Baptiste, « Noir du Domaine »[Black of the Domain], serving the hospital pharmacy

tanlistwa, courrier, ordonnateur, Baptiste, 1829

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At the moment, I am interested in the documentation on the « Noirs du domaine » among other things; I will come back to write about this particular topic later (in a long time!), when I have finished consulting the many files on the subject, because there is a lot to say about enslaved men and women who were property of the State. However, I don’t want to wait to tell you about Baptiste, a disabled « old negro » in 1833, who was once an apothecary in Martinique.

The cost of Baptiste

In 1833, the governor of Martinique became interested in Baptiste. Indeed, « Since January 1829 an old negro, native of St. Lucia, named Baptiste, belonging to the Colony(*), has been admitted to the hospital of Fort-Royal where he is still, afflicted with a hemiplegia of the right side and complete blindness. »

If Baptiste was the subject of a conversation between the governor and the ordonnateur (the administrator in charge of executing public expenses), it was because, in their opinion, he weighed too heavily in the expenses of the colony. Indeed, the ordonnateur noted that « His stay in the hospital costs 1256.80 francs per year and nothing announces that it cannot last several more years. » He specified, « the administration, in acting so generously, probably did not count on the fact that the infirmities with which Baptiste is afflicted could be prolonged for so long and cause such considerable expenses. »

More than the cynical and venal conversation about how best to spend the least amount of money on Baptiste’s mandatory care, it was the mention of his past that made a light shine in my eyes. The report stated that the man had been in the pharmacy service of the hospital in Fort-Royal (Fort-de-France). Thus, when the orderly replied to the governor, he explained that « It is not with any hope of recovery that this black man was admitted to the hospital, it is more natural to believe that he was sent there to finish his career which was almost entirely devoted to the service of the hospital pharmacy where he was employed as a boy. » Now, some time ago, I had done some research on the military hospital at Fort Royal, so I may have already encountered Baptiste in the 1793 inventory. A quick check on the blog confirmed that I knew him.

tanlistwa, courrier, ordonnateur, Baptiste, 1829
Courrier de l’ordonnateur sur Baptiste, 1829

Baptiste, an apothecary’s life

In 1793, Baptiste was already serving the sick people at the military hospital at Fort Royal where he worked as a enslaved apothecary. The inventory gave no other information. We only know that Baptiste was responsible for helping to prepare or making his own herbal teas, potions and other remedies for the hospital’s patients.

How did this man from St. Lucia island end up as a enslaved man in the military hospital at Fort Royal? For the moment, I don’t know. In any case, he was not the only one to become a « Noir du roi » [negro of the king] or a « Noir du Domaine » [black man of the domain] of the colony according to the most frequent formulas in the archival material, for we find about fifty other people also native of the neighboring island on the lists of the Colony. How long had he been working at the hospital? No idea, but at least since 1793. How old was he? Neither the inventory of 1793 nor the letters of 1833 specified it. How had this man passed from the hands of the religious in 1793 to those of the colonial domain in 1833? That I knew! The military hospital of Fort-Royal was administered by the Brothers of Charity; therefore, when the property of the religious was confiscated during the French Revolution (including the buildings they rented or occupied, the plantations of various cultures and of course also enslaved people…), the enslaved persons attached to the military hospital found themselves « Noir du Domaine » and de facto property of the Colony.

Given that the ordonnateur explained that Baptiste had been in the service of the hospital pharmacy for most of his life, and given that I had come across nominative statements in the documentation listing the persons reduced to the status of slaves belonging to the colonial domain in the 19th century, I began by searching for Baptiste in these lists. I found him in the 1818, 1825, 1826, and 1829 records, aged 68, 81, 82, and 86 respectively, which allowed me to deduce an approximate year of birth between 1743 and 1750. Perhaps Baptiste had been transported between St. Lucia and Martinique during the French-English conflicts for the possession of the islands? The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) resulted in the French loss of St. Lucia to the English; Baptiste may have belonged to masters who had fled St. Lucia permanently, unless it was later in the 1790s during the revolutionary troubles in the Caribbean.

