The Church and slavery

The Church, the State and Slavery: Families sold as “national property” on Reunion island during the French Revolution
Nathan Elliot MARVIN

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

The Church, the State and Slavery: Families sold as “national property” on Reunion island during the French Revolution

In 1789, the National Assembly in Paris (the lower house of the the French parliament) seized the estates and possessions of the Catholic church in France. These were declared to be “national property” and sold to offset the financial crisis that had arisen during the French Revolution.

In mainland France, the various religious groups owned vast plots of land, buildings, livestock and more. In the colonies, were included in their possessions thousands of enslaved men, women and children.  In 1793, when the possessions of the clergy in Reunion were sold, they included a list of 358 human beings listed as “national property”. 

How was this process carried out? There are several documents in the French National Archives and the Reunion departmental archives that give some indication. They also provide us with precious details concerning the victims’ experiences, enabling us to understand how they experienced this dramatic event and how they resisted.

The “estates of the clergy”

In the Mascarene islands in the 18th century, the clergy mainly consisted of members of the Congrégation de la Mission (Congregation of the Mission), more commonly referred to as the ‘Lazarists’. These missionaries were involved in the slave trade as from the 1710s, through contracts signed with the French East India Company. The Company granted them plots of land for their subsistence and slaves to work this land.  Since these plots depended on the clergy and not directly on the Congregation, they were officially labelled as “estates of the clergy”, their purpose being to meet the needs of the priests. However, since the latter were alone responsible for their management, the Lazarist priests referred to these plots as “our estates” and the slaves working on them as “our Blacks”. 

With time and following requests made by the missionaries, the Company provided more and more slaves to work on these estates “of the clergy”, which flourished and even made profits from their coffee plantations. A census carried out in 1787 listed 426 slaves belonging to the priests on Bourbon island (Reunion). 

Harvesting coffee on Reunion island. E. Th.. 1855. Etching.
Collection of Stella Matutina museum, inv. 40P1.CEV.62. All rights reserved

It appears that the Lazarists scrupulously followed the rules laid out in the Black Code (Letters Patent of 1723) concerning clothing and food for their slaves.  They also applied a paternalistic form of oppression towards them, based on surveillance and discipline.  The missionaries wished to limit any contact their slaves might have with the outside world, through fear, they declared, of corrupting their “good morality”, thus always keeping “close watch” on them.  Their slaves had to regularly attend catechism classes given by the Lararist brothers, the content of which was aimed at fostering obedience to the system of slavery. For example, when brother Philippe Caulier composed a decalogue in Creole around 1760, he translated the Commandment that says “Honour thy father and thy mother” as: “Show respect, obey your Father and Mother, your Master and your Mistress, to all that command us. Do not criticize them.”  

The Lazarists declared that they could not avoid using corporal punishment to impose obedience. Certain missionaries were ill-at-ease regarding this aspect of their daily lives. Brother Caulier observed: “The Lord left us with the shepherd’s crook, not the cart-driver’s whip.” This should not, however, be interpreted as an attitude of principle going against the practice of slavery applied by the priest concerned, but rather the notion that he lacked the resources necessary to meet the temporal needs of the parish, that the Lazarist brothers generally took charge of. “A wise and vigilant Brother in each family,” he explained, “would create harmony between all its elements, with each in his or her place.”  However, one of the missionaries was not convinced that the work was in harmony with his vocation, writing to a fellow brother in France: “It would take a famous Doctor (theologian) to convince me that I’ll gain a place in paradise by doing this job.” 

African being whipped. [Unidentified]. [1878]. Etching. In Le journal de Marguerite ou les Deux années préparatoires à la première communion, by Melle V. Monniot. Périsse Frères, [1878], vol. 2, p. 315.
Collection of Reunion departmental Library, inv. R03445.315_1
The missionaries also attempted to control the sexual activity of the slaves, by separating the unmarried slaves by gender and locking them up in “storehouses” at night.  They encouraged marriage intra-muros as the surest way to restrict sexual relations outside the estate and also to prepare the newly arrived slaves for baptism. “The state of marriage retains and stabilises them,” wrote one of the missionaries.  It should be emphasised that the Lazarists’ policy of encouraging marriages and births within what they referred to as their “families” was applied for religious but also economic reasons, since the contracts signed with the French East India Company specifically forbade them from actively taking part in the slave trade.

