History

Timelines: Timeline of African Slavery in the Former French Empire, 1541 – 1960

Shalom, everyone! France was an active participant in the colonization, enslavement, and trafficking of Africans. France controlled one of the largest and longest lasting colonial empires in history. Even today, France maintains colonies in the Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin and French Guiana). France still somewhat controls the political, economic and military affairs of many of her “former” African colonies. The following is a timeline of African slavery and colonization in the former French Empire from 1541 to 1960. Please note that this post is a work-in-progress. As more information becomes available, this timeline will be updated:


Year Historical Event
1541 On his third voyage to Canada, Jacques Cartier establishes the first French colony in the New World at Charlesbourg-Royal, close to modern Québec.
1555 A group of Norman and Breton sailors, under the command of Nicolas de Villegagnon, found the first French colony in South America. The settlement, close to modern Rio De Janiero in Brazil, is named La France Antarctique.
1571 The Parlement of Bordeaux sets all slaves – “blacks and moors” – in the town free, declaring slavery illegal in France.
1594 L’Espérance of La Rochelle becomes the first French ship positively identified as participating in the slave trade. However, French merchants may have been involved in small scale slave trading since the 1540s.
1624 France established trading posts along the coast of Senegal.
1632 First recorded enslaved African, Olivier LeJeune, in New France (area colonized by France in North America).
1635 Foundation of the French Compagnie des Îles de l’Amérique (Company of the Isles of America). The organisation is not a financial success and is restructured in 1642.
1635 The French Company of the Isles delegated Charles Lienard (Liénard de L’Olive) and Jean Duplessis Ossonville, Lord of Ossonville to colonize one or any of the region’s islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Dominica. Due to Martinique’s inhospitable nature, the duo resolved to settle in Guadeloupe in 1635, took possession of the island, and wiped out many of the Carib Amerindians.
1648 (23 March 1648) France divided the island of Saint Martin with the Netherlands (Sint Maarten). Although the Spanish had been the first to import slaves to the island, their numbers had been few. But with the new cultivation of cotton, tobacco, and sugar, mass numbers of slaves were imported to work on the plantations. The slave population quickly grew larger than that of the landowners. Subjected to cruel treatment, slaves staged rebellions, and their overwhelming numbers made them impossible to ignore.
1648 – 1848 Although the Spanish had been the first to import slaves to Saint Martin, their numbers had been few. But with the new cultivation of cotton, tobacco, and sugar, mass numbers of slaves were imported to work on the plantations. The slave population quickly grew larger than that of the landowners. Subjected to cruel treatment, slaves staged rebellions, and their overwhelming numbers made them impossible to ignore.
1660s France colonizes Cayenne, in northeast South America, and renamed the territory French Guiana.
1664 The financially troubled French Company of the Isles of America is replaced by the Compagnie des Indes Occidentales (French West India Company). This survives for less than ten years.
1673 The financially troubled French West India Company is replaced by the Compagnie du Sénégal (Senegal Company). Under various name changes, this remains the main French slave trading company into the 1720s.
1674 Guadeloupe annexed to the Kingdom of France.
1685 King Louis XIV proclaimed Le Code Noir, which aimed to provide a legal framework for the removal of Africans from their homeland and their transport to work as slaves on the French sugar plantations
1697 Spain ceded the western part of the island of Hispaniola to France. France renamed the territory Saint Domingue (modern-day Haiti).
1697 – 1789 Saint Domingue, based on the export of slave-grown crops, particularly sugar, would become the richest in the world. Known as the “Pearl of the Antilles”, the colony became the world’s foremost producer of coffee and sugar cane. The French, like the Spanish, imported slaves from Africa. In 1681 there were 2,000 African slaves in the future Saint Domingue; by 1789 there were almost half a million.
1762 – 1800 France ceded Louisiana to Spain, who agreed to allow the French to continue administering the area (New Spain) . France would reacquire the area in 1800 with the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso.
1763 France ceded all North American in Canada territory to Great Britain.
1790 Following the outbreak of the French Revolution, the monarchists of Guadeloupe refused to obey the new laws of equal rights for the free people of color and attempted to declare independence.
1791 Start of the Haitian Revolution. Enslaved Africans staged a revolt, massacring whites and torching plantations.
