Free and Bound: Abolition and Forced Labor in the French Empire
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CitationBrignac, Kelly. 2021. Free and Bound: Abolition and Forced Labor in the French Empire. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractIn 1817 the French crown began the process of abolishing the Atlantic slave trade, a decade after Britain and the United States. At the same moment, France sought to expand the plantation complex in colonies in Africa and the Indian Ocean to replace the economic profits lost after the Haitian Revolution. Fearful that the end of the slave trade would lead to a shortage of labor, the French colonial government created a system of forced indenture called engagement. Under this system, French merchants purchased African captives, “freed” them, then demanded that the captives work on plantations for fourteen years to pay off the price of their “redemption” (rachat). This dissertation shows that the French forced engagés into a debt relationship that they could never escape, despite promises of eventual liberation from bondage. When engagement began, the French had easy access to slaving markets on which they could buy engagés. As the nineteenth century progressed, abolitionism made purchasing engagés increasingly difficult—and controversial—and wage labor remained prohibitively high for many French plantation owners. Faced with potential labor shortages, French colonists became determined to keep engagés in their service and began using legal sleights of hand to extend the contract beyond the original terms. Engagés found themselves unable to escape the debt forced upon them at their “redemption” because as time went on, abolitionism made their labor more valuable. This dissertation shows how the end of slaving and slavery led to a proliferation of indebted black labor that remade plantation economies in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368367
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