The Furcy affair

In 1817 on Bourbon, the slave Furcy dared ask his master Lory to call into question his status as a slave, claiming to have been born free, since his mother Madeleine, of Indian origin, should have been set free during a visit to France years before. With the help of a group of ‘Free coloureds’ and a whole network of persons he managed to create, Furcy started a long struggle to have his freedom recognised. It led him first of all to being imprisoned on Bourbon island, then sent to Mauritius island as a slave, before he was freed and finally travelled to Paris, where, almost three decades later, his claims were eventually accepted by the French courts.

The Strange Story of Furcy Madeleine (1786-1856): itinerant exhibition , Villèle Museum
The Strange Story of Furcy Madeleine (1786-1856), inaugurated at the Villèle Historical Museum (Réunion island) in December 2019, shows the important stages of Furcy’s troubled life, based on an analysis of a vast number of documents from the archives, as well as scientific research carried out by specialised historians.
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The Furcy collection.  Departmental Archives of Reunion Island
Historical research on Furcy has made important progress, notably thanks to the purchase of the “Furcy collection” by the Reunion Departmental Council in 2005. The collection actually consists of documents issued by Louis Gilbert Boucher, public prosecutor for the royal court of Bourbon and the main supporter of Furcy.
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Peabody, Sue. “Poursuivre en justice pour s’affranchir : une forme de résistance ? L’exemple de l’esclave Furcy”(Taking legal action to achieve freedom: a form of resistance? The example of the slave Furcy). In Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française , 71, (1-2), 2017, p. 35–57
The decision taken by a slave to claim his freedom through the courts is indeed an act of resistance against slavery, while not necessarily representing an abolitionist act. Seen through the lens of micro history, the article differentiates the way in which a slave considered his personal condition to be unjust and the arguments put forward by his lawyers with the aim of achieving his liberation. The individual struggle of the slave Furcy did not make an important contribution to the French antislavery movement of the 19th century. On the contrary, the ruling issued by the French royal court, stating that Furcy was to be declared free in application of the principle of ‘free soil’, appears to have stabilised the colonial slavery society up to the 1848 Revolution.
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The black Code: letters patents issued by Louis XV determining the status of slaves on Bourbon Island and Ile de France. December 1723. ADR C°940

The 54 articles of the code, inspired by the one issued for the French Caribbean islands in 1685, was applied on Bourbon as from 1723. During the whole period of slavery, it determined the relations between masters and slaves as regards the rights and obligations of each of the group, as well as repressive measures. The main provisions concerned records of births, marriages and deaths, religious practices, work, civil incapacity of slaves etc.
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New black Code or catalogue of the laws, ordinances, decrees and ministerial decrees regarding the status of slaves. Louis-Philippe. 5th January 1840. ADR PB 0907

The ‘New black code’ was the title given to the collection of legal decisions that greatly modified the provisions of the ‘black code’. They were drawn up in France under the July monarchy before slavery was abolished. These texts were never issued in the form of a true legal code, but they modified it to the extent that they were given this specific title. In actual fact, the legislation issued under Louis-Philippe was far more favourable for slaves for two main reasons: first, the slave was recognised as a subject having a number of rights and also, his condition was made less severe.
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1824 Census document for Ombline Desbassayns. ADR 6 M 601

Census of Ombline Gonneau-Montbrun, widow Panon-Desbassayns, with a list of her 461 slaves.
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Last will and testament of Marie Anne Thérèse Ombline Gonneau de Montbrun, widow of Mr Henri Paulin Panon Desbassayns, landowner resident at Saint-Gilles in the district of Saint-Paul. ADR 3 E 426

The will left by Madame Desbassayns, dated 20th June 1845, was the last that she drew up, at the age of 86, a short time before her death on 4th February 1846.
The will lists all her possessions, which she shared between her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The 295 slaves on her estate in Saint-Gilles are listed by name, age and profession, as are the 111 slaves attached to her estate in Bernica.
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Inventory of the estate listed in the will of the widow Desbassayns, 23rd March 1846. ADR 3 E 426

The inventory after death, a key document giving information about lifestyle, was drawn up as from 23rd of March 1846 by the notary Léo de Lanux on the family estates of Saint-Paul, Saint-Gilles and Bernica.
The total value of her property amounted to 53,191.33 Francs. The property she possessed at Saint-Gilles, valued at 46,374.33 Francs, represented 87% of the total.
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Exhibition ‘Kosa i lé le kan ?’ (‘What is the camp?’)

An exhibition designed by Prosper Eve, with the collaboration of Alexis Miranville and the Kan Villèle Association, presenting all aspects of ‘the camp’ – the place where the slaves lived on the estate
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Exhibition ‘L’esclavage à Bourbon’  (‘Slavery in Bourbon’)

Conceived and produced by the Departmental Archives of Reunion Island, this exhibition traces the history of slavery in Reunion Island.
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Essential Info

Devoted to the history of slavery in Reunion Island, this online database is made up of archive documents, images and artefacts from the collections of the Departmental Council’s cultural institutions: the Villèle Historical Museum (MHV), the Reunion Island Departmental Archives (ADR), the Léon Dierx Museum (MLD) and the Reunion Island Departmental Library (BdR).
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La loi d’indemnisation des colons du 30 avril 1849 : aspects juridiques (The law concerning compensation granted to settlers on 30th April 1849: legal issues), by Laurent Blériot

Should the settlers have been granted compensation following the abolition of slavery? On what basis? At the time, these questions were the object of debate. On 30th April 1849, the French parliament passed a law, more than one year after the act of emancipation.
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