The conditions and treatments of slaves in the French Colony of Saint Domingue

Posted by on Friday, April 24, 2015 Under: Slave Trade
In 1685, then king of France Louis XIV passed the Code Noire (Black Code), a decree defining the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire and the activities permitted by free Negroes. The Code Noire also placed limits on the physical violence on slaves and instituted punishments for masters who murdered slaves; in practice however, these provisions were rarely enforced.

The Code Noire for example, ordered that the slaves should be given, every week, two pounds of salt beef or three pounds of slated fish. Instead their masters gave them half-a-dozen pints of coarse flour, rice or peas, and a half-a-dozen herrings. The slaves worked under murderous conditions to produce sugar and other commodities. Worn out by their labors all through the day and far into the night, many neglected to cook and ate the food raw.

A famous Swiss writer and world traveler of the time wrote about his first view of a plantation in Saint Domingue.

"They were about a hundred men and women of different ages, all occupied in digging ditches in a cane-field, the majority of them naked or covered with rags. The sun shun down with full force on their heads. Sweat rolled from all parts of their bodies. Their limbs, weighed down by the heat, fatigued with the weigh of their implements, strained themselves to overcome every obstacle. A mournful silence reigned. Exhaustion was stamped on every face, but the hour of rest had not yet come. The pitiless eye of the manager patrolled the gangs and several foremen armed with whips moved periodically between them, giving stinging blows to all who, worn out by fatigue, were compelled to take rest-men or women, young or old."

Girod Chantrans
Voyage d'un Suisse en différentes colonies,
Neufchâtel, 1785

For the least fault the slaves received the harshest punishment.Whippings were often interrupted in order to pass a piece of hot wood on the buttocks of the victim; salt pepper, citrus, cinders, aloe and hot ashes were poured on the bleeding wounds. The pregnant slaves were not spared; a hole was dug in the earth to accommodate the unborn child.

 Irons on the hands and feet, blocks of wood that the slaves had to drag behind them wherever they went, the tin-plate mask designed to prevent the slaves from eating the sugar cane, the iron collar.

Slavery in Haiti was sustained by a regime of terror and torture; it was essentially a relationship of domination and exploitation.

The slaves depicted in the Code Noire, was not the slaves found on the plantations of Saint Domingue. The black slave was merely an extension of his master's will.

One old negro, having already lost one of ears and condemned to loose the other, begged the governor to spare it, for it that too was cut off he would have nowhere to put his stump of cigarettes, when working in the sugar cane field. The governor cut his other ear anyways.

This rich bourgeois, not satisfied with how her food was made, had the careless cook thrown in the oven

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