In any case, in 1818, for more than 25 years, Baptiste had been working at the hospital in Fort-Royal. He was at that time, according to the nominal roll, 68 years old, and despite this advanced age, the document stated « serving the pharmacy ». At that time, he was the oldest of the hospital’s enslaved staff, one of the few survivors of the 1793 list. Next to him in the pharmacy were Thomas, 50, Denis, 52; Laguerre, 50, was a nurse, as was Jean Louis, 17, Bourriqui (or Bourriquet), 50, and Zizi, 16, the only woman in the group who was not a laundress, as were Adélaide, 34, Magdelaine, 40, and Victoire, 20.

A quick look at the nominative state of 1818 shows about twenty exploited men and women in their sixties, half of whom are in a state of infirmity that limits their activity; beyond that, the cases are rare, there is only Jean Jacques, 70 years old, a bricklayer, and Lutile, 72 years old, a laborer in the artillery department (the oldest person who is not declared infirm).

The 1818 nominal roll specified about Baptiste and his colleagues: « These strong Negroes and Negresses are very useful in the service of the hospital, where they are employed, they are not, according to the contract made with the contractor, at the expense of the government. They are fed, clothed and maintained at the expense of the contractor. »

In 1818, Baptiste was paid 0.36 francs a day for his work at the pharmacy. Enslaved people paid? Yes, this is one of the specificities of the « Noirs du domaine » in the 19th century. I do not know exactly when the  enslaved people of the King were paid; a private council report of 1829 mentions that the measure to pay the King’s enslaved people dated back to the administration of General Donzelot, who had taken office in 1817, so the daily pay given to Baptiste in 1818 must have been quite recent. The payment of the  enslaved men and women of the King was questioned in 1829 by Governor Freycinet and some notable members of the Privy Council, Chevalier Duprey, M. D’Eculleville and M. de Latuillerie.

A decree of 1818 set the wages and referred to a comparative table of previous wages, I hoped to obtain additional information by consulting this table, but I did not find it. However, the 1818 decree allows us to situate the low level of remuneration of the « negroes of the king »; the art workers or commanders earned 0.60 francs, the laborers (unskilled workers) 0.35 francs. By way of comparison, the lowest paid free laborers were those in the artillery company, they earned 1.10 francs, the highest paid 1st class external laborers earned 2.60 francs. The pay received by the workers of art or commanders « negroes of the king » was equivalent to that of the free apprentices.

The hospital’s staff in 1818 was small: 10 enslaved persons, whereas there were more than 80 in 1793; it was increased by the arrival in 1822 of some 200 illegal « Negroes of the trade » distributed among the various colonial services or on the state-owned properties of the Colony. But Baptiste, worn out by age and hard work, had by this time stopped working in the hospital pharmacy. His health seems to have gradually deteriorated. Indeed, while he was still on the staff of the hospital in 1818, he later appeared on the list of the infirm (as did Thomas and Bourriqui in the early years).

In the nominal roll of 1825, while Silvain, his immediate neighbor, is described as « blind », there is no mention of Baptiste’s condition. Still at the beginning of 1829, nothing is reported; on the other hand, in the list established in December 1829, Baptiste is described as « valetudinaire, suffering from a hemiplegia ». However, an 1815 ordinance on enumerations specified: « only mutilated, maniacal, percluded, laddered, and blind slaves shall be deemed infirm »; so I concluded that Baptiste’s paralysis and blindness had revealed themselves in all their extent by 1829 and that it was the general state of old age that had previously made him appear in the list of the infirm; but it is also possible that they just didn’t bother to specify aches and pains from which he was already suffering and which had intensified over time.

Since the cost of the exploited men and women was always at the heart of their administration by the Colony, the 1825 nominative statement indicated in observation that « the infirm gave no days to the King » and that those registered corresponded to the days when they were granted and paid remuneration for « their small needs », when they answered the roll call for the year 1824. Baptiste thus received 306 days in 1824, then 173 days at 0.35 franc in 1825. To give you an idea of the value of what he was given, you should know that in 1828, a daily ration of 750g of fresh bread provided to the ensalved people of the king cost the colonial administration about 42 centimes, that of 550g of biscuit 23 centimes; in 1829, the ration of 250g of salted beef was at 24 centimes, that of 375g of cod at 15 centimes The enslaved persons who were not employed on a domanial plantation, but worked in the services of the Colony such as the artillery direction or the general store of the Navy, probably did not have access to a small garden; the sum given in addition to the food ration (which consisted only of bread and salted beef or cod in 1829) thus probably made it possible to supplement the food (in yam, manioc…) and to obtain a few small odds and ends for daily life. However, this was not always the case, because for the infirm in 1818, the state specified « Unable to render any service, they receive no pay »; the government limited itself to providing the necessary to feed and clothe them.

