AfriGeneas Caribbean Research Forum
French Records on the Slave Trade
Most of the French trade involving slaves took place between 1714 and 1792. Prior to 1714, their involvement was minimal, as it was after the French Revolution. The best records available of this commerce are the captain's "declaration de retour" or return declarations.
These records should be available at the archives of each French port which had an involvement with the slave trade. These may have included at various times: Nantes, Rouen, La Rochelle, and Bordeaux. The data available for the port of Nantes include the name of the ship, departure date, tonnage, size of crew, site of trade in Africa, number of slaves purchased, site of trade in the Americas, number of slaves sold, date of return to France, and the number of crew members deceased during the voyage. In 1721, the records of the Compagnie des Indies, when available, may provide additional data which can be correlated with the "declarations de retour".
Almost all of the studies regarding the Atlantic slave traffic concern themselves with the numbers only and while others may address their African origins, almost none will provide lists of slave names. This is mostly due to their unavailability as the slaves were not asked their names when being loaded aboard ship. Instead, a head count sufficed. It may be necessary to trace the voyage of a vessel using newspaper records to provide departure/arrival data and information on slave auctions, which may then lead to bills of sale.
(Posted with permission from the Caribbean Historical & Genealogical Journal, April 1994, Vol. II, No. 2, p. 30)
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