"They are the ones who do the work of the colonies and whom we use like beasts of burden. And when we have finished with them, we sell them. I find this custom so contrary to man's natural goodness, that I see it as the mark of a base and sordid spirit to believe that man has no link with man other than for his needs and his sole use."
Journal of a voyage Louisiana by Franquet de Chaville (1720-1724) publié par G. Musset (p. 99-143), Journal de la Société des Américanistes de Paris, t. 4, Hôtel de la Société nationale d’acclimatation, Paris, 1903,
p. 135-136


For the French—as for the colonists from other countries—the establishment of a prosperous colony could only be accomplished with manpower that was hardy, obedient and free. This cynical point of view was reinforced by slave trading with a large number of African countries.

Gregor Brandmüller (1661-1691), Treasures from America: a child in the arms of its black wet nurse with her neck in a slave collar, representing Africa; in the center, the Indian child symbolizes America, whose richness is indicated by the treasures placed on the Indian woven basket, which is presented by a European child (left) and one from Asia (dressed in silk). This allegory dating from 1682, the year in which Louisiana was given its name is doubtless the portrait of the four children of an owner who made his money around the world, to the detriment of Africa...
Musée du Nouveau Monde, La Rochelle
Gregor Brandmüller (1661-1691), Treasures from America: a child in the arms of its black wet nurse with her neck in a slave collar, representing Africa; in the center, the Indian child symbolizes America, whose richness is indicated by the treasures placed on the Indian woven basket, which is presented by a European child (left) and one from Asia (dressed in silk). This allegory dating from 1682, the year in which Louisiana was given its name is doubtless the portrait of the four children of an owner who made his money around the world, to the detriment of Africa...
Musée du Nouveau Monde, La Rochelle

From the 17th to the 19th century, 12 to 15 million slaves were purchased in Africa in exchange for cheap jewelry, weapons and alcohol. The slave trade was only economically profitable for the Europeans and, later, the Americans. The position of these states was dictated solely by their interests: it was ideologically justified by the supposed inferiority of the black race, for which slavery brought the benefits of evangelization. For its part, even though the Church frequently stated that the Indians in colonized countries were human beings with rights, it never granted the same privilege to blacks, even baptized ones. Nevertheless, it was priests, such as Las Casas in Spain in the 16th century and Abbé Raynal in France in the 18th, who raised their voices the loudest against the slave trade.

Saint-Sauveur, Native costumes: Slave merchants at Gorée, 1796
Bibliothèque des Arts décoratifs
  [1] Saint-Sauveur, Native costumes: Slave merchants at Gorée, 1796
Bibliothèque des Arts décoratifs
Slave shackles and collar
Musée d’Art africain, Lyon
  [2] Slave shackles and collar Musée d’Art africain, Lyon

In 1724, Louis XV adapted the Code Noir for Louisiana. Since 1685 this code had regulated the condition of slaves in the French Islands, notably forbidding interracial marriage and sexual relations.

Face of a Negro on the cover of the 1743
BNF, Imprimés The ambiguity of this text—which made slavery into a regulated institution, but sought to protect slaves from the omnipotence of their masters—has been noted. This protection was completely theoretical; what was essential was that, for the first time, a modern state permitted, regulated and institutionalized the comparison of human beings to "worldly goods", to be regarded solely from the point of view of their market value.

Face of a Negro on the cover of the Code Noir 1743
BNF, Imprimés


Lassus, Slaves at work on the Indies Company plantation, across from New Orleans  (1726)
CAOM, DFC Louisiane 6A/71
Lassus, Slaves at work on the Indies Company plantation, across from New Orleans (1726)
CAOM, DFC Louisiane 6A/71

Even though there were social considerations attached to the conditions of slaves, it was because of the trouble that this particular merchandise could cause: revolts, runaways, and intermarriage. Only masters could free slaves: in accordance with royal institutions, a master could buy back a slave for his market value.
The humanitarian disaster of the black slave trade—which bled dry an entire continent and corrupted not only relations between the West and rest of the world, but also the way in which the East saw itself and others—appears as a monstrous error of the colonial adventure. The decree issued by the Convention banning slavery in 1794, or Jefferson's abolitionist position starting in 1800, only found a concrete application more than a half-century later.
In Louisiana as in other colonies, black slaves lived apart from whites and Indians in "Negro camps". These camps had their own hospitals, separate cemeteries and regularly placed observation posts for easy surveillance. Strict regulations punished every unauthorized meeting, every lapse in discipline and respect, and all sexual unions not approved of by the master.

De Batz, Slave camp of the New Orleans Company, 1732
CAOM, DFC Louisiane 6B/91
[1] De Batz, Slave camp of the New Orleans Company, 1732
CAOM, DFC Louisiane 6B/91
De Batz, Slave hospital of the New Orleans Company, 1732, (detail)
CAOM, DFC Louisiane 6C/92
[2] De Batz, Slave hospital of the New Orleans Company, 1732, (detail)
CAOM, DFC Louisiane 6C/92