Article November 23, 2022

Roundtable Panel—Cécile Vidal’s Caribbean New Orleans: Rethinking the Interconnected Nature of the Global North and South Through a Transcolonial Study of Racial Slavery in the French Atlantic Empire

The Toynbee Prize Foundation Presents
A Roundtable Panel Discussion on:
Cécile Vidal, Caribbean New Orleans: Race, Empire, and the Making of a Slave Society (University of North Carolina Press, 2019)


Within the literature on racialized chattel slavery in the French Atlantic world, New Orleans has been regarded as an anomaly in the development of eighteenth-century French Atlantic slave societies. In the context of this traditional historiography, scholars of the French Empire have attempted to create a division in understanding the racial orders of Caribbean plantation colonies versus North American continental slave societies. In her most recent book Caribbean New Orleans: Race, Empire, and the Making of a Slave Society, Dr. Cécile Vidal offers an alternative picture of New Orleans as a transatlantic outpost and bastion of racial openness that linked the French Caribbean to southern North America.

Vidal’s main thesis contends that the development of New Orleans was influenced by systems of racial dominance that were predicated on Black bondage and white hegemony. New Orleans was directly influenced by the practices and processes found in Saint-Domingue, and to a lesser extent, the French Antilles. Vidal further argues that “what gave New Orleans its Caribbean character was racial slavery,” imploring her readers to rethink colonies and slave societies as “parts of a continuum.” In nine thematic chapters, she chronicles the social history of New Orleans and the influence of its more established neighbouring colonies to the South.

From a global historical perspective, these transatlantic relationships can highlight the complexities and nuances in analyzing racialization and chattel slavery in different areas of the world and under different empires. Vidal’s monograph raises important questions on how race and slavery can be used to explain the development of colonial slave societies. For instance, how did trans-colonial systems of slavery ultimately shape the social order of New Orléans during a period of rapid geopolitical evolution? How can we rethink the history of race and racialization in the formation of the French Atlantic world? In what ways can the intersections between legal, cultural, and sociopolitical histories be used to map the intricate networks of slavery and colonization throughout various parts of the global French Empire?

To answer these questions, and many others, it is a pleasure to welcome two leading scholars on race and chattel slavery in the French Atlantic Empire to a roundtable discussion on Caribbean New Orleans. Our discussion will be finalized with a concluding response from Dr. Vidal, who will share her thoughts on this intellectual exchange between our scholars.

On behalf of the Toynbee Prize Foundation, I thank our participants for this important discussion and stimulating symposium on race, empire, and the development of slave societies in the French Atlantic world.

– Antoney Bell, McGill University


Participant Bios

Sue Peabody is the Meyer Distinguished Professor of History and Liberal Arts at Washington State University in Vancouver. Her research examines the intersection between law, slavery, and race in France’s Atlantic and Indian Ocean colonies. Her most recent book, Madeleine’s Children: Family, Freedom, and Lies in the France’s Indian Ocean Colonies, (Oxford University Press, 2017), examines the themes of slavery and freedom in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Mauritius and Réunion through the microhistory of a mixed-race family. 

Guillaume Aubert is a visiting Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He has written extensively on the formation of race in colonial Louisiana and throughout the rest of the French Atlantic world. Dr. Aubert examines specifically the role of law, religion, kinship, and discourses on racial nationalism in the French Atlantic, which can be seen in his numerous book chapters and his article named The Blood of France: Race and Purity of Blood in the French Atlantic World, (William & Mary Quarterly, 2004).

Cécile Vidal is the Director of Studies at L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, France. She has examined the history of race, imperialism, and the development of slave societies across the French Atlantic world. Her edited book Louisiana: Crossroads of the Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) is a transatlantic collaboration among American, Canadian, European scholars that places Louisiana as a central point in the history of Empire in the Atlantic world. Her most recent book Caribbean New Orleans: Empire, Race, and the Making of a Slave Society (UNC Press, 2020) is the subject of our roundtable.


Reviewers' Comments


Sue Peabody, Washington State University in Vancouver

Caribbean New Orleans is the culminating achievement by a senior historian who has dedicated decades to the study of the founding of New Orleans. From the city’s inception as a trading and military post strategically positioned to negotiate with Indigenous allies and ward off competitive European powers at the mouth of the Mississippi, through its rapid but fraught transformation into a slave-based society, to the eve of its subsequent administration under Spanish rule, the Crescent City has drawn the talents and imagination of innumerable minds, seeking to explain what made New Orleans unique. This extraordinarily rich study draws upon deep historiographical foundations and extensive archival exploration to trace the transformation of a frontier outpost to an urban trading port serving an established plantation economy. Vidal paints a detailed portrait of New Orleans’ residents, their squabbles over honor, the institutions they established and maintained, all within an overarching argument about racialization and the production of whiteness in relation to the larger Atlantic world.

Beginning with an extensive exploration drawing upon several decades’ historiography of racial theory of the early Atlantic world, Caribbean New Orleans offers nine chapters and a conclusion organized around a “spatial logic” (41), beginning with the connections between the nascent city and metropolitan France and Caribbean ports. It then zooms in to the physical establishment of the city, mapping its social layout, articulations of status in celebrations, street interactions, and residential institutions, including the barracks, hospitals, and convent to the intimate domestic relations of the household where gender, race, and status were performed. Reversing the scale, the book then pulls out to consider political, economic, racial, and ethnic categories produced by these interactions, especially in the two decades leading up to the transfer to Spanish administration in 1768. Within each chapter and more generally across the structure of the book, recursive attention to chronological emergence of institutions and ideology contributes to a sense of how these transactions contributed to the city’s historical development.

The early years were grim. In a devastating scenario that would be repeated decades later in Guyana, 60% of the first six thousand Europeans to be migrated between 1717 and 1721 died in the crossing or shortly after arrival. Desperate Company officials pivoted to populate the colony with slaves, importing six thousand African laborers by 1731. The anti-settler Natchez War of 1729-1730 led to a fear of slave revolts, the suspension of the African slave trade in 1731, militarization with expansion of barracks, and a concentration on urban residence (as opposed to plantations) for safety. The slave trade eventually resumed on a smaller scale in the 1740s and 1750s, but drawing almost exclusively from the Saint Domingue and the Lesser Antilles, and coupled with greater intra-Caribbean trade to yield “a time of demographic expansion, economic growth, and social stabilization”. (299) New Orleans was not an important site of combat during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) but the global conflict contributed to Louisiana’s isolation and the formation of racially segregated militias. Vidal maps a vicious campaign to terrorize slaves through judicial torture and corporal punishment in the wake of the war, followed by the city’s transfer to Spanish governance in 1768 and the colonists’ failed attempt to throw off Spanish rule that marks the end of this study.

