Judgment from the State Council of the King, Concerning foreign commerce in the French Isles of America. From August 30, 1784

This pamphlet, dating from 1784, outlines the trade laws established in the French Caribbean islands. These laws will later be called into question, notably in 1789 by the Deputies of Saint-Domingue, who argue for the importation of foreign flour in order to relieve the colony from famine. The nineteen articles ordered by King Louis XVI offer details regarding what may be exchanged during trade, tax laws and the differences in regulation between foreign and domestic ships. The judgment begins by referencing the letters patent of 1727[1] and noting the need to reduce their severity.

Upon softening the regulations, the King granted permission for several new warehouse ports to open in the Caribbean under French authority and inspection. Despite the newly relaxed directives, few were opened in the beginning in order to maintain strict control over the flour trade and the fight against contraband.

[1] The letters patent of 1727 concerned the regulation and taxation of trade and integrated various other edicts and orders. For more, see: Miquelon, Dale. Dugard of Rouen: French Trade to Canada and the West Indies, 1729-1770. McGill: Queen’s Press, 1978.

(Arrêt du Conseil d’État du roi, concernant le commerce étranger dans les îles françoises de l’Amérique: du 30 août 1784.)
Courtesy of the Hagley Museum & Library.
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Article One

The warehouse formerly assigned to the Sainte-Lucie fairing [port][1] will be retained for the aforesaid island only, and three new ones will be established in the Windward Islands; that is to say, one at Saint-Pierre for Martinique, one at Pointe-à-Pitre for Guadeloupe and dependencies, one at Scarborough for Tobago. Similarly, three will be opened for Saint-Domingue, that is to say, one at the Cap Français, one at Port-au-Prince, one at [Les] Cayes Saint-Louis. The one that exists at Mole Saint-Nicolas in the same colony will be and will remain closed.


His Majesty allows foreign vessels, provisionally and until it pleases him to arrange them otherwise, carrying sixty barrels at the least, uniquely loaded with wood of all types, even with dye-wood, coal, animals and living beasts of all kinds, salted beef, not pork, cod and salted fish, rice, corn, vegetables, raw or tanned hides, pelts, resins and tar, to go only in the warehouse ports named in the preceding article, and to unload them there and trade the aforesaid goods.


The foreign ships who go into the warehouse ports, either to bring the permitted goods or to empty them, will be allowed to load them up for abroad only with goods coming from France and with syrups and taffias[2].


All of the goods, for which importation and exportation are permitted abroad in the aforesaid warehouse ports, will be subjected to the local fees established or to be established in each colony, and will additionally pay one percent of their value.


Aside from the entitlement fee of one percent, outlined in the article above, the salted beef, cod, and salted fish will pay three pounds per quintal[3]; and the gain of said fee of three pounds will be converted in encouragement premiums for the introduction of the cod and salted fish, coming from the French catch.


The foreign salted meat that will be introduced into the colonies by French ships, dispatched directly from the Kingdom’s ports, will not be liable for the payment of the fees mentioned in the two preceding articles.


In each warehouse port, a necessary number of clerks will be established to ensure that alternative goods will neither be introduced nor exported, except those specified in Articles II and II of the present judgment. In order that no suspicion of inaccuracy remains in this surveillance, His Majesty authorizes the French merchants residing in each of the aforementioned warehouse ports, along with the captains of the ships who find themselves there, to respectively designate commissioners amongst themselves who will be responsible for reporting the oversights or breaches they might identify and witness, as soon as they judge it appropriate, at all of the visits that take place, either at the arrival or departure of the foreign ships.


The captains of the aforementioned foreign ships who enter the warehouse ports will be bound, under penalty of confiscation of ships and cargo and of one thousand pounds of fines, to make themselves known from offshore and to warn at the moment of their arrival so that two clerks and a guard, as much as possible, will be sent aboard in order to prevent nothing from being unloaded before the visit. If the aforesaid captains arrive in the morning, an exact declaration will be done in the afternoon, and if they arrive in the evening, one will be done the next morning at the latest, both at the office of His Majesty and at the courts administration service of the admiralty, where they will fill out all of the ordinance formalities by the by, with the type and quantity of the goods that the freight consists of. They will represent their freight bill and charter parties and will not be able to proceed to the unloading except on the notice or authorization of the office, in the presence of two clerks who will inspect the goods and will draw up an official report of their attendance to the aforementioned unloading. When said ships dispatch on their journey home, no loading may be made without an identical testimony, without the presence of an equal number of clerks, without a similar official report of attendance to the aforementioned loading and without a permit from the office for the departure of the ship.