“Sale of men”

From the very first months of the French Revolution, slavery in the colonies was a hot topic of debate by the members of the National Assembly.  This governing body declared that for the benefits of French trade, slavery in the colonies would be tolerated, a policy that remained controversial. The decree issued by the Parliament on 8th May 1790 enabled the colonial assemblies to draw up their own constitutions to deal with such issues internally. A second decree, dated 28th March 1790, declared that the colonies were to cover their own governing expenses.  Considering himself to be the unofficial representative of Bourbon in Paris, the infantry colonel Pierre Riel de Beurnonville, landowner on Bourbon and married to a Creole born on the island, issued a draft constitution soon distributed on the island, in which he proposed liquidation of Church property on Bourbon, with the aim of covering costs of worship and administration. Human being were not spared: “In the sale of property belonging to the clergy will be included their land, buildings, slaves, tools and utensils, with the exception of six heads of slaves per parish, at the service of each parish priest.” 

In December 1790, the colonial assembly of Bourbon, having received the draft constitution drawn up by Beurnonville, prepared to implement the project. It required of the priests to draw up an inventory of all the property they owned.  As could be expected, the priests expressed their keen opposition, notably father Jean Lafosse, parish priest of Saint-Louis. In favour of the Revolution, he had even been elected Mayor by his parishioners. He wrote a letter to the Prosecutor of his district questioning the legality of the sale of slaves in particular, since, he declared, “the French constitution recognises each man as being essentially free. Consequently, the National Assembly may never issue a decree for the sale of men with the aim of covering some of the debts of the State…” 

Sale of a slave. Madou, sc. ; Pierre Jacques Benoît, del.. 1931. Lithograph. In Voyage à Surinam.
Description des possessions néerlandaises dans la Guyane
, Pierre Jacques Benoit.
Brussels, Société des Beaux-Arts, 1839, pl. XLIII.
Coll. Media library of the Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac museum

Father Lafosse was publicly accused by his white neighbours of raising trouble with the slaves in the area, by alerting them of the project to put them up for sale as national property. He was even accused of having de facto emancipated most of those working for the parish, after learning that they were to be confiscated. Indeed, father Lafosse had declared owning 73 slaves in Saint-Louis in 1787, but in 1793 during the public sale of slaves in Saint-Louis, the auctioneer only named 47.  What had become of them?

Certain salves themselves determined to subvert the colonial statu quo. In January 1791, during Sunday Mass, the slave named Amant refused to give up his seat to a white notable, who called the police. Amant was brutalized and locked up. Father Lafosse soon managed to have him freed by writing a letter denouncing the brutality inflicted on Amant by the local authorities. Following these events, police reports noted a crowd of slaves gathered on the town square, ready to rebel. In a letter addressed to Mr Pierre Duvergé, a member of his hierarchy and commissioner of Bourbon between 1789 and 1794, wrote that “The parish priest Father la Fosse is accused of preaching for the freedom of the Blacks. You can imagine, Sir, the danger we could face if a determined [slave] … decided to side with this new Apostle.”  His actions forced Lafosse to resign from his position of Mayor. 

However, it turned out that Father Lafosse was mistaken regarding the National Assembly. On 18th August 1791, the Assembly issued a decree to send civil commissioners to the Mascarene islands to organise the sale of “movable and immovable property belonging to the nation”. The decree made no mention of the presence of human beings as being part of this property. This detail may have been deliberately suppressed by the members of the Colonial Committee initiating the decree.  In October 1792, Marc Antoine Pierre Tirol, civil commissioner, arrived on Bourbon. A moderate abolitionist, like Father Lafosse, he did not believe that the French constitution would allow slavery to be maintained. He initiated reforms aimed at improving the treatment of slaves and simplifying the rules concerning emancipation. However, on 6th June 1793, Tirol launched the sale by public auction of all the property listed as belonging to the church. In a letter addressed to the Ministry of the Navy, Tirol explained: “The Constitution does not permit slavery, which, in the Colonies can only be tolerated until it can no longer exist. The Republic cannot have slaves there and the least that it can do is to demonstrate its intentions by setting an example.”  What “example” was he referring to? In a report drawn up during the auction, Tirol pointed out “when I sell national property, which was formerly property of the Church, … I take all the necessary precautions to avoid separating families of Blacks.”  What actually occurred was totally different.

