Slavery, Freedom and Migration during
the French Revolution
In September of 1801, two former slaves appeared in front of a notary in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, to tell the story of how they had gained their freedom. In February of 1794, when the National Convention abolished slavery throughout the French Republic, both Geneviève Labothière dite Mayoute and her brother Joseph Labothière were slaves. But while Geneviève was in Guadeloupe, where the decree was instituted in June of 1794, Joseph was in Martinique, which was occupied by the British, and therefore he ‘did not enjoy the benefit of general liberty pronounced by the laws of the French Republic’. As many slaves had throughout the preceding centuries, Joseph, who was a tailor, managed to earn money through his ‘active work’ and ‘honest industry’ until he finally had enough to buy his freedom. His master, however, refused to sell him his freedom. Desperate, Joseph wrote to his free sister in Guadeloupe, who by then was working as a merchant, and asked her to help him. She could not, of course, travel to Martinique herself without endangering her freedom, and so she arranged for a white man named Jacques Dupuy to go to Martinique and buy Joseph. In October of 1796, Dupuy found Joseph and purchased him as his own slave. Both men then travelled to St. Thomas, where two years later Geneviève was able to meet with them. She reimbursed Dupuy for the money he had paid for her brother, and therefore became his legal owner. Soon afterwards, Joseph paid back his sister and they returned to Guadeloupe, both of them free1.