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Labat vs. Miller

Miller writes:

“Labat cites no source for this anecdote, and before him the trail disappears; no one cites any textual evidence preceding Labat, and the existence of the putative edict cannot be verified. Without any further shred of support, however, this story has been perpetuated in French historiography. Historians should have paid more attention to Joseph Morenas, an abolitionist who refuted the myth in 1828.” (in Miller, Christopher L. The French Atlantic Triangle: Literature and Culture of the Slave Trade. Duke University Press, 2008)

Miller is a savage. His prose is perfect. Bless the scholars who dare to try him.


Here is the passage by Labat that Miller is referring to, as quoted/translated in Miller’s book:

Labat: “It is a very ancient law, that lands under the control of the kings of France render free all those who can reach them. That is why King Louis XIII, of glorious memory, as pious as he was wise, had all the trouble in the world [toutes les peines du monde] consenting to the first settlers of the Islands owning slaves, and only gave into the insistent solicitaiton that were made to him to grant this permission because it was argued to him that this was an infallible way–and the only means available–to inspire the worship of the true God in the Africans, to remove them from idolatry, and to keep them until death in the Christian religion that would be instilled in them [qu’on leur feroit embrasser].” (Miller, French Atlantic Triangle, 18)

Miller’s description of Labat:

“…Jean-Baptiste Labat (1663-1738), a notorious, slave-trading, swashbuckling “pirate” priest of the Dominican order who was also a prolific (and plagiarizing) writer of travel accounts.”




According to Miller – Joseph Morenas writes his correction here: Morénas, Joseph Elzéar. Précis historique de la traite des noirs et de l’esclavage colonial. Chez l’auteur [&] Firmin Didot, 1828. [Free and available on Google Books, for the win –]

Miller appears with a plethora of receipts. His footnote (footnote 60, page 399) is murderous.

You know I’m a sucker for footnotes.



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