Actors of their own resistance

Between 10th June and 22nd July, among 358 individuals listed as “national property”, 28 were selected by the priests to continue working for them as servants (in application of the regulatuions voted by the Colonial Assembly, they had the right to retain four slaves of their choice for their personal service, providing these were not qualified as “specialised” slaves). For example, Father Lafosse chose to keep Amant, ostensibly to remain at his side. In addition, 28 others were purchased by priests. Others remained on the estate due to their old age or disability. A total of 266 persons were sold to private buyers.

Despite written assurance from Tirol, it was only following intercession by the priests or by the slaves themselves that families were able to remain together.  In several cases, it appears that slaves were recruited by their former masters, the missionaries, who, as we have already mentioned, were determined to maintain the integrity of the sacrament of marriage and guarantee family unity.

Site around the Rivière d’Abord. Jean-Baptiste Geneviève Marcellin Bory de Saint-Vincent, del.; Fortier, sc. ; Adam, sc. Aquatint. In Voyage dans les quatre principales îles des mers d’Afrique, fait par ordre du gouvernement, pendant les années neuf et dix de la république (1801 et 1802), …: collection of plates. Jean-Baptiste Geneviève Marcellin Bory de Saint-Vincent. Between 1801 and 1802. F. Buisson, 1804, pl. 40.
Collection of Villèle historical museum, inv. 1989.540

In Sainte-Suzanne, for example, the family of Vincent and Louise, a couple of 70-year-olds, was divided up into three separate ‘batches’, each to be sold separately. Father Rollin, after purchasing the two parents and their daughter Adélaïde, purchased their son Honoré, aged 30, for a sum three times that of his value estimated by Colonial Assembly during the inventory of the parish property in 1791 (amount of 2,000 pounds), as Honoré was “disabled in one arm”. A second priest, father Gadenel, made an offer higher than that of the estimated value for the young Jean-Louis-Vincent, aged 12, whom they had attempted to sell separately. All these transactions made it possible to avoid separating members of Vincent and Louise’s family. 

Other examples in the archives show the priests acting explicitly on behalf of their slaves. In a letter dated 19th March 1795, father Rollin declares that Justine, separated from her husband Louis during sale of property in Saint-André, “ardently wished” to be reunited with him, the latter having recently been sold to the clergy. Father Rollin also hoped to reunite Marguerite, employed by the clergy, with her parents, who remained with him at the presbytery. Father Rollin proposed an exchange “if the Republic accepts”. 

Other examples demonstrate direct action taken by the slaves, with or without the support of priests, in their attempts to improve the lot of their families. As far as possible, they were the actors of their own resistance. In Sainte-Marie, for example, written accounts of the sales carried out in 1793 mention François, qualified as being a “Foreman, Creole, epileptic”, with his wife Henriette, also Creole, and their five children, all together. This was not, however, what had been planned. According to guidelines issued by the Colonial Assembly in 1791, only couples married “before the altar” and their children aged under seven were to be grouped together in the same “batch”. Pierre-Louis, aged 11, had been registered in a separate batch. However, in 1791, when the town official was drawing up the inventory of the property of Sainte-Marie, Pierre-Louis’ parents requested for him to remain with them. We may wonder, however, whether the official accepted only because Pierre-Louis was listed as being “disabled”, and so potentially of a lower value compared to other children of his age. 

Another example is Amand, aged 90, who had spent all his life on the estate belonging to the parish priest of Sainte-Suzanne and who was to have “retired” there, in application of the rules concerning old persons established by the Civil Commissioner Tirol. During the sale of Denis and Pauline, his adult children “the explicit condition was that the slave named Amand, their father aged 90, did not wish to be separated from his children and the children did not wish to be separated from their father”, and that he would go and live on the estate of the purchaser. His food of corn would be provided by “the Republic” and he would “not be subject to working”, these last conditions being proposed by Tirol himself. 

