Louisiana’s Code Noir (1724)

Primary Documents:

To regulate relations between slaves and colonists, the Louisiana Code noir,
or slave code, based largely on that compiled in 1685 for the French Caribbean
colonies, was introduced in 1724 and remained in force until the United States
took possession of Louisiana in 1803. The Code’s 54 articles regulated the
status of slaves and free blacks, as well as relations between masters and
slaves. The entire body of laws appears below.

BLACK CODE OF LOUISIANA
I. Decrees the expulsion of Jews from the colony.

II. Makes it imperative on masters to impart religious instruction to their
slaves.

III. Permits the exercise of the Roman Catholic creed only. Every other mode
of worship is prohibited.

IV. Negroes placed under the direction or supervision of any other person
than a Catholic, are liable to confiscation.

V. Sundays and holidays are to be strictly observed. All negroes found at
work on these days are to be confiscated.

VI. We forbid our white subjects, of both sexes, to marry with the blacks,
under the penalty of being fined and subjected to some other arbitrary
punishment. We forbid all curates, priests, or missionaries of our secular or
regular clergy, and even our chaplains in our navy to sanction such marriages.
We also forbid all our white subjects, and even the manumitted or free-born
blacks, to live in a state of concubinage with blacks. Should there be any
issue from this kind of intercourse, it is our will that the person so
offending, and the master of the slave, should pay each a fine of three hundred
livres. Should said issue be the result of the concubinage of the master with
his slave, said master shall not only pay the fine, but be deprived of the
slave and of the children, who shall be adjudged to the hospital of the locality,
and said slaves shall be forever incapable of being set free. But should this
illicit intercourse have existed between a free black and his slave, when said
free black had no legitimate wife, and should said black marry said slave
according to the forms prescribed by the church, said slave shall be thereby
set free, and the children shall also become free and legitimate ; and in such
a case, there shall be no application of the penalties mentioned in the present
article.

VII. The ceremonies and forms prescribed by the ordinance of Blois, and by
the edict of 1639, for marriages, shall be observed both with regard to free
persons and to slaves. But the consent of the father and mother of the slave is
not necessary; that of the master shall be the only one required.

VIII. We forbid all curates to proceed to effect marriages between slaves
without proof of the consent of their masters; and we also forbid all masters
to force their slaves into any marriage against their will.

IX. Children, issued from the marriage of slaves, shall follow the condition
of their parents, and shall belong to the master of the wife and not of the
husband, if the husband and wife have different masters.

X. If the husband be a slave, and the wife a free woman, it is our will that
their children, of whatever sex they may be, shall share the condition of their
mother, and be as free as she, notwithstanding the servitude of their father;
and if the father be free and the mother a slave, the children shall all be
slaves.

XI. Masters shall have their Christian slaves buried in consecrated ground.

XII. We forbid slaves to carry offensive weapons or heavy sticks, under the
penalty of being whipped, and of having said weapons confiscated for the
benefit of the person seizing the same. An exception is made in favor of those
slaves who are sent a hunting or a shooting by their masters, and who carry
with them a written permission to that effect, or are designated by some known
mark or badge.

XIII. We forbid slaves belonging to different masters to gather in crowds
either by day or by night, under the pretext of a wedding, or for any other
cause, either at the dwelling or on the grounds of one of their masters, or
elsewhere, and much less on the highways or in secluded places, under the
penalty of corporal punishment, which shall not be less than the whip. In case
of frequent offences of the kind, the offenders shall be branded with the mark
of the flower de luce, and should there be aggravating circumstances, capital
punishment may be applied, at the discretion of our judges. We command all our
subjects, be they officers or not, to seize all such offenders, to arrest and
conduct them to prison, although there should be no judgment against them.

XIV. Masters who shall be convicted of having permitted or tolerated such
gatherings as aforesaid, composed of other slaves than their own, shall be
sentenced, individually, to indemnify their neighbors for the damages
occasioned by said gatherings, and to pay, for the first time, a fine of thirty
livres, and double that sum on the repetition of the offence.

