The Black Code (1685)

Edict of the King

on the subject of the Policy regarding the Island of French America

Versailles : In march 1685.

Louis, by the grace of God, King of France and Navarre :

to all those here present and to those to come, greetings.

Introduction :

In that we must also care for all people that Divine Providence has put under our tutelage, we have agreed to have the reports of the officers we have sent to our American islands studied in our presence. These reports inform us of their need for our authority and our justice in order to maintain the discipline of the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith in the islands. Our authority is also required to settle issues dealing with the condition and quality of the slaves in said islands. We desire to settle these issues and inform them that, even though they reside infinitely far from our normal abode, we are always present for them, not only through the reach of our power but also by the promptness of our help toward their needs.

For these reasons, and on the advice of our council and of our certain knowledge, absolute power and royal authority, we have declared, ruled, and ordered, and declare, rule, and order, that the following pleases us

First article :

We desire and we expect that the Edict of 23 April 1615 of the late King, our most honored lord and father who remains glorious in our memory, be executed in our islands. This accomplished, we enjoin all of our officers to chase from our islands all the Jews who have established residence there. As with all declared enemies of Christianity, we command them to be gone within three months of the day of issuance of the present [order], at the risk of confiscation of their persons and their goods.

Article 2 :

All slaves that shall be in our islands shall be baptized and instructed in the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. We enjoin the inhabitants who shall purchase newly-arrived Negroes to inform the Governor and Intendant of said islands of this fact within no more that eight days, or risk being fined an arbitrary amount. They shall give the necessary orders to have them instructed and baptized within a suitable amount of time.

Article 3 : 

We forbid any religion other than the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith from being practiced in public. We desire that offenders be punished as rebels disobedient of our orders. We forbid any gathering to that end, which we declare to be conventicle, illegal, and seditious, and subject to the same punishment as would be applicable to the masters who permit it or accept it from their slaves.

Article 4 :

No persons assigned to positions of authority over Negroes shall be other than a member of the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith, and the master who assigned these persons shall risk having said Negroes confiscated, and arbitrary punishment levied against the persons who accepted said position of authority.

Article 5 : 

We forbid our subjects who belong to the so-called "reformed" religion from causing any trouble or unforeseen difficulties for our other subjects or even for their own slaves in the free exercise of the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith, at the risk of exemplary punishment.

Article 6 :

We enjoin all our subjects, of whatever religion and social status they may be, to observe Sundays and the holidays that are observed by our subjects of the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith. We forbid them to work, nor make their slaves work, on said days, from midnight until the following midnight. They shall neither cultivate the earth, manufacture sugar, nor perform any other work, at the risk of a fine and an arbitrary punishment against the masters, and of confiscation by our officers of as much sugar worked by said slaves before being caught.

Article 7 :

We forbid them also to hold slave markets or any other market on said days at the risk of similar punishments and of confiscation of the merchandise that shall be discovered at the market, and an arbitrary fine against the sellers.

Article 8 :

We declare that our subjects who are not of the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith, are incapable of contracting a valid marriage in the future. We declare any child born from such unions to be bastards, and we desire that said marriages be held and reputed, and to hold and repute, as actual concubinage.

Article 9 : 

Free men who shall have one or more children during concubinage with their slaves, together with their masters who accepted it, shall each be fined two thousand pounds of sugar. If they are the masters of the slave who produced said children, we desire, in addition to the fine, that the slave and the children be removed and that she and they be sent to work at the hospital, never to gain their freedom. We do not expect however for the present article to be applied when the man was not married to another person during his concubinage with this slave, who he should then marry according to the accepted rites of the Church. In this way she shall then be freed, the children becoming free and legitimate. . . .

Article 10 :

Solemnities for marriage prescribed by the edict of Blois and the declaration of November 1639 will be observed for free people as well as for slaves. Nevertheless, fatherís and motherís consent will not be necessary, but only the masterís consent.

Article 11 :

We forbid priests from conducting weddings between slaves if it appears that they do not have their masters' permission. We also forbid masters from using any constraints on their slaves to marry them without their wishes.

