Slavery on Martinique

Figure 1.--This drawing reportedly shows the slave quarters at a sugar cane plantation on Martinque in 1826. Source: Alcide Dessalines d'Orbigny, 'Voyage pittoresque dans les deux Amériques' (Paris 1836).

Martinique was the first French colony in the Caribbeam. The colony at first relied on indentured French labor. The colony at first did not prove very popular growing tobacco and cotton. The introduction of sugar as the principal crop changed this. It also required the importation of African slaves for the much more labor intensive sugar plantations. This generated great wealth ahd made the plantations enormously profitable. The French slughtered or drive the indigenou Caribs off the island. Theimportstion of large numbers of Africans affected the demographicv balance with slaves becoming the majority of the population. The slave system began to decline with the amerucan Revolution. Slaves were recruited to the militia with a promise of slavery. The French Revolution began to move against slvery. And the Royal Navy affected shioments to abd from the island. Slaves had to begin griwing their own food, weakning the authotrity of the slave masters. The Convention ablodhed slvery, but the planters resisted. British occupation and the Bourbon Restoration meant a return of slavery. Slkavery was not finally abolished until the Revolution of 1848.

Native Americans

Marinique had a florishing Native American popultion. Martinique was settled by the Arawaks (Tainos). It was just before the European discovery, over ran by a more war-like people--the Caribs. The Caribs originated in northeastern South America and were related to the Galibi people in the modern Guianas. At the time of the Europen discovery were migrating along the Caribbean arc and overwealming the Aawaks. They referred to the Island as Madinina (the island of flowers) as it was at the time a verdant place, a luxuriant rain forest. It was also called Mantinino (the island of women), but I am not sure why. Slavery was not new to the Americas with the arrival of the Europeans. Slavery was an institution among Native Americans.

Spanish Discovery (1502)

Columbus was the first European to visit the Island (1502). The Spanish, however, did not colonize the island. There were many islands in the Caribbean and tghec Spnish did not have thecresources to colonizew all of them. And until the develoomnt of plantation sugar culture, these islsbds were not of any great economic value. Colonization woukd not begin until more of a century later.

French Colonization (1635)

The other Atlanyic-coast European countries noting the success of Portugal and Spain began their own maritime expansion. In the Americas this included both North Ameruca (Canada) and the Caribbean. Cardinal Richelieu, Louis XIII's Prime Minister, founded the Compagnie des Iles d'Amérique (American Islands Company) to found colonies in the Caribbean (1626). This was more than a century after the Spanish had begun fonding colonies and at the time the Caribbean was essentially a Spanish lake. The French colonial enterprise was launched by Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc, a Norman noble (1635). He landed along the the western coast and foundedca site quite close to modern Saint Pierre. The first crops grown on the island were tobacco and cotton. Tobacco did not require much manual labor. The tobacco was grown by a "concessionaire". These were individuals who had received a land grant from the Company on which he and his indentured servants worked. The indentured servants after completing their contracts could apply for their own concessions. Difficulties developed with the indigenous Caribs almost immediately, but at a low level. The French did not make a major attempt to enslve the Caribs, but gradually encroched on their land. Initilly there was only a small demand for labor. Labor on the island was performed by French indentured servants. TYhey had 3-year contracts in payment for their passage. Some Caribs had survived and mixed with the French indentured workers and a small small number of African slaves purchased illegally from the Spanish. The Company ran into serious financial problems. Thec recenue from cotton and tobacco ws not adequate to meet the costs of maintaining the colony. The Company sold its assetts to Dyel Duparquet, a Norman nobleman (1640). He negotiated a traty with the Caribs. The King in a royal edict forbade the enslavement of the Native Americans. There were still only a handful of slaves on the developing Martinique plantations. Hostilities with the Caribs This as the French settlements expanded eventually led to war. The French defeated the Caribs (1658). Most were killed in the fighting or susequentky slaughtered. Survivors fled to neighboring islands not yet colonized by the Europeans: St. Martin and Dominica. Descendents can today be found in a reserve.

