"There Are No Slaves in France": The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime

By Sue Peabody | Go to book overview

September 30, 1766, then reinstituted the payment of 3,000 livres for each black brought to France who was not immediately returned. The intendant of Saint Domingue raised this figure to 4,500 livres, payable in advance, with the requirement that the slave be returned within eight months. 77 A new round of ministerial letters in 1769 enjoined colonial administrators not to let any slaves embark for France unless they were to be returned to the colonies within eight months. 78 The continual reiteration of these measures, however, points to the difficulties of policing migration.


Conclusion

Clearly, Poncet de la Grave's 1762 lament regarding the "deluge" of blacks "disfiguring" the city of Paris was an exaggeration. Even if underregistration occured in the extreme, the proportion of blacks in the population of the capital was minor. Yet Poncet de la Grave appears to be correct in his assertion that colonists were taking advantage of the laws of 1716 and 1738. Despite the fact that many masters claimed they brought blacks to France for religious or technical instruction, few were baptized in France and fewer specified the trade they were to learn. The preponderance of blacks who worked as domestic servants suggests that colonists and the Parisian elite were taking advantage of the laws of 1716 and 1738 to supply themselves with servants.

At the same time, the registers of 1762 indicate that a disproportionate number of Parisian blacks were young, possibly unemployed, males. One can imagine that, as the most visible segment of the black population, they attracted the attention of Poncet de la Grave and other officials concerned with maintaining the public order. On the other hand, historians of eighteenth-century Paris, such as Daniel Roche and Arlette Farge, take little notice of blacks in their studies of social order and disorder, which further suggests that a certain amount of official exaggeration took place. 79

In the legal arena, however, blacks achieved real prominence. During the decade following the Admiralty Ordinance of 1762, in Paris at least, the number of slaves who won their freedom through lawsuits and manumissions in the Admiralty court multiplied eightfold. It is to these efforts that we now turn.

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"There Are No Slaves in France": The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Slavery in France 11
  • Conclusion 22
  • 2 - The Case of Jean Boucaux V. Verdelin 23
  • Conclusion 39
  • 3 - The Impact of the Declaration of 1738: Nantes, La Rochelle, and Paris 41
  • Conclusion 54
  • 4 - Notions of Race in the Eighteenth Century 57
  • Conclusion 70
  • 5 - Crisis: Blacks in the Capital, 1762 72
  • Conclusion 87
  • 6 - Antislavery and Antidespotism: 1760-1771 88
  • Conclusion 105
  • 7 - The Police Des Noirs, 1776-1777 106
  • Conclusion 119
  • 8 - Erosion of the Police Des Noirs 121
  • Conclusion 134
  • Epilogue 137
  • Notes 141
  • Bibliography 189
  • Index 201
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