Intimate Bonds: Family and Slavery in the French Atlantic

Intimate Bonds: Family and Slavery in the French Atlantic

Intimate Bonds: Family and Slavery in the French Atlantic

Intimate Bonds: Family and Slavery in the French Atlantic

Synopsis

Following the stories of families who built their lives and fortunes across the Atlantic Ocean, Intimate Bonds explores how households anchored the French empire and shaped the meanings of race, slavery, and gender in the early modern period. As race-based slavery became entrenched in French laws, all household members in the French Atlantic world --regardless of their status, gender, or race--negotiated increasingly stratified legal understandings of race and gender.

Through her focus on household relationships, Jennifer L. Palmer reveals how intimacy not only led to the seemingly immutable hierarchies of the plantation system but also caused these hierarchies to collapse even before the age of Atlantic revolutions. Placing families at the center of the French Atlantic world, Palmer uses the concept of intimacy to illustrate how race, gender, and the law intersected to form a new worldview. Through analysis of personal, mercantile, and legal relationships, Intimate Bonds demonstrates that even in an era of intensifying racial stratification, slave owners and slaves, whites and people of color, men and women all adapted creatively to growing barriers, thus challenging the emerging paradigm of the nuclear family. This engagingly written history reveals that personal choices and family strategies shaped larger cultural and legal shifts in the meanings of race, slavery, family, patriarchy, and colonialism itself.

Excerpt

On 31 July 1755, the ship Le Théodore arrived in the port town of La Rochelle, having sailed from Port-au-Prince, Saint-Domingue, calling at the smaller, river-bound city of Léogane along the way. To Hardy and Lizette, two slaves arriving in France for the first time on board Le Théodore, La Rochelle must have appeared startlingly unlike Saint-Domingue as they sailed into the harbor. Far more than four thousand miles and a voyage of two or even three months separated the departure and arrival points: climate, customs, social interactions, and even language were all different. The city’s multistoried townhouses, hôtels particuliers, and elegant arcades, all made of gleaming golden sandstone, doubtless looked grand in contrast to the wooden structures and muddy streets characteristic of Port-au-Prince and Léogane. Everywhere in the city they would have encountered seas of white faces looking at them curiously. Unlike the colony, where people of color outnumbered whites by a huge majority even in the cities, La Rochelle had but a small community of color. Yet common elements also linked these ports. Port-auPrince and its environs, located on the west coast of the western province of Saint-Domingue, and La Rochelle and its hinterland, situated on France’s Atlantic seaboard, shared ties of commerce, strengthened by connections of kinship and friendship that spanned the ocean. For some, the intimate bonds between the two locales truncated the distance, making it seem closer and more familiar than it actually was; many involved in transatlantic trade had friends, family, and business associates on the other side of the ocean. For those who traveled back and forth between La Rochelle and Port-au-Prince, slavery was simultaneously a point of continuity and of profound difference. Numerous slave owners and slaves who traveled together expected that crossing the ocean would not change their daily intimacies or relationships. However, these two ports were literally and figuratively an ocean apart, and . . .

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