A Guide to Sites, Museums, and Memory

Monument to Abolition of Slavery Guadeloupe, France

There is very little information available concerning the construction of this monument. Some rather belated and second-hand accounts lead us to believe that it was built in 1848, the year slavery was finally abolished in Guadeloupe. On 26 April, 1923, daily newspaper, Le Nouvelliste welcomed its restoration, but gave no precise indication of its past.

Until proven otherwise by any future discoveries, it is the earliest monument to be erected in Guadeloupe to commemorate the permanent abolition of slavery. Such caution should also be applied to the so-called "Steps of the slaves," which lead to the monument, for which no construction date has yet been clearly identified.

This monument, of which only the base can still be seen, originally held a forged iron cross. The main pedestal face bears a simple inscription engraved on a marble plaque: "Freedom. 1848."

Timeline of Abolition Movements of Slavery in Guadeloupe

February 4, 1794: The First Abolition

France became the first nation in the world to abolish slavery in its colonies. The Convention, due to the actions of the Society of the Friends of the Blacks founded by Abbé Grégoire, and following the example of the unilaterally decreed emancipation in Saint-Domingue on August 29, 1793, by Civil Commissioner, Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, abolished slavery on February 4, 1794.

Martinique, which was then under English rule, never experienced this first abolition. Meanwhile in Guadeloupe, the English, who controlled the island for a time, were forced out by Commissioner of the French Republic, Victor Hugues, and abolition was proclaimed on June 7th, 1794.

1802: The Re-establishment of Slavery

In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to cancel the law of February 4, 1794 which had abolished slavery. Admiral Lacrosse was given the order to dismantle the Republican colonial army, which had been built up by Victor Hugues and in which many free men or former slaves were enrolled. A force of 3,522 men led by Antoine Richepance landed at Pointe-à-Pitre on May 6, 1802. As the repression started, a resistance group was organised. Joseph Ignace, an officer from Pointe-à-Pitre, and his men joined forces with another insurgent, Louis Delgrès, on Basse-Terre. On May 28th, Richepance launched the final assault against Delgrès at Matouba. Under siege and injured, he opted to blow himself up with his 300 men, rather than surrender.

April 27, 1848: Final Abolition

On March 29, 1815, Napoleon I proclaimed the immediate abolition of the slave trade, a decree which would prove to be largely ignored.

It was not until the Revolution of February 1848 that the law to abolish slavery was finally decreed by the second Republic. The provisional Government appointed Victor Schoelcher as Deputy-Secretary of State, specifically in charge of the colonies and of all measures concerning the abolition of slavery. On March 5, a law decreed that a commission was to be formed, on behalf of François Arago, Minister of the Navy and the Colonies, to prepare the act of immediate emancipation. Victor Schoelcher would preside over the work up until the signing of the abolition law on April 27.

The decree stipulated that the abolition would become applicable in 2 months' time. This led to a slave insurrection in Martinique on May 22, 1848, calling for the law to be enforced immediately. To prevent any further incidents, the abolition was proclaimed the following day. On May 27, the same proclamation was made in Guadeloupe. In accordance with the decree, planters received a lump sum compensation payment for the resulting loss of manpower.

Monument to Abolition of Slavery is part of the Slave Route—Traces of Memory network organized by the Conseil Général of Guadeloupe.

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