Code Noir

For the Marianne de Pierres novel, see Code Noir (novel).
The Code Noir, 1742 edition.

The Code noir (French pronunciation: [kɔd nwaʁ], Black Code) was a decree originally passed by France's King Louis XIV in 1685. The Code Noir defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire, restricted the activities of free Negroes, forbade the exercise of any religion other than Roman Catholicism, and ordered all Jews out of France's colonies.

The Code Noir resulted in a far higher percentage of blacks being free people of color (13.2% in Louisiana compared to 0.8% in Mississippi[1]) They were on average exceptionally literate, with a significant number of them owning businesses, properties and even slaves.[2][3]

The code has been described by Tyler Stovall as "one of the most extensive official documents on race, slavery, and freedom ever drawn up in Europe".[4]


In his 1987 analysis of the Code Noir's significance, Louis Sala-Molins claimed that its two primary objectives were to assert French sovereignty in her colonies and to secure the future of the cane sugar plantation economy. Central to these goals was control of the slave trade. The Code aimed to provide a legal framework for slavery, to establish protocols governing the conditions of colonial inhabitants, and to end the illegal slave trade. Religious morals also governed the crafting of the Code Noir; it was in part a result of the influence of the influx of Catholic leaders arriving in Martinique between 1673 and 1685.

The Code Noir was one of the many laws inspired by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who began to prepare the first (1685) version. After Colbert's 1683 death, his son, the Marquis de Seignelay, completed the document. It was ratified by Louis XIV and adopted by the Saint-Domingue sovereign council in 1687 after it was rejected by the parliament. It then was applied in the West Indies in 1687, Guyana in 1704, Réunion in 1723, and Louisiana in 1724. The second version of the code was passed by Louis XV at age 13 in 1724.

In Canada, slavery received legal foundation from the King from 1689-1709. The Code Noir was not intended for or applied in New France's Canadian colony.

In Canada, there never was legislation regulating slavery, no doubt because of the small number of slaves. Nevertheless, the intendant Raudot issued an ordinance in 1709 that legalized slavery. see Virtual Museum of New France


At this time in the Caribbean, Jews were mostly active in the Dutch colonies, so their presence was seen as an unwelcome Dutch influence in French colonial life. Furthermore, the majority of the population in French colonies were slaves. Plantation owners largely governed their land and holdings in absentia, with subordinate workers dictating the day-to-day running of the plantations. Because of their enormous population, in addition to the harsh conditions facing slaves (for example, Saint Domingue has been described as one of the most brutally efficient colonies of the era), small-scale slave revolts were common. Despite some well-intentioned provisions, the Code Noir was never effectively or strictly enforced, in particular regarding protection for slaves and limitations on corporal punishment.


Code Noir of 1742, Nantes history museum

In 60 articles,[5] the document specified the following:

Rules about religion

Rules about sexual relations and marriage




In popular culture

The Code Noir is mentioned in Assassin's Creed IV: Freedom Cry, as it is mainly set in Port-au-Prince. The Assassin Adéwalé, formerly an escaped slave turned pirate, aids local Maroons in freeing the slaves of Saint-Domingue (now the Republic of Haiti).

It is mentioned during the main story and also has its own database entry in the game which provides background on the Code Noir.

See also

Wikisource has original text related to this article:


  1. Rodney Stark, "For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, and the End of Slavery", p.322 Note that the original hardcover contained a typographical error stating "31.2 percent"; this was corrected in the paperback edition to 13.2. This is confirmed by examination of the 1830 census.
  2. Samantha Cook,Sarah Hull, "The Rough Guide to the USA"
  3. Terry L. Jones, "The Louisiana Journey", p.115
  4. Stovall, p. 205.
  5. Full text of the "Code Noir" Archived 4 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. Aubert, Guillaume (July 2004). ""The Blood of France": Race and Purity of Blood in the French Atlantic World". The William and Mary Quarterly. 61 (3): 464. Retrieved 2 November 2016.

External links

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