Summary Given by M. le Marquis de Gouy d’Arsy

English English


This “précis,” or summary, sent to the Commissioners appointed by the National Assembly to examine the needs of the colony, outlines the efforts made by the deputies and the governor of Saint-Domingue to acquire much needed provisions to sustain life on their plantations. After briefly discussing the numerous written and verbal demands made by deputies M. le Comte de Reynaud and M. le Chevalier de Cocherel[1], Gouy d’Arsy proposes four main questions for the Commissioners to ask themselves while observing the deputies’ claims: What are the needs of Saint-Domingue? What is its annual consumption [of grain]? What grain imports has the island received this year? What is the current state of its [grain] stores?

Many aspects distinguish Gouy d’Arsy’s summary from the demands made by his colleagues, Reynaud and Cocherel: the way he structures his arguments, his ideas concerning the social implications for the slaves, and the type of argument he presents. After each question, Gouy d’Arsy provides a brief explanation of the individual implications for the planters, the slave population, and France. For the slaves, Gouy d’Arsy explains that bread is essential to their diet, because it changes the way they behave, “mollifying” them to make them easier to manage.

Along with these conclusions, Gouy d’Arsy’s reasoning itself is another interesting aspect of his summary, because he does not immediately opt for an emotional appeal to France for further support and grain importation.[2] Instead, Gouy d’Arsy provides data – although likely inaccurate in order to bolster his argument – to contend that Saint-Domingue is a malnourished colony under French supervision. Like his compatriots, Gouy d’Arsy places the blame on the French merchants, claiming that they are responsible for the grain shortage in Saint-Domingue, as well as for widespread famine.

[1] For more on M. le Chevalier de Cocherel, see the Motion de Cocherel and Horan, Joseph. pp 103-104.

[2] His conclusions align themselves with the Motion de Cocherel where M. le Chevalier de Cocherel argues that French merchants and the Naval Ministry are conspiring against the colony of Saint-Domingue in order to augment their commercial profits.

(Précis remis par M. le Marquis de Gouy d’Arsy)

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To the Commissioners to whom the National Assembly returned the inspection of the application made by the Representatives of the Colony, to temporarily obtain the liberty to obtain grain, which it [the colony] absolutely lacks.


First Question

What are the needs of Saint-Domingue?

For a long time, the wish of the colony has been to mollify the lot of the Negros by making them participate in a healthy and fortifying food, which the price of French Grain has prevented us from giving them until now. It is doubtful that we can soon see the desires of our humanity entirely fulfilled, but at least, it is vital that we protect our workshops once and for all against the horrors of drought and of need. The only way to reach it would be to procure, each year, one Barrel of Flour per slave head, which would mean the importation of close to 400,000 Barrels for this single product.

If the annual consumption of the Whites were added, we would need to add another 150,000 Barrels.

Hence the result that the needs of Saint-Domingue, supposedly in desirable abundance, should increase to 660,000 thousand Barrels of Grain per year.

Second Question

What is the current consumption [of grain]?

The precise statements made by the Naval Offices have distinctly demonstrated that French commerce brings no more than 150,000 Barrels of Grain to Saint-Domingue in a common year. This quantity is merely the quantity absolutely necessary for the personal consumption of Whites and of the hospitals that they maintain.

Hence the result that the annual consumption currently reaches 12,600 Barrels per month, or 37,600 Barrels per trimester.

Third Question

What Flour imports has the Colony received this year?

The disasters that have blighted last year’s harvest in France had not permitted the Merchants to bring much Grain to Saint-Domingue, and we had been far from being able to accumulate any stores in the last six months of 1788. We lived day to day, and already the first three months of 1789 have passed with distressful anxiety.

On the 31st of March, with Saint-Domingue finding itself in the most pressing need, M. le Marquis du Chilleau (in conformance with the Council’s decision dated August 30, 1784) emitted an Ordinance that would open the three warehouse ports to Biscuits and foreign Grain for three months; in return, protection would be provided for the foreign ship-owners to load their vessels with colonial food products.[1]

When this Ordinance was announced on April 7th, we were already in a dreadful dearth. Our Stores were empty and our needs urgent.

Now, in order to satisfy the three months of April, May, and June we would still need 37,500 Barrels of Flour.

And so, Sirs, the Commerce of France brought us 7,332 [barrels] of those, in other words, a fifth of our total need. What would have been the horror of our position if the United States had not come to our aid? In this same trimester, they brought us 27,098 barrels. And by way of this aid, the Colony received 34,430 [barrels] of them in total, when it needed 37,500.

Hence the result, firstly, that we lacked 3,070 Barrels, that is to say that we were WITHOUT BREAD for SEVEN DAYS, or that we were reduced to the harsh agony of reducing the rations by a quarter during the final month.   

Secondly, if we consider the consumption particular to the region of Port-au-Prince, we will recognize, according to the records brought forth by the Governor and according to the Official Reports that are in the Minister’s hands, that their consumption reaches, each day, 300 Barrels of Flour (equivalent to 9,000 barrels per month or 54,000 barrels per semester).

And so, Sirs, the Commerce of France, which, instead of 54,000 barrels of Flour, had only furnished us with 36,770 during the first six months of 1788 and had brought us, during the six first months of 1789, only 9,126, which is to say the QUARTER of what we had received last year and the SIXTH of what we strictly need.

The Department of the Cape has been treated no better and the Department of the Cayes is even more abandoned.

Hence the result that, in second place, the French Merchants have absolutely neglected the Colony for five full months.

Fourth Question

What is the current state of the Colony’s [grain] Stores?

According to different legalized records, brought by M. le Marquis du Chilleau and passed on to the Minister, he certifies:[2]

  1. That the region of Port-au-Prince, on July 7th, had only enough French or Foreign grain for 11 days of subsistence.
  2. That the region of the Cape, on June 17th, had only enough for six days of subsistence.
  3. That the region of the Cayes, on July 1st, had no more than FOUR BARRELS of Flour total.

Hence the result that, firstly, without objection, the Commerce of France has not supplied the Colony even close to its most strict needs, and secondly, that the foreign assistance – labeled as such by the Ordinance of March 31, 1789 – had been itself INSUFFICIENT to sustain our ordinary consumption.[3]

These four conclusions, and above all the last one, become a compelling argument in favor of our demands.

[1] The Decision included in this reader. And the same Ordinance referred to by M. le Chevalier de Cocherel in the Motion de Cocherel.

[2] M. le Marquis du Chilleau is the Governor of Saint-Domingue and the ‘Minister’ is M. le Comte de la Luzerne, the Naval Minister of France.

[3] Louis XVI summarily struck down the Ordinance in May of 1789. See Arrêt du Roi.