Copy of the Letter from M. le Marquis du Chilleau to M. de Marbois, dating from March 29, 1789. Item A and Response from M. de Marbois from the same day. Item B.

English English


These are the first two pieces of a chain of correspondence regarding the introduction of foreign grain into Saint-Domingue between the governor, the Marquis du Chilleau, and the intendant, de Marbois, who was in charge of administration, finance, and the judiciary. The letters were forwarded to the colonial minister, the Comte de la Luzerne. Well aware that the French government would look unfavorably upon this contravention of existing law, du Chilleau hoped to satisfy his superiors that his choice was administrative in nature, demonstrating that he was acting within his bounds as governor.

While colonial law was made in France, Governors and Intendants were empowered to create local ordinances. This conflict over trade liberalization pitted a newly arrived du Chilleau, who was already sympathetic to colonial demands for reform, against Marbois, Saint-Domingue’s most successful administrator, who was a hardline enforcer of the law.  The Ministry, and later the National Assembly, supported Marbois, but the colonists took their revenge on him in the fall, when he was forced to flee the island.

(Copie de la Lettre de M. le Marquis du Chilleau à M. de Marbois, en date du 29 Mars 1789. Cotte A. and Réponse de M. de Marbois du même jour. Cotte B.)

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Copy of the Letter from M. le Marquis du Chilleau to M. de Marbois, dating March 29, 1789. Item A.

Sir, we are facing urgent need and cannot expect help from France; we haven’t an instant to lose in order to provide for the colony’s subsistence. It already seems to me much too compromised. The ministerial letter addressed to the Administrators of the Colonies with the Judgment of August 30, 1784 has confirmed, in my opinion, a general permission to introduce foreign grain. Never have the circumstances more urgently demanded it, and I ask you, Sir, as a favor, to set aside all other business so that a communal letter, dated today, can be sent by post to our representatives in Fort Dauphin, Port-au-Prince, Le Cap, Port de Paix, Saint-Marc, Petit Goâve, Les Cayes, Jérémie, and Jacmel ordering them to inform all merchants that foreign flour will be admitted in these different places, and to give the same notice to the Americans in regards to the three free ports. Sir, I ask of you also, to open the King’s stores as soon as possible. We have agreed that flour should be sold there at a price of 100 pounds a barrel starting April 2. It is very necessary that this not be delayed in order to re-establish equilibrium and the prices for the merchants.

P.S. We still have to address, Sir, the manner in which the foreign flour will be paid for.

Response from M. de Marbois on the same day. Item B.

Monsieur le Marquis, I was honored to receive the letter you wrote me this morning. I set aside the business of the postal service, and I put down on paper a few ideas regarding the proposition that you made to send out, as of this morning, ordering to open the 12 ports of the colony to foreign commerce. I beseech you to examine it again. The course of action that you propose does not seem the most advantageous to the colony itself, and it is impossible for me to have any hand in the admission of grain and biscuit from abroad into any ports other than the free ports. The king’s orders contained in the letter from his minister[1] are precise in this regard. I also beg you instantly to accept my view on limiting the permissions in regards to quantities. If you do not, however, adopt what I propose on this last point, I will adopt your position. But give me until this evening to write a regulation that we will have registered as soon as it is signed. I will by no means be able, in two or three hours, to consult all of the laws we would have to suspend or modify, and much less to change the colony’s regime founded on so many laws issued by His Majesty by a simple letter. As it stands, I am going to postpone all events and all business to dedicate all the time I have available to this subject, and I will have the honor of seeing you today to communicate my labors to you as soon as possible.

I am completely persuaded that if the exportation of the kingdom’s grain to our colonies were forbidden, we would have been informed by the minister, and that the merchants themselves would leave the ports of the kingdom to go and look for it in the United States to bring it to us. I am sure that the department would not have abandoned the colonies without informing us of such an important measure.

[1] César-Henri de la Luzerne, Naval Minister