Vidal’s analysis is at its best when she draws from her training in eighteenth-century French social history to uncover the articulations of space and the rituals of community shaping the settlers’ reestablishment of “Frenchness” in this enclave, so distant from Europe. Would-be aristocrats, ladies of high society, soldiers, merchants, and filles du roi, all bring the expectations of how one should perform one’s status in public, and especially at the moments of honor conflict that pepper the judicial archives. As in the metropole, eighteenth-century New Orleans embodied a transition from the elevated status of the military aristocracy “based on gift-giving and paternalism” to the rising dominance “mercantile and capitalist culture” (331). The influence of Arlette Farge, François-Joseph Ruggiu, and Michel Foucault enliven Vidal’s careful analysis of arguments over church pews, soldiers’ brawls in taverns, and pervasive violence against slaves in the home or on the street. All of these actions contribute to a re-creation of a French identity equated with whiteness, which from inception, rapidly subjugates both Native and African people into a rigidly bifurcated slave society.

Also significant are the instances narrated by Vidal in which French working-class men proclaim their privilege, often accompanied by violent outbursts, to distinguish themselves from enslaved laborers (176-180, 310-313). Such incidents, as these men accessed social mobility through termination of indenture contracts and began to accumulate property and wives, led to a 1751 ordinance requiring “any negro and other slaves,” to show submissiveness and respect toward whites “in the city or in the countryside,” under penalty of fifty lashes and branding. (180) As manumission was very limited in this labor-starved economy, the size of the free community of color remained very small in contrast to Spanish port cities, or even French Caribbean ports like Saint-Pierre, Cap Français, or Port-au-Prince, where a class of non-white artisans and planters eventually came to rival whites in sheer numbers. Given this absence of bourgeois and wealthy free non-whites in New Orleans, most of the white men’s disputes couched their honor in terms of denigration that mingled slave status with racial difference.

Vidal’s observations about women’s positions in New Orleans society are especially insightful. With the limited number of immigrant women from Europe and Africa and the extended military presence of soldiers, the sex ratio of the colony—both enslaved and free—remained very unbalanced for several generations of settlement. Sprinkled throughout the book are choice anecdotes and insights into the ways that gender and race shaped elite white women urban sociability and leveraged status for elite men (124), while reinforcing the privilege of lower-status soldiers by excluding women and slaves from taverns (165-67), in contrast to the mixed sociability enjoyed by enslaved men and women (169). Elsewhere, building on Emily Clark’s ground breaking study of the Ursulines’ New Orleans mission,[1] Vidal ties the ethnic inclusiveness of the convent’s student body to “the dual logic of ancient régime societies, which was both inclusive and unequal … Only orphans of European descent were received at the convent, but the nuns agreed to take enslaved girls and women of Native American and African descent as day pupils and a few as boarders.” (226) No doubt the relative rarity of white girls from intact families among the pupils reflects New Orleans’ high demand/pressure on white girls to marry early into the normative patriarchal structures of European society.

Equally compelling is Vidal’s careful attention to the emerging city’s changing demographics, and the challenges of interpreting the surviving census records (Chapters 2 and 4). As anyone who has tried to make sense of the official tallies of a colonial population knows, the censuses, collected at irregular intervals, invoke a variable set of social categories, generally reflecting a broad-spectrum shift over time from slave status (tinged by racial ascriptions) to racial categories overlaid over slave status that reveal (or sometimes conceal) métissage. The resulting census reports issued by administrators in Québec, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Isle Bourbon, and the rest of France’s colonial outposts, are both tantalizing to historians for how they track the real population and household formation of each society, but also frustrating in how they produce a slippery and inconsistent set of racialized status categories on the residents. Vidal discusses the census evidence and its limitations in detail, while exploring the more revealing evidence of extramarital intermixture in the serial parish records (Chapter 5). In the case of New Orleans, this variable language overlays a rigid structural continuity: unlike most port cities in the Atlantic world, manumission was very rare in New Orleans, preventing the growth of an established community of free people of color. The few affranchis to acquire land did so outside the city limits, downstream at English Turn, and none became wealthy planters, as in southern Saint-Domingue. (429-436)

Vidal’s core argument emphasizes the processes of racialization, taking issue with prior historians’ arguments, beginning with Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s path breaking 1992 study connecting Louisiana’s slave culture with the Bambara peoples of West Africa and, later, Thomas N. Ingersoll’s 1999 focus on New Orleans’s development in comparison with other early North American cities emerging with plantation slavery.[2] Vidal argues that “New Orleans was deeply shaped by racial ideas and practices from the outset and … this early implementation of racial domination made it a Caribbean port city.” (23) In my view, it is unfortunate that Vidal chose this as her primary axis of argumentation, however, because, while she cites many works on Caribbean history in her footnotes, she does not always engage fully with their arguments about the timing and causality of racialization. Most especially, Saint-Domingue is invoked as the primary influence on New Orleans’ Caribbean qualities (e.g., 79-91, 158-161, 289). The problem is that Saint-Domingue developed its plantation regime and social control mechanisms almost a century after than those established in Saint-Christophe, Martinique, and Guadeloupe, which, arguably, had a greater influence on French cultures of racialization and metropolitan policy. As Vidal acknowledges elsewhere in her study, Saint-Domingue’s demographics, and thus culture, differed dramatically from Louisiana, where, by the eve of the revolution, free people of color had become almost as numerous, and some as rich, as whites. In contrast to New Orleans, Saint-Domingue’s class of free people—much as in parts of Iberian America—“owned taverns” (162), “founded a ‘providence house’ for free people of color” (230), “participated in the market economy” (341), “appealed to the court in civil or criminal matters” (414), participated in mixed-race militias (430), and “constituted a great demographic and socioeconomic force” (431). New Orleans’ society was less “racialized”—in the sense of controlling privilege on the basis of race—as rigidly bifurcated on slave and free status, which, however, came to be exclusively associated with blackness and whiteness, respectively, as Indian communities withdrew in the wake of the Natchez War. It was not necessary to restrict privilege on the basis of “whiteness,” when the existing slave law and slave economy prevented most people of African descent from exiting their status as slaves.

