The « slave market » of Mouillage in Saint-Pierre, Martinique.

tanlistwa, montage graphique, marché aux esclaves, Saint-Pierre, Martinique

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A few days ago, I followed Valy’s Déssan an vil « 22 mé » tour in Saint-Pierre (if you understand French, it’s super interesting, go for it when Valy suggests dates on Instagram or on Oliwonlistwa’s beacons ; by the way, do the one in Fort-de-France and the one in Lamentin too, they complement each other!). The visit was an opportunity to remember that while studying the maps of Saint-Pierre, I had spotted on one of them the mention of a « slave market » in the parish of Mouillage; but also that later, while discussing with a colleague, we were reflecting on the absence of other mentions of this market in the archives to our knowledge. Curious to know if it was mentioned elsewhere, I began to search the documentation to find a confirmation of its existence. Today, I share with you my questions and my investigation on the « slave market » of Mouillage in Saint-Pierre de la Martinique.

On the maps, a unique mention in 1763 of a « negro market ».

Since a 1763 map indicated a « negro market », I first consulted other maps representing Saint-Pierre de la Martinique between 1635 and 1848, in other words during the entire slavery period, to see if other maps gave the same information.

In seventeenth-century maps, such as the one made in 1685 by Marc Payen, the king’s engineer, you can see that he shows the Mouillage refinery (which disappeared at the end of the seventeenth century as a result of the royal policy to prevent competition from refineries in the metropolis, cf. Chauleau, 1994) and the Saint-Charles battery, but there is nothing that clearly resembles a square in this area. This same occupation of the space prevailed in the representations until 1734; then, in the second half of the 18th century, the configuration of the space changed.

tanlistwa, plan, Saint-Pierre, Marc Payen, 1685
Détail de « Plan géométrique du bourg et fort Saint-Pierre de l’isle Martinique (…). » par Payen, Marc, ingénieur du Roi, 30 septembre 1685.

The only map that explicitly mentions a slave market is the 1763 English map made by Royal Navy Captain John Stott. He situated this place right next to a watering place. The square is also depicted in 1776 and 1807, but it is not labeled. Today, it is Frank Perret’s place; the gas station at the entrance of the city when coming from Carbet is located in the extension.

tanlistwa, plan, Saint-Pierre, Martinique, John Stott, 1763
Plan. The Bay, Town, Fortifications and Environs of Saint-Pierre in the Island of Martinique…, Stott, John, capitaine de la Royal Navy, 1763

In 1819, a map captioned « place du mouillage ». An 1820 map indicated a guardhouse and the artillery park around the square. In 1847, on the eve of the definitive abolition of slavery, the guardhouse was still present and, in 1900, it is still under this name of « place du mouillage » that I find it in a map of the city.

tanlistwa, plan, Saint-pierre, Laroque Dufau, 1819, Martinique
Plan topographique de la ville et environs de Saint-Pierre Martinique…, par Laroque Dufau, arpenteur général adjoint, 1819

From the maps, we can assume that there have always been fortifications in this area, that a square has been there since at least the second half of the 18th century, that it served as a slave market around 1763 and that it was called « Place du Mouillage » throughout the 19th century.

In painting, the market of Saint-Pierre by Le Masurier

This is all very nice, but it does not confirm the usual presence of a slave market on this place du Mouillage; and, in the absence of other mentions, it is a little light to make it an indisputable historical truth. I was already close to accepting the idea that the mystery would remain, when there was a moment of light in my mind! I remembered that Le Masurier had painted « The market of Saint-Pierre in Martinique » in the 18th century. Actually, Le Masurier came to the West Indies around 1770, in other words, at about the same time as John Stott! With a bit of luck, if there had been a permanent slave market and Le Masurier’s market was that of Le Mouillage…

Looking at the painted work and transposing it into the present space, it seems to me that the background corresponds well to the morphology of the landscape that can still be observed today from the gas station in the Mouillage district. We find the Pierrotine society depicted in its diversity of status and occupation: enslaved people, free people of color, whites, sellers, buyers, colonists, soldiers… and the painter shows the multiple products such as fish, fruits, vegetables, textiles… that we can expect to find on a market. Nevertheless, nothing in the painting appears to depict a slave sale…

However, if you take the time to zoom in and look at the details, in the background, in front of a stone building, we discover naked women and men, sitting or standing, grouped in front of a low wall. Apart from the small children and the boy pointing to the birds, the other black figures in the painting are at least wearing pants or a dress; moreover, these naked women and men are the only inactive people in the scene. All of this leads me to believe that they may well be captives of the slave trade who are to be sold.

tanlistwa, marché, Saint-Pierre, market,Le Masurier
Détail, Le marché de Saint-Pierre à la Martinique par Le Masurier (documenté en 1769-1775),

Le Masurier’s painting of the market does not depict a slave sale, but the details of the painting seem to support the 1763 map by depicting people who look like a group of captives recently landed and ready to be sold.

The sale of enslaved people at the Place du Mouillage, a long-term practice?

Since the plans indicated a place du Mouillage and Le Masurier’s painting depicted a market there, it remained to search the written documentation for a trace of the activities that took place there to confirm the sale of enslaved people on this site. I thus searched for information related to the « marché du mouillage » or « place du mouillage » of Saint-Pierre in Martinique.

In the book Le Mouillage Port de Saint-Pierre, A. De Reynal mentions that the Senegalese Company had its house at the entrance to the city, at the Mouillage market; this company specialized in the slave trade; it is therefore likely that captives were unloaded and sold in this area as early as the 17th century.

