 12. Devices for Slave Torture and Restraint.Thomas Branigan, The Penitential Tyrant; or, Slave Trade Reformed: A Pathetic Poem.Courtesy Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

slaves to justice, courts were forbidden to collect legal fees for criminal proceedings against slaves.89

As another means of preventing slaves' independence, the 1685 ordinance also created a uniform system for forcibly integrating slaves into French culture through the rituals and daily regimens of Roman Catholicism. Probably at the behest of the islands' Catholic missionaries, the ordinance required masters to instruct and baptize slaves within two weeks of their arrival, to avoid working them or having them conduct trade on Catholic holy days, and to sanctify their marriages in the church. The law also granted special burials to Christian slaves in ritually sanctified cemeteries, with non-Christian slaves to be buried in a field near where they died. European tradition forbade Christians to hold other Christians as slaves, but, because that custom arose from a common agreement to prevent Christian enslavement, making a slave into a Christian had no bearing (p.132) on his or her slave status. In their view, reducing a Christian to slavery was forbidden; elevating a slave to Christianity was not.90

As one of the few areas of the 1685 ordinance imposed from above, the religious provisions sparked immediate controversy. Slaveholders seem to have supported slaves' cultural indoctrination and ritual submission to Catholic authority required by the ordinance. To the extent that they were successful, these requirements would only reinforce hierarchy, encourage faithful service, and discourage independent religious gatherings. But planters resisted restrictions on when slaves could work, a command they simply seem to have ignored. They also appealed to Martinique's Superior Council—which in turn appealed to the crown—to reinstate slaves' ability to conduct trade on Sundays and other holy days, a long tradition in the islands on which both sellers and buyers had come to depend. Martinique's ruling elite likewise pushed back against a provision in the ordinance that would revolutionize the way the court system conducted trials. Traditionally, slaves could not testify against their masters, even if they had been the only witness to a crime, to prevent giving slaves the ability to exact revenge through false testimony. In the 1685 ordinance, however, slaves were forbidden to testify against any whites, a restriction that threatened to destroy the court's ability to prosecute most crimes, as more than half the potential witnesses would be excluded. Responding to pressure from the islands, the crown revised both parts of the ordinance to restore Sunday markets and allow slaves to testify against anyone but their masters. That the crown so quickly, and with so little actual pressure, yielded to planters' call to restore “the way things had been done before the said ordinance” underscores the nature of French slave law as a product of local responses to actual colonial conditions. Local practice generated most of the March 1685 ordinance, and the rare contradiction to precedent met with swift resistance by Caribbean elites.91

(p.133) Legal pluralism provided the mechanism to smooth over most conflicts between Caribbean planters and their metropolitan counterparts. As Louis's 1704 freedom suit demonstrated, however, human movement (forced and free) occasionally brought distinct legal zones into contact, demanding resolution to questions that had been avoided by geographic isolation. The crown's response to Louis's and similar cases asserted the primacy of France's free soil principle, even as it encouraged planters to maintain the geographic isolation that made the system work. The crown issued an official edict to that effect in 1707, ordering that any “Negro” who set foot on French soil would be freed, but only if invoking the free soil privilege before returning to the islands. “At the moment that, of their own free will, they have departed,” the king wrote, “they can no longer claim the privilege of the soil of France, which they have seemingly renounced by their voluntary return to the place of slavery.” Had Louis sued for his freedom under this regulation, he would have been denied, because he had already returned to Martinique. This ruling simultaneously discouraged planters from bringing slaves to France and prevented the return of freed slaves to the islands, drawing clear regional lines around opposing legal practices. Demonstrating that French antislavery sentiment was pervasive enough to trump local concerns, the 1707 decree also reinforced the principle that—at least within their own territories—colonies could develop whatever approach to slavery best met local needs.92

Despite Michel Bégon's assertion that the laws of slavery in the French kingdom should uniformly support the enslavement of Indians, Africans, and mulattoes, French Atlantic slavery had come to depend, by the early eighteenth century, on nearly the opposite. Legal pluralism, rather than legal uniformity, defined slavery in the French Atlantic world. In France, nearly a century of political and legal pressures produced the profound commitment to free soil principles that allowed Louis to be emancipated. Colonial slaveholders resented any restriction on their slaveholding, complaining to their superiors that French law ought to support their interests (p.134) rather than bend to such arcane distinctions. What these slaveholders did not acknowledge was the degree to which they depended on France's legal pluralism—and the fictions it made possible—for both the global expansion of slavery and the nearly total control they enjoyed over its local practice.93

In sharp contrast to the cultural imperatives of indigenous slavery in the Pays d'en Haut, then, the French insisted upon the separation of enslavement from slavery. This created distinct legal geographies in Europe, Africa, and the Americas, influencing not only where slavery would be practiced but which peoples would be enslaved. Morally, too, the French came to separate the act of enslavement from the domination of human chattel, placing the entire ethical burden of slavery on enslavement and presuming the moral neutrality of perpetually controlling purchased slaves and their offspring. It was considered far worse to reduce persons to slavery than to terrorize them into remaining slaves for life. Pursued vigorously during the second half of the seventeenth century, slavery in the French Caribbean brought great success—and often fabulous wealth—to colonists willing to accept the shaky moral arithmetic of Atlantic slavery. This success made France's Caribbean economy and its brutal labor system the envy of less-profitable colonies like New France, where settlers would attempt to replicate its success by embracing a system of colonial slavery that drew on both indigenous and Atlantic influences.

Notes:

(1) . “Prétendant estre Libre par le privilege du Royaume de France.” Mithon to Pontchartrain, Nov. 20, 1704,ANOM, Colonies, C8A, XV, 348v. The document does not name the elder Benoist but identifies him as a Parisian and his son as an artist, both details that suggest Antoine Benoist. For Benoist, seeStanislas Lami,Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l'école française sous le règne de Louis XIV(Paris, 1906), 27–30. See alsoLéo Elisabeth,La société martiniquaise aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, 1664–1789(Paris, 2003), 268–270;Sue Peabody,“There Are No Slaves in France”: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime(New York, 1996), 13–15.

(2) .Sue Peabody,“There Are No Slaves in France”;PeabodyandKeila Grinberg, “Introduction: Slavery, Freedom, and the Law,” inPeabodyandGrinberg, eds.,Slavery, Freedom, and the Law in the Atlantic World: A Brief History with Documents(Boston, 2007), 1–28. “Tout esclave qui met le pied en France devient franc et libre”:Dictionnaire de l'Académie française(Paris, 1694), s.v. “franc.” Mithon to the minister, Nov. 20, 1704,ANOM, Colonies, C8A, XV, 348v.

