This six document installment seeks to build on the first by providing a variety of perspectives on the “Grain Famine” of 1789. However, while the first issue focused mainly on the rapport between the Deputies of Saint-Domingue with French officials in France or Saint-Domingue, our second issue attempts to provide a larger, transnational context for the issues surrounding 1789 Saint-Domingue.
The effect of the 1789 grain disputes in the colony of Saint-Domingue and its colonial Metropole serves as the primary focus of the first installment of our reader. This crucial, and yet little-known episode, in the history of not only Colonial Saint-Domingue, brings up issues of commerce during the Ancien Régime, and is one of the first major issues that was brought forth to the newly formed National Assembly in 1789.
The following document is a twenty-page excerpt from a lengthy report by François Barbé de Marbois refuting claims that, as the Intendant of Saint-Domingue, he personally profited from restricting trade between Saint-Domingue and the United States of America. With the principal goal of exonerating himself before his peers in the National Assembly, Marbois methodically discredits charges that he had been negligent towards a colony suffering from the horrors of a famine.
This supplement to the Réplique, or “counter argument”, made by the Deputies representing the French merchants and manufacturers, argues that the rhetoric of the Deputies of Saint-Domingue is not only petulant, but that it also serves as an attempt to deceive the Metropole.
In his “reflections,” M. de Cocherel outlined a plan to import much-needed flour to Saint-Domingue while simultaneously refuting merchants’ claims that French trade would suffer if the colonies were allowed to bypass the laws handed down by the French Metropolitan government. Arguing that the three main ports of Saint-Domingue, le Cap, Port-au-Prince, and les Cayes, were insufficient to supply the colony with enough grain, Cocherel urged the “Comité des Six” to open all of Saint-Domingue’s ports to foreign trade of grain and flour.
This response from the colonial deputies of Saint-Domingue is a reaction to a report published by French merchants that establishes the amount of grain, among other foodstuffs, necessary to nourish the entire French Empire.
This succinct document presents the charges brought against Barbé de Marbois by the Colonial Deputies of Saint-Domingue that ultimately caused Marbois to leave his appointment and escape back to Metropolitan France. The document provides a brief view into the elaborate web of social institutions – including courts, clergy, local government, and shifting trade regulations for human and material cargo – which shaped daily life in Colonial Saint-Domingue after the French Revolution and prior to the start of the Haitian Revolution.
This response from the Deputies of Production and Commerce of France provides a comprehensive review of the legislation surrounding the grain dispute of 1789 in order for the Commercial Deputies to defend themselves from the Colonial Deputies’ accusations that they have perpetuated famines.
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.
Presi sa a, oswa rezime, yo te voye bay komisyonè yo ke asanble nasyonal la te nomen pou y al egzaminen bezwen yo nan koloni an, eksplike ke efò sa yo se travay depite yo ak gouvènè oubyen majistra Sendomeng lan fè pou yo jwenn dispozisyon ki pi nesesè yo pou kenbe lavi yo nan plantasyon yo.
This motion, presented by Jean François Reynaud de Villeverd, Count of Reynaud, on August 31, 1789 before the French National Assembly in Versailles, argues in favor of importing more flour into Saint-Domingue due to the lack of food in the colony. In describing how the colony had previously been granted permission by the General Governor to import flour from abroad, it makes the case that a new ordinance be passed due to similar circumstances.
In his official motion to the National Assembly, M. de Cocherel proclaims that he can no longer sit idly while the Assembly ignores the famine that has besieged the colony of Saint-Domingue. The time has come for the colonial deputies of Saint-Domingue, led by Cocherel, to act on their own behalf, disregard the chain of command, and make a direct appeal to the Assembly.
Desizyon konsèy deta wa a pran an anile òdonans Marquis du Chilleau a te pase nan 27 mwa me a, ki te otorize boukantay enpòtasyon sereyal ak pwovizyon etranje nan Sendomeng pou pwodwi kolonyal, eksepte kann ak kafe. Lè l entèvni nan sitiyasyon Sendomeng lan, wa Louis XVI agrave relasyon malouk ki deja ekziste ant metwopòl la ak koloni Karayib li a.
This decision from the State Council of the King struck down le Marquis du Chilleau’s May 27th Ordinance allowing the importation of foreign grain and provisions to Saint-Domingue in exchange for colonial goods, although not sugar cane or coffee.
While the Island of Saint-Domingue was long considered part of the French Empire, the ten Colonial Deputies of Saint-Domingue felt in 1789 that they had become separated from the colonial Metropole. On June 8th 1789, this request was presented in Paris before Louis XVI’s committee of the Estates General.