As historians have begun to analyze the production of race across the French empire within the last decade or so, from New France to India, a different process of racialization, with deeper historical roots and a broader geographical reach, can be discerned. In the seventeenth century, consistent with Catholic aims for universal evangelization and following the Portuguese model, French colonization and trade from the outset was deeply gendered, promoting French men’s intermarriage with indigenous women around the globe. Company administrators, under royal influence, encouraged intermarriage between French settlers and indigenous (or enslaved African) women and the recognition of mixed children for the purpose of establishing an intermediate class of permanent Catholic families as settlers in the colonies. The first bans on intermarriage between white men and black women were local (Guadeloupe, 1667; Bourbon, 1674)—in opposition to colonial policy generated in Versailles. As everywhere, including New Orleans (269, 281), they were ineffective in preventing the births of mixed children out of wedlock. Moreover, the 1685 Code Noir for the Antilles was a synthesis of Sovereign Council decisions in Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Saint-Christophe[3] (not Saint-Domingue), and it continued to promote the Sun King’s “very Christian” policy to support the formation of legitimate Catholic families, even across the color line.

Like most historians of Louisiana, Vidal misses the importance of earlier regulatory initiatives in Martinique and especially the Isle Bourbon (as opposed to Saint-Domingue) in fashioning the royal reformation of the Code Noir for Louisiana in 1724. The 1724 Louisiana Code Noir did not follow directly on the 1685 edict for Antilles. Rather, it emulates almost verbatim the 1723 Code Noir for the Mascarene islands of the Indian Ocean, which, in turn, was formulated for the very heterogenous free population already established in Isle Bourbon, including free settlers from not only Europe, but also South Asia and Madagascar. As the metropole aimed to standardize racial policy in anticipation of the expansion of the slave trade in the Indian Ocean and Louisiana, the new 1723 and 1724 Codes incorporated several earlier provisions issued for the Lesser Antilles, such as the 1713 restrictions on manumission, and the Bourbon prohibition on interracial marriages. The 1723 Mascarene Code was the first anywhere to ban people of color from inheriting from whites (in direct contrast to the 1685 Antillean Code), and these provisions only make sense in light of the ethnically diverse free population in the Isle of Bourbon and the metropolitan desire to consolidate land concessions into the hands of purely French families.[4] The ban on mixed marriages and restrictions on manumission were more effective in New Orleans at preventing the establishment of a strong free community of color due to the closing of the African slave trade after 1731, whites’ desperation to maintain an enslaved workforce, and the economic failure to establish robust plantation production for export. A more pragmatic practice tolerating mixing and manumission continued at the fringes of empire, including Senegal, the Mascarenes, Guyana, and even Saint-Domingue, especially in the south, as John Garrigus has shown, well into the eighteenth century.[5] Vidal’s argument that New Orleans was a Caribbean city influenced by happenings in Saint-Domingue is partially correct, but it does not adequately reflect New Orleans’ position in the long unfolding history of racialization in the French empire over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[6]

A superb manifestation of Vidal’s training and insights as an urban historian, Caribbean New Orleans contributes to a better understanding of the French roots of New Orleans’s white “creole” society—a culture that would persist throughout the Spanish era and be reinforced by the large influx of French refugees fleeing the Haitian Revolution via Havana in 1809. Vidal’s research ably demonstrates how, in its first half-century, the city built a two-class slave society, with freedom increasingly associated with whiteness and slavery associated African ancestry, even as merchants’ wealth came to displace aristocratic privilege. Read in tandem with several other studies on the cultures of the enslaved and comparative histories of free people of color, which were published too recently to have been included,[7] Caribbean New Orleans makes a stronger case for the city’s Frenchness than its Caribbean character.


Guillaume Aubert, University of Massachusetts in Amherst

There are academic books you know you’ll read only once: forgettable books driven by the productivist agenda of academic life, and books that do the job of addressing their subject matter adequately enough to let us move on to the next one. Then, there are those rare gems whose depth, breadth, and countless insights will compel something of an eternal return. Cécile Vidal’s tour de force falls in the latter category. It will undoubtedly become the reference work for all historians of New Orleans, and an indispensable toolbox for all those interested in thinking and rethinking about slavery and race within, across, and well beyond the eighteenth-century French Atlantic.

Steeped in an impressive command of both French- and English-language historiographies of race and slavery across North America and the Caribbean, mobilizing a variety of conceptual works, and displaying an intimate and unparalleled knowledge of the archives of French New Orleans and Louisiana, Caribbean New Orleans takes us on an immersive journey into the complex, evolving, and dynamic textures of eighteenth-century New Orleans slave society to explore processes of racialization in that city in connection with “a greater Caribbean world,” (1) with a special emphasis on New Orleans’ relationship with Saint-Domingue.

Situating “early North American history on the periphery of Caribbean history,” (2) this extraordinarily capacious book offers a very welcome and thoroughly convincing intervention on a range of historiographical questions: the “supposed openness and fluidity”(1) of French New Orleans in particular and urban slavery in general, a focus on “racial formation, or racialization” envisaged as a “dynamic and protean process” in contrast to a “race relations” approach and its reifications and essentialization of “racial identities” and the confusion of “racial categories with social groups.” (27) Definitely put to rest are the unconvincing approximations of much of the scholarship of the 1990s and early 2000s that placed Louisiana and New Orleans on a map of North America and offered a debate between two mutually exclusive interpretative frameworks: the rigid and entrenched racial binaries of English colonies or the exotic racial fluidity and inclusiveness of French/Latin invariably-failing and not-very-imperial colonies. Against the apprehension of race and racial formation through the exclusive lens of intellectual history and the continued tendency among historians to tie the concept of race to the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century, Vidal reminds us that “slave societies only needed rudimentary notions of race to become racialized, not fully formalized and systematized scientific racist theories.” (30) 

Going well beyond the habitual gauging of processes of racialization anchored in “the legal and social treatment of métissage (interracial unions) and the status of free people of color,” (33) Vidal takes a deep dive into all the archival collections New Orleans has to provide a fine-grained analysis of “the multiple mechanisms by which race insinuated itself in every domain of social life, not only in the intimate sphere of sexuality and the family.” (33) The approach here is on racial formation as “a contingent and pliable process, one that adapts to constant and multiple tensions and perturbations.” (34) Those are explored through nine chapters zooming in and out of New Orleans, probing its evolving relationships with the rest of the Atlantic world, especially Saint-Domingue and the French Caribbean, its connections with the Louisiana hinterland, the interactions between its free and enslaved inhabitants in a variety of public and private settings and spaces, and through the close examination of a variety of social institutions: from labor to trade, credit, justice, and militia service. While all chapters teem with insights about how to write a microhistory of race with transatlantic resonance, the last chapter makes a remarkable case for inscribing the 1768 Revolt, against the transfer of the city to Spanish sovereignty, into the politicized and mutually constitutive reconfigurations of whiteness and Frenchness in New Orleans, Saint-Domingue, and France. As Vidal demonstrates, that often-neglected rebellion not only constituted one of the starting points of the Atlantic revolutions to come, it also continued “to fuel the debate about the place of colonies within the nation during the French and Haitian Revolutions.” (497)