(3) . “Je le declaré Libre pour obvier aux mauvais desseins du dit Sr Benoist”; “des termes peu respectueux”: Mithon to Pontchartrain, Nov. 20, 1704,ANOM, Colonies, C8A, XV, 348v–349.

(4) . “Une pure chimere”:Michel Bégon, “Mémoire sur les esclaves des habitants des Isles françoises de l'Amérique qui prétendent être libres lorsqu'ils ont touché à la terre de France,” 1704,ANOM, C8B, LXXIV. For Bégon's career, seeGeorges Duplessis,Un curieux du XVIIe siècle: Michel Bégon, intendant de La Rochelle(Paris, 1874);Yvonne Bezard,Fonctionnaires maritimes et coloniaux sous Louis XIV: Les Bégon(Paris, 1932).

(5) . “Il y a soisante dix huit ans que les habitans des Isles ont commencé a avoir des Esclaves qui sont ou noirs, ou sauvages, ou Mulatres, ils en ont amené de ces trois especes dans tous les forts de france, et les ont ramenés avec eux sans qu'ils ayent prétendu être libres”; “contraire à leurs privileges, à leur commerce, et à l'etablissement de leurs Colonies”; “leurs enfans et leur posterité à l'infini”; “il ne paroist ny Loy ne ordonnance pour authoriser la libertédes Esclaves qui sont venus en france”: all inBégon, “Mémoire sur les esclaves,”ANOM, C8B, LXXIV. Bégon was aware of the many local rulings and the general legal support for French free soil, but he distinguished this from a universal royal policy that applied equally throughout the kingdom and its overseas possessions. His reference to 1626 (seventy-eight years earlier) recalled the establishment of the first two companies concerned with the slave trade, the Compagnie Normande charged with exploration and trade in Senegal, and the Compagnie de Saint-Christophe charged with colonization of theCaribbean. Abdoulaye Ly,La Compagnie du Sénégal(Paris, 1958), 32–36.

(6) . Historians have tended to ignore the first century of French colonial development in the Caribbean, focusing much more heavily on Canada than the Caribbean during the seventeenth century. SeePhilip P. Boucher, “The ‘Frontier Era’ of the French Caribbean, 1620s–1690s,” inChristine DanielsandMichael W. Kennedy, eds.,Negotiated Empires: Centers and Peripheries in the Americas, 1500–1820(New York, 2002), 207–234;Boucher,France and the American Tropics to 1700: Tropics of Discontent?(Baltimore, 2008), 144–167, which, despite an excellent overview of forced French labor, is unfortunately thin on the question of slavery. For brief overviews of the origins of French Atlantic slavery, seeRobin Blackburn,The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492–1800(London, 1997), 277–306;Peabody,“There Are No Slaves in France,”11–13;Elisabeth,La société martiniquaise, 237–257;Jacques Petit-Jean Roget,La société d'habitation à la Martinique: un demisiècle de formation, 1635–1685(Paris, 1980);Lucien Peytraud,L'esclavage aux Antilles françaises avant 1789(Paris, 1897), 1–52;Ly,La Compagnie du Sénégal, 21–64;Clarence J. Munford,The Black Ordeal of Slavery and Slave Trading in the French West Indies, 1625–1715(Lewiston, N.Y., 1991). For slave populations in the late-seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, seeJames Pritchard,In Search of Empire: The French in the Americas, 1670–1730(Cambridge, 2004), 428–429;David Geggus, “The French Slave Trade: An Overview,”William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., LVIII (2001), 119–138.

(7) . “Les Colonies de L'Amerique sont tellement unies et incorporées au Corps du Royaume qu'elles n'en peuvent être separées, et qu'elles sont regies et gouvernées par les mêmes Loix sans distinction ny difference”:Bégon, “Mémoire sur les esclaves,”ANOM, C8B, LXXIV. “L'intention de Sa Majesté est que les Negres qui auront été amenés dans le Royaume par les Habitans des Isles qui refuseront d'y retourner, ne pourront y être contrains … par leur retour volontaire dans le lieu de l'Eclavage”:“Lettre du Ministre sur les Negres amenés en France,” June 10, 1707, inM. Moreau de Saint-Méry,Loix et constitutions des colonies françoises de l'Amérique sous le vent(Paris, 1785–1790), II, 99.

For Louis XIV's agenda to centralize the state, seeJames B. Collins,The State in Early Modern France(Cambridge, 1995), esp. 79–124. For legal complexity in provincial France, seeWilliam Beik,Absolutism and Society in Seventeenth-Century France: State Power and Provincial Aristocracy in Languedoc(Cambridge, 1985);Zoë A. Schneider,The King's Bench: Bailiwick Magistrates and Local Governance in Normandy, 1670–1740(Rochester, N.Y., 2008);Michael P. Breen,Law, City, and King: Legal Culture, Municipal Politics, and State Formation in Early Modern Dijon(Rochester, N.Y., 2007). For notions of legal pluralism in the eighteenth-century French Atlantic, seeMiranda Frances Spieler, “The Legal Structure of Colonial Rule during the French Revolution,”WMQ, 3d Ser., LXVI (2009), 365–408;Malick Walid Ghachem, “Sovereignty and Slavery in the Age of Revolution: Haitian Variations on a Metropolitan Theme” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 2001).

(8) . For an exploration of these questions in the English imperial context, seeGeorge Van Cleve, “Somerset's Case and Its Antecedents in Imperial Perspective,”Law and History Review, XXIV (2006), 601–645.

(9) . For the decline of slavery in France from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, seeCharles Verlinden,L'esclavage dans l'Europe medieval, I,Péninsule ibérique—France(Brugge, 1955);Blackburn,The Making of New World Slavery, esp. 33–83;Gillian Lee Weiss, “Back from Barbary: Captivity, Redemption and French Identity in the Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Mediterranean” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University), esp. 20–122. Black-burn asserts that slavery was “extinct” in France by the sixteenth century (34), which overstates the totality of slavery's decline.

(10) .Jean Bodin,The Six Bookes of a Commonweale, ed.Kenneth Douglas McRae(Cambridge, Mass., 1962), 42. Bodin's work, first published in French asLes six livres de la république(Paris, 1576), went through dozens of French editions and several translations, appearing in Latin, Italian, Spanish, and German before the end of the sixteenth century. The two most important translations are the 1586 Latin text translated by Bodin himself and the 1606 English translation by Richard Knolles. The only critical edition of Bodin is a heavily annotated reissue of the Knolles English edition, based on a minute comparison between the best French and Latin editions of the 1580s. Because it takes fullest account of both editions authored by Bodin, I have used the McRae edition here as it is more complete and reliable than any single French or Latin edition. I have noted discrepancies among the texts wherever I was aware of them. For Bodin and his publications, seeMario Turchetti, “Jean Bodin,” inThe Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy(Summer 2010 edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta,http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/bodin/. Bodin's work became a staple in French debates over slavery through the eighteenth century. SeePeabody,“There Are No Slaves in France,”esp. 26–30. For Bodin as an antislavery thinker, seeDavid Brion Davis,The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture(Oxford, 1966), 111–114;Ghachem, “Sovereignty and Slavery,” 1–17.

