Ordinance Concerning the Introduction of Foreign Grain in the Warehouse Ports of the French Section of the Island of Saint-Domingue

English English


Just one year after his appointment as Governor of Saint-Domingue by the French Naval Minister César-Henri de la Luzerne, le Marquis Marie-Charles du Chilleau[1] proposed this Ordinance to the French legislature allowing foreign grain to be legally imported into Saint-Domingue. This is the second ordinance issued by the governor in response to the grain shortages in Saint-Domingue, which threatened the planters with famine and malnutrition.

Luzerne and the French merchants later suggest that Chilleau was complicit in the colonial Deputies’ plans to stimulate commerce with the United States in order to cripple the monopolies that had been established by French merchants. If the legislature, which was still controlled by King Louis XVI, had passed this ordinance, the French merchants would have lost a substantial amount of business. Furthermore, the French Metropole would have lost profits from the colonial goods that were traded to the American merchants in exchange for provisions such as flour and grain.

While these are some of the elements at work in the background, this document recognizes that, like the colonies, Metropolitan France lacked provisions after a harsh winter wiped out the grain crops, driving the country to import provisions from England. Additionally, Chilleau outlines the ways in which the foreign vessels would be received, taxed, and reimbursed for their trade with Saint-Domingue in order to best accommodate the kingdom in such trying times.

[1] The marquis Marie-Charles du Chilleau was formerly an officer in the French army and was stationed in Germany during the Seven Years war. He ultimately attained the rank of Maréchal du camp, the highest rank in the army. In a report presented to Louis XVI on March 7, 1788, Luzerne nominates Chilleau for the position in Saint-Domingue, saying that he “served with distinction […] whether as a soldier or as a Marshall.”

(Ordonnance concernant l’introduction des farines étrangères dans les ports d’entrepôts de la partie française de l’île de Saint-Domingue)

The French text of this Ordinance has already been transcribed and is available through the French Revolution Digital Archive.


Excerpt from the Registers of the Superior Council of Saint-Domingue

The ordinance that we issued March 31, 1789, registered with the Superior Council of Saint-Domingue the following first of April, gives [the island of Saint-Domingue] permission to introduce foreign grain. We arranged this introduction after we received the alarming news that it would be impossible for France to send us the subsistence to which we are normally accustomed, especially after the nearly complete destruction of the grain harvest in the [French] kingdom, brought on by a harsh winter, and the fact that His Majesty used incentives to stimulate the importation of grain to the kingdom erased any doubt that he could have prevented the calamities of the dearth of grain that threatened the kingdom, and that it was impossible for [French] national commerce to adjust its imports in order to comply with the needs of the colony.

This ordinance given on the evils that the Metropole’s situation should have made us fear, did not entirely have the effect we had flattered ourselves with. It has only introduced a small quantity of grain, and the price of bread has only lowered but so much. Besides, the change was only felt in the three main cities; the intermediate locations, having been denied this assistance, are reduced to an unfortunate distress.[1]

According to the different reports by foreign ship-owners, the flaw in the importation process originates from the fact that these same ships can only fill themselves with colonial goods equal to the value of the grain that they can import.[2] This prohibitive regime has two results that are absolutely contrary to the colony’s interests. First, to leave the colony lacking in the principal necessity that allows it to subsist, and the second, to deny it the liquidity it could possess. The foreigners, incapable of loading their ships with all sorts of colonial goods, require that a large portion of the imported grain be paid in ready money.

These problems call for a prompt and effective remedy. A prolonged delay to our March 31st ordinance and an exchange in colonial goods seem to us the best way to rectify these recognized inconveniences. In these proceedings, and by virtue of the power bestowed upon us, we, the general and the steward, have ordered and order the following:

Article 1: Starting from the first day of the recording of the present ordinance, the permission to import grain and biscuits, agreed upon by the ordinance of March 31, 1789, for which the term will expire the 30th of next June, will continue to be in effect exclusively until the first of the following October.[3]

Article 2: We allow foreign ship-owners, proprietors, and ship captains to take on colonial goods for only the amount of grain that they will import to the colony.

Article 3: The measures of Article 2, not having been placed in our ordinance of March 31, 1789, according to this same ordinance, will go into effect the day of the recording of the present ordinance.

Article 4: The foreign ships will be subjected to the payment of local taxes, and they will pay additionally the western taxes for the goods they will be exporting, such as the French ships pay in France for the colonial goods they import.

Article 5: The taxes to be collected by virtue of Article 4 will be collected provisionally, until otherwise ordered by us, by the collectors of the excise taxes who will then be required to forward the resulting sum to the hands of the colony’s municipal collector.

Article 6: As soon as they are anchored in one of the admiralty’s ports, the captains of the foreign ships will declare their shipment of grain, first in the admiralty’s courts and then in those of our representatives. And, after their departure from said ports, they will make another declaration for the colonial merchandise they will be exporting. According to these declarations, visits aboard said ships will be ordered, whether by the headquarters of the admiralty or by our representatives, to ensure the truthfulness of these declarations. In the case of offence or of fraud on the behalf of said captains, the ships will be denounced to the admiralty and shall be condemned to confiscation as well as that of their cargo in the profit of His Majesty.

Article 7: In the places where there are established customs offices, the captains will be subject to a third declaration, and the employees may make onboard visits and denunciations, if the case provides, such as it is written in Article 6.

Article 8: The services of our ordinance will be, moreover, executed according to the ordinance of March 31, 1789, so as to not break with the present ordinance. We similarly do not intend to violate any of the measures of the ordinance of May 9, 1789, recorded at the superior council of Saint-Domingue the 11th of the same month, which will take full and entire effect with the exception of what is prescribed by the third Article of this, the present ordinance.

This will be the present ordinance, recorded at the steward’s court.

We ask the officers of the Superior Council of Saint-Domingue to record [the present ordinance] in their court, to print and distribute it wherever it need be sent, and to summon to these jurisdictions the resilience to maintain its execution.

Given in Port-au-Prince, under the seal of our arms and the countersignature of our secretary, May 27, 1789.

Signed: Du Chilleau

[1] The three principal cities are Cap Français, Port-au-Prince, and Les Cayes, and the intermediate points are the rural areas between these three hubs. The three principal cities are also commonly referred to as the three capitals.

[2] The exclusive law only allowed for French merchants to import grain to the colonies. Here, Chilleau is referring to American vessels that provided a small amount of grain to merely sustain the main cities suffering from bread shortages. If the ordinance were to be accepted, the foreign grain would be an acceptable measure to avoid further shortages.

[3] The March 31st ordinance originally would have expired in June 1789, but would now expire October 1, 1789.