12 June 2018

BOOK: Sue PEABODY, Madeleine’s Children : Family, Freedom, Secrets, and Lies in France’s Indian Ocean Colonies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). ISBN 9780190233884, $35.00

Last year, Oxford University Press published a book which deals with the history of a slave’s quest to attain his freedom in court in France’s 18th-19th Indian Ocean colonies.


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.


Sue Peabody is Meyer Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and History at Washington State University Vancouver. She is the author of "There Are No Slaves in France": The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Regime (OUP, 1996) and the co-editor of The Color of Liberty: Histories of Race in France and Slavery, Freedom and the Law in the Atlantic World.


1. Madeleine: A Child Slave in Pre-Colonial India
2. Crossings: Oceans, Islands, and Free Soil
3. Madeleine's Children: Family Secrets
4. The Revolution: Emancipation without Freedom
5. The Limits of Law: Madeleine's Betrayal
6. A Perfect Storm
7. Incendiary Arguments, Justice Suspended
8. English Liberties
9. Freedom Papers Hidden in His Shoe
10. Damages and Interest

More information with the publisher

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