At over 500 pages, including copious footnotes that testify to the extraordinary scope of the historiography and archival sources mobilized while also engaging with critical historiographical questions, Caribbean New Orleans is a cornucopia of individual and collective biographies exploring the tribulations, confrontations, and interactions of all components New Orleans urban society. This ranges from its diverse enslaved majority, its small but growing population of free people of color, its initially large number of white indentured servants replaced by a substantial population of artisans and day laborers, and its white soldiers, to the city’s white slaveholding elites, including military officers, merchants, colonial administrators and members of the Superior Council, Louisiana’s main court and governing body whose records constitute one of Vidal’s main archival sources. Indeed, in Vidal’s hands, inspired by “Arlette Farge’s pioneering use of judicial archives,” the surviving records of the Superior Council, comprising some “two hundred civil or criminal suits over insults, assault, murder, theft, runaways, and desertion” (38) become the object of careful and nuanced analyses of the testimonies of free and enslaved defendants and witnesses, providing a window into processes of self-identification and their connections to the evolution of ever shifting languages and practices of race. A host of additional archival sources, from surviving sacramental records, official correspondence, censuses, published and manuscript histories and memoirs, as well as the only surviving collection of private letters from French Louisiana, anchor Vidal’s demonstration of the inscription of New Orleans’ processes of racialization within a larger Atlantic World and a broader French Atlantic empire. Commercial, imperial, and personal connections between New Orleans and the French Caribbean provided a fertile terrain for the circulation of languages, prescriptions, and practices of race. Whether she is exploring the elaboration and implementation of slave laws specific to the colony and its capital (from the Caribbean-inspired and royally promulgated 1724 Code Noir to the 1751 local ruling on the policing of taverns, slaves, and markets), or tracing the uses and reconfigurations of racial taxonomies in the capital city and their intersections with multiple lexicons of belonging (“French”, Canadian”, “Provencal,” “Creole,” “Senegal”, “Bambara”, etc.), Vidal carefully considers transatlantic or transcolonial entanglements as well as local and regional specificities.

New Orleans was not Port-au-Prince, and Louisiana was not Saint-Domingue, but the latter’s slaving regime certainly served as a model or source of inspiration for the slave society Louisiana authorities and settlers created in and around New Orleans. As Vidal puts it, New Orleans was “a Caribbean port city for the way racial prejudice quickly came to inform all its social institutions and relations, despite the lack of a large population of free blacks during most of the French regime.” (23) Its situation in North America, in what were and continued to be Indigenous lands, did have a direct bearing on the racial tensions and racial formation in both the colony and its capital. Indeed, Vidal shows that the Natchez Wars of 1729-1731 “marked a major turning point in the way the French apprehended and managed their relationships with both Native Americans and slaves of African descent.” (116) Those wars, which included the deportation of several hundred Natchez captives to Saint-Domingue and the ensuing conflicts with the Chickasaw, reinforced tensions between the necessity of alliances with Indigenous polities and the entrenched desire, as the famous colonists and chronicler Le Page du Pratz put it, to be “done with them forever.”(117)

Genocidal impulses aside, the early 1730s also marked the end of the Compagnie des Indes’ purview over the colony, ushering in significant demographic and social transformation while also inflecting the colony’s relationship with the metropole and the Caribbean. Under royal rule and until its tumultuous transfer to Spain in the 1760s, Louisiana almost entirely lost its direct connection to the transatlantic slave trade while the arrival of migrants of European descent became limited. This situation not only furthered exchanges with the Antilles and reinforced ties with Saint-Domingue, but also focused masters on the preservation of their enslaved labor force which produced something of “a relatively milder regime of labor in comparison with the Antilles.” (327) Again, that “milder regime,” which historiographically has also been connected to urban slavery, should not be confused with a lack of commitment on the part of both slaveholding and nonslaveholding whites to the perpetuation of racial slavery and white supremacy. “The continual tensions between slaves’ unrest and struggle for greater autonomy and dignity” and “an adaptive collective policy of surveillance, discipline, and containment” (26) never ceased to shape the evolving textures of New Orleans’ racial order.

As all great books do, Caribbean New Orleans elicits questions. Those might include unreasonable demands in light of the already massive depth and breadth of the work. One such seemingly exorbitant ask would be a more thorough engagement with a number of archival collections that would provide further exploration of the entanglements of individual and collective trajectories between New Orleans, Saint-Domingue, and the rest of the French Atlantic.

Vidal’s account of the often-cited case of Étienne Larue, a Senegal-born pilot of a ship from Saint-Domingue who was arrested in 1747 following a confrontation and the exchange of insults with a group of soldiers, is a case in point. To Vidal, this incident of street violence in which “a free man of color who was an outsider” (178) dared to respond to insults only to be sentenced to a fine, offers a contrast with the plight of local slaves caught in street incidents who remained at the mercy of white “nonslaveholders, servicemen in particular.” (178) That Etienne Larue was born in Senegal—and according to the record of his testimony “the son of Sr. Larue, free negro commandant of the vessels of the Company of the Indies” (177)—opens questions for Vidal and for all historians of the Atlantic about the geographical and archival scope of the entangled stories they reconstruct and analyze. Vidal tells us that “other documents show that he had served as a pilot and then as a captain on ships circulating in the greater Caribbean in the early 1720s” (177), citing a 1723 logbook held in the Navy Archives in Paris and a 1735 letter from the administrators of Martinique to the minister of the navy held in the overseas/colonial archives in Aix-en-Provence. The first issue here is that according to Etienne’s own testimony, which Vidal quotes, he was 22 when arrested in 1747… The Larue referred to in those “other documents” was actually Etienne’s father and namesake, whose Compagnie des Indes records held in Lorient designated as a ‘mulatre’ who served as a ship captain for that same Compagnie on several voyages between Lorient and Senegal during the 1720s. Additional records from Lorient and in the collections pertaining to Senegal held in Aix-En-Provence reveal a transatlantic family story unfolding between Saint-Louis du Sénégal, Lorient, Saint-Domingue, and New Orleans before Etienne was arrested there in 1747. Born the natural son of Pierre Larue, a French-born ship captain serving with the Compagnie du Sénégal at the turn of the eighteenth century, Etienne’s father relocated with his son to Saint-Domingue following the death of his wife and Etienne’s mother, Marie Thomas Larue, in Saint-Louis du Sénégal. In the early 1730s, Etienne’s father visited New Orleans with a proposal to import enslaved Africans on a ship he would outfit out of France. If that proposal never came to fruition, Larue père’s attempted venture into the Louisiana slave trade business could have had something to do with his acquaintance with Laurent Patrice Mac-Mahon, named first councillor at the Louisiana Superior Council in 1730, and with whom he had served as a witness for the baptism of one Joseph René “nègre du Sénégal” in Lorient a few years earlier. By the time Etienne appeared in front of the Superior Council, Mac-Mahon was long gone but the relative leniency councillors displayed toward Etienne might have had something to do with those previous connections.[1]