XV. We forbid negroes to sell any commodities, provisions, or produce of any
kind, without the written permission of their masters, or without wearing their
known marks or badges, and any persons purchasing any thing from negroes in
violence of this article, shall be sentenced to pay a fine of 1500 livres.

XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX, provide at length for the clothing of slaves and for
their subsistence.

XX. Slaves who shall not be properly fed, clad, and provided for by their
masters, may give information thereof to the attorney-general of the Superior
Council, or to all the other officers of justice of an inferior jurisdiction,
and may put the written exposition of their wrongs into their hands ; upon
which information, and even ex officio, should the information come from
another quarter, the attorney-general shall prosecute said masters without
charging any costs to the complainants. It is our will that this regulation be
observed in all accusations for crimes or barbarous and inhuman treatment
brought by slaves against their masters.

XXI. Slaves who are disabled from working, either by old age, disease, or
otherwise, be the disease incurable or not, shall be fed and provided for by
their masters ; and in case they should have been abandoned by said masters,
said slaves shall be adjudged to the nearest hospital, to which said masters
shall be obliged to pay eight cents a day for the food and maintenance of each
one of these slaves ; and for the payment of this sum, said hospital shall have
a lien on the plantations of the master.

XXII. We declare that slaves can have no right to any kind of property, and
that all that they acquire, either by their own industry or by the liberality
of others, or by any other means or title whatever, shall be the full property
of their masters ; and the children of said slaves, their fathers and mothers,
their kindred or other relations, either free or slaves, shall have no
pretensions or claims thereto, either through testamentary dispositions or
donations inter vi-vos ; which dispositions and donations we declare null and
void, and also whatever promises they may have made, or whatever obligations
they may have subscribed to, as having been entered into by persons incapable
of disposing of any thing, and of participating to any contract.

XXIII. Masters shall be responsible for what their slaves have done by their
command, and also for what transactions they have permitted their slaves to do
in their shops, in the particular line of commerce with which they were
intrusted ; and in case said slaves should have acted without the order or
authorization of their masters, said masters shall be responsible only for so
much as has turned to their profit; and if said masters have not profited by
the doing or transaction of their slaves, the pcculium which the masters have
permitted the slaves to own, shall be subjected to all claims against said
slaves, after deduction made by the masters of what may be due to them ; and if
said peculium should consist, in whole or in part, of merchandises in which the
slaves had permission to traffic, the masters shall only come in for their
share in common with the other creditors.

XXIV. Slaves shall be incapable of all public functions, and of being
constituted agents for any other person than their own masters, with powers to
manage or conduct any kind of trade ; nor can they serve as arbitrators or
experts; nor shall they be called to give their testimony either in civil or in
criminal cases, except when it shall be a matter of necessity, and only in
default of white people ; but in no case shall they be permitted to serve as
witnesses either for or against their masters.

XXV. Slaves shall never be parties to civil suits, either as plaintiffs or
defendants, nor shall they be allowed to appear as complainants in criminal
cases, but their masters shall have the right to act for them in civil matters,
and in criminal ones, to demand punishment and reparation for such outrages and
excesses as their slaves may have suffered from.

XXVI. Slaves may be prosecuted criminally, without their masters being made
parties to the trial, except they should be indicted as accomplices; and said
slaves shall be tried, at first, by the judges of ordinary jurisdiction, if
there be any, and on appeal, by the Superior Council, with the same rules,
formalities, and proceedings observed for free persons, save the exceptions
mentioned hereafter.

XXVII. The slave who, having struck his master, his mistress, or the husband
of his mistress, or their children, shall have produced a bruise, or the
shedding of blood in the face, shall suffer capital punishment.

XXVIII. With regard to outrages or acts of violence committed by slaves
against free persons, it is our will that they be punished with severity, and
even with death, should the case require it.