Baptiste keeps his secrets

There’s one thing I didn’t tell you. To reduce the expense of maintaining Baptiste, the ordonnateur sought a solution. In his letter to the governor, he wrote:

« I thought I had to examine whether there would not be a way to reduce this excessive expense by conciliating what humanity requires in favor of an old, infirm and bedridden servant.
He has in the royal fort a granddaughter named Rose Joséphine, a free mulattress, who would agree to take his [grandfather] into her home for the sum of 51.50 francs per month, on the condition that she feed him, house him, launder him, and give him all the care that his condition requires. (…) ».

So Baptiste had had children! At least, at least one child.

Recreating a family between slavery and freedom is never an easy task, especially in this case, because the filiation of enslaved men was very rarely mentioned. The names Rose Joséphine not being so commonly associated, I nevertheless searched in the civil registry of Fort-Royal for a free Rose Joséphine who would possibly declare births around 1833. And I found one!

In 1828, Rose Joséphine, 33 years old, a seamstress, living in a courtyard of a house on Grande Rue, a « free mulattress » by birth, daughter of Angélique Delauriée, a « free métive«  by birth, declared the birth of a little Césaire (who died a few months later in a house on rue Blondel). In December 1831, the death of a child born without life was declared; his mother was Rose Joséphine, 37 years old, living in a house on Saint-Laurent street, without profession. The first declaration specified the date of baptism of Rose Joséphine: April 22, 1794. That year, in the city registers, there is an act presenting Rose Joséphine « aged one month and a half, natural daughter of Angélique Dulaurier,  métive born free » [âgée d’un mois et demi, fille naturelle d’Angélique Dulaurier, métive libre de naissance]. Rose Joséphine died as a seamstress in 1840, at the age of 46 « in the house she lived in at the Royal Fort on Blenac Street, number 44 » [dans la maison qu’elle habitait au fort royal rue Blenac n°44]. I also found a Rose Joséphine in some land transfers at Fort-Royal: purchase of a small case of 250 francs in September 1830 and sale of a small house of 360 francs in May 1831 on the King’s land near the Navy stores.

tanlistwa, carte, Fort-Royal, 1826
Extrait d’un Plan de la ville du Fort-Royal et environs. 1826

If all these elements allow us to recreate the family and the life of Rose Josephine, they do not allow us to make a link with Baptiste. I was not able to follow the trail of Angélique. It is even less obvious that the mentions of « color » and freedom would imply that, in order to be able to be Baptiste’s companion, Rose Joséphine’s grandmother was perceived as being a very light-skinned mixed-race woman, freed or free by birth, or even a white woman; this may have happened, of course, but it was out of the ordinary and even a social taboo for the second case. Thus, for now, the links that Baptiste established with women in  society of Fort-Royal and which, despite his status as a slave, allowed him to give birth to free descendants, remain a mystery.

Finally, it was not with his granddaughter Rose Joséphine that Baptiste ended his days, because :
« The governor thinks that this would be very expensive for the colony, and he proposes to have Baptiste received at the charity office of the Fort Royal for a certain sum that could be fixed by the council.
The ordonnateur answers that he had thought of placing him in the establishment in question, but that the treasurer of the office declared that he could not receive a infirm man who required the continual presence of a sick guard to care for him. (… ) however, a man could be received in this establishment for a sum of 310 francs per year, which would allow him to receive all the care his condition requires (…) In the opinion of the council, the governor decides that the negro Baptiste will be placed in the hospice of Charity at Fort Royal to which the colonial fund will pay a sum of 310 francs for this purpose. »

(*) I use here Colony with a capital letter to refer to the authority holding the institutionalized power in the colonial space.


  • Archives territoriales de Martinique (ATM), Copie de la série géographique (Anom), 1mi 1467 – Carton 35 Dossiers 301 à 305.
  • Bibliothèque nationale de France, Code de la Martinique, ordonnance du 20 décembre 1815 de l’intendant sur les dénombrements N°1569, T6.


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