Compensation paid out to slave owners recorded in a database

As part of the research project entitled “Repairs”, a team from the International Research Centre on slavery and post-slavery of the CNRS (French national scientific research centre) has traced the compensation money awarded to and paid out in former French slave-owning colonies in the 19th century, information published in a database, the first of its kind.

After abolishing slavery for the second time on 27th April 1848, in 1849, France granted compensation to former slave owners under the colonial empire in Reunion, Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guyana, Senegal, Nosy Bé and Sainte-Marie in Madagascar. Through this controversial measure, The French State attempted to preserve its economic interests in the colonies where French ownership was in danger, due to the settlers threatening to abandon the territory. 126 million French francs were set-aside for this purpose, in the form of subsidies granted immediately (6 million francs) and annual payments of 6 million francs over a period of 20 years, the amount varying from colony to colony. These amounts represented a large proportion of public funds. At the time, the national income was approximately Fr.10 billion, so Fr. 126 million corresponded to 1.3% of the national income. Currently, the national income of France amounts to approximately €2,100 billion, so if the same percentage were to be applied, the subsidy would amount to €27 billion.

The research has made it possible to show that these subsidies were not just limited to the important landowners: over 30% of the beneficiaries were persons of colour, owners of a few slaves (in these societies, salaried work did not exist). In addition, certain legal deeds changed hands to make it possible for former owners to pay their debts: a person could thus become holder of such deeds as a creditor, but without ever having been a slave owner. The findings of research carried out over two years on the basis of tens of thousands of archived documents, this database will be evolving and collaborative, to be completed as research continues to be carried out all by the users who wish to enrich the biographical and genealogical data by submitting source documents.

Consult the database

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