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Title: Negroes
Original Title: Negres
Volume and Page: Vol. 11 (1765), pp. 79–80
Author: Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Romain (biography)
Translator: Pamela Cheek [University of New Mexico]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Le Romain, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre. "Negroes." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Pamela Cheek. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Negres," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 11. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Le Romain, Jean-Baptiste-Pierre. "Negroes." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Pamela Cheek. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2003. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Negres," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 11:79–80 (Paris, 1765).

Negroes. For several centuries, Europeans have carried out a trade in these negroes , whom they take from Guinea and the other coasts of Africa, to support the colonies that they have established in several places in America and in the Islands of the Antilles. People try to justify what is odious and contrary to natural law in this trade by saying that normally these slaves find the salvation of their souls in the loss of their liberty; that the instruction in Christianity given them, joined to their indispensability for the cultivation of sugar, tobacco, indigo, etc. mitigates that which seems inhuman in a trade in which men buy and sell others just like beasts for cultivating land.

The trade in negroes is conducted by all the nations that have establishments in the West Indies and particularly by the French, the English, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Swedes and the Danes. The Spanish, even though they own the largest portion of the continents of America hardly have negroes first-hand but draw them from other nations which have made treaties with them to furnish them with negroes , as did for a long time the Compagnie des Grilles, established at Genoa, that of the asiento in France and now, since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the Company of the South in England. See Asiento and the article Trading Company.

It was only a fairly long time after the establishment of French colonies in the Antilles that French vessels were seen on the coasts of Guinea engaging in the traffic in negroes which began to become somewhat common once the Compagnie des Indes was established in 1664 and the coasts of Africa, from Cape Verde to the Cape of Good Hope, were included in its concession.

The Compagnie du Senegal succeeded it in this trade. Several years afterwards, the concession of this company was divided since it was too large and what was taken away from it was given to the Compagnie de Guinée which subsequently took the name of the Compagnie de l'Assiente.

Of these two French companies, that of Senegal still subsists but that of the Assiente was terminated after the Treaty of Utrecht and the free trade in all places which had been ceded to it, whether for negroes or for other merchandise, was reestablished in the first year of the reign of Louis XV.

The best negroes come from Cape Verde, Angola, Senegal, the kingdom of the Wolofs and of those of Galland, of Damel, of the Gambia river, of Majugard, of Bar, etc.

In the past, a "pièce d'Inde" [“India piece”] negro (as they are called) from 17 or 18 to 30 years of age came to only thirty or thirty-two pounds in the merchandise appropriate for the country, which is spirits, iron, canvas, paper, maces and glass baubles of all colors, cauldrons and copper basins and other similar things that these peoples value a lot. But since Europeans have outbid one another, so to speak, these barbarians have known how to profit from their jealousy and its rare that handsome negroes are still traded at 60 pounds and the Compagnie de l'Assiente has bought them at as high as 100 pounds per head.

These slaves become slaves in several ways. Some, to avoid famine and poverty, sell themselves, their children and their wives to the most powerful kings among them who have the wherewithal to feed them. For even though negroes are very sober, sterility is sometimes so extraordinary in certain places in Africa, especially when some cloud of grasshoppers has passed, that it is a fairly frequent occurrence for it to be possible to harvest neither millet, nor rice, nor other vegetables on which they customarily subsist. The others are prisoners taken in war and in the invasions that these kinglets make in the lands of their neighbors, often without any other reason than to make slaves whom they take young, old, as women, as girls, and all the way to babies at their mother's breast.

There are negroes who catch each other while the European vessels are at anchor and who take to the ships those they have captured to sell and embark against their will. Thus, one can see sons selling their fathers and fathers their children or even more often those who have no family ties will place each other's liberty at the price of several bottles of spirits or of some bars of iron.

In addition to the provisions for the ship's crew, those who conduct this trade carry gruel, gray and white peas, beans, vinegar and spirits to feed the negroes they hope to have from their trading.

As soon as trading is completed, it is necessary to set sail without losing time since experience has shown that as long as these unfortunates are in view of their country, sadness overwhelms them or despair seizes them. The first causes illnesses which make a great number of them die in the crossing, the other brings them to take their own lives, either in refusing food or in plugging up their breathing in a manner known to them of folding and turning the tongue, which suffocates them every time, or in breaking their heads against the ship, or in throwing themselves in the sea, if they can find the opportunity.

So strong a love for country seems to diminish as they get farther away from it. Gayety follows on their sadness. It is a practically fail-safe means of removing their sadness and of preserving them until arrival at their destination to make them hear some musical instrument, be it only a viol or a musette. On their arrival in the islands, each head of negro is sold at from three to five hundred pounds, depending on their youth, strength and health. Normally they are not paid for in money but in the merchandise of the country.

Negroes are the principal wealth of the inhabitants of the islands. He who has a dozen of them may be considered rich. Since they multiply a lot in hot countries, their master will see the family in which slavery has become hereditary grow imperceptibly, as long as he treats them with mildness.

Their hard nature demands that they be treated neither with too much indulgence nor too much severity. For if a moderated punishment makes them yielding and animates them to work, an excessive rigor puts them off and brings them to cast themselves among the maroon or wild negroes who live in inaccessible places on these islands, where they prefer living the most wretched life to slavery.

We have an edict pronounced at Versailles in the month of March 1724, commonly known as the Code noir [Black Code], which serves as regulation for the administration of justice, police, discipline and the trade of negro slaves in the province of Louisiana. Dictionary of Commerce .