Friday, January 25, 2008

Martinique 1848 and a Baptism

French, Martinique, summer 1848
4 3/8 x 5 13/16 in.
J Paul Getty Museum

This photograph records the baptismal ceremony for the slaves of the West Indian island of Martinique in 1848.

The sacrament represented affirmation from the church of their recent emancipation from slavery.

Britain captured the island during the Seven Years' War, holding it from 1762 to 1763. Between 1794 and 1815, there was a strong British interest in Martinique, with Britain controlling the island during the French Revolutionary Wars from 1794 to 1802; and again during the Napoleonic wars from 1809 to 1814.

Slavery was abolished under the earlier period of British rule, but reinstated after 1802, when the Treaty of Amiens gave Martinique back to France, and Napoléon Bonaparte allowed slavery again.

Abolishing slavery in all its colonies was one of the goals declared by the new French provisional government in early 1848. Although news of this objective reached Martinique in late March, it was only on April 27, 1848 that the French government decreed that slavery was abolished in all of its colonies.

Freedom was not formally granted until 22nd May of that year but then only after there was a rebellion.

Within the densely packed throng, a white-robed group at lower center dissolves into a spectral blur, their exuberant movement uncontainable by the camera.