What historical importance?

The final product of the sale of former church property (land, slaves and mobile goods) went above Tirol’s expectations and reached close to 5.6 million pounds (livres tournois). Close to half of this amount was the product of sale of human beings who, in the context of war and therefore the interruption of the slave trade, had become a rare commodity. Madame Beurnonville, in a letter addressed to her husband announcing the closure of sales (and so the application of his initial plan), made the remark that “Blacks in particular were sold for exorbitant prices.”  The financial success of the sales enabled Tirol to set up the first tax system on Bourbon, doing without subsidies from mainland France.  . On Reunion, those purchasing goods had to pay the Colonial treasurer in several instalments, over a period that could be as long as three years – that is to say until 1796 – a long time after the decree abolishing the 1794 National Convention, an abolition that island’s elite attempted to completely block, in all impunity.

Portrait of Abbot Grégoire. Pierre-Joseph-Célestin François (1759-1851). 1800. Oil on canvas.
Collection of Lorrain museum, deposited at the public art gallery of Nancy, inv. D.III.711

How did the people in Paris react? The Abbot Henri Grégoire, at the time member of the Council of the 500 and well known for taking actions again slavery, enthusiastically welcomed the news whereby Church property on Reunion island had been sold for millions of francs. To him, these sales were a crucial step towards the “regeneration” of the French colonial clergy, whom he considered as having become avid and ineffective, due to involvement in slavery. However, in a report address to this fellow members of constitutional Church, abbot Grégoire admitted with consternation that “miserable Africans” had been sold along with land, since the settlers on the Mascarene islands still had not “issued the decree giving them freedom”.  These comments suggest that abbot Grégoire, and perhaps other legislators opposed slavery, closed their eyes to the fact that the Republic continued to obtain income through the “sales of men”, despite the practice being officially prohibited.


