REQUEST AND PETITION From the Citizens of Color of the French Isles and Colonies, December 2, 1789

Delivered by the likes of Julien Raimond, Vincent Ogé, and others, this Request and Petition narrated a long history of legal discrimination of Free People of Color in Colonial Saint-Domingue.[1] Speaking before the National Assembly in Paris, these representatives offered a response to a motion proposed by M. Louis de Curt that argued for the creation of Colonial Assemblies, yet did not provide provisions for representation for Free People of Color.[2] The petition ultimately calls for political enfranchisement and representation of Free People of Color in the Colonial Assembly as a way of countering a long history of racial discrimination.

The Request and Petition enumerates various legal efforts to socially control and physically police persons of color in Saint-Domingue, free or enslaved. While enslaved blacks figure into the purview of this document, they mostly serve as a point of contrast for the Free People of Color, who are always referred to as “citizens” or “free.” In short, the Free People of Color acknowledge significant legislation that infringes on their rights as citizens by establishing de facto racial prejudice.

[1] For a history of the legal efforts by Vincent Ogé and Julien Raimond see: Garrigus, John D. Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006 & Dubois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004.

[2] Louis de Curt was a colonial representative from Guadeloupe, for more see: Dubois, Laurent. A Colony of Citizens. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2004, 102, 114.

(Supplique et petition des citoyens de couleur des isles et colonies françoises…)

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We have said, and in spite of the refutations made by certain white Colonial Deputies, we will not cease to repeat that the ambition, the false politics, and above all, the most degrading prejudice have introduced and perpetuated a second class of Citizens in our Isles[3] that was banned by the original laws.

Despite our King’s best intentions against these paternal views, the citizens of Color have always been confused with the Slaves. Forty thousand Frenchmen have been confused with Slaves.[4] They have been denied citizenship rights, and their grievances registered in our Isles have never managed to reach the King.

Laws, rules, and arbitrary traditions have been introduced in the colony, without regard to Articles LVII and LIX of the Edict of 1685, which indicate that “manumission is born in our Isles and that the Freed, and to the highest reason, their descendants, enjoy the same rights, privileges, and immunities as free persons.”[5]


On August 7, 1758, a decree from the Council of Le Cap, Art. 17 “prohibits all free Negroes or Mulattos from harboring any Maroon Negroes[6], to the penalty of having their freedom revoked and being sold with their family residing with them to the profit of the King, with a third of the bill of sale going to the person who alerts of said wrongdoing.”

On September 24, 1761, the Council of Le Cap submitted a decree that “prohibits Notaries from passing further legislation in collaboration with Free or Liberated [persons] without elaborating their race: Free Negro, Mulatto, or Quarteroon. Any failure to comply results in a six-month suspension for the first infraction and a revocation of their commission for the second.”

On April 17, 1762, during a period of distress, the Police Judge of Le Cap cruelly submitted an ordinance that “prohibits Bakers from selling Bread to People of Color, FREE OR NOT, subject to a fine of 500 livres.

The same Ordinance “prohibits Owners and Captains of Merchant Ships and others from selling Flour to People of Color under the same penalties.”

On May 29, 1762, an Ordinance from the General “prohibits all Negroes and Free Mulattos from carrying their arms.”

Only Whites have this privilege. They are all equal, all Soldiers, all Officers, all Nobles. The Citizens of color are the only ones denied these rights

And the Colonial Deputies believe we have nothing to complain about!

On June 20, 1762, the Governor of Saint-Domingue, M. de Bory, registered an ordinance concerning the Militias, and his justice did not reject it, thus tracing himself a line between the Whites and the Citizens of color, the demarcating line that the Colonial Deputies do not believe exists.

“Nature established three different classes of humans – Whites, mixed-race, and Free Mulattos or Negroes­[7] –  and we will always observe this difference in the composition of Militias, so that under any pretext or any designation possible, WE CAN NEVER CREATE BATTALIONS MIXED WITH TWO DIFFERENT RACES.”

[In] the same Ordinance, Article XXII restates that “Battalions of free Mulattoes and Negroes will be formed as before and commanded the same way,” meaning by White Planters.

On April 30, 1764, the colony published, in the respectable and sacred name of the King that has been often abused, an Ordinance that will perhaps give you a more precise idea of the abject state in which the Citizens of Color live.

Article XVI

His Majesty expressly prohibits Free Negroes and People of Color from practicing medicine or surgery, or to perform any treatment of the sick under any circumstances, under penalty of 500 livres for each offender of the present Article, and corporal punishment, as each case demands.[8]


On May 23, 1772, an Ordinance from the Administrators “prohibits, in Article VI, under the penalty of prison, free Negroes and people of Color from night dances or Kalendas.[9] They are only allowed to assemble themselves to dance during the daytime until nine at night, only after having first informed the police.”

On June 24 and July 16, 1773, the Administrators created a Regulation concerning citizens of color where “the usurpation of a white name might imperil the state of persons, cast confusion on the order of succession, AND DESTROY THE INSURMOUNTABLE BARRIER between Whites and People of color that has been established through PUBLIC OPINION and that the Wisdom of the Government maintains.

In consequence it is required of all Negro, Mulatto, Quarteroon, and mixed race women to give their children surnames drawn from their African tongue, or their profession and Color.


Sirs, the Whites have only spoken of their misfortunes, which are nearly entirely imaginary: it is a conflict of authority that they are raising between themselves and the Administrators of the Colonies, and certainly this conflict only interests us to increase our fears, to heighten our despair.

The Citizens of color have denounced misfortunes that are much more real.

[3] “Our Isles” is referring to the French Vieille Colonies in the Americas: Guadeloupe, Guyana, Martinique, and Saint-Domingue. By saying “our Isles,” the scribe implies French citizenship.

[4] This was the case only for Saint-Domingue, not the other French colonies in the Caribbean.

[5] The author paraphrases the Édit de 1685, alternately referred to as the Code Noir, citing two of the five articles that refer to manumission or freed slaves. The Code Noir features 60 articles in total. For further reading on the Code Noir and its implications, see: Niort, Jean-François. Le Code noir: Idées recues sur un texte symbolique. Paris: Cavalier bleu, 2015. and Ghachem, Malick W. The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

[6] Maroons were enslaved peoples who escaped servitude and took to the mountainous terrain of the Caribbean islands. For more on Maroons and runaway slaves, see: Heuman, Gad. Out of the House of Bondage: Runaways, Resistance and Marronage in Africa and the New World. Routledge, 2016.

[7] The reader should note that there is no mention of slaves as part of this order of beings, because the Code Noir designated slaves as “furniture” rather than humans. Citizenship, or freedom, was required to be considered human.

[8] For more on the history of medicine in Saint-Domingue, see: Weaver, Karol Kimberlee. Medical Revolutionaries: The Enslaved Healers of Eighteenth-Century Saint Domingue. University of Illinois Press, 2006.

[9] Kalenda or Calinda is a dance brought to the Caribbean by African slaves. Moreau de Saint-Méry, a Martiniquan politician, wrote about Kalendas in his 1801 text De la danse. For Saint-Méry, Kalendas resembled a ball where the enslaved played instruments and danced in the middle of the cane fields. Even this rare instance of freedom took place in the same location as forced labor. For further reading, see: Saint-Méry, Médéric Louis Élie Moreau de. De la Danse. Parme, 1801. & Epstein, Dena J. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War. University of Illinois Press, 2003.