Sugar Industry (1645)

The Netherlands has seized Brazil for a brief period. They had helped build a sugar industry there. When the Portuguese expelled them they began looking for others places they could pursue found plantations to produce sugar. It was at this time that the sugar industry was introduced to the Caribbean. Dutch Jewish colonists driven out of northeastern Brazil land on Martinique (1645). They brought with them invaluable technology--how to produce sugar. The arrival of the expelled Dutch planters on Martinique dramatically changed the economy. Sugar was a very valuable product. Plantations were founded throughought the island creating a great demand for labor. Unlike tobacco, sugar required a great dealm of labor. Labor from indentured system was completely inadequate. This demand was settled by importing captive Africans in large numbers to work the plantations. Traders and ship-captains were able to offer the captive Africans. Growers rapidly substituted tobacco and cotton as thrir primary crop. This was aprocess occuring elswhere in the Caribbean. The result was that a colony that had once struggled, in as hort period began generating enormous wealth. Père Labat helped perfect the process, distillation juice from the sugar-cane plant and producinhg alcohol. Merchants in France, primarily from Pris and the port cities, began investing in the enterprise. Colbert, Louis XIV's brilliant finance minister drafts a set of regulations governing the status of slaves in France's colonies (1685). The regulation became known as the Code Noir (Black Code).

French Slave Trade

The slave trade was initially conducted by the Portuguese and Spanish who had established trading posts along the western coast of Africa. At first slaves were just part of the commerce, Gradually it became invreasingly importantv to supply the vast demand for slaves from the sugar plantations in Brazil ad the Caribbean. There was also a smaller demand from the southern English colonies in North America. The French along with the Dutch and English wanted to participatec in such a valuable enterprise. First the Dutch followed by the French formed the Sénégal Company. This meant a major involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. Louis XIV suceeded to the throne (1643). The Company received a royalty from the French Crown for every slave delivered to Martinique. L'ile de Gorée (Goree island) off coast of Senegalese became the center oi the French slave trade. French trders with ships loaded with trikets and other trade goods left Le Havre, Nantes, and la Rochelle to exchange for slaves at Goree and other points on the Slave Coast (Senegal to modern Nigeria). The slave trade was an enormous undertaking. One source reports that 1,400 regular slavers sailed from Nantes alone in one year (1715). The port of Nantes eventully gains a monopoly on the right to operate the slave trade.

Demographic Changes

Sugar plantations because of tge enormous profits gradually cover most of the arable land on Martinique. The French crown buys the island back from Duparquet. A sugar planhtation was labor intensive. Alantation required about two or three slaves per hectare. The importatiuon of such a huge number of Africans quickly changed the demographics of the island. The slave population soon outnumbered the free population. The resukt was a kind of rebelliousness among the slaves which manifested itself in variuous ways. Planters report revolts, poisonings, suicides, and other slave behaviors. Another problem was that the planters primarily wanted males for plantation work. Females wre, however, needed for slave breeding. Otherwise thge planters had to continue importing slaves, aostly proposition. The status of all children on the island was a function of their mother's status. The child of a slave woman was alave regardless of the fatger's status.

The Gaoule (1717)

The Gaoulé breaks out on Martiniquec(1717). It is aevoly of the free white population against the governor and the intendant. They are deposed by the regent.

American Revolution (1776-81)

The American Revolution broke out (1775) and the colonists declared indeoendence (1776). The Continental Congress sent diplomats (Franklin and Adams) to the French Court to gain support for the Revolution. There was no love lost between the French and British, but the French did not expect the Americans to prevail. This changed with the American victory at Saratoga (1787). An entire British fiekd army surrendered. The result was a treatuy of alliance. Martinique becomes a trans-shipping point for French arms and supplies sent to the Continental Army. General Rochambeau, the ommander of the French Army in North America is appointed governor of Martinique. The British considered attacking the island. Rochambeau responded by mobilizing the island militia. He recruited slaves with the promise of freedom if tghey serve sucessfully.