(11) .Bodin,Six Bookes of a Commonweale, ed.McRae, 42.

(12) .Ibid., 45.

(13) .Ibid., 44 (“pernitious and daungerous”), 42 (“In Fraunce … not lawfull”), 41 (“true slaves”), 40 (“set at libertie”), 39 (“Christian princes”).

(14) . For early Norman slave trading, seeJean de Béthencourt,The Canarian; or, The Book of the Conquest and Conversion of the Canarians in the Year 1402, ed. and trans.Richard Henry Major(London, 1872). In the mid-1550s, an English captain named William Towrson identified two English ships bound for “Guinea” on the West African coast. They had come from Bordeaux and were laden with French wine and other goods. See Towrson's account of three separate journeys inRichard Hakluyt,The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation… (Glasgow, 1903–1905), VI, 231–232(177–252 for a full account of Towrson's engagement with French trade in West Africa). For early Norman trade with West Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, seeCharles de La Roncière,Histoire de la marine française, 2d ed. (Paris, 1909–1932), IV, 76–77.

(15) . “Si nous vivions avec les droits que la nature nous a donnés et avec les enseignements qu'elle nous apprend, nous serions naturellement obéissants aux parents, sujets à la raison, et serfs de personne.” Quoted inLinton C. Stevens, “A Re-Evaluation of Hellenism in the French Renaissance,” inWerner L. Gundersheimer, ed.,French Humanism: 1470–1600(New York, 1969), 196.

“Au mesme mois et an, il y a Arrest donné par ladite Cour, par lequel est ordonné, que tous les negres et mores qu'un Marchand Normand avoit conduit en cette Ville pour vendre, seroient mis en liberté: la France mere de liberté ne permet aucuns esclaves”:Gabriel de Lurbe,Chronique bourdeloise(Bordeaux, 1594; rpt. Paris, 1703), 33. For giving the ordinance the force of law, seeLa Roncière,Histoire de la marine française, IV, 80.

(16) .Robert C. Davis,Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500–1800(New York, 2003), 23, 47–48. For the fullest account specific to the French, seeWeiss, “Back from Barbary.”For the “unholy alliance,” seeEdith Garnier,L'alliance impie: François Ier et Soliman le Magnifique contre Charles Quint, 1529–1547(Paris, 2008).

(17) . “Avoient experimenté la barbarie des Turcs, et souvent avoyent entretenu le reste de l'Equipage des cruautez que ceste farouche Nation exerce contre les Chrestiens”; “servissent à leur infame action destable contre la Nature”:Alexis [de] S[aint]-Lo,Relation du voyage du Cap-Verd(Paris, 1637), 4–6.

(18) . “La Barbarie est un theatre sanglant, où il s'est joüé quantité de Tragedies”; “les cruautez et les barbaries que souffrent les esclaves Chrestiens, sous la tyrannie des Mahometans, ennemis mortels de notre Foy”; “les violences et les miseres de l'esclavage”; “le continüel travail des leurs Esclaves. A quoy ils les forcét à coups de batons, et leur donnent moins de repos qu'à leurs chevaux”:Pierre Dan,Histoire de Barbarie et de ses corsaires(Paris, 1637), 1(“bloody theater”), 282 (“violence and misery”), preface (“continual labor”). For “a million [Christians],” seeDavis,Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters, 8, and, for a detailed discussion of the probable numbers of European slaves, 3–26.

(19) .Weiss, “Back from Barbary,”chap.5(“Processions of Redemption”), 213–269.

(20) . “Selon le droit commun de France”:Verlinden,L'esclavage dans l'Europe medieval, I, 851. “Toutes personnes sont franches en ce royaume: si tost qu'un esclave a attaint les marches d'icelui, se faisant baptizer, il est affranchi”:Antoine Loisel,Institutes coutumières de la France… (Paris, 1607), 24, quoted inLa Roncière,Histoire de la marine française, IV, 80. “Par la Loy générale de ce Royaume toutes personnes sont libres et franches…. C'est pourquoy quand un serf et un esclave se refugie en France, aussitost qu'il en a attaint les marches et qu'il s'est fait baptizer, il est affrancy”:H[iérome] M[ercier],Remarques du droit françois(Paris, 1657), 11. (For “corsair hysteria,” seeDavis,Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters, 5.)

(21) . “S'il est ainsi que les Mehemetistes ont afranchy touts les esclaves de leur religion, qui a cours en tout l'Asie, et Presque en toute l'afrique, voire en une bonne partie de l'Europe, et que les Chrestiens ayent fait le semblable, comme nous avons monstré, comment estil possible que tout le monde soit encores plein d'esclaves”:Bodin,Les six livres de la république, 45.

(22) . Baltasar Barreira to Antonio Colaco, Jul. 22, 1604, and Baltazar [sic] Barreira to Manoel de Barros, Jan. 28, 1605, inA. Teixeira da MotaandP. E. H. Hair, eds. and trans.,Jesuit Documents on the Guinea of Cape Verde and the Cape Verde Islands, 1585–1617: In English Translation(Liverpool, 1989), 3–4(“every year”), 2 (“infested”).

(23) . “Sauveguard special”; “serviteurs”; “lesdits Espagnols et Portugais qui ont cidevant reside et resident en notre ville de Bordeaux, puissant librement et sùrement demurer et continuer le traffic et commerce”:Moreau de Saint-Méry,Loix et constitutions, I, 9. The violence of the French civil wars, particularly shortly after Saint Bartholomew's Day, likely played a role in anti-Iberian violence, but it is suggestive that the only enumerated commodity protected in the king's order was the Iberians' “serviteurs.” Whatever its cause, the effect of the decree would have been to shield Iberian slave traders from the 1571 ordinance. See alsoR[oland] Francisque-Michel,Les portugais en France, les français en Portugal(Paris, 1882), 173.

(24) . On French Renaissance humanism, seeGundersheimer, ed.,French Humanism. On classical slavery, seeMoses I. Finley,Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology(New York, 1983);Keith Bradley,Slavery and Society at Rome(Cambridge, 1994);Alan Watson,Roman Slave Law(Baltimore, 1987).David Brion Davis writes, “The revival of classical learning, which may have helped to liberate the mind of Europe from bondage to ignorance and superstition, only reinforced the traditional justifications for human slavery” (The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, 107). More accurately, the Renaissance revived two competing justifications of slavery, one based in natural law and the other in the law of nations.

