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Database: The Code Noir

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The Code Noir was originally established in May 1685 by King Louis XIV of France, and enacted in March 1687. It was a set of rules governing the rights and policing of slaves, and remained in effect until 1789.

Articles of the Code Noir made Catholicism mandatory in French colonies, provided guidelines for slave punishments, and also included a number of articles designed to limit the mistreatment of slaves.

Masters were obligated to provide shelter, food, and clothing for their slaves, and were not allowed to torture or mutilate their workers, only beat them. Slave families were not to be sold separately. Care was to be given to the sick and dying. It was also stated that masters should only punish repeat offenders.

But the Code Noir was never fully enforced, making way for all sorts of abuse. Most slave owners only adhered to the articles that benefited them. Some masters even became known for their cruelty and inventive methods of torture, and many violations were waived and overlooked. This was especially the case in Saint Domingue where the pressures to remain the world leader in sugar and coffee production was felt most strongly by the slaves who provided all of the necessary labor.

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