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This year is the 170th commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Martinique in 1848. I wanted to introduce you to a member of my family who was freed on this occasion, but for the moment, there is none. How is that possible? Because there were also manumission before 1848. Today, I am talking to you about the emancipated people of the 1830s and I present one of my ancestors: Elisabeth Laurencine.
1848 was the end of slavery for nearly 70,000 people (or 60% of the population) in Martinique; but on the eve of this major date, there were already nearly 37,000 Libres de couleur (32% of the population)*. People who, as their name suggests, were free, whether they were freed or born free, but stigmatized by the colour of their skin whether they were mixed or not.
The proportion of free people of color grew steadily over time, both through manumission and natural growth. Nearly a century earlier in 1751, only 1413 individuals (less than 2% of the population) were registered as free of colour! From the early days of colonization, these freed men and their descendants were present in colonial society. The 1671 census, for example, listed Pitre de Basque, a « free Negro », owner of a small subsistence plantation with a hut to remain.
But it was especially in the 19th century that the number of Free people of colour increased considerably, because, in parallel with the equal civil rights acquisition, the legislation of the 1830s facilitated the emancipation of part of the servile population. In 1831, an ordinance was promulgated for the abolition of Freedom taxes; it was no longer necessary to pay to have a slave freed. The 1832 ordinance regularized the situation of de facto freed people [libre de fait], in other words, people who lived freely, but without having obtained an official act from the colonial administration recognizing this freedom, which considerably weakened their situation.
« Désirant notamment appeler au plus tôt à la liberté légale les individus, qui dans quelques colonies, jouissent à divers titres de la liberté de fait ;
Nous avons ordonné et ordonnons ce qui suit (…)
Tout individu qui jouit actuellement de la liberté de fait, le cas de marronnage excepté, sera admis à former, par l’intermédiaire, soit de son patron, soit du procureur du Roi, une demande pour être définitivement reconnu libre.
Pareille demande pourra être formée par l’intermédiaire du procureur du Roi, par toute personne non encore légalement affranchie qui, à l’époque de la promulgation de la présente ordonnance, aura accompli huit années de service dans la milice. »**
« Wishing in particular to encourage as soon as possible legal freedom for individuals, who in some colonies enjoy de facto freedom in various ways;
We have ordered and are ordering the following (…)
Any individual who currently enjoys de facto freedom, except in the case of marronage, shall be allowed to apply, either through his patron or the King’s Prosecutor, to be definitively recognized as free.
Such request may be made through the King’s Prosecutor by any person not yet legally released who, at the time of promulgation of the present ordinance, has completed eight years’ service in the militia. « » [my english translation, thank you for your indulgence….]
With the promulgation of this ordinance, the number of Free people of color doubled between 1831 and 1835, from 14,000 to over 28,000 people! Other texts contributed still to facilitate the emancipation: particularly the ordinance of April 29, 1836 and the ordinance of June 11, 1839. If you’re interested, I’ll come back to it in another post.
Many of my ancestors are among those men, women and children who were freed following the 1832 ordinance. In October 2017, I introduced you to Jean Louis dit Cicine Pierre-Louis, the ancestor whose name I bear, freed with 482 other people to the François in 1833. On the model of this #geneneatheme « 100 words for a life », I speak to you today of Elisabeth Laurencine. Almost 150 years separate us, she is my 5 times great-grandmother of whom I still have a lot to discover.
Elisabeth Laurencine, was freed at Le Lamentin in 1833. She was described as a « 20-year-old negress », de facto free by herself, with two children: Josephine, aged 3 and Jules, aged 2. Nothing about her past. The absence of a master name suggests she had lived freely for a long time, even if this freedom was not official. Presumably, Elizabeth was pregnant with a third child in 1833: Aly Didi, whom I discover witness and uncle in a birth certificate of 1869. We know Elisabeth as a dressmaker in 1833 and a cultivator at the age of 54 when Jules married in 1868, where neither of them could sign.
And you, did you find French freed ancestors in the 1830s?
There are then about 9000 whites (8% of the population). The proposed figures are approximate and given as an indication to have an idea of the orders of scale; they take into account the various figures proposed in the work of David, Baude and Élisabeth (their estimates depend on the sources studied).
**Archives territoriales de Martinique, 3K 2/5 Bulletin des actes administratifs de la Martinique, p. 318, n° 846.
BAUDE Pierre, L’affranchissement des esclaves aux Antilles Françaises… 1948.
DAVID Bernard, Les origines de la population martiniquaise…, 1973.
ÉLISABETH Léo, La société martiniquaise…, 2003.
PETITJEAN-ROGET Jacques, Personnes et familles à la Martinique au XVIIe siècle…, 2000.
Archives territoriales de Martinique, 3K 2/5 Bulletin des actes administratifs de la Martinique, p. 318, n° 846.
ANOM, état civil, act of manumission of Élisabeth Laurencine, 1833, n°94.