The texts contained in the Code of Martinique mention this place under the name of « petite place du Mouillage » (1765) or « place du Mouillage » (1777) confirming its recognized existence at least since the second half of the 18th century. In 1765, the governor tried in vain to impose to the sailors and sellers of pacotille who were congregating in front of the church of the district that the place of Mouillage became the only place of sale. In 1777, Mr. Segond was authorized to put a fountain there and sell water to the sailors. But what interested me most was to find the existence of enslaved people sales. It was the advertisements and announcements in the gazettes of the time that could most easily provide information on this aspect; I therefore read in particular the Gazette de la Martinique and the Courrier de la Martinique.

On the Place du Mouillage was held a market where the population of the time could buy its daily food; but a certain number of announcements testify that this place was also the place of acquisition of local goods or goods recently disembarked from the ships, sometimes goods related to liquidations of successions or seizures of justice, sold directly on the place or in the warehouses around.

I have not found any advertisement for the sale of slaves in the Place du Mouillage in the 18th century; however, in 1803, there were at least two advertisements in the Gazette de la Martinique. In January, a full shipment of 390 captives was expected to be sold.
« For Sale, next Wednesday, February 2, at the store of Mrs. Wandas, Place du Mouillage, 390 Negroes of the First Choice, arrived from the Coast of Mayombe by the French ship the Pactole, Captain Salaun.
The said Captain Salaun desiring to realize the value of this Cargo to load it on his ship, will put aside all pretensions, and will release as much as one can hope for cash.
For the greater ease of the purchasers, we will receive in payment commodities of first quality, at the rate of the place. »

A few months later, in September, the rest of the cargo was also offered for auction in a local store.
« Next Saturday, September 24, it will be sold at the auction, in the warehouse of Mr. Enfanton, Place du Mouillage at 9 o’clock in the morning,
                                  24 New Negroes Arada nation,
in very good condition and in good health, of which 9 men and 14 women, remainder of the cargo of the ship Negrier le Courrier des Indes, captain François Legeol, coming from the Gold Coast; until then they will continue to be sold by mutual agreement in the said store. »

Again in 1846, in the Courrier de la Martinique of February 11, a sale was announced for a young girl confiscated by the colonial administration.
« sale by authority of justice,
In the name of the king, law and justice, it is announced that on Sunday the 15th of this month, at noon, in the market place of Mouillage, there will be a sale of the slave Marie-Sainte, known as Négresse, a 14 year old Negress.
Seizure executed at the request of Mr. the treasurer of the colony ».

Was the Place du Mouillage the only slave market in the neighborhood? No. There were many warehouses in the Mouillage district for goods of all kinds, so it is not surprising that the Place du Mouillage was not the only place where slaves were sold. For example, in the advertisements of the Gazette nationale et politique of 1793, one finds a sale of 160 captives in a store of the citizen Flaman, Grand-rue, in Mouillage.

I have not consulted all of the preserved newspapers of the time, however, the data that I have been able to retrieve here and there tends to show that if the Place du Mouillage was not exclusively dedicated to the sale of slaves, it was a place of arrival of captives of the slave trade and the sale of enslaved persons throughout the slave trade period in Martinique. This long practice of selling humans probably explains why, after the abolition of slavery in 1848, the Place du Mouillage was still a landing place for those exploited as laborers. In 1854, an article in La Presse of April 4 reported the arrival of « new workers from which Martinique has just been enriched », 505 Indian hired men and women.
« The Louis-Napoleon anchored on the plateau, and after the formalities prescribed by the decree and local orders on immigration had been completed, its passengers, numbering 505 Coolies, of all sexes and ages, were disembarked and lodged in the Beausoleil house, Place du Mouillage. »
Already placed, these people were to be present in the warehouse, after a long sea crossing, only long enough to reach the homes for which they were intended.

I read online on a document evoking the Place du Mouillage that it had long been called « Marché aux Esclaves » (Slave Market), the popular memory of the site’s slavery past would have been passed on. And you, did you know this name? Do you know of other places reputed to have been « slave markets » in Martinique? The advertisements for the sale of seizures of justice generally have the town squares as the place of the auctions; most of these squares, without ever being spaces only dedicated to the trade of women and men of all ages reduced to the status of slaves, must therefore have been at least occasionally their place of sale.

French Bibliography

  • Chauleau Liliane, Dans les îles du vent, la Martinique, XVIIe-XIXe siècles, 1994.
  • De Reynal Adeline, Le Mouillage, port de SaintPierre de la Martinique : 3 siécles d’histoire, 1992.

Archives territoriales de Martinique

  • Gazette de la Martinique, Saint-Pierre, 1803-1806
  • Plan Général, vue de Saint-PIerre, 1900, 1FI 261

Archives nationales outre-mer

Bibliothèque nationale de France

Base de données America’s Historical Newspapers (Biblithèque universitaire des Antilles)

  • Gazette nationale et politique du 2 avril, Saint-Pierre, 1793


  • Le Masurier, Le marché de Saint-Pierre à la Martinique, Huile sur toile – 169 x 234 cm, Avignon, Musée Calvet (donation Marcel Puech), Photo : Musée Calvet, Avignon.
    The image of the painting comes from la Tribune de l’Art website. Feel free to consult the page, you can find other paintings by Le Masurier including the well known Famille métisse and also the one of the Esclaves noirs à la Martinique.
    See the image in high definition.


  • Rotary Club, fiche sur Le marché du Mouillage
  • Suivre Oliwonlistwa pour les visites «Déssan an vil» sur Instagram ou sur beacons

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