Article 12 :

Children born from marriages between slaves shall be slaves, and if the husband and wife have different masters, they shall belong to the masters of the female slave, not to the master of her husband.

Article 13 :

We desire that if a male slave has married a free woman, their children, either male or female, shall be free as is their mother, regardless of their father's condition of slavery. And if the father is free and the mother a slave, the children shall also be slaves.

Article 14 :

Masters are held to put into Holy Ground in cemeteries so designated [as will] their baptized slaves; and those who die without having received baptism will be buried at night in some field near the place where they died.

Article 15 : 

We forbid slaves from carrying any offensive weapons or large sticks, at the risk of being whipped and having the weapons confiscated. The weapons shall then belong to he who confiscated them. The sole exception shall be made for those who have been sent by their masters to hunt and who are carrying either a letter from their masters or his known mark.

Article 16 :

We also forbid slaves who belong to different masters from gathering, either during the day or at night, under the pretext of a wedding or other excuse, either at one of the master's houses or elsewhere, and especially not in major roads or isolated locations. They shall risk corporal punishment that shall not be less than the whip and the fleur de lys, and for frequent recidivists and in other aggravating circumstances, they may be punished with death, a decision we leave to their judge. We enjoin all our subjects, even if they are not officers, to rush to the offenders, arrest them, and take them to prison, and that there be no decree against them.

Article 17 :

Masters who are convicted of having permitted or tolerated such assemblies composed of slaves other than those belonging to them will be condemned in their own and private name to pay for all the damage that will have been done to their neighbors by these said assemblies and a fine of 10 ecus for the first time and double for repeat offenses.

Article 18 :

We forbid slaves from selling sugar cane, for whatever reason or occasion, even with the permission of their master, at the risk of a whipping for the slaves and a fine of ten pounds for the masters who gave them permission, and an equal fine for the buyer.

Article 19 :

We also forbid slaves from selling any type of commodities, even fruit, vegetables, firewood, herbs for cooking and animals either at the market, or at individual houses, without a letter or a known mark from their masters granting express permission. Slaves shall risk the confiscation of goods sold in this way, without their masters receiving restitution for the loss, and a fine of six pounds shall be levied against the buyers. . . .

Article 20 :

We wish, to this end, that two persons be charged by our officers in each market to examine the commodities and merchandises that will be carried by the slaves, together with the tickets and marks of their masters.

Article 21 :

We permit to all our subjects living in our islands to take all the things slaves are carrying when these slaves are without tickets from their masters, or known marks, to be returned instantly to their masters, if the plantations are neighboring the place were the slaves are surprised in this crime, if not they will be instantly sent to the hospital to be held there until the masters have been notified.

Article 22 :

Each week masters will have to furnish to their slaves ten years old and older for their nourishment two and a half jars in the measure of the land, of cassava flour or three cassavas weighing at least two-and-a-half pounds each or equivalent things, with two pounds of salted beef or three pounds of fish or other things in proportion, and to children after they are weaned to the age of 10 years half of the above supplies.

Article 23 :

We forbid them to give to the slaves cane brandy in place of the subsistence mentioned in the previous article.

Article 24 :

We similarly forbid them to unburden themselves of the food and subsistence of their slaves by permitting them to work a certain day of the week for own ends.

Article 25 :

Each year masters will have to furnish each slave with two outfits of canvas or 4 aulnes of canvas, at the master's  discretion.

Article 26 :

Slaves who will not be fed, dressed and supported by their masters will be able to tell it to our general public prosecutor, and to give him a report. If he receives several such reports, he will bring proceedings against these masters, what we want to be observed for crimes and barbaric and inhuman treatments of masters on their slaves.

Article 27 :

Slaves who are infirm due to age, sickness or other reason, whether the sickness is curable or not, shall be nourished and cared for by their masters. In the case that they be abandoned, said slaves shall be awarded to the hospital, to which their master shall be required to pay six sols per day for the care and feeding of each slave.

Article 28 :

We declare that slaves cannot have anything that does not belong to their masters. All the things they obtained by cunning or thanks to the liberality of other people, or by other means, will belong to their master. Slaves' children, fathers, mothers, relatives, or any other free or slave person will not be able to ask for inheritance rights or donation inter vivos or because of a death. Every donation, promise or obligation made by slaves is declared invalid and made by people unable to dispose and to contract on their own.