(25) .Werner L. Gundersheimer,The Life and Works of Louis Le Roy(Geneva, 1966), 56. “Le Philosophe entre icy en une tres grave dispute”; “qui sont Tardifs et grossiers d'entendement, mais puissans de corps pour faire les oeuvres necessaries”:Louis Le Roy, trans.,Les politiques d'Aristote(Paris, 1599), 26, 27.

(26) .Bodin,Six Bookes of a Commonweale, ed.McRae, 42.

(27) .Ibid., 32–46, 34 (“wise men to serve fools”).

(28) .Ibid., 34 (“first beginning”), 35 (“who … would spare the life”), 203 (“consent of all nations”).

(29) .H.-J. Martin, “What Parisians Read in the Sixteenth Century,” inGundersheimer, ed.,French Humanism, 138;Richard Tuck,Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and Development(Cambridge, 1979), 44(“schollars studye”);Weiss, “Back from Barbary,” 30.

(30) .Hugo Grotius,The Rights of War and Peace, ed.Richard Tuck(Indianapolis, Ind., 2005), I, 75, III, 1360. Tuck's is the most complete and best-annotated critical edition. His introductory essay (I, ix–xxxiii) is also among the best short introductions to Grotius's life and work.Hugo Grotius, [Déclaration en français de H. de Groot, expliquant les raisons de son arrivée en France… (Paris, [1622])]. For Grotius's intellectual influence in Paris and broader France, seeH. J. M. Nellen, “Grotius et le monde intellectuel parisien,”Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis, LXXX (2000), 282–295. For his influence on subsequent application of international law, seeDan Edelstein, “War and Terror: The Law of Nations from Grotius to the French Revolution,”French Historical Studies, XXXI (2008), 229–262;Tuck,Natural Rights Theories, 58–81, which characterizes Grotius as the most important figure in the history of early modern political philosophy.

(31) .Grotius,Rights of War and Peace, ed.Tuck, II, 556–557(“perfect and utter Slavery”), II, 1143 (“Life … preferable to Liberty”), III, 1364 (“Motive drawn from Interest”).

(32) .Ibid., II, 559 (“follow the Condition … of the Mother”), III, 1362 (“Posterity for ever”), III, 1364 (“prevented their being born”).

(33) .Ibid., II, 1106 (“I must not compel”). On the agreement between Christian kingdoms to exempt one another's subjects from slavery, Grotius wrote, “But among Christians it is generally agreed, that being engaged in War, they that are taken Prisoners, are not made Slaves, so as to sell them or force them to hard Labours, or to such Miseries as are common to Slaves” (III, 1372). Yet being outside that agreement did not automatically make others subject to war and enslavement, and Grotius argued at length, “War cannot be justly made upon those who refuse to embrace the Christian Religion” (II, 1041).

(34) .Ibid., III, 1362–1363 (“Effects of this Right are infinite”), 1365 (“same Rank with Goods”).

(35) .Ibid., III, 1371.

(36) . “L'un des plus grands hommes de l'Europe” and “reçu du publique un honneur très-particulier”:Pierre Bayle,Dictionnaire historique et critique, 5th ed. (Amsterdam, 1740), II, 614, 618;Edelstein, “War and Terror,”French Historical Studies, XXXI (2008), 233;Jon Miller, “Hugo Grotius,”Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy(Summer 2009 Edition), ed. Zalta,http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2009/entries/grotius/.

(37) .Erik Thomson, “France's Grotian Moment? Hugo Grotius and Cardinal Richelieu's Commercial Statecraft,”French History, XXI (2007), 377–394;“Acte d'association des Seigneurs de la Compagnie des Isles de l'Amérique,” Oct. 31, 1626, inMoreau de Saint-Méry,Loix et constitutions, I, 18, and “Commission donnée par le Cardinal de Richelieu aux Sieurs d'Enambuc et de Rossey, pour établir une Colonie dans les Antilles de l'Amérique,” I, 20.

(38) . For definitions of slavery, seeJean Nicot,Thresor de la langue française, tant ancienne que moderne(Paris, 1606), s.v. “esclave.” For the Caribbean, seeJean-Pierre Moreau,Les petites Antilles de Christophe Colomb à Richelieu: 1493–1635(Paris, 1992), esp. 143–182;Alexander O. Exquemelin,The Buccaneers of America, trans.Alexis Brown(Mineola, N.Y., 1969) 53–66.

(39) .Jacques Bouton,Relation de l'establissement des françois depuis l'an 1635: en l'isle de la Martinique, l'une des Antilles de l'Amerique(Paris, 1640);[Jean-Baptiste] Du Tertre,Histoire générale des Antilles… (Paris, 1667–1671), I;Pierre Pelleprat,Relation des missions des P. P. de la Compagnie de Jesus dans les isles, et dans la terre ferme de l'Amérique meridionale(Paris, 1655), esp. part 1;Boucher, “The ‘Frontier Era’ of the French Caribbean, 1620s–1690s,” inDanielsandKennedy, eds.,Negotiated Empires, esp. 211–216.

(40) .Bodin,Six Bookes of a Commonweale, ed.McRae, 556(“glut themselves”). “Sa plus grande richesse gist en esclaves”; “d'autant que le plus grand de leur trafic, ce sont les hommes qu'ils vendent”:André Thevet,La cosmographie universelle d'Andre Thevet, cosmographe du Roy(Paris, 1575), I, 70. For the earliest European accounts of African kingship, seeJohn K. Thornton,Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800, 2d ed. (Cambridge, 1998), 77–84.

(41) .S[aint]-Lo,Relation du voyage du Cap-Verd, 149. “Royaume de Senega” and “Royaume de Tombuto”; “Ces hommes portent un si grand respect à leurs Roys, qu'ils ne passent jamais, pardevant eux, qu'ils ne mettent les deux genoux en terre, jetans du sable sur leur dos en signe d'humilité”:Claude Jannequin,Voyage de Lybie au Royaume de Senega, le long de Niger… (Paris, 1643), 66–67, 77, 80(kingdoms), 93 (“such great respect”).

(42) . “D'une façon toute diferente, de celle que l'on pratique en Europe” and “ils font seulement des incursions, ravagent les pays ennemis, prennent captifs, ceux qu'ils peuvent attraper, emmenent boefus, et capris, qui sont toutes leurs richesses”:Jannequin,Voyage de Lybie au Royaume de Senega, 93(“different manner,” “only make incursions”); André Brüe, quoted inJames F. Searing,West African Slavery and Atlantic Commerce: The Senegal River Valley, 1700–1860(Cambridge, 1993), 29.