Tracing the transatlantic tribulations of enslaved individuals from New Orleans to the metropole could also tell us something about how those New Orleanians shaped the evolution of metropolitan slave law. One point of departure could be the story of Roc, born free in Cayenne, where he was captured by a Spanish vessel before being sold in Louisiana and remaining enslaved there for eight years. When his last master, the merchant Michel Poupet, then based in Louisiana before going on to make a fortune in Saint-Domingue, took him to La Rochelle in 1769, Roc initiated what would become one of the most famous metropolitan freedom suits of the period.[2]

Speaking of transatlantic legal cultures, a tracing of the pre-existing notions of race that would be mobilized in both eighteenth-century Saint-Domingue and New Orleans should perhaps consider the ways in which sixteenth- and seventeenth-century metropolitan jurists apprehended notions of race and blood in cases that had nothing to do with colonies or colonial populations—or even nobility or noble status. The traveler, physician, and philosopher François Bernier might have been “the first [in 1680] to replace the old definition of race as lineage by a new one that could be extended to the whole of humanity.”(86) Yet, the mobilization of a language of kinship anchored in blood to devise discourses of naturalized belonging and hierarchies beyond singular or noble lineages had been around for quite some time…While not extending the term to “the whole of humanity,” one of the most renowned jurists of the 17th century nevertheless considered race a close relative of the notion of ‘patrie.’ In a 1634 plea at the Parlement de Paris, Antoine Le Maistre questioning whether one could ever “renounce his patrie” spoke of the “invisible chains which bind us to our country, which gave us, through our ancestors, the source of our race.” This came along the argument that “a Frenchman engenders a Frenchman everywhere” since “it is the blood that is French” not “the air.”[3] A few years earlier, the official poet of Louis XIII and erstwhile law student François de Malherbe exhorted his royal patron to “extinguish the seed” of Huguenots so that they would become “a race forever abolished.”[4]

As we continue to ponder processes of racial formation and their historical cross-pollinations with the makings of whiteness and nationhood, Caribbean New Orleans’ sophisticated argumentation, compelling methodologies, and breathtaking erudition, is and will remain an indispensable reference.


Author Response by Cécile Vidal, L’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS)


Many thanks to both Guillaume Aubert and Sue Peabody. I am deeply grateful for their close reading, generous comments, and insightful criticisms of Caribbean New Orleans. The three of us are roughly of the same generation. Throughout our careers, we have witnessed and participated together in the rise of early French Atlantic/Empire studies in the context of a deeper engagement between Anglophone and Francophone historiographies. Thanks to this growing interest in a long-neglected field of research, the last three decades have been exciting times of intellectual exchanges and emulation. Aubert’s and Peabody’s work has accompanied and inspired my long investigation of the entanglements of empire, slavery, and race. It is an honor and a pleasure to continue this dialogue while discussing my monograph on French New Orleans in an Atlantic and imperial perspective.

Peabody is the most critical of the book’s argument. She contends that New Orleans society was shaped by its connections with the whole French Empire, including the Mascarenes, rather than with only or mainly the French Antilles. During the last decade, there has been a growing tendency among historians of French colonies and outposts to work within an imperial rather than an Atlantic framework of analysis. Anglophone historians of the Mascarenes have been especially eager to push for this trend as they feel their work has been ignored by Atlanticists. I agree with Peabody that historians of French slave societies, focused on the Caribbean, should pay more attention to the Mascarenes and that studying the interplay of slavery and race within the whole French Empire is illuminating. In the book, I show how, beside the Antilles, the metropole shaped, in many decisive ways, the formation of New Orleans society. As for the relationships with the Antilles and Saint-Domingue in particular, I did not initially intend to emphasize their importance when I started to work on this comprehensive social history of New Orleans. It was the empirical work in the archives that convinced me to do so. The Caribbean connections appeared everywhere in the primary sources, a phenomenon that I demonstrate in the first chapter of the book. Most migrants of European descent coming from France to Louisiana had their first experience of racial slavery during their stay in Saint-Domingue during the requisite stopover in one of the colony’s ports on their way to New Orleans. Not only were Louisiana and Saint-Domingue linked by the circulation of free and forced migrants, goods, capital, and news, but historical actors highlighted the importance of Saint-Domingue as a model. In 1731, for instance, Marc-Antoine Caillot, expressed his hope of building “a second Saint-Domingue” in Louisiana.[1] A century later, Pierre-Clément de Laussat imagined that “among all our colonies Saint-Domingue is the one from which Louisiana has borrowed most of its spirit and customs.”[2]. The model of Saint-Domingue fueled the desire of Louisiana authorities and settlers to establish a slave society marked by race and informed its implementation. In contrast, even though a few free and enslaved migrants moved between Louisiana and the Mascarenes, the Indian Ocean colonies were hardly ever mentioned in all the documentation dealing with Louisiana. They did not seem to be part of the colonial authorities and settlers’ imperial horizon. Nevertheless, Saint-Domingue probably played the role of a second imperial center, after the metropole, for both Louisiana and the Mascarenes. I have no evidence for the first half of the eighteenth century, but the edition of the administrative correspondence from Île de France between 1787-1789 reveals more than 100 references to Saint-Domingue in the governor’s letters.[3]

Peabody bases her claim that New Orleans was a French port-city rather than a Caribbean one solely on the examination of slave law dealing with mixed unions and the status of free people of color. She also attributes the lack of development of a large community of free people of color, first and foremost, to law on manumission. However, the same restrictions on manumission existed in both Louisiana and in the Antilles. In the Caribbean, the formation of a large population of free people of color over the eighteenth century was linked to manumissions granted by masters, but also to slaves’ self-purchases (even though they were forbidden) and to natural growth among freed people and descendants of freed people.[4] In the Louisiana capital, the small size of the population of free people of color was first related to time as New Orleans remained under French sovereignty for only two generations. Moreover, the quasi-cessation of the transatlantic slave trade in 1731 explains the reluctance of settlers to free their slaves. In addition, the port-city’s economy did not offer conditions favoring self-purchase by slaves. Hence, the Louisiana-Caribbean example shows that slave societies sharing the same law could evolve differently, while slave societies with different laws could develop alike because of common demographic, economic, and environmental circumstances. 

