Abolition in the West Indies

Abolition in the West Indies

  • View of the fire in the city of Cap Français. Arrival on June 21, 1793.

  • Proclamation of the abolition of slavery by Sonthonnax, Commissioner of the Republic, in Creole. August 29, 1793.

  • New maps of the French Republic.

  • Color equality. Courage. New maps of the French Republic.

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Title: View of the fire in the town of Cap Français. Arrival on June 21, 1793.

Author :

Creation date : 1795

Date shown: June 21, 1793

Dimensions: Height 51 - Width 73

Technique and other indications: Handcoloured engraving by Jean-Baptiste Chapuy after J. L. Boquet.

Storage location: Departmental Archives of Martinique website

Contact copyright: © Departmental Archives of Martiniques website

Picture reference: 15 Fi 182

View of the fire in the town of Cap Français. Arrival on June 21, 1793.

© Departmental Archives of Martinique

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Title: Proclamation of the abolition of slavery by Sonthonnax, Commissioner of the Republic, in Creole. August 29, 1793.

Author :

Creation date : 1793

Date shown: August 29, 1793

Dimensions: Height 43 - Width 54.9

Technique and other indications: Poster

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: AD / XXc / 69a / piece 80

Proclamation of the abolition of slavery by Sonthonnax, Commissioner of the Republic, in Creole. August 29, 1793.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

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Title: New maps of the French Republic.

Author :

Creation date : 1793

Date shown: 1793

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: Patent of invention issued on February 17, 1793 to Sieurs Jaume and Dugourc.

Storage location: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo National Library of France

Picture reference: Prints. Hennin, t. 134.

New maps of the French Republic.

© Photo National Library of France

To close

Title: Color equality. New maps of the French Republic.

Author :

Creation date : 1793

Date shown: 1793

Dimensions: Height 8 - Width 5,2

Technique and other indications: Patent of invention issued on February 17, 1793 to Sieurs Jaume and Dugourc.

Storage location: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo National Library of France

Picture reference: Prints. 134.

Color equality. New maps of the French Republic.

© Photo National Library of France

Publication date: October 2006

Historical context

In Santo Domingo slavery is characterized by the constant arrival of new slaves due to the extent of the slave trade. But the rivalries which are due to social inequalities, between the colonists and the traders of the cities, between the whites and the mulattoes then the slaves, develop as a result of the weakening of the presence of the metropolitan power and the foreign war.

Troubles that appeared in 1790 turned into a general insurrection. The decree of May 15, 1791 recognizing the citizenship of "people of color born of free fathers and mothers" drove the island into total anarchy. With Sonthonax, they first take a stand for the maintenance of slavery because the general conviction remains that only a gradual and prepared abolition can avoid anarchy.

Image Analysis

View of the fire of the city of Cap-Français

On June 24, 1793, Cap-Français (now Haitian), located on the north coast of the island, was left to arson, looting and massacre. This colored engraving by J. B. Chapuy shows, with impressive night effects, the fires that set the city ablaze; it takes the picture painted from life by J. Boquet, and offered by him to the Convention on 23 Frimaire Year II / 13 December 1794, to reflect the disaster.

Cape Town, the most prosperous and most important city in the colony, was a large-scale colonial city which undoubtedly appeared more modern in terms of its town planning than many mainland cities. Designed by engineers, the first with a grid plan, it had been enlarged several times but always along the same track axes and the same block modules. It was a regular town with aligned streets, often planted with trees, squares adorned with fountains; it was provided with hospitals and barracks. In the foreground, multiple types of ships, from small boats to three decks evoke its intense port activity.

What happened ? Faced with Galbaud, appointed governor of the Leeward Islands by Monge, Minister of the Navy and close to the Girondins, who formed a coalition, with the newly arrived squadron, the troops and the population of Cape Town, Commissioner Sonthonax, to prevent the counter-revolution, then opts for the policy of the worst: it calls the blacks to freedom and looting, opens the prisons, introduces gangs into the city. Galbaud took refuge aboard a squadron ship and reached the United States with 10,000 fugitives, before returning to France.

The abolition of slavery in Creole

Sonthonax defended fiercely in Saint-Domingue against the English who took advantage of these troubles to invade the French Antilles. Putting his hope in the black insurgents, Sonthonax proclaims of his own authority the emancipation of slaves, pronounced and published in Creole and in French, August 29, 1793. He announces the publication of the Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen adapted by him to the colonies.

This immediate and general emancipation of slaves rallied little support for Sonthonax because it was a Franco-French struggle that provoked the situation on the island. Skillfully, he held elections and sent elected deputies to the Convention in order to gain its support. The first to arrive in France, Dufaÿ the white, Mills, the mulatto and Belley the black, will obtain confirmation of the abolition on 16 Pluviôse, Year II.

The sans-culotte and the nigger

In Paris, opposed to the colonists' lobby, there was a current favorable to the armed revolt of the Blacks, among the sans-culottes. No concrete connection existed with the rebellious slaves during the proclamation of emancipation. A card game from the beginning of 1793, however, testifies to this interest. This card, the tie of color that replaces the jack of diamonds, represents a rebellious black man, gun in hand, sitting on a bale of coffee in a sugar cane field. Its attribute is courage; it symbolizes the struggle of rebellious slaves since 1790. The sans-culotte, in a similar pose, represents the equality of rank which has taken the place of the servant of hearts.

The patent for this game, applied for on January 19, 1793, two days before the execution of Louis XVI, will be issued on February 17. Jean-Démosthène Dugourc, the first to dare to change the traditional figures of the game, spontaneously adheres to Jacobin ideas. The death of the king gives all its sense of political propaganda to his game entitled "New cards of the French Republic" which proclaims bluntly: "No more kings, dames, valets; genius, freedom, equality replace them. The law alone is above them ".

This sheet, the game's advertising placard, was often cut out and the cards glued onto cardboard boxes. The first sentence highlights the new types of red jacks. "If the true friends of philosophy and of humanity have noted with pleasure among the types of Equality the Sans-culotte and the Negro ...". The struggle of blacks against slavery is likened to that of Parisian revolutionaries for equality, the preferred principle of sans-culotte.

Interpretation

Taking advantage of the troubles to invade the French Antilles, the English seized in the spring of 1794 Martinique, Saint Lucia and Guadeloupe. They then gain a foothold in Sain-Domingue and occupy Port-aux-Princes on June 4, 1794. Sonthonax abandons the land and returns to France.

Faced with the British disembarking en masse, General Laveaux, governor of the island, relies on the decree abolishing slavery. A large contingent of blacks rallied under the command of Toussaint Louverture. Santo Domingo now follows the fate of this man.

The abolition proclaimed in the West Indies, without preparation, in the midst of an uprising and without means of implementation, will only receive limited application as a result of the war, limited to Guadeloupe and Guyana.

  • abolition of slavery
  • colonial history
  • slavery
  • Haiti
  • Game
  • revolutionary days
  • Santo Domingo
  • sans culottes
  • West Indies

Bibliography

Yves BENOTThe French Revolution and the end of the coloniesParis, The Discovery, 1987.Thierry DEPAULISThe cards of the Revolution, playing cards and propagandaFrench Museum of Playing Cards, Issy-les-Moulineaux, 1989 Emilie d´ORGEIX and Laurent VIDALFrench cities in the New WorldParis, Somogy, 1999.The French Revolution through the Archives, from the Estates General to the 18 BrumaireParis, National Archives-La Documentation française, 1988.Guide to the sources of the slave trade, slavery and their abolitionDirectorate of Archives de France, La documentation française, Paris, 2007.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "Abolition in the Antilles"


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