If at the time of the visit, before, during or after the loading or unloading, goods other than those authorized for import and export according to Articles II and III are found on the foreign ships coming into or leaving the warehouse ports, the clerk will draw up an official report and will immediately give it to the admiralty’s courts administration service, to be, at the diligence of His Majesty’s prosecutor, processed by the reigning officers at the seizure of the ships and their cargo, of which the confiscation will be pronounced, with a fine of one thousand pounds, except for the appeal at the council or an alternative jurisdiction superior court.


The French ship-owners, either from the kingdom or from the French islands and colonies, who wish to take part in the importation of foreign goods, authorized in Article II, as well as in the exportation of goods similarly authorized by Article III in foreign ports, will be submitted to the same precautions, the same formalities and visits that will be arranged for the foreign ships. They will be subjected to the same punishments in the event of offense and will be subjected to the same laws, with the only exception being the entitlement of one percent set by Article IV, of which they will be exempted.


All of the captains and owners of the French ships, armed in either the kingdom’s ports or in those of the French colonies, who would like to dispatch from the aforementioned colonies to the seas of America, even to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, can only leave from one of the warehouse ports, under penalty of confiscation of the ships and cargo and a one thousand pound fine. As is customary, the aforementioned captains and owners will be bound to take the limited permission of the governor, the quartermaster and the passport of the admiral, who will be registered at the courts administration service of the admiralty. They will additionally supply all the declarations and will be subjected to all of the necessary visits to record the state of their cargo, which will be permitted only to be comprised of syrups, taffias and goods from France, thus and in the same way as if they were foreign.


Shipments toward foreign ports will only be delivered at those where His Majesty keeps consuls, vice-consuls or agents, at whom they will be presented both at the arrival and the departure, to be endorsed by them and by the captains present at the return trip, either in France or in the colonies.


The aforementioned French ships, dispatched from either the French islands or from the kingdom’s ports, who upon reaching a foreign port, or Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, will enter into one of the warehouse ports, will be bound, under the same penalty of confiscation and fine, to display a flame or distinctive mark from three leagues offshore, such as will be indicated by the admiralty, so that at the moment of their arrival clerks may be sent aboard by the office of His Majesty.


Always as per the same punishments, His Majesty requires that foreign ships, which were allowed to introduce cargo of slaves to the Windward Islands alone for a determined period of time, in the different ports of the admiralty of said islands, from now on, may no longer introduce them during the aforementioned time, except in the fairing ports of Saint-Pierre, Point à Pitre and Scarborough, departing from, according to this, the Judgment of his Council of June 28, 1783, which will furthermore continue to be carried out according to its form and content.


The product of the given fines and confiscations will be, in its entirety, allocated to the clerks of the Offices of His Majesty, who have made or caused the seizure. With regard to ships that had been taken fraudulently by the navel vessels and Coast-Guards of His Majesty, the whole of said product will belong to the Commander, top advisors and équipage-preneurs with only the deduction of the justice fees, from the tenth of the Admiral and of six denarius to deliver in favor of the Invalides de la Marine[4]. As soon as there are informers, a third of the same product will be debited from their account.


The arrangements of the letters patent of October 1727 will be moreover implemented, along with the subsequent orders and regulations concerning foreign trade in the French islands and colonies, in that which is not infringed upon by the present judgment.

His Majesty summons M. the Duke of Penthièvre, Admiral of France, and the governors, lieutenant generals, particular commanders, quartermasters, general commissioners, schedulers and all others who will belong to it, to hold the hand, each in itself right, at the execution of the present judgment: His Majesty similarly summons the high councils and tribunals of the French Colonies of America, to proceed to the registration of it, to be read, published and posted everywhere it needs to be done. Done at the State Council of the King, His Majesty present, kept at Versailles the thirtieth of August one thousand seven hundred eighty-four. Signed La Croix M.al de Castries

The Duke of Penthièvre,

Admiral of France

In view of the above Judgment of the Council, and of the other pieces, address to us: Let us send for all those over whom our power extends and order the Officers of the Admiralties of the Islands and French Colonies to hold, each in itself right, the hand at its execution and to comply with those that concern them. Let us order the Officers of the aforementioned Admiralties to register them at the courts administration service of their headquarters. Done in Paris, the thirty-first of August one thousand one hundred eighty-four. Signed L. J. M. DEBOURBON. And lower, by His Highness Serene.

[1] A fairing port was a port where ships would dock in order to repair hull damage.

[2] A type of Haitian rum made from molasses, refuse sugar, etc.

[3] One quintal equals one hundred kilograms.

[4] Les Invalides de la Marine, created by Louis XIV, provided pension plans for those serving in the French navy.