(43) . “Ils vivent sous la domination d'un Roy, qui met des Gouverneurs dans les lieux qui sont esloignez de luy, et lors qu'il a guerre, ses Governeurs ont ordre de luy envoyer les soldats qu'il leur demande”:Relation du voyage fait sur les costes d'Afrique, inHenri Joustel,Recueil de divers voyages faits en Afrique et en l'Amérique(Paris, 1674), 5;[Nicolas] Villault,A Relation of the Coasts of Africk Called Guinee(London, 1670), 27, 36, 43(the original French isVillault,Relation des costes d'Afrique, appellées Guinée[Paris, 1669]).

(44) .Villault,Relation of the Coasts of Africk, 58–62.

(45) . “En vertu des traitez faites avec les Roys noirs”: MS copy of lettres-patentes, July 1681,ANOM, Colonies, C6A, I.“Lettres-patentes du Roy en forme d'Edit, portant confirmation de la nouvelle Compagnie du Sénégal et Côtes d'Afrique et de ses Privileges,” July 1681, inMoreau de Saint-Méry,Loix et constitutions, I, 357, and“Lettres-patentes sur l'Etablissement d'une Compagnie pour le Commerce exclusive aux Côtes d'Afrique, depuis la riviere de Serre-Lyonne, jusqu'au Cap de Bonne-Espérance, sous le nom de Compagnie de Guinée,” Jan. 22, 1685, I, 411, and “traités faites avec les Rois Noirs,” I, 547, and“Lettres-patentes, portant établissement d'une nouvelle Compagnie Royale du Sénégal, Cap Vert et Côte d'Affrique,” March 1696, I, 547.

(46) . For the Catalan Atlas, seeAbraham Cresques,Mapamundi: The Catalan Atlas of the Year 1375, ed.Georges Grosjean, Bibliothèque nationale de France (New York, 1978), which reproduces the image and provides English translations of the Catlan text. For Ibn Battuta, seeGeorge E. Brooks,Landlords and Strangers: Ecology, Society, and Trade in Western Africa, 1000–1630(Boulder, Colo., 1993), 49.

(47) . “Les Païs éloignez”; “Il est appellé de ce nom, parce qu'il arose le Païs des Negres”; “encore vendus et livrez aux Marchands étrangers en qualité d'esclaves”:Jean-Baptiste Gaby,Relation de la Nigritie(Paris, 1689), 3(“distant lands”), 22 (“so named”), 48–53, 53 (“sold and delivered”). For Gaby's plagiarism, seeCharles Becker, “À propos d'un plagiaire: le père Gaby,”Notes africaines, CXXXIII (1972), 17–21. For a brief discussion of the later, eighteenth-century French understanding of “nigritie,” seeRobert Harms,The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade(New York, 2002), 16–20.

(48) . “Les hauts Officiers sont vendre aux François, ou aux Portugais, les prisonniers qu'ils ont faits, et gardent le reste du butin pour leur usage”:Gaby,Relation de la Nigritie, 63.

(49) . Maps:Nicholas Sanson,Afrique(Paris, 1650);Herman Moll,Negroland and Guinea: With the European Settlements, Explaining What Belongs to England, Holland, Denmark, Etc. (London, 1727);Pierre DuVal,Costes de Guinée avec les royaumes qui y sont connus des européens, au dedans des terres, selon les relations les plus nouvelles(Paris, 1677);Vincenzo Coronelli,Route Maritime de Brest à Siam(Paris, 1687).

(50) . See, for example, the shifting boundaries betweenSanson,Afrique(1650), andCoronelli,Route maritime de Brest à Siam(1687). For the quote, seeSearing,West African Slavery, 35.

(51) . “Parmy les François il y a des noirs, ou mores du capvert, et ailleurs assez bon nombre, non pas si grand toutesfois qu'on n'en desirast davantage”; “un esclave noir est bien plus utile qu'un serviteur françois”:Bouton,Relation, 98–99. For the larger context of missionary activity among enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, seeSue Peabody, “‘A Dangerous Zeal’: Catholic Missions to Slaves in the French Antilles, 1635–1800,”French Historical Studies, XXV (2002), 53–90.

(52) . “Grossier et hebeté”; “impertinent”; “une insupportable ignorance”; “ils sont fainéants grandement”; “passeront le temps à dormir ou causer”; “n'ont besoin que de quelque linge pour couvrir leur honte”; “Cette miserable nation semble n'estre au monde que pour la servitude et esclavage, et dans leur pays mesme ils sont la plus-part esclaves du Roy ou d'autres; on les vend aux europeans à assez bon marché”:Bouton,Relation, 99–102. For a brilliant but somewhat different reading of Bouton and his contemporaries, seeSue Peabody, “‘A Nation Born to Slavery’: Missionaries and Racial Discourse in Seventeenth-Century French Antilles,”Journal of Social History, XXXVIII (2004–2005), 113–126. See alsoPierre H. Boulle,Race et esclavage dans la France de l'Ancien Régime(Paris, 2007), 21–80, which surveys the history of racial thinking in early modern France;Guillaume Aubert, “‘The Blood of France’: Race and Purity of Blood in the French Atlantic World,”WMQ, 3d Ser., LXI (2004), 439–478, which explores the interplay between metropolitan and colonial ideas about race.

(53) . “Les François ne se servent ny de boeufs, ny de chevaux dans la culture de leurs terres; mais seulement des Esclaves qui leur viennent d'Afrique, ou des costes de l'Amerique les plus éloignées des Isles.”Pelleprat,Relation, part 1, 50. “Les guerres continuelles que se font les Rois, et les Seigneurs des Negres sont la principale cause de l'esclavage de tant de persónes, parce que le vainqueur vend comme esclaves les prisonniers de guerre qu'il fait sur son ennemy, et enleve, pour la mesme fin, les femmes, et les enfans qu'il recontre dans les lieux, et dans les bourgades qu'il fource: d'ailleurs les Seigneurs ont droit, par les loix du pays; de faire esclaves leurs sujets quand bon leur semble…. Les peres, et les meres ont le mesme pouvoir sur leurs enfans, et s'en servent souvent ou pour en décharger leur famille, ou pour punir leur desobeissance. Il arrive quelquefois que les Rois vendent leurs propres femmes, qui dans leur captivité conservent tousjours quelque marque de leur premiere dignité”:ibid., 51–52.

(54) . “Tous les Esclaves qui ont esté sujets des Rois leurs maris les respectent autant, et leur obeissent aussi ponctuellement, que si elles estoient encore leurs Reines. Tant ces peuples ont de veneration pour la Royauté!”:ibid., 52.

(55) . “Ce leur est un bonheur d'estre avec les François, qui les traittent assez doucement, et parmy lesquels ils apprendront ce qui est de leur salut”:Bouton,Relation, 102. “Un jeune Negre nous disoit une fois à ce propos dans l'Isle de la Martinique,qu'il auroit euë en son pays, parce que s'il fust demeuré libre il seroit esclave de Sathan, au lieu qu'estant esclave des François il avoit esté fait enfant de Dieu. Ils ne sont pas tous si spirituals ny si clairvoyans”:Pelleprat,Relation, part 1, 56.