1791 Emancipation of second-generation slaves in the colonies.
1793 Slave rebellion in Guadeloupe prompts the upper classes to turn to the British and ask them to occupy the island.
1794 Slavery abolished in all French territories and possessions by the French National Convention.
1801 Haitian Revolution succeeds. Toussaint L’Ouverture installed as Governor General of Haiti. Although slavery was outlawed, L’Ouverture, believing that the plantation economy was necessary, forced laborers back to work on the plantations using military might.
1802 Napoleon re-introduces slavery in sugarcane-growing colonies. L’Ouverture arrested and taken prisoner to France.
1802 Rebellion in Guadeloupe lead by Louis Delgrès against Napoleon‘s reinstitution of slavery. After realizing they could not defeat the French forces, Delgrès and his 800 followers committed suicide rather than surrender.
1803 – 1804 Louisiana Purchase: the acquisition of the Louisiana territory (828,000 square miles or 2.14 million km²) by the United States from France in 1803. The U.S. paid fifty million francs ($11,250,000) and a cancellation of debts worth eighteen million francs ($3,750,000) for a total of sixty-eight million francs ($15 million, equivalent to $573 billion in 2016). The Louisiana territory included land from fifteen present U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The territory contained land that forms Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; the portion of Minnesota west of the Mississippi River; a large portion of North Dakota; a large portion of South Dakota; the northeastern section of New Mexico; the northern portion of Texas; the area of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; Louisiana west of the Mississippi River (plus New Orleans); and small portions of land within the present Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Its non-native population was around 60,000 inhabitants, of whom half were African slaves. The Louisiana Territory was broken into smaller portions for administration, and the territories passed slavery laws similar to those in the southern states but incorporating provisions from the preceding French and Spanish rule (for instance, Spain had prohibited slavery of Native Americans in 1769.
1804 Haiti declares independence and abolishes slavery.
1822 Jean Pierre Boyer annexes Spanish Haiti and abolishes slavery there.
1825 France, with warships at the ready, demanded Haiti compensate France for its loss of slaves and its slave colony
1830 France seized Algiers, thus beginning the colonization of French North Africa.
1834 French Society for the Abolition of Slavery founded in Paris.
1835 Bilateral United Kingdom-France treaty abolishing the slave trade.
1848 Slavery abolished in the colonies. Gabon is founded as a settlement for emancipated slaves.
1881 France invaded and established a protectorate in Tunisia with the Treaty of Bardo.
1881 – 1895 France gradually gained control over much of North, West, and Central Africa (including the modern states of Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Benin, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, the east African coastal enclave of Djibouti (French Somaliland), and the island of Madagascar).
1884 France participated in the Scramble for Africa‘s Berlin Conference while already pursuing territory in Africa.
1895 France established a federation called French West Africa with Dakar (Senegal) as its capital. French West Africa consisted of  Mauritania, Senegal, French Sudan (now Mali), French Guinea, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Dahomey (now Benin) and Niger.
1895 – 1946 Until after World War II almost none of the Africans living in the colonies of France were citizens of France. Rather, they were “French subjects”, lacking rights before the law, property ownership rights, rights to travel, dissent, or vote.
1910 France established a federation called French Equatorial Africa of French colonial possessions in Equatorial Africa, extending northwards from the Congo River into the Sahel, and comprising what are today the countries of Chad, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and Gabon., with Brazzaville as its capital.
1946 The Loi Lamine Guèye granted some limited citizenship rights to natives of the African colonies.
1958 Dissolution of the French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa federations as the colonies pursued independence.
1960 – Present Françafrique is France‘s relationship with its former African colonies. The term is now often used to criticise the allegedly neocolonial relationship France has with its former colonies in Africa. Since the independence of African states in 1960, France has intervened militarily more than 30 times on the continent. France has military bases in Gabon, Senegal, and Djibouti, as well as in its overseas departments of Mayotte and Réunion in the Indian Ocean. The French Army is also deployed in Mali, Chad, Central African Republic, Somalia and Ivory Coast.

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