Enslaved Africans Sold to French, 1858


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Image Reference
PRO-4

Source
Public Record Office, London (FO 84/1070). See Comments.

Comments
Caption, "A French Free Emigrant on his Way to the Barracoon of M. Regis." A drawing made by Lt. Henry Hand of the British Navy that accompanies a letter (Sept. 8, 1858) written to his commanding officer. Hand was stationed on the HMS Vesuvius, cruising the West African coast. One day, he took one of the vessel's small boats and "proceeded into Loango for water." On shore, he observed how "the 'French Free Emigrants' are conveyed to the Barracoons. The enclosed [drawing] was sketched from a 'voluntary laborer' on the way to M [onsieur] Regis' factory, and you will observe, sir, by the manner in which he is made fast to the end of a pole that there is little probability of his being permitted to change his mind without incurring considerable risk of breaking his neck. . . . what I witnessed was no rare occurrence, but on the contrary, these unfortunate slaves were thus daily conveyed in two or three to the Barraccoons of the French Government." Under contract to the French government, French captains purchased slaves from local African authorities, declared them free and then shipped them to the French Caribbean colonies as indentured laborers, usually for a six-year contract period; the British government denounced this practice as a ruse to continue the illegal slave trade. (For the historical context, see David Northrup, "Freedom and Indentured Labor in the French Caribbean, 1848-1900," in David Eltis, ed., Coerced and Free Migrations: Global Perspectives [Stanford Univ. Press, 2002], pp. 204-28.)