Article 29 :

Nevertheless, we want masters to be responsible for what they have ordered to their slaves, for what they have managed and negotiated in shops, and for the particular kind of trade slaves were put in charge of. If masters have given no orders, they will be responsible for what they earned. If masters have earned nothing, the money they let their slaves have will be let to these slaves, after the deduction of the amount due to the master. Otherwise, if the money consist in merchandises that slaves can trade for their own count, masters will only deduct a tax relative to the propriety of the land.

Article 30 :

Slaves will not be able to take part in offices or commissions of the public service, neither to be named agent by anybody except their master to manage or administrate any trade, nor to become referees, experts or witnesses in civil or criminal trials. If they are called to testify, their evidence will only be used as a statement of case to help judges to clarify the case, and it will not be used for a presumption, a conjecture, or an evidence.

Article 31 :

Slaves shall not be a party, either in court or in a civil matter, either as a litigant or as a defendant, or as a civil party in a criminal matter. And compensation shall be pursued in criminal matters for insults and excesses that have been committed against slaves.

Article 32 :

Anybody will be able to bring criminal proceedings against slaves without the responsibility of their master, except in case of complicity. These slaves will be judged by ordinary judges in a country court, and on appeal in the Supreme Council, with the same formalities as for free people.

Article 33 :

The slave who has struck his master in the face or has drawn blood, or has similarly struck the wife of his master, his mistress, or their children, shall be punished by death.

Article 34 :

We also want abuses and violent acts of slaves against free people to be hardly punished, even by death penalty.

Article 35 :

Slaves or emancipated people committing robberies, even of horses, mules and cows, will be afflictively punished, even by death penalty.

Article 36 :

Slaves stealing sheep, goats, pigs, poultries, sugar canes, peas, mil, manioc or other vegetables, will be punished according to the robbery. Judges will be able to condemn slaves to be hit with verges by the high justice executor, and branded with a lily flower.

Article 37 :

If robberies or other damages are caused by their slaves, masters will have to repair these damages in their own name, in addition to the slaves corporal punishment. Instead of paying the fine, masters are allowed to give these slaves to the person who suffered the damages, what they have to choose in the three days following the condemnation. Otherwise, they will have to pay the fine.

Article 38 :

The fugitive slave who has been on the run for one month from the day his master reported him to the police, shall have his ears cut off and shall be branded with a fleur de lys on one shoulder. If he commits the same infraction for another month, again counting from the day he is reported, he shall have his hamstring cut and be branded with a fleur de lys on the other shoulder. The third time, he shall be put to death.

Article 39 :

The masters of freed slaves who have given refuge to fugitive slaves in their homes shall be punished by a fine of three hundred pounds of sugar for each day of refuge.

Article 40 :

The slave who has been punished with death based on denunciation by his master, and who is not a party to the crime for which he was condemned, shall be assessed prior to his execution by two of the principal citizens of the island named by a judge. The assessment price shall be paid by the master, and in order to satisfy this requirement, the Intendant shall impose said sum on the head of each Negro. The amount levied in the estimation shall be paid for each of the said Negroes and levied by the [Tax] Farmer of the Royal Western lands to avoid costs.

Article 41 :

We forbid judges, public prospectors and clerks of the Court to tax any slave in a criminal trial. Failing this, they will be judged for misappropriation of public funds.

Article 42 :

The masters may also, when they believe that their slaves so deserve, chain them and have them beaten with rods or straps. They shall be forbidden however from torturing them or mutilating any limb, at the risk of having the slaves confiscated and having extraordinary charges brought against them.

Article 43 :

We enjoin our officers to criminally prosecute the masters, or their foremen, who have killed a slave under their auspices or control, and to punish the master according to the circumstances of the atrocity. In the case where there is absolution, we allow our officers to return the absolved master or foreman, without them needing our pardon.

