Recovering the Debris of Fortunes between France and its Colonies in the 18th Century

Nurfadzilah Yahaya's picture


Our first blog post of 2017 is by fellow Hurst Summer Institute alumnus and true blue world legal historian Laurie Wood, Assistant Professor of History at Florida State University. ( 

Laurie writes on a part of the Indian Ocean that is often overlooked - the Francophone realm which mainly consists of the French Mascarenes (Mauritius and Réunion). By tracing fraught long-standing relations within diasporic families and later succession trustees, her recent article in Journal of Social History lies at the interrsection of business history, imperial history and social history.  


Recovering the Debris of Fortunes between France and its Colonies in the 18th Century
Wealth acquired in early modern colonies was fragile, as were the lives that sought it. The isolation of Indian Ocean colonies, such as the French Mascarenes (now Mauritius and Réunion), offered a gateway to the coveted riches of Asia but fostered an unprecedented blend of uncertainty and high financial stakes. As families and state agents collaborated to recover the “debris” of lost fortunes in the form of Mascarene successions, they forged an integral component of France’s global imperial order. Vacant succession trustees brokered this relationship, appraising unclaimed assets and managing correspondence among families and officials. Increasingly, trustees also generated state revenue by funneling abandoned estates to royal coffers, prompting a competition between family and state agents for the wealth successions could yield.
Mascarene successions reveal that the interactions of family members and succession trustees created a solution to the profound isolation and deep and enduring familial dislocations that characterized migration to the Indian Ocean. Though historians of global early modern empires have documented the surprising scope of family networks that included (and often transcended) the Indian Ocean world, this research connects the little-explored history of personal and family wealth in the Indian Ocean world with better-known patterns of imperial and global commercial flows. Similarly, a substantial and growing literature has emphasized the Indian Ocean’s unique capacity for facilitating durable, long-range networks of migrants, but it has yet to track in detail the economic dynamics of such strained and global household economies.
Wood, Laurie M. “Recovering the Debris of Fortunes between France and Its Colonies in the 18th Century.” Journal of Social History 51, no. 4 (Summer 2018). doi:10.1093/jsh/shw135. (Published online 13 January 2017).
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