1 In the 18th century, the clergy owned slaves in virtually all the colonised areas around the world. These slaves were mostly agricultural workers on estates set up to finance missionary works, but there were also domestic workers, craftsmen, sacristans or sextons, interpreters etc. See Christopher Kellerman, All Oppression Shall Cease: A History of Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Catholic Church (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2022); Pier M. Larson, Ocean of Letters: Language and Creolization in an Indian Ocean Diaspora (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Margaret M. Olsen, Slavery and Salvation in Colonial Cartagena de Indias (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004). According to research I have carried out, in the second half of the 18th century, religious orders owned at least 3,000 slaves in the French colonies. To visualise a map of the data with references, see Slaveholding Clergy in the Long Eighteenth Century: A Reference Map (
2 Reunion was the only French colony where the possessions of the clergy were systematically sold during the Revolution. In the other French colonies, the possessions were seized, locked up, rented out or occasionally sold. In Saint-Domingo in May 1793, the Civil Commissioners Sonthonax and Polverel issued a proclamation aimed at repressing the rebel forces in the south and west of the colony. The orders issued at à Port-au-Prince declared that all property belonging to or managed by religious institutions were henceforth part of the “Republican domain”. They demanded an inventory of such property, including lists of the slaves living there. However, a short time later, the two Civil Commissioners abolished all slavery in Saint-Domingo (Sonthonax took this step in 1793 in the north, while Polverel did the same in October 1793 in the south and west). On Martinique, on 24th September 1793, the Republican Assembly voted to confiscate “property of the clergy”. Such property was not sold, but rented out. The famous estate of the Dominicans at Fonds Saint Jacques (and its 500 slaves) remained in the hands of the priests. In Mauritius, as in Guadeloupe, certain states belonging to the Church were taken over and sold section by section, but this only took place during the period of Napoleon’s Consulate. See Jacques Adélaïde-Merlande, La Caraïbe et la Guyane au temps de la Révolution et de l’Empire, 1789-1804 (Paris: Karthala Editions, 1992), 207; P. A. Cabon, Notes sur l’histoire religieuse d’Haïti: de la Révolution au Concordat (1789-1860) (Port-au-Prince: Petit Séminaire Collège Saint-Martial, 1933); Liliane Chauleau, La Révolution Française à La Martinique, Proceedings of the Meeting of the French Colonial Historical Society 22 (1998) : 49–63; William Cormack, Patriots, Royalists, and Terrorists in the West Indies: The French Revolution in Martinique and Guadeloupe, 1789-1802 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019), 170; Louis Guilbaud, Les Étapes de la Guadeloupe religieuse (Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe: Imprimerie Catholique, 1935), 162–63 ; Alfred Martineau and Louis Philippe May, Trois siècles d’histoire antillaise. Martinique et Guadeloupe de 1635 à nos jours (Paris, 1935); Henri Prentout, L’Ile de France sous Decaen, 1803-1810: essai sur la politique coloniale du premier empire, et la rivalité de la France et de l’Angleterre dans les Indes Orientales (Paris: Hachette, 1901), 172. Additional research is necessary to determine whether in Guyana slaves were sold as “national property” - those belonging to the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, for example, managing several establishments in Guyana.
3 According to the first contract signed between the Congregation of the Mission and French East India Company (22nd October 1712), the missionaries worked in all the island’s parishes, evangelising the slaves brought in from India, Africa and Madagascar. In exchange, the Company would provide them with land (in usufruct) and one slave per priest for his subsistence. Traité fait entre la Compagnie et Messieurs de Saint-Lazare, 22nd October 1712, French national overseas archives, COL F3/206. A second contract, signed in March 1721, opened a Lazarist mission on île de France, recently acquired by the Company. This contract gave four additional slaves to each priest to help protect the crops from monkeys. Manuscrit de G. Perboyre (Mémoires de la Mission), Archives of the Congregation de la Mission, Register 1506, Tome I, 210-213. Between 1736 and 1739, the Congregation negotiated these terms several times, obtaining an increase in the number of slaves granted by the Company (between 16 and 20 for each priest). They therefore had the benefit of an increase in their “pensions” and were exempt from the charges paid by the other inhabitants, that is to say capitation on the number of slaves and ‘chores’: public works carried out by the slaves. Concordat entre la Compagnie des Indes et la Congrégation de la Mission pour le service … » (Paris, 27 July 1736. ADR, C°1.070); Annexe au concordat ci-dessus (above) (Paris, 3rd March 1739. ADR C°1.072). When the administrators of the French Crown took possession of the Mascarene islands in 1767, the status of the property belonging to the Church remained ambiguous until the Revolution. An ordinance issued by the King on 15th September 1766 simply declared that there should be a “distinction” respected between property belonging to Congregation of the Mission and that belonging to parishes or the former East India Company. Jean-Baptiste Etienne Delaleu, ed., Code des Iles de France et de Bourbon, Deuxième Édition, vol. I (Port-Louis: Tristan Mallac & Cie., 1826), 9.