XXIX. Thefts of importance, and even the stealing of horses, mares, mules,
oxen, or cows, when executed by slaves or manumitted persons, shall make the
offender liable to corporal, and even to capital punishment, according to the
circumstances of the case.

XXX. The stealing of sheep, goats, hogs, poultry, grain, fodder, peas,
beans, or other vegetables, produce, or provisions, when committed by slaves,
shall be punished according to the circumstances of the case ; and the judges
may sentence them, if necessary, to be whipped by the public executioner, and
branded with the mark of the flower de luce.

XXXI. In cases of thefts committed or damages done by their slaves, masters,
besides the corporal punishment inflicted on their slaves, shall be bound to
make amends for the injuries resulting from the acts of said slaves, unless
they prefer abandoning them to the sufferer. They shall be bound so to make
their choice, in three days from the time of the conviction of the negroes ; if
not, this privilege shall be forever forfeited.

XXXII. The runaway slave, who shall continue to be so for one month from the
day of his being denounced to the officers of justice, shall have his ears cut
off, and shall be branded with the flower de luce on the shoulder : and on a
second offence of the same nature, persisted in during one month from the day
of his being denounced, he shall be hamstrung, and be marked with the flower de
luce on the other shoulder. On the third offence, he shall suffer death.

XXXIII. Slaves, who shall have made themselves liable to the penalty of the
whip, the flower de luce brand, and ear cutting, shall be tried, in the last
resort, by the ordinary judges of the inferior courts, and shall undergo the
sentence passed upon them without there being an appeal to the Superior
Council, in confirmation or reversal of judgment, notwithstanding the article
26th of the present code, which shall be applicable only to those judgments in
which the slave convicted is sentenced to be hamstrung or suffer death.

XXXIV. Freed or free-born negroes, who shall have afforded refuge in their
houses to fugitive slaves, shall be sentenced to pay to the masters of said
slaves, the sum of thirty livres a day for every day during which they shall
have concealed said fugitives ; and all other free persons, guilty of the same
offence, shall pay a fine of ten livres a day as aforesaid ; and should the
freed or free-born negroes not be able to pay the fine herein specified, they shall
be reduced to the condition of slaves, and be sold as such. Should the price of
the sale exceed the sum mentioned in the judgment, the surplus shall be
delivered to the hospital.

XXXV. We permit our subjects in this colony, who may have slaves concealed
in any place whatever, to have them sought after by such persons and in such a
way as they may deem proper, or to proceed themselves to such researches, as
they may think best.

XXXVI. The slave who is sentenced to suffer death on the denunciation of his
master, shall, when that master is not an accomplice to his crime, be appraised
before his execution by two of the principal inhabitants of the locality, who
shall be especially appointed by the judge, and the amount of said appraisement
shall be paid to the master. To raise this sum, a proportional tax shall be
laid on every slave, and shall be collected by the persons invested with that
authority.

XXXVII. We forbid all the officers of the Superior Council, and all our
other officers of justice in this colony, to take any fees or receive any
perquisites in criminal suits against slaves, under the penalty, in so doing,
of being dealt with as guilty of extortion.

XXXVIII. We also forbid all our subjects in this colony, whatever their
condition or rank may be, to apply, on their own private authority, the rack to
their slaves, under any pretence whatever, and to mutilate said slaves in any
one of their limbs, or in any part of their bodies, under the penalty of the
confiscation of said slaves ; and said masters, so offending, shall be liable
to a criminal prosecution. We only permit masters, when they shall think that
the case requires it, to put their slaves in irons, and to have them whipped
with rods or ropes.