(56) . “Enfans de Dieu”; “le Christianisme … qui rejette et abhorre tout esclavage”; “ce qui est de plus estrange, c'est qu'eux mesmes ne se contentment pas de faire esclaves leurs ennemis pris en guerre; mais au moindre larcin qu commet un d'entr'eux, il est rendu esclave et sujet à ester vendu aux estrangers, luy et tous ses parens”; “s'engagent pour toute leur vie à une dure servitude, pour avoir de quoy s'enyvrer une fois”; “ne plus ne moins qu les Turcs donnent des bastonnades à leurs esclaves”:Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre,Histoire générale, des isles de S. Christophe, de la Guadeloupe, de la Martinique, et autres dans l'Amerique… (Paris, 1654), 473, 476, 480. Du Tertre published a much-revised and expanded edition of this work between 1667 and 1671 (Histoire générale des Antilles), which reflects important changes in the history of slavery in the period. For a detailed discussion of those changes, seePeabody, “Nation Born to Slavery,”Journal of Social History, XXXVIII (2004–2005), esp. 115–120.

(57) . “La pluspart d'entr'eux, après avoir esté instruits et baptisez, sont tres-constans en la foy, tres-bons Chrestiens, et qui bien souvent servent d'exemple de pieté à nos François.”Du Tertre,Histoire générale, des isles, 475.

(58) .John M. Monteiro,Negros da Terra: índios e bandeirantes nas origens de São Paulo(São Paulo, 1994);Stuart B. Schwartz,Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society: Bahia, 1550–1835(Cambridge, 1985), esp. 1–72;Barbara A. Sommer, “Colony of the Sertão: Amazonian Expeditions and the Indian Slave Trade,”The Americas, LXI (2005), 401–428;David Graham Sweet, “A Rich Realm of Nature Destroyed: The Middle Amazon Valley, 1640–1750” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1974);Alida C. Metcalf, “TheEntradasof Bahia of the Sixteenth Century,”The Americas, LXI (2005), 373–400;Muriel Nazzari, “Transition toward Slavery: Changing Legal Practice regarding Indians in Seventeenth-Century São Paulo,”The Americas, XLIX (1992), 131–155. For a broad overview of Indian slavery in the Americas, including population estimates vis-à-vis African slavery, seeBrett Rushforth, “American Indians and Slavery,” inEdward Baptist, ed.,Slavery in the Americas(ABC-Clio, forthcoming).

(59) .Bodin,Six Bookes of a Commonweale, ed.McRae, 42;William L. Sherman,Forced Native Labor in Sixteenth-Century Central America(Lincoln, Nebr., 1979);D. A. Brading,The First America: The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State, 1492–1876(Cambridge, 1991), 58–101. For the legal and moral distinctions between Indians and Africans in early Iberian discussions of slavery, seeJosé Eisenberg, “António Vieira and the Justification of Indian Slavery,”Luso-Brazilian Review, XL (2003), 89–95.

(60) . “Les François ne se servent pas seulement de Negres pour Esclaues; ils en ont encore de Sauvages, tirez de diverses nations de l'Amerique … ils sont mieux faits de corps, ont l'esprit meilleur, sont plus doux, et plus traitables, et n'ont pas moins d'esprit que nos païsans de France.”Pelleprat,Relation, part 1, 58. For mixed economy and various sources of labor in the first decades of Caribbean settlement, seeBoucher,France and the American Tropics, 112–167.

(61) . “Libertins, faineants, stupides”:Bouton,Relation, 103, 104(quote). “Sauvages esclaves … sont fort adroits à la pesche et à la chasse; en ce cas un seul vaut bien souvent mieux que deux Negres, car il n'en faut qu'un pour nourrir une assez ample famille”:Du Tertre,Histoire générale, des isles, 480–481. See alsoRichard Price, “Caribbean Fishing and Fishermen: A Historical Sketch,”American Anthropologist, LXVIII (1966), 1363–1383.

(62) . For a similar dynamic in English discussions of the issue, seeMichael Guasco, “To ‘Doe Some Good upon their Countrymen’: The Paradox of Indian Slavery in Early Anglo-America,”Journal of Social History, XLI (2007–2008), 389–411.

(63) . For an excellent discussion of shifting French perceptions of Indians as kingdoms, seePeter Cook, “Kings, Captains, and Kin: French Views of Native American Political Cultures in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries,” inPeter C. Mancall, ed.,The Atlantic World and Virginia, 1550–1624(Chapel Hill, N.C., 2007), 307–341.

(64) . “Lors que les François se sont établis à la Martinique, à la Gardeloupe, et à la Grenade, ils l'ont fait par l'agréement des Caciques, et des principaus d'entre les Caraibes … nous ne sommes pas coupables des memes violences que les Espagnols … nôtre procedé en l'établissement de nos Colonies aus Iles, n'a pas esté semblable au leur”:Charles Rochefort,Histoire naturelle et morale des isles Antilles de l'Amérique… (Rotterdam, 1665), 283. For “gain by gentleness,” seePhilip B. Boucher,Cannibal Encounters: Europeans and Island Caribs, 1492–1763(Baltimore, 1992), 43. For a broader discussion of French challenges to Spanish sovereignty in the Americas, seeBoucher,France and the American Tropics, 40–61.

(65) . “Situées à l'entrée de Pérou”: “qui ne sont point possédées par des Princes Chrétiennes”; “et ce tant afin de faire instruire les habitans desdites Isles en la Religion Catholique, Apostolique et Romaine.” Subsequent charters repeated essentially the same rationale. See, for example,“Contrat de Rétablissement de la Compagnie des Isles de l'Amérique, avec les articles accordés par Sa Majesté aux Associés,” Feb. 12, 1635, inMoreau de Saint-Méry,Loix et constitutions, I, 29–33. “Les descendans des François habitués esdites Isles, et meme les Sauvages qui seront convertis à la Foi Chrétienne et en feront profession, seront censes et réputés naturels François, capable de toutes charges, honneurs, successions et donations, ainsi que les originaires et regnicoles, sans être tenus de prendre lettre de declaration ou neutralité [naturalité]”:“Édit concernant la Compagnie des Isles de l'Amérique,” March 1642,ibid., I, 54.