4 A letter written by a Lazarist brother around 1740 uses this language. It demonstrates the success of the project set up between the Company and the Congregation: “Our houses nearly all contain Blacks for the upkeep of our estates and to grow our food, we therefore have a lot of expenses.” Letter from brother Etienne Lecocq, around1740. The original is conserved at the French National archives L', M/214, file 9, document 4, in the form of an anonymous manuscript. A paged reproduction of this document exists under the title of “Letter written by a missionary” in the archives of the Congregation of the Mission (Paris), Register 1504. Jean Barassin ascribes the letter to a Lazarist brother Etienne Lecocq; others had ascribed it to a brother Lebel. See Jean Barassin, Histoire des établissements religieux de Bourbon au temps de la Compagnie des Indes, 1664-1767 (Saint-Denis: foundation for research and development in the Indian Ocean 1983), 194 n16.
5 “Census of Bourbon island, 1787” National overseas archives G1480. 187 slaves on île de France (Mauritius) also in 1789. “General census of Ile de France” 1780, National overseas archives, G1474. There was also in the Mascarene islands a community of nuns, the Grey Sisters of Saint-Maurice, aka Saint-Paul de Chartres. These sisters were recruited to work in the island’s hospitals. They were helped by slaves supplied by the Company or the Crown.
6 The correspondence of the missionaries indicates that food, clothing and medical care were priorities that were actively taken into consideration. Letter from father Philippe Caulier to the Archbishop of Paris, Paris, 20the July 1772, Archives of the Congregation of the Mission, fol. 216 (p. 12).
7 This corresponds to the observations of historians concerning other religious communities owning slaves. See Emily Clark, Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society, 1727-1834 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007); Travis Glasson, Mastering Christianity: Missionary Anglicanism and Slavery in the Atlantic World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Stephan Lenik, Mission Plantations, Space, and Social Control: Jesuits as Planters in French Caribbean Colonies and Frontiers, Journal of Social Archaeology 12, no. 1 (February 1, 2012): 51–71 ; Jon F. Sensbach, Brothers in Bondage: The Moravians’ Struggle with the Institution of Slavery, Tar Heel Junior Historian 51, no. 2 (spring 2012).
8 Letter from father Philippe Caulier, 6th May 1785, Archives of the Congregation of the Mission, Register 1504, fol. 242v.
9 Philippe Caulier, Petit Catéchisme de l'Île de Bourbon tourné au style des esclaves nègres, around 1760. Archives of the Congregation of the Mission, Registrer1502 (no folio).
10 Letter from father Caulier to Antoine Jacquier (General superior of the Lazarists) around 1764, Archives of the Congregation of the Mission, Register 1504, f. 61v.
11 Lecocq, op. cit.
12 Lecocq, op. cit.
13 Letter from Pierre-Joseph Teste (apostolic prefect, 1746-1772) addressed to the Archbishop of Paris, Christophe de Beaumont, 1st March 1764. Archives of the Congregation of the Mission, Register 1504, f. 189v. The archives clearly demonstrate the consequences of the choices made by the missionaries: in 1768, among the 45 adult slaves living on the two estates of Saint-André and Sainte-Suzanne, 35 were married, most of them with children. Among the 74 slaves listed in these two parishes, only three had no family link with other individuals belonging to one of the estates. Reunion departmental archives, 57H: Etat des biens de la cure du dit lieu de Saint-Suzanne et de Ceux appartenants a la Congregation des pretres de Saint Lazare 30th January 1768.
14 Lauren R Clay, Liberty, Equality, Slavery: Debating the Slave Trade in Revolutionary France, The American Historical Review 128, no. 1 (March 1, 2023): 89–119; Miranda Frances Spieler, The Legal Structure of Colonial Rule during the French Revolution, The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 66, no. 2 (April 1, 2009): 365–408.
15 French National Assembly, Décret du 28 mars 1790 concernant les colonies, suivi d’une instruction pour les îles de Saint-Domingue, la Tortue, la Gonave et l’île à Vaches, en annexe de la séance du 30 septembre 1791, Archives Parlementaires de la Révolution Française (Parliamentary archives of the French Revolution) 31, no. 1 (1888): 728–34.
16 Pierre Riel de Beurnonville, Projet de constitution coloniale pour l’Isle de Bourbon; par le colonel P. R. Beurnonville, député extraordinaire des villes de Brou et la Ferté-sur-Aube, à l’Assemblée Nationale (Paris: l’Imprimerie du Patriote François, 1790), 42.