Peabody’s focus on law goes against one of my book’s insights, namely that “one needs to go beyond law to take the full measurement of what it meant for an urban slave society to become racialized. The Code Noir was instrumental, but it should not be the sole or main object of investigation if one wants to track down the pervasive character of race in all its facets.” (p. 37) The focus on the legal apparatus seems problematic as it implies a conception of racialization as a top-down process, whereas many mechanisms by which race manifested itself were not prescribed by law and were initiated by all sorts of actors. Everybody, both free and enslaved people, used racial categories to identify one another in daily life; the missionaries recorded the racial identification of baptized enslaved infants in the sacramental records without any obligation to do so; the magistrates spontaneously ceased to prosecute white people for theft; the indentured servants refused to perform the same kind of work as slaves; some soldiers initiated fights against enslaved or free men of color in the streets, etc. The book therefore examines how race informed the language that historical actors used to express their vision of the social order as well as all their interactions in daily life. In doing so, it demonstrates how no social institutions or relationships escaped the impact of racial slavery. As important as sexuality and family were, race cannot be restricted to these matters. 

Even if I stick to this issue of law, I am not convinced by Peabody’s view that Louisiana inherited its Code Noir from the Mascarenes rather than from the Antilles. There is no question that the 1723 Mascarenes and the 1724 Louisiana Codes Noirs were almost identical. I also agree with Peabody that the modifications introduced in the 1724 Louisiana Code Noir did not come from a debate in the Mississippi colony on mixed unions and the status of free people of color. They were the result of a debate happening elsewhere in the French Empire. But contrary to Peabody, I do not believe that the situation in the Mascarenes was highly influential. Instead, the Caribbean, both the Lesser Antilles and Saint-Domingue, played the main role. My arguments are the following:

1) The dates of promulgation of the December 1723 Mascarenes Code and the March 1724 Louisiana Code are too close in time. The chronology does not support the idea that the directors of the Company of the Indies first worked on a Code solely for the Mascarenes and then decided to later promulgate this Code in Louisiana. More likely, the directors of the Company of the Indies, to which both colonies belonged at the time, decided to work on a modified Code for both the Mascarenes and Louisiana at the same time. Indeed, colonial authorities in Louisiana had been asking for the local promulgation of a Code Noir since 1721.

2) The 1685 edict on slavery started to be called “Code Noir” in 1718. The expression Code Noir is included in the title of the 1724 Louisiana edict whereas it is not the case for the lettres patentes for Bourbon and Île de France.

3) Guillaume Aubert and Vernon V. Palmer have shown that the modifications on manumission and the punishment of freed blacks helping runaways rested on royal or local ordinances published for the Caribbean between 1685 and 1724 and that during the same period a debate also continued on mixed unions and developed on inheritance from whites to blacks in the Antilles[5].

4) In the Mascarenes, the previous local legislation on métissage (mixed unions) before 1723 did not concern slaves as slavery and the slave trade were prohibited in French possessions in the South-West Indian Ocean until the 1680s. The prohibition of mixed marriages first promulgated in 1674 (before the first 1685 Code Noir promulgated for the Lesser Antilles) and then reiterated in 1689, 1701, and 1710 concerned free “négresses” (“negresses”) and “noirs” (“black men”). These laws reacted to the rise of métissage with women brought from Madagascar (métissage there was encouraged to support the various attempts at colonizing the Big Island) and India (the Luso-Indian women). However, in the 1723 Mascarenes and 1724 Louisiana Codes Noirs, the target was the legitimate and illegitimate unions (both marriage and concubinage) between whites and enslaved women or freed or free-born women of color of African descent. It implied that it would no longer be possible for a master to marry his slave and free her in doing so. The issue at stake was both the color line and the divide between free people and the enslaved as it was specified that concubinage with enslaved women was forbidden even for free-born or freed blacks.

5) As local demographic and economic circumstances differed from one colony to the other, no complete standardization of racial policies was possible within the French Empire. Admittedly, a general trend toward the prohibition of all kinds of mixed unions took place over time within the whole early French Empire, but the chronology and the logics behind these various local prohibitions differed according to the targeted populations and the issues at stake locally. The various non-European populations were not racialized in the same way. However, because of the wealth that the Antilles brought to the empire, they remained the main source of inspiration. So, even though confirming my theory would need more work on the specific authors and circumstances surrounding the writing of the 1723 Mascarenes and 1724 Louisiana Code Noir, I am convinced that both the Mascarenes and Louisiana inherited their Code Noir from the Caribbean. At the time, they were both slave societies in the making, while the Antilles were already viewed as the most successful slave societies and economies.

Caribbean New Orleans is thus based on the idea that the system of racial slavery that had already developed in the French Antilles throughout the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century—and that cannot be reduced to the Code Noir—inspired the establishment of a slave society highly marked by race in New Orleans through the Saint-Domingue-Louisiana connections. I emphasize the role of Saint-Domingue because Louisiana’s relationships with this colony were more regular and intensive than with the Lesser Antilles and because it served as a model, but I do not ignore Louisiana’s relationships with the Lesser Antilles and those between them and Saint-Domingue. Such a position goes against the Francophone and Anglophone historiographies which consider that race only developed in the second half of the eighteenth century or even the nineteenth century.[6] But the book focuses on what happened in New Orleans. Still, Peabody, as well as Aubert would have liked me to dwell more extensively than I do on the chronology of the appearance of the notion of race and of racial formation outside New Orleans, within the French kingdom and empire as a whole, before and after the first half of the eighteenth century.

