Law and History Review


Prosecuting Torture: The Strategic Ethics of Slavery in Pre-Revolutionary Saint-Domingue (Haiti)

Malick W. Ghachem c1

In the spring and summer of 1788, a master was prosecuted for the torture of two female slaves in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). The exceptional nature of the case was immediately obvious to the participants who lived through it. The governor and intendant of Saint-Domingue—in essence, the colony's chief military and administrative officers, respectively—described it as a “unique opportunity to arrest, by means of a single example, the course of so many cruelties.” In 1788, the most recent victims of this long eighteenth-century history of cruelties included two slaves known only as Zabeth and Marie-Rose, ostensibly tortured because they were suspected of having administered poison to their master and fellow slaves. This article tells the story of the prosecution of the master who tortured them, Nicolas Lejeune.

(Online publication October 20 2011)