At long last, Madeleine's Children: Family, Freedom, Secrets, and Lies in France's Indian Ocean Colonies, is available from Oxford University Press. Suitable for classroom use, the book follows the history of a family in slavery and freedom in France’s eastern colonies of Isle Bourbon (La Réunion), Isle de France (Mauritius), and Chandernagor (Bengal) over the century from about 1750 to about 1850. A microhistory, Madeleine’s Children considers changes in the legal and experiential conditions of slavery and freedom from the Ancien Régime through three revolutions, while exploring the connections and dissimilarities of Caribbean and Indian Ocean slavery, race, antislavery, and emancipation within both French and British empires. It foregrounds the interpretive challenges of recovering historical secrets that the planter regime would have preferred to bury and the line between speculation and interpretation of historical lacunae.
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From Oxford University Press:
Madeleine's Children uncovers a multigenerational saga of an enslaved family in India and two islands, Réunion and Mauritius, in the eastern empires of France and Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A tale of legal intrigue, it reveals the lives and secret relationships between slaves and free people that have remained obscure for two centuries.
As a child, Madeleine was pawned by her impoverished family and became the slave of a French woman in Bengal. She accompanied her mistress to France as a teenager, but she did not challenge her enslavement there on the basis of France's Free Soil principle, a consideration that did not come to light until future lawyers investigated her story. In France, a new master and mistress purchased her, despite laws prohibiting the sale of slaves within the kingdom. The couple transported Madeleine across the ocean to their plantation in the Indian Ocean colonies, where she eventually gave birth to three children: Maurice, Constance, and Furcy. One died a slave and two eventually became free, but under very different circumstances. On 21 November 1817, Furcy exited the gates of his master's mansion and declared himself a free man. The lawsuit waged by Furcy to challenge his wrongful enslavement ultimately brought him before the Royal Court of Paris, despite the extreme measures that his putative master, Joseph Lory, deployed to retain him as his slave.
A meticulous work of archival detection, Madeleine's Children investigates the cunning, clandestine, and brutal strategies that masters devised to keep slaves under their control-and paints a vivid picture of the unique and evolving meanings of slavery and freedom in the Indian Ocean world.
"What does it mean to be free? To be a slave? To belong to a family? In this remarkable book, historian Sue Peabody--one of the world's leading authorities on slavery in the French Empire--shows that these big questions are often intertwined. Through an intimate portrait of one enslaved man fighting for his dignity, Peabody shines a brilliant light on the worlds in which he and his forebears lived, stretching from India to the Mascarene Islands to the courts of Paris. This is both biography and global history at their very best." --Brett Rushforth, author of Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France
"This gripping family history of slavery and freedom in France and its Indian Ocean empire during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries resurrects in inviting detail the lives of Madeleine-sold into slavery in India and freed on Bourbon Island, though not told of her manumission for nineteen years-and of her children. With help from family and friends, Furcy, one of those children held in slavery by ruse, vigorously pursued legal recognition of his free status in the Mascarene Islands of the Indian Ocean and in France-and won. Drawing on thousands of pages of archival and legal documents to reconstruct their lives with astonishing detail, Peabody presents us with the first autobiographical narrative of slaves held by French citizens and in the process illuminates the internal architectures of slavery and freedom in France's Indian Ocean colonies." --Pier M. Larson, The Johns Hopkins University
"'Madeleine's Children' is a detailed exposition of the lives of slaves in the Indian Ocean world in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. Based on years of meticulous research, it brings vividly to life the tensions between slave-owners and slaves during a tumultuous period of shifting legal challenges to, and definitions of, slavery. Thoroughly recommended to scholars of the Indian Ocean world and of slavery." --Gwyn Campbell, Director, Indian Ocean World Centre, McGill University
Meyer Distinguished Professor of History
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