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Vastey’s Description of Slave Punishments

Pompée Valentin Vastey (1781-1820), also known as Baron de Vastey, was a Haitian writer on behalf of King Henri Christophe’s government.  Vastey published his work Le système colonial dévoilé in 1814 to threaten a return to the colonial system in Haiti, which had just recently gained its independence in 1804.1  During the time period surrounding the publication of Vastey’s work, the second Restoration in France was coupled with renewed interest in continuing the slave trade, especially in Saint-Domingue.2  Vastey’s uses his work to condemn several atrocities committed by plantation owners.  Vastey provides a long list of plantation owners by name who have brutally punished their slaves, as well as the types of horrific punishments that slave masters carried out.

A digital version of Le système colonial dévoilé can be found at this website:  3

Vastey begins his list and description of the punishments that slave masters used with this paragraph:

In this paragraph, Vastey states that the following stories he will recount are truthful and well known.  He states that he learned of these stories from existing families in Haiti, whose parents suffered the punishments that he will share.  These families have proven the veracity of their recounted stories by showing Vastey family members mutilated by iron or fire.  Vastey challenges those plantation owners he cites as having brutally punished their slaves to prove him wrong. 3

Examples of Vastey’s accounts of plantation owners and their punishment of slaves:

” Poncet, resident sugar cultivator at Trou, made his house into a real prison; no one could approach it without quivering of fear; one did not hear but the clicking of chains; all of his servants, his natural children “en étaient chargés”; one did not hear but the lashing of the whip and the cries of poor individuals under these punishments; this monster made all of his servants and one of his quadroon sons subject to castration, after this son had committed incest with his natural daughter; he (Poncet) made this son and this son’s mother die through hideous torment, by putting melted, boiling wax in their ears; this inhuman barbarian was strangled by his son and his servants, frenzied in just vengeance; this poor people were killed alive for having committed this murder, which would not have happened if Poncet, who also outraged nature, had not rested in impunity; repressive laws were not made for colonists, especially for large planters; everything was permitted to them.” (40-41) 3

“Corbierre, living in the same neighborhood (Trou) bled his slaves and used their blood to clarify sugar; for a small mistake, he burned them alive; nothing proves the ferocity of this monster more than the following trait: one day one of his ox died from a epizootic disease, wanting to avenge this inevitable loss on the poor guardian of these animals, he opened a large grave, where the  ox and the poor guardian were buried.” (41-42) 3

“Lombard, adviser of the “conseil supérieur du Cap Français”, enjoyed cutting the ears of his poor slaves,and after he had put them in this cruel state, he broke into excessive laughter.” (43) 3

“Larchevesque-Thibaud, lawyer for the “conseil supérieur du Cap” bought a quadroon from Martinique, named Sophie . . . Sophie, was intended to be the nanny for Larchevesque-Thibaud’s children.  After having nursed one of his children, she was nursing a second, when madame Larchevesque-Thibaud began having jealous suspicions of this woman; presuming that she (Sophie) was having an affair with her husband, she (madame Larchevesque-Thibaud) demanded of Larchevesque-Thibaud to give contrary proof, by shooting at this unfortunate human (Sophie) . . . the bullet hit Sophie in the hand while she tried to avoid it.  From this moment, madame Larchevesque . . . enclosed Sophie in a cabinet and put her on fire, after having cut her hair and her two ears with scissors . . . next she (madame Larchevesque) . . . demanded that Larchevesque Thibaud brand every side of  Sophie’s behind and face . . . her torturers then sent her to be sold in Charleston . . . where she was not sold, because of her mutilations” (43-44) 3

“Galiffet had the habit of cutting the hollows of his slaves’ knees.” (44) 3

“Jouaneau, living at Grande Rivière, nailed one of his slaves by the ears against a wall; after the slave had suffered in this situation, he (Jouaneau) cut the slave’s ears at the level of his head, and after having the slave grill them (the ears), he made this poor slave eat his own ears.” (45) 3


Works Cited

1. Bongie, C., Casimir, J., Daut, M., Hector, C., , Jenson, D., Nesbitt, N. (2011) Unveiling the Colonial System: A Roundtable Discussion on Haitian Independence. FHI Duke Haiti Lab.

2. Jennings, Laurence C. French Anti-Slavery: The Movement for the Abolition of Slavery in France, 1802-1848. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.

3. Vastey, Pompée-Valentin, Baron de, Le système colonial dévoilé. Cap-Henry [Haïti] : P. Roux, imprimeur du Roi, 1814. Digitized by Boston Public Library.

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