(66) . “Ils n'ont ny loix, ny Magistrats, et ne reconnoissent que leurs Capitaines, qu'ils respectent, et ausquels ils obeïssent, mais par inclination plûtost que par devoir…. Les enfans n'obeïssent à leurs parens qu'autant qu'il leur plaist; car ils n'exercent aucun châtiment sur eux, et ne les menacent pas meme de parolle”; “Ils … enlevent les filles, et les femmes pour en faire des esclaves; qui, à vray dire, n'en ont que le nom, puis qu'ils les traittent comme si elles estoient de leur propre nation”:Pelleprat,Relation, part 2, 55–58. Compare one of his Jesuit contemporaries, Giacinto Brugiotti da Vetralla, who described African slaves in essentially the same way (“slaves in name only”), cited inThornton,Africa and Africans, 87–88.

(67) . “L'inhumanité, de la barbarie et de la rage”; “De ce qui tient lieu de Police chez les Caraibes”; “Nous allons tremper nôtre plume dans le sang et faire un Tableau qui donnera de l'horreur”:Rochefort,Histoire naturelle, 518, 536.

(68) . “Au Royaume de Gago en Afrique, tous les sujets parlent à genous au Roy, ayant en leurs mains un vase plein de sable, qu'ils se jettent sure la teste. Le Négres du païs d'Angole se couvrent aussi de terre, quand ils recontrent leur Prince, comme pour témoigner qu'ils ne sont devant luy qu poudre et cendre”:ibid., 521.

(69) .Boucher,Cannibal Encounters, 43.

(70) . “De la terre ferme”:Bouton,Relation, 104. “Les plus éloignées des Isles”:Pelleprat,Relation, part 1, 50.Du Tertre,Histoire générale, des isles, 473.

(71) . “Il le fit attacher au mast de son basteau, et le fit foüeter par ses matelots avec tant de cruauté, qu'ils luy déchirerent tout le corps”; “cét outrage fait à un de leur Nation”; “ruïner les nouveaux Establissemens des François qui leur faisoient ombrage”:Du Tertre,Histoire générale des Antilles, I, 465–466.

(72) . “À coups de hache, de la mesme maniere qu'ils avoient tuez plusieurs François”; “ne servit pourtant qu'à fomenter la guerre”:ibid., 467.

(73) . “Combattoient pour leur liberté”; “deux Roys de leur Nations”; “menaçant de mettre toute l'Isle à feu et à sang”:ibid., 465–469.

(74) . For the Dutch expulsion from Brazil, seeSchwartz,Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society, 173–195. For its effects on the French Caribbean, seeRobert Louis Stein,The French Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century: An Old Regime Business(Madison, Wis., 1988), 7–10;Stein,The French Sugar Business in the Eighteenth Century(Baton Rouge, La., 1988), 40–43. Philip Boucher cautions against reading the transition to large-scale sugar production as a rapid and total transformation (France and the American Tropics, 127–138). For the drop in French laborers, seeGabriel Debien, “Les engagés pour les Antilles, 1634–1715,”Revue de l'histoire des colonies, XXXVII (1951), 1–280. For slave populations, seePritchard,In Search of Empire, 428.

(75) . “Quatre de ces indiens ont esté tuez en se defendant”:ANOM, Colonies, C8A, XV, 304v–305.

(76) . “Les a cond[am]né a mort, et confisqué leur biens”; “des presents pour la reconciliation avec cette nation”; “si on ne faisoit point d'examples de semblables violences”:ibid.

(77) . “Qu'ils touchent comme des troupeaux de Boeufs; et lorsqu'ils les ont un peu assujettis, ils les envoyent à la compagne cultiver la terre, ou les employent à pescher de l'Or”:[François] Froger,Relation d'un voyage… (Paris, 1698), 81, 127. It was the governor of Guiana, Pierre Eléonore de Férolles, who first imprisoned the French slavers who were executed. In 1704 he was himself implicated in an Indian slaving scheme. For Férolles's imprisonment of the French slavers, see Jan. 23, 1704,ANOM, C8A, XV, 304v. For his involvement in slave raiding, seeBoucher,France and the American Tropics, 216. “Elle vit comme sy elle estoit encore dans le couvent”; “qui auroit detruit La Colonie sy je me fait laissé”: Férolles to the minister, Apr. 17, 1705,ANOM, Colonies, C14A, IV, 64.

(78) . Bégon signed an official copy of the charter for the reorganized Compagnie du Sénégal. MS copy of lettres-patentes, July 1681,ANOM, Colonies, C6A, I; Charles de Courbon de Blénac to the minister, Mar. 12, 1683, C8A, III, 212–212v. Blénac, enjoined by the king to take part in the drafting of the slave code, made a minimal effort to be involved, writing that Bégon had constructed the law “in his presence” but not even claiming in self-justification a significant role for himself. Bégon was the only one to sign the memorandum and, given his legal background and acquaintance with the operations of the Senegal Company, he was by far the more qualified. For a fuller account of the origins of the slave code, seeVernon Valentine Palmer, “The Origins and Authors of the Code Noir,”Louisiana Law Review, LVI (1995), 363–407, although Palmer overestimates the contribution of Blénac and Jean-Baptiste Patoulet, Bégon's predecessor. See alsoAlan Watson, “The Origins of theCode NoirRevisited,”Tulane Law Review, LXXII (1997), 1041;Ghachem, “Sovereignty and Slavery,” 17–40;Bernard Vonglis, “La double origine du Code Noir,” inLiliane Chauleau, ed.,Les abolitions dans les Amériques(Fort-de-France, Martinique, 2001), 101–107;Louis Sala-Molins,Le Code Noir, ou le calvaire de Canaan(Paris, 1987). For Patoulet's brief memoir, see“Memoire de M. Patoulet sur la conservation, la police, le jugement, et le chastiment des esclaves,” May 20, 1682,ANOM, Collection Moreau de Saint-Méry, F3, CCXLVIII.

(79) . Blénac to minister, Mar. 12, 1683,ANOM, C8A, III, 212–212v;Michel Bégon, “Projet de Reglement de M[onsieu]rs de Blenac et Begon sur la police et autres matieres concernant les Esclaves des isles de l'Amerique concerté avec les principaux habitans et les off[icie]rs des con[sei]ls Souverains,” Feb. 13, 1683,ANOM, Collection Moreau de Saint-Méry, F3, CX.

(80) . “Nos amez et feaux ayant estime a propos d'establir en nos isles Françoises de l'Amerique la jurisprudence qui doit ester observe a l'esgard des Esclaves qui y sont, Nous avons fait expedies nos letters patentes en forme d'Edit, que vous trouverez cy jointes, a l'enregistranant desquelles, nous vous mandons et ordonnons de proceder sans aucune restriction, modification, ny difficultie y ny faites faute Car tel est n're plaisir.” The only surviving copy of this letter was registered by the sovereign council of Guadeloupe in 1685, preserved by Moreau de Saint-Méry in his vast collection of Caribbeana. SeeANOM, Collection Moreau de Saint-Méry, F3, CCXLVIII.

