The French in Haiti
This view of Cap François belongs to the Library’s remarkable collection of 117 manuscript maps and views called the Cartes Marines. The Cartes Marines depict French colonial outposts around the world during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Founded on King Louis XIV’s edict of 1685, along with subsequent revisions made through 1689, the Code Noir regulated slavery in the French colonies. For the most part, the Code concentrated on defining the condition of slavery. It mandated, among other things, that only Catholic marriages would be recognized and that weddings between slaves could occur only with the masters’ permission; children born between married slaves were considered slaves, belonging to the female slave’s master; and children born between a male slave and a free woman were free. Furthermore, freed slaves were French subjects, even if born elsewhere and freed slaves had the same rights as French colonial subjects. The Code also expressly forbade slaves from selling sugar cane, even with the permission of their masters, because sugar cane was a highly valued resource in French Caribbean colonies.
A French law of April 1826 allowed citizens to file claims for property on the former French colony of Saint Domingue. Elie Allard, a former resident of the island and owner of a half-interest in a brickyard there, died in January 1785 without leaving direct heirs. These papers document the efforts of his mother’s family, namely his cousin Marguerite Angélique Meschinet and second cousins Jacques Vassal de Nesle and Jean Bourrut, to inherit the right to compensation for this property.
Nicolas Ponce’s heavily illustrated Recueil de vues des lieux principaux de la colonie françoise de Saint-Domingue contains parts of previously published works, including maps and descriptions of Saint Dominigue. The engravings shown here were presented by Ponce as contrasting images of the slaves and free blacks of Saint Dominigue, on the issues of their style of dress, daily activities, and access to water.
French naturalist Michel Descourtilz published detailed textual descriptions and illustrations of the vegetation and animal life and the native customs he observed during his travels in North America and the Caribbean. In the third volume of Voyages d'un naturaliste, he explains that he spent part of his time in Saint Dominigue as a prisoner of rebelling slaves who spared his life only because they needed his medicinal knowledge; French soldiers later freed him. He also recounts the story of an African man who was sold into slavery and taken to Haiti. The man thought he had been forever torn apart from a woman he loved, only to later find her in Haiti. This song is the happily reunited couple’s declarations of love for each other. Descourtilz notes that he has attempted to present accurately the original dialogue but that he has translated the Creole into French and adapted it to a tune of his own making.