On May 10, La Rochelle commemorates the slave trade, slavery and their abolition

On the paneling of one of the salons of the…

On the paneling of one of the salons of the Hôtel Fleuriau are painted some names of the slave ships leaving La Rochelle, those of their owners and the sordid record of a shipwreck in Hell. Some, many perished during these crossings and when they escaped, they had to endure violent enslavement. Others got rich.

From the late 17th century to the mid-18th century, La Rochelle was the second slave port in France after Nantes, given the number of ships that left the old port off the coasts of West Africa to embark against them thanks to these victims of a crime.


In the New World Museum in La Rochelle, engraving of the slave ship “Les Trois Frères”.

Jean-Christophe Sounalet/SOUTH WEST

40 years New World Museum

On May 10, in La Rochelle, the UNESCO Club, the Education League and their partners will honor the memory of the slave trade, slavery and their abolition. This day is the anniversary of the passing of the Taubira law recognizing this crime against humanity. The meeting is part of the 40th anniversary of the Museum of the New World, which is dedicating part of its permanent exhibition to this theme within the walls of the beautiful Fleuriau hotel. “He was the first in France to do that,” says Mélanie Moreau. The director of the museum thus underlines the original investment of his first curator Alain Parent, who was supported at the time by Michel Crépeau and whom he supported scientifically on the work of Jacques de Cauna. This historian had immersed himself in the story of the sugar plantation that Aimé-Benjamin Fleuriau exploited in Saint-Domingue. In 1772, this settler returned to La Rochelle, enriched, where he wiped out his father’s debts and bought the mansion that now bears his name. Monumental illustration that “at its height in the 18th century, triangular trade enriched and shaped the city”, underlines Mélanie Moreau.

Especially from Le Havre, Nantes, La Rochelle and Bordeaux sailed the ships that tore 13 million Africans from their land. La Rochelle armed 427 ships responsible for the deportation of 130,000 people. “The first expeditions date back to 1540”, says the historian from La Rochelle Mickaël Augeron in an interview (1). “It is very early in view of the establishment of colonial systems on the other side of the Atlantic. These sailors then went off the coast of Africa and attacked the Spanish and Portuguese slave traders, confiscated the slaves and sold them to the Iberian settlers of the Caribbean Basin and the coasts of Brazil.

Plans and parts of a slave ship on which the slaves are lined up and piled (New World Museum in La Rochelle).

Plans and parts of a slave ship on which the slaves are lined up and piled (New World Museum in La Rochelle).

Jean-Christophe Sounalet/SOUTH WEST

1643, dark date

“La Rochelle has the first official expedition of the slave trade recognized by the royalty: in 1643 a ship from Dieppe left the old port for the island of Saint-Christophe (Editor’s note, today Saint-Kitts-et-Nevis, in Western Indies) which at that time began to be colonized by the French,” adds the academic. La Rochelle’s networks with the ports of Northern Europe facilitated the formation of the trade triangle, especially with the Netherlands, then the main sugar consumer. were on the continent.

“The great shipowners of La Rochelle are popping up in the archives,” continues Mickaël Augeron. “But behind them are many other investors, craftsmen, representatives of the cloak (justice), it is an activity that unites a very large number of individuals”. Added to this financial activity, which supports the equipment of a slave ship, is “a whole commercial activity that will stimulate the internal trade of the city: the importation of barter products that will be exchanged in the context of the purchase of slaves. »

“Art filters the heaviness of the subject”

“We wanted this May 10 commemoration day to be different, we express it together for the UNESCO Club and the League of Education Alfred Tudeau and Florence Kehl. How do you make a memorial friendly and festive? The solution ? Through the cultural and artistic way of giving people the opportunity to meet to hear about a heavy topic. Art filters the heaviness of the subject. †

(1) Interview granted for RFI to Céline Develay-Mazurelle.

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