Moreover, Peabody asserts that “New Orleans’ society was less “racialized”—in the sense of controlling privilege on the basis of race—as rigidly bifurcated on slave and free status, which, however, came to be exclusively associated with blackness and whiteness, respectively, as Indian communities withdrew in the wake of the Natchez War. It was not necessary to restrict privilege on the basis of “whiteness,” when the existing slave law and slave economy prevented most people of African descent from exiting their status as slaves. This conception reflects her own view on the chronology of racialization within the Atlantic world as it is implicitly founded on the idea that the Atlantic system of slavery, including the transatlantic slave trade, had initially nothing to do with race and that race developed only within colonial and slave societies when colonial authorities and settlers had to deal with free people of non-European descent and decide to maintain their subordination to whites. Hence her focus on mixed unions and the status of free people of color. But her conception is also at odds with the widespread opinion that racial domination was harsher in biracial slave societies such as the southern colonies of British North America than in triracial slave societies such as the ones which developed over time in the Caribbean or the Mascarenes.

In contrast to Peabody, I believe that slavery and race expanded in tandem within the Atlantic world—and beyond—in conjunction with imperialism and colonialism, to the extent that it is impossible to disentangle one from the other even though they maintained complex relationships. The interplay of slavery and race started immediately with the formation of the Atlantic world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.[7] Admittedly, the Atlantic system of slavery, which associated a massive Atlantic slave trade and violent forms of colonial slavery, could have developed without race. In world history, harsh systems of slavery have existed without any relation to race. Take for example the system that prevailed in the Roman Empire: maybe more than 100 million men and women were captured and sold in the Mediterranean and its hinterlands throughout one thousand years; there was also violent exploitation of slave laborers in large villas, not so different from American sugar plantations. Yet, slavery always implies a process of marginalization and othering of slaves, although this process can rest on ethnicity, religion, or race. In the case of late medieval and early modern Europe, the notion of race, in relation with the ideology of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood), did not appear in connection with slavery and the slave trade, but it was available in the Iberian Peninsula when the Portuguese and the Spanish began their maritime expansion. While they enslaved not only Africans but also Native Americans and Asians along the way, they only imposed on Sub-Saharan Africans a system of slavery which differed from the one previously existing in the Iberian Peninsula by its massiveness, its association with (sugar) plantations, its intense level of exploitation and violence, its capitalist impulse, and the abandonment of their traditional legal and religious modes of justification. The Atlantic system of African slavery they created thus quickly became justified and operated by race. The French as well as the Dutch and the English borrowed from the Iberians the idea, at the heart of racial slavery, that Africans had a natural vocation to be enslaved. This idea was expressed in the double meaning of the word “negro” which referred to both slave status and race as if “negroes” could be nothing else than slaves. Such an influence explains the willingness of the French, the English, and the Dutch to participate in the transatlantic slave trade and to develop slave societies in their American colonies from the seventeenth century. While they imposed some forms of servitude on men and women of European descent (indentured or penal servitude), they made a clear distinction between slavery and these other forms of servitude and never enslaved men and women of European descent in their American colonies. Consequently, the first and the most important privilege conferred by whiteness was exclusion from the ethno-racial groups that could be reduced to slavery.

Even though race played a role from the outset within these European colonial empires, its manifestations, their degree of discrimination and violence and the populations they targeted, never ceased to evolve according to both global and local circumstances. It is also essential to understand that race was never an end in itself. As Barbara J. Fields has argued for the nineteenth-century United States, the planters’ goal was not to produce white supremacy but cotton or, elsewhere, sugar, tobacco, or coffee[8]. This is the reason why I speak and write about “racial slavery.” This expression conveys the idea that race was always subordinated to the slave system. In all American slave societies, the intermediary class which necessarily developed between masters and slaves was either made of “poor whites” or free people of color, but this alternative was related to different demographic and economic circumstances, not to a difference in the level of intensity of racial prejudice. In both cases, the goal was to maintain the slave order. Hence, biracial societies were no more racialized than triracial societies, or the other way around. They were only racialized differently, although they could share many of the other mechanisms by which race insinuated itself in daily interactions. More generally, I don’t believe that we can measure the degree of racialization of a society. What we can measure is the frequency and intensity of the violence and discrimination based on race. Still, in both cases, the defense of the slave order fueled white supremacy.

This broad overview of racialization across the Atlantic world focuses on the entanglement of slavery and race and does not deal with the role of imperialism and colonialism more broadly—enslaved and free Africans were considered to be at the bottom of the racial hierarchy, but they were not the only populations targeted by racial prejudice. Nor does it explain in detail what happened specifically in the French Empire. I agree with Aubert that to analyze how racialization unfolded within the French Empire one would need to study the evolving uses and meanings of the term race in all kinds of primary sources, including the juridical documentation, from its early meaning as lineage and its conflation with other terms such as nation and people to the idea of the transmission of moral and social characters through corporal fluids, including blood, from one generation to the other, throughout the late medieval period and the early modern period. Among many other things, one would also have to follow the life trajectories of individuals and families such as the Larue family (thanks to his mastery of primary sources about all parts of the French Empire, Aubert’s work on this family reveals a much more complex and fascinating trajectory that the one I had been able to reconstruct and that better explains Étienne Larue’s trial and sentence) and Roc as they reveal how race worked out differently in the various parts of the empire and how historical actors used mobility to take advantage of these discrepancies. We really need such an imperial investigation of the embroilment of colonization, slavery, and race for the whole French Empire, drawing on legal history, intellectual history, science studies, art history, cultural history, and sociopolitical history.

However, the goal of Caribbean New Orleans is both less and more ambitious than this. The book is less ambitious in that it focuses on the social history of one port-city, exploring the specificity of a slave society marked by race in an urban setting, while paying attention to its situation within the French Empire and the rest of the Atlantic world, and implicitly comparing North American and Caribbean slave societies. It is more ambitious for its micro-historical approach of a very small urban center, which illuminates how race was embedded and performed in daily life and informed every social interaction between all historical actors, whatever their status, class, gender, ethnicity, and racial categorization, which means that the book deals as much with the enslaved as with their enslavers and as much with blackness as with whiteness. Contrasting places of sociability, labor relations, or the possibility of participating in commerce according to status, gender, and race, the use of physical violence against white women and slaves within households, or the formation of white and free colored militia—these phenomena, among many others, make it possible to better understand the multiple constraints that weighed on free and enslaved people of African descent and the constant struggle they had to wage to survive, alleviate their oppression, access resources, forge relations of solidarity, build spaces of autonomy, and escape or distance themselves from slavery. It would be very difficult to write about the texture of everyday life, in this socially inclusive manner, at an imperial scale over several centuries. Because both approaches allow one to see and understand different things, both of them seem necessary and complementary. 


