After Kourou: Settlement Schemes in French Guiana in the Age of Enlightenment
Traver, Barbara Jean
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AFTER KOUROU: SETTLEMENT SCHEMES IN FRENCH GUIANA IN THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENTAbstractBy Barbara Jean Traver, Ph.D.Washington State UniversityMay 2011 Chair: Sue PeabodyGuiana's distinctive characteristics - chronic low colonial population, relative isolation, ease of marronage, the proximity of the maroons of Surinam - shaped, between 1763 and 1789, a proliferation of unconventional and eclectic projects to settle and develop the colony. "Continental pragmatic" plans, sometimes imbued with "Enlightened" ideas, focused on solving Guiana's distinct problems, often through the establishment of a settler colony. Those who held "island racialist" views vehemently contested these proposals, advocating instead the expansion of the colony's plantation system, based on slavery. Because of Guiana's particular situation, the French ministry vacillated between "enlightened/pragmatic" and "island racialist" ideas until the Revolution.After the disaster at Kourou, settlement schemes for Guiana continued. In the 1760s, the white settlement at Sinnamary and the baron de Bessner's proposal for a colony of soldier-farmers continued to put forward a vision of a Physiocratic settlement and challenged the "island racialist" assumption that whites could not perform agricultural labor in the tropics. In the same years, efforts to expand the plantation sector brought the Eurafrican slaveholders of Gorée (including several of the famous signares) to Guiana. Their presence challenged the strict tri-partite racial hierarchy that had developed. A plan to increase the number of free people of color in the colony to police the enslaved population led to conflict over emancipations between an official with "island racialist" views and one who was essentially "pragmatic." In the 1770s and 1780s, Bessner's proposal to create a Physiocratic settlement using the maroons of Surinam ignited further controversy. Boni maroon proposals and actions, as well as French thought, shaped this debate.Examination of these proposals and attempts to implement them also demonstrates that Guiana cannot be considered as just another Caribbean colony. Efforts to solve its particular problems led to a rich array of ideas and plans, many of which found official support, which would have been unthinkable in the plantation colonies of the Antilles. These add to our understanding of the complexity in emerging French ideas of race and labor, both in Versailles and in Guiana itself. They also show that individuals - the authors of the plans and the people entangled in them like the Goréans and the Boni - pushed, challenged, and influenced official thought.