The Impact of the Declaration of 1738: Nantes, La Rochelle, and Paris
The Declaration of December 15, 1738, held that when masters neglected to complete the necessary formalities, such as registration of their slaves with the nearest clerk of the Admiralty, the slaves would be confiscated au profit du roi and returned as slaves to the colonies whence they came. As we shall see, the Parlement of Paris and the Admiralty Court of France refused to confiscate slaves and instead freed them unconditionally. However, the case of Catherine Morgan, who was brought to Nantes by her master in 1746, illustrates how the courts of Brittany enforced the Declaration of 1738 to the letter.
In August of 1747, the Count of Maurepas, minister of the marine, received a rather peculiar letter. It purported to be from a black woman named Catin. Evidentally, she did not know how to write because the letter had been drafted for her by someone named "Sapotin." The letter's style was clumsy and irregular, full of gushing, endless sentences and inconsistent spelling. The story that spilled out was even stranger:
As I don't know who to plead to, someone has told me that I might turn to you to render me justice[.] I must tell you that when Terrien the lawyer took me away from my Master, making me believe that he would make me free