[1] Erin M. Greenwald, ed., A Company Man: The Remarkable French-Atlantic Voyage of a Clerk for the Company of the Indies. A Memoir by Marc-Antoine Caillot (New Orleans: The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2013), 85.

[2] Pierre-Clément de Laussat, Mémoires sur ma vie… (Pau: Ed. du Gave, 1831), 91.

[3] Lydie Diana Von-Pine, “Correspondance officielle de l’île de France au temps du gouverneur Bruni d’Entrecasteaux (1787-1789),” Ph.D. Dissertation, Université de la Réunion, 2016.

[4] Dominique Rogers, “Les libres de couleur dans les capitales de Saint-Domingue: fortune, mentalités et intégration à la fin de l'Ancien Régime (1776-1789),” Ph.D. Dissertation, Université Bordeaux 3, 1999.

[5] Guillaume Aubert, “‘To Establish One Law and Definite Rules’: Race, Religion, and the Transatlantic Origins of the Louisiana Code Noir,” in Cécile Vidal, ed., Louisiana: Crossroads of the Atlantic World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 21-43; Vernon Valentine Palmer, “The Origins and Authors of the Code Noir,” Louisiana Law Review, LVI (1995), 363-390; Vernon Valentine Palmer, Through the Codes Darkly: Slave Law and Civil Law in Louisiana, Clark, N.J., Lawbook Exchange, 2012.

[6] In addition to the references cited in the Introduction to Caribbean New Orleans, see Claude-Olivier Doron and Élie Haddad, eds., Special issues, “Race, sang et couleur à l’époque moderne: Histoires plurielles,” Revue d’histoire modern et contemporaine, 68, 2 and 3 (2021), 7-158 and 7-204.

[7] I have recently expressed my views on the subject in a book chapter entitled « L’ordre de la race dans les mondes atlantiques, XVe-XVIIIe siècles », in Paulin Ismard, Benedetta Rossi, and Cécile Vidal, eds., Les mondes de l’esclavage. Une histoire comparée (Paris: Le Seuil, 2021), 923-940. See also Jean-Frédéric Schaub and Silvia Sebastiani, Race et histoire dans les sociétés occidentales (XVe-XVIIIe siècle) (Paris: Albin Michel, 2021).

[8] Barbara Jeanne Fields, “Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America,” New Left Review, 181 (1990), 99, 111.

[1] See “Rôle du Fier” (1726-1727), Service Historique de la Défense de Lorient, 2P 22-II.13; “Larue, Pierre, officier des vaisseaux de la Compagnie du Sénégal (1701-1702),” ANOM COL E 258; “Lettre relation de la prise du fort d’Arguin par le capitaine Etienne La Rue, 29 mai 1724,” BNF, Français 24222, fols. 367-372; Acte de décès, “Marie Thomas Larüe mulatresse” (May 13, 1732), ANOM, Etat Civil, Sénégal Saint-Louis 1732 [entry 100]; Edme-Gatien Salmon to the minister of the navy, “Transmission d’un mémoire de Larue, mulâtre de Léogane,” October 22, 1734, ANOM COL C13A 19, fols. 88-89; “Batéme de Joseph René negre,” May 4, 1726, Archives municipales de Lorient, GG4.

[2] Sue Peabody has offered a brilliant analysis of Roc’s case and the judicial mémoire his lawyer Henrion de Pansey published on his behalf but the relevance of the eight years Roc spent as a slave in Louisiana has yet to be explored. See Sue Peabody, There Are No Slaves in France. The Political Culture of race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime (Oxford, 1996), 98-103.

[3] Delivered in June 1634, Les Plaidoyez et Harangue de Monsieur Le Maistre (Paris, 1657), 349.

[4] François de Malherbe, “Pour le Roy allant chastier la rébellion des Rochelois et chasser les Anglois, qui en leur faveur estoient descendus en l'isle de Ré” [1627] in Les Oeuvres de Mre François de Malherbe (Paris, 1630), 60, 62.


[1] Emily Clark, Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society, 1727-1834, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2012).

[2] Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992); Thomas N. Ingersoll, Mammon and Manon in Early New Orleans: The First Slave Society in the Deep South 1718-1819 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999). Vidal cites the many subsequent histories of colonial New Orleans that followed these works that Caribbean New Orleans is in dialogue with on p. 21, n. 24.

[3] Vernon Palmer, “The Origins and Authors of the Code Noir,” Louisiana Law Review 56, No. 2 (1996): 366,

[4] This inheritance ban was extended to Martinique and Guadeloupe in the royal declaration of 5 February 1726, but there is some ambiguity as to whether it was ever issued for Saint-Domingue, or, indeed, the degree to which it was observed in any of France’s colonies. “Déclaration du roi interprétant l'édit de mars 1685 sur les esclaves nègres des îles du Vent, et particulièrement l'article 39 sur les châtiments à infliger à ceux qui donneraient retraite aux nègres fugitifs, ainsi que l'article 52 de l'édit de mars 1724, qui interdit les donations entre vifs par des blancs à des affranchis (n° 34) (5 février 1726)” (FR ANOM COL A 25 F° 59). Auguste Lebeau, De la condition des gens de couleur libres sous l’ancien régime, d’après des documents des Archives coloniales, (Paris: Guillaumin, 1903), 114.  Victor Sablé, La transformation des isles d'Amérique en départements français en départements français, (Paris : Larose, 1955), 34-35; Debbasch, Couleur et liberté, 40, n. 4. This law would not be suppressed until 1839; Jean-François Niort, La Condition des libres de couleur aux îles du vent (XVIIe-XIXe siècles): ressources et limites d’un système ségrégationniste  (Pointe-à-pitre: Centre d’Analyse Géopolitique et Internationale, Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, n.d. [2002]), 9, n.51.

[5] John Garrigus, Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue, Americas in the Early Modern Atlantic World (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). The hardening of racial segregation accelerated at the conclusion of the Seven Years War, with the loss of Canada and Louisiana, and a rapid acceleration of emigration to France’s remaining colonies in the Antilles and the Mascarenes.

[6] Sue Peabody, Madeleine’s Children: Family, Freedom, Secrets, and Lies in France’s Indian Ocean Colonies (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 50-57. For a much deeper expression of this argument, see Melanie Lamotte, Making Race: Policies, Sex, and Social Orders in the French Atlantic and Indian Oceans, 1608–1756 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, forthcoming).

[7] Sophie White, Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute, Williamsburg, VA, 2019); Alejandro de la Fuente and Ariela J. Gross, Becoming Free, Becoming Black: Race, Freedom, and Law in Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020).

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