Article 44 :

We declare slaves to be charges, and as such enter into community property. They are not to be mortgaged, and shall be shared equally between the co-inheritors without benefit to the wife or one particular inheritor, nor subject to the right of primogeniture, the usual customs duties, feudal or lineage charges, or feudal or seigneurial taxes. They shall not be affected by the details of decrees, nor from the imposition of the four-fifths, in case of disposal by death or bequeathing.

Article 45 :

But we do not want to deprive our subjects of the faculty to stipulate these rights which belong to them and their family, as is the usual practice for money and other movables.

Article 46 :

For slave seizures, the formalities of our edicts and the customs for movables' seizures will be applied. We want the money coming from these seizures to be distributed in the seizure order. In case of a financial collapse, we want the privileged debts to be paid first, and the situation of slaves and other movables t o be settled, except for the following cases.

Article 47 :

Husband, wife and prepubescent children, if they are all under the same master, may not be taken and sold separately. We declare the seizing and sales that shall be done as such to be void. For slaves who have been separated, we desire that the seller shall risk their loss, and that the slaves he kept shall be awarded to the buyer, without him having to pay any supplement.

Article 48 :

Moreover, slaves who are working at the moment in sugar factories, indigo-plant factories, or private houses, aged between fourteen and sixty, cannot be seized for debt, except if they are not totally purchased, or if the sugar factory, or indigo-plant factory, or private house where they are working is really seized. We forbid purchasers to buy sugar factories, indigo-plant factories, or private houses by seizure or auctioning without including slaves who work in and who are aged between 14 and 60. failing this, the purchase will be declared null and void.

Article 49 :

Judiciary farmers who will seize sugar factories, indigo-plant factories or private houses, including slaves who work in will have to pay the whole price of their lease. Slave children who will be born during this lease will not become the propriety of these farmers.

Article 50 :

We declare, and any contrary convention will be declared null and void, that every slave children will belong to the seized part if the creditors are satisfied, and to purchasers if a decree intervenes. To that end, in the last public notice before the establishment of the decree, we will mention slave children born since the seizure. In the same notice, we will mention slaves who died since the seizure, when they were still alive.

Article 51 :

In order to avoid extra expenses and long proceedings, we want the whole amount of the sale by auction to be distributed between creditors, according to their privileges and mortgage order, with no distinction between the price of funds and the price of slaves.

Article 52 :

Nevertheless, feudal and Lords rights will only be paid in proportion of the price of funds.

Article 53 :

People of noble lineage and feudal Lords will be allowed to withdraw these funds only when the slaves sold together with these funds will have been withdrawn. In the same way, purchasers will not be able to take the slaves if funds are not left.

Article 54 :

Bourgeois and noble guards, people who obtained the management of the factories where slaves work, will have to lead these slaves as good family fathers. They will not be responsible and they will not have to pay for slaves who died, who were undermined by illness, old age or other reasons without their fault. Slave children who will be born during their management will not belong to them but to their former masters and owners.

Article 55 :

Masters twenty years of age may free their slaves by any act toward the living or due to death, without their having to give just cause for their actions, nor do they require parental advice as long as they are minors of 25 years of age.

Article 56 :

The children who are declared to be sole legatees by their masters, or named as executors of their wills, or tutors of their children, shall be held and considered as freed slaves.

Article 57 :

We consider that slaves who were emancipated in our islands are born in our islands, and that they do not need our naturalizing letters to be in full possession of our natural subjects' advantages in our kingdom, lands and countries under our obedience, even if they are born in foreign countries.

Article 58 :

We declare their freedom is granted in our islands if their place of birth was in our islands. We declare also that freed slaves shall not require our letters of naturalization to enjoy the advantages of our natural subjects in our kingdom, lands or country of obedience, even when they are born in foreign countries.

Article 59 :

We grant to freed slaves the same rights, privileges and immunities that are enjoyed by freeborn persons. We desire that they are deserving of this acquired freedom, and that this freedom gives them, as much for their person as for their property, the same happiness that natural liberty has on our other subjects.

Article 60 :

We declare that every confiscation and fine belong to us and that it must be paid or given to peoplewho are in charge of our salaries benefits in the islands. Nonetheless, we want a third part of these confiscations and fines to be paid to the hospice of the island where it took place.


© Alain Chebroux, Count of Argenteuil :