17 Claude Wanquet, Histoire d’une Révolution. La Réunion, 1789-1803, vol. I (Marseille: Éditions Jeanne Laffitte, 1980), 401.
18 Copy of a letter written by father Lafosse to Legrand, not dated, Reunion departmental Archives, L319/1.
19 Census of Bourbon island, 1787, National overseas archives, G1480; Récapitulation générale du produit de la vente des Biens nationaux autrefois Biens curiaux, Saint-Denis, Bourbon island, 31st December 1793. National overseas archives, C3/22, document 238.
20 Reunion departmental Archives, L85. Letter written by Duvergé, St. Denis, 23rd January 1791.
21 On the subject of father Lafosse and Amant, see Albert Jauze, Jean Lafosse, curé de Saint-Louis de la Révolution à la Restauration. Pistes de recherches sur le personnage, Revue Historique de l’océan Indien, no. 15 (2018): 491; Prosper Eve, La religion populaire à la Réunion (Sainte-Clotilde, Réunion: University of Reunion, Institute of linguistics and anthropology, 1985).
22 The members of the Colonial Committee, who gave advice and proposed laws concerning the colonies in collaboration with the Ministry of the Navy, were more and more influenced by colonial interests.
They feared that a large number of deputies might consider approving slavery as being a betrayal of values. For this reason, it seems plausible that they deliberately suppressed the fact that human beings made up an important percentage of the value of Church property and estates to be sold in the colonies. Concerning the operations carried out “under seal of secrecy”, by the Colonial Committee, see Manuel Covo, Le Comité des Colonies, La Révolution française. Cahiers de l’Institut d’histoire de la Révolution française, no. 3 (December 20, 2012). Indeed, there are clear examples of this dissimulation. When the Colonial Committee published a report and draft decree with this aim at the Legislative Assembly, its author Levavasseur, himself having links with Bourbon, reproduced virtually word for word the article of the petition issued by the Colonial Assembly requesting authorisation to sell the the property of the clergy. However, he deliberately omitted two references to slavery in the text aimed at his colleagues in the Legislative Assembly. Léon Levavasseur, Rapport et projet de décret, concernant la colonie de l’isle de Bourbon, Présentés, au nom du Comité Colonial, par Léon Levavasseur, Député du Département de la Seine-Inférieure, imprimés par délibération du Comité, en vertu du décret de l’Assemblée Nationale (Paris : Imprimerie de l’Assemblée Nationale, 1792). Indeed, it would appear that this report was never read out loud and the bill was never debated by the National Assembly. Jérôme Mavidal and Émile Laurent, eds., Archives parlementaires de 1787 à 1860: recueil complet des débats législatifs et politiques des Chambres françaises, vol. L (Paris: Paul Dupont, 1896), 592, footnote 1.
23 Tirol to the Minister of the Navy, 30th July 1793. National overseas archives, C3/22, document 104.
24 Tirol to the Minister of the Navy, Saint-André, 19th June 1793. National overseas archives, document 82.
25 These documents are methodically organised and follow the public auctions held under the control of Tirol, district by district, beginning with Sainte-Marie, going around the island and finishing with Saint-Denis. They give you the details of age, gender and ‘caste’ of Individuals (for example ‘Creole’ for persons born on the island, ‘Black’ for persons of African, Madagascan or Indian origin), but also record the price paid, expressed in pounds (‘livres tournois’) for the different groups of persons, presented as ‘batches’. Récapitulation générale du produit de la vente des Biens nationaux autrefois Biens curiaux, Saint-Denis, Bourbon island, 31st December 1793. National overseas archives, C3/22, document 238.
26 État des biens de la Cure Sainte Suzanne (Inventory of possessions of the parish of Sainte-Suzanne) 23rd February 1791, ADR, L388.
27 Letter written by father Rollin dated 19th March 1795. ADR L300.
28 Gontran Wellement and Augustin Robert, Inventaire des biens curiaux du Canton Sainte-Marie. 21 février 1793, (Inventory of parish possessions of the district of Sainte-Marie, 21st February 1793) in Morts violentes, peines infamantes, condamnations et faits insolites concernant les esclaves et affranchis de Bourbon : (XVIIIe-XIXe siècles), edited by Albert Jauze, Les inédits de l’histoire 3 (Réunion: Les Éditions de Villèle, 2014), 45–50.
29 Sales deeds of Blacks for district of Sainte-Suzanne, 14th June 1793. Reunion departmental archives, L388.
30 Letter written by Madame de Beurnonville, Saint-Denis, 10th August 1793. AN, D/XXV/130.
31 Wanquet, Histoire d’une Révolution. La Réunion, 1789-1803, I:627.
32 Grégoire, De l’état de la Religion dans les Isles de France et de la Réunion, Annales de la Religion, No. 14, 5th August 1797, p. 325-6. As is pointed out by the historian Alyssa Sepinwall, for Grégoire, following the period of ‘la Terreur’, France could only be renewed through reforms concerning both religious and imperial matters. Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 145.
+ Show
— Hide
SlaveryThe Church and slavery
text in PDF format
Share this page
on the networks
Nathan Elliot MARVIN

University of Arkansas at Little Rock