French Revolution

The French Revolution broke out (1789). It led to another war with Britain (1793). Given the power of the Royal Navy, this complicated both the export of sugar to France and the importation of foodstuffs. Sugar was so valuable that most of the arable land on Martinique was devoted to sugar production. Food instead of being grown on the island was imported. Thus during the war with Britain, the slaves had to grow much of their own food which reduced sugar production. Another impact was it diluted the absolute authority of the slave masters. Despite the ideals of the Revolution, the Revolutionary authorities did not immediately abolish slavery. The abolitiionist movement was led by the Society of Friends of Blacks. Humanists like Abbé Grégoire also promoted abolition. The Convention proclaims the abolition of slavery. French planters on Martinique refused to recognize the abolition decree. Planters on Guadeloupe did recognize the abolitiin decree.

Bourbon Restoration (1814-30)

With the defeat of Napoleon (1814-15), the Bourdons were restored to the French throne. The freed slaves became known as the Rochambeau freedmen and other names like de facto free or Savanna freedmen. Economic conditions began to decline on Martinque, especially after the Government increased import dutues (1822). The growth of the sugar beet industry in France reduced the demand for imported sugar. The declining prosperity resulted in a less stable sutuation. Both slaves and freedmen become disgruntled. Royal authorities suspect separtist sentimet. Authorities accuse some of using poison as a weapon. A revolt of the 'half-free population occurs in le Carbet (October 1823). Authorities bring charges of subversion against an activist of color demanding reform named Bissette (December 1823). TheFrench begin massive deportations (1824). The goal ws to defuse the demand for egalitarian reform. The effort prevented the adoption of a representative system (1826). Instead a General Council was elected by an electirate composed of a small minority of the population. A subsequent effort to reform the justice system failed (1828).

Louis Phiippe (1830-48)

Louis Phillipe became France's first a constitutional monarch in the Julky revolution (1830). High hopes of reform were gradually disappointed. On Martinique the fall in sugar porices undermined Government efforts to imprive conditions for the slaves. Sugar lost ahird of its value. The hoes used by the slaves was gradually replacedcwith ploughs which reduced the work effort anhd improved agricultural output. The first steam mills appeared in the island. Despite the freed slaves' newly-won eligibility for any job or profession or position, and the right to vote and hold office, and despite the emergence of a state primary-education system, social progress still remains modest. In Dec., 1833, during the lead-up to the election of a colonial council to replace the General Council which causes some social unrest, in the parish of Grand'Anse (today Le Lorrain) the planters reject the appointment of a colored officer of militia, and a revolt ensues in the town of Marigot, precipitating the complete dissolution of the royal militia. The improvement of the freed slaves' lot brings a spike in the birth-rate which compensates for the loss of black population due to cessation of the slave trade. This partially counteracts the efforts of the State, which, in the wake of the freeing of 26,000 slaves, is really able to help only the de facto freed slaves, persons freed in fact but whose freedom is not officially recognized by the law or the administrative bureaucracy. 1845 : The first sugar-cane mill ("usine"), belonging to one John Thorp, is built, resulting in a shift in power relations by limiting the function of the surrounding plantation (wiki) to that of mere suppliers. On the other hand, the plantations no longer require nighttime labor, and their revenues increase. But the need for manual labor in the mill, which will be readily available to the company only under the social conditions necessary for each person to have the right to offer his labor freely, contributes to social acceptance of the replacement of slave-labor by paid labor.

Revolution of 1848: Emancipation (May 1848)

A revolution in Paris called the downfallm of King Louis Philippe. It was tge first of cawaveof revolution which swept Europe. The Revolution is well received on Marinique. Te French Government issues a a decree of emancipation (April 27). It was, however, not announced until later (June 3). Rumors swirl about possible emancipstion. Some capitalists demand immediate emancipation. The abolitionists awaiting the arrival of the colored, technocratically-educated François Auguste Perrinon The abolitionists on Martinique finally decide to act. Riots break out von the iskland. They proclainmed full emancipation (May 23). It was a defacto act wiuthout legal validity. The official decreee arrivedcfrom Frace 11 days later.



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Created: 7:25 PM 2/17/2012
Last updated: 7:25 PM 2/17/2012