Notions of Race in the Eighteenth Century
In 1759 the Parlement of Paris rendered a landmark decision that established once and for all the status of slaves who sued for their freedom within the jurisdiction of this court and, consequently, the Admiralty Courts within its domain. This was the case of Francisque. 1
Francisque's case is significant for several reasons. First, it set an important precedent not only for the suits that would follow it in the same jurisdiction, but also across the channel in England's celebrated Somerset case. 2 Second, it provides a unique window into French thinking on racial difference in the middle of the eighteenth century. For in their attempts to argue that Francisque was not a nègre, and thus not subject to the laws of 1716 and 1738, the lawyers revealed some tacit assumptions about the meaning of the term nègre and the foundations of racism in eighteenth-century France.
Francisque was in some ways typical of the slaves who traveled to France from its colonies during this period. Purchased as a young boy, he was brought to Paris as a domestic servant for his master. As shown in the following chapter, young males were predominant among Parisian blacks. 3 Francisque was atypical, however, in one important regard: he was a native of Pondicherry, India. The best figures we have for this period indicate that only about 8 percent of the blacks in Paris at this