(81) . The first references I have found to the 1685 ordinance as the “Code Noir” were two letters written in Martinique in April and May of 1713. It seems that this became a convenient shorthand for the law, which was generally referred to as “the edict of March 1685,” or “the ordinance of March 1685” before the 1710s. The later document used these designations intermittently, alongside “Code Noir.” Not until the 1720s would it assume the legal status of a “code,” rather than an “ordinance” or “edict.” See Phélypeaux to Minister, Apr. 6, 1713,ANOM, C8A, XIX, 80–85v, inPeabodyandGrinberg, eds.,Slavery, Freedom, and the Law, 39–41; unaddressed letter of May 20, 1713,ANOM, Collection Moreau de Saint-Méry, F3, XC. As Richard S. Dunn argued for the contemporary English Caribbean, “The slave laws enacted by the island legislatures in the seventeenth century tell us a good deal about the treatment of Negroes and the character of slavery in the Caribbean colonies. These laws set formal standards, to be sure, which were not necessarily enforced. But it was the big planters on the islands who sat in the assemblies and composed these laws, which is to say that in the statute books the chief slaveholders articulated their views on how to handle Negroes.”Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624–1713(Chapel Hill, N.C., 1972), 238.

(82) . See, for example, the Virginia slave code of 1705, a similar effort to synthesize English slave law, which contained three provisions about who could be enslaved and where they could be held as slaves.William Waller Hening, ed.,The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619(Philadelphia, 1823), III, 447–462, articles 4–6; Bégon, “Projet concernant les Esclaves,”ANOM, Collection Moreau de Saint-Méry, F3 CX; and Slave Ordinance of March 1685, articles 44–46.

(83) . “La conservation,” “la police,” “le jugement,” “les chastiments”: Jean-Baptiste Patoulet to the king, May 20, 1682,ANOM, Collection Moreau de Saint-Méry, F3, XC; Patoulet, “Memoire au Roy,” and Bégon, “Project concernant les Esclaves,” F3, XC; Slave Ordinance of March 1685, articles 22–29. The French term “police” has no good English equivalent, but in this case “policing” seemed to capture the dual meaning of management and surveillance that is implied in Patoulet's and Bégon's use of the term.

(84) . “Réglement de M. de Tracy, Lieutenant Général de l'Amérique, touchant les Blasphémateurs et la Police des Isles,” June 19, 1664, and“Arrêt du Conseil de la Martinique, touchant les Negres fugitives, et le Remboursement de ceux suppliciés,” June 20, 1672, inMoreau de Saint-Méry,Loix et constitutions, I, 117–122, 264, and“Ordonnance du Gouverneur-Général des Isles, touchant les Negres Marons,” Aug. 28, 1673, I, 268–269.“Rien n'est plus necessaire pour la securité des habitans des isles et pour empescher la revolte des negres”: [Patoulet] to Blénac, April, 1681,ANOM, Colonies, C8A, III, 6.“Extrait des arrets et ordonnances Rendus pour la Police des negres au Conseil Souverain de l'Isle Martinique,” July 3, 1684,ANOM, Collection Moreau de Saint-Méry, F3, CCXLIX, f. 101. The original ordinance was issued on Aug. 16, 1678.

(85) . Slave Ordinance of March 1685, article 15.

(86) .“Réglemens du Conseil de la Martinique, touchant la Police des Esclaves,” Oct. 4, 1677, and“Arrêt du Conseil de la Martinique, touchant les Canots et Chaloupes, et l'enlevement d'iceux par les Esclaves,” July 17, 1679, inMoreau de Saint-Méry,Loix et constitutions, I, 306–307, 327;Patoulet, “Memoire au Roy,”and Bégon, “Projet concernant les Esclaves,”ANOM, Collection Moreau de Saint-Méry, F3, XC.

(87) .Froger,Relation d'un voyage, between 150 and 151.

(88) .“Arrêt du Conseil de la Martinique, contre un Maître cruel,” May 10, 1671, inMoreau de Saint-Méry,Loix et constitutions, I, 224–225;Bégon, “Projet concernant les Esclaves,”ANOM, Collection Moreau de Saint-Méry, F3, CX; Slave Ordinance of March 1685, articles 42–43. Malick Ghachem follows Jean Bodin in emphasizing the inherent conflict between the sovereignty of states over subjects on the one hand and of masters over slaves on the other. Given that most limits on masters' authority arose locally and were thus largely self-imposed by planters, it is not clear how that theoretical tension manifested itself in legal codes or actual social practice. SeeGhachem, “Sovereignty and Slavery,” esp. 1–170.

(89) . “Livrer à la Justice leurs Esclaves criminels”:“Arrêt du Conseil de la Martinique, touchant le payment des Negres suppliciés,” July 16, 1665, inMoreau de Saint-Méry,Loix et constitutions, I, 148; Slave Ordinance of March 1685, articles 40–41.

(90) . Slave Ordinance of March 1685, articles 2–8;Peabody, “‘Dangerous Zeal,’”French Historical Studies, XXV (2002), 70–71. For Jesuits' use of Catholicism to encourage slaves' obedience and cultural integration in their eighteenth-century Latin American estates, seeArnold J. Bauer, “Christian Servitude: Slave Management in Colonial Spanish America,” inMats LundahlandThommy Svensson, eds.,Agrarian Society in History: Essays in Honour of Magnus Mörner(London, 1990), 89–107.

(91) . For the general dynamics of religion and slavery in the islands, seePeabody, “‘Dangerous Zeal,’”French Historical Studies, XXV (2002), 53–90;Debien,Les esclaves aux Antilles françaises, XVIIe–XVIIIe siècles(Basse-Terre, 1974), 249–295. For arguments over slaves' market activities and court testimony, see King's Council to Superior Council of Martinique, Oct. 13, 1686,AN, Fonds du Conseil du Roi, Série E, MDCCCXXXV.

(92) . “L'intention de Sa Majesté est que les Negres qui auront été amenés dans le Royaume par les Habitans des Isles qui refuseront d'y retourner, ne pourront y être contrains; mais que du moment que de leur pleine volonté, ils auront pris le parti de les suivre et de se rendre avec eux dans l'Amérique, ils ne puissant plus alléguer le Privilege de la Terre de France, auquel ils semblent avoir renoncé par leur retour volontaire dans le lieu de l'Eclavage”:“Lettre du Ministre sur les Negres amenés en France,” June 10, 1707, inMoreau de Saint-Méry,Loix et constitutions, II, 99.

(93) . For colonists' complaints about French free soil, see Mithon to minister, Nov. 20, 1704,ANOM, C8A, XV, 349–351; Bégon, “Memoire sur les esclaves,”ANOM, C8B, LXXIV. For a sustained discussion of the tensions between Caribbean slaveholders and the French state in Saint-Domingue, seeGhachem, “Sovereignty and Slavery.”