XXXIX. We command our officers of justice in this colony to institute
criminal process against masters and overseers who shall have killed or
mutilated their slaves, when in their power and under their supervision, and to
punish said murder according to the atrocity of the circumstances; and in case
the offence shall be a pardonable one, we permit them to pardon said masters
and overseers without its being necessary to obtain from us letters patent of
pardon. XL. Slaves shall he held in law as movables, and as such, they shall be
part of the community of acquests between husband and wife ; they shall not be
liable to be seized under any mortgage whatever; and they shall be equally
divided among the co-heirs without admitting from any one of said heirs any
claim founded on preciput or right of primogeniture, or dowry.

XLI, XLII. Are entirely relative to judicial forms and proceedings.XLIII.
Husbands and wives shall not be seized and sold separately when belonging to
the same master : and their children, when under fourteen years of age, shall
not be separated from their parents, and such seizures and sales shall be null
and void. The present article shall apply to voluntary sales, and in case such
sales should take place in violation of the law, the seller shall be deprived
of the slave he has illegally retained, and said slave shall be adjudged to the
purchaser without any additional price being required.

XLIV. Slaves, fourteen years old, and from this age up to sixty, who are
settled on lands and plantations, and are at present working on them, shall not
be liable to seizure for debt, except for what may be due out of the purchase
money agreed to be paid for them, unless said grounds or plantations should
also be distressed, and any seizure and judicial sale of a rea,l estate,
without including the slaves of the aforesaid age, who are part of said estate,
shall be deemed null and void.

XLV, XLVI, XLVII, XLVIII, XLIX. Are relative to certain formalities to be
observed in judicial proceedings.

L. Masters, when twenty-five years old, shall have the power to manumit
their slaves, cither by testamentary dispositions, or by acts inter vivos. But,
as there may be mercenary masters disposed to set a price on the liberation of
their slaves ; and whereas slaves, with a view to acquire the necessary means
to purchase their freedom, may be tempted to commit theft or deeds of plunder,
no person, whatever may he his rank and condition, shall be permitted to set
free his slaves, without obtaining from the Superior Council a decree of
permission to that effect ; which permission shall be granted without costs,
when the motives for the setting free of said slaves, as specified in the
petition of the master, shall appear legitimate to the tribunal. All acts for
the emancipation of slaves, which, for the future, shall be made without this
permission, shall be null ; and the slaves, so freed, shall not be entitled to
their freedom ; they shall, on the contrary, continue to be held as slaves; but
they shall be taken away from their former masters, and confiscated for the
benefit of the India Company. LI. However, should slaves be appointed by their
masters tutors to their children, said slaves shall be held and regarded as
being thereby set free to all intents and purposes.

LII. We declare that the acts for the enfranchisement of slaves, passed
according to the forms above described, shall be equivalent to an act of
naturalization, when said slaves are not born in our colony of Louisiana, and
they shall enjoy all the rights and privileges inherent to our subjects born in
our kingdom or in any land or country under our dominion. We declare,
therefore, that all manumitted slaves, and all free-born negroes, are incapable
of receiving donations, either by testamentary dispositions, or by acts inter
vivos from the whites. Said donations shall be null and void, and the objects
so donated shall be applied to the benefit of the nearest hospital.

LIII. We command all manumitted slaves to show the pro foundest respect to
their former masters, to their widows and children, and any injury or insult offered
by said manumitted slaves to their former masters, their widows or children-
shall be punished with more severity than if it had been offered to any other
person. We, however, declare them exempt from the discharge Of all duties or
services, and from the payment of all taxes or fees, or any thing else which
their former masters might, in their quality of patrons, claim either in
relation to their persons, or to their personal or real estate, either during
the life or after the death of said manumitted slaves.

LIV. We grant to manumitted slaves the same rights, privileges, and
immunities which are enjoyed by free-born persons. It is our pleasure that
their merit in having acquired their freedom, shall produce in their favor, not
only with regard to their persons, but also to their property, the same effects
which our other subjects derive from the happy circumstance of their having
been born free.
In the name of the King,
Bienville, De la Chaise.

Fazende, Bruslé, Perry, March, 1724.

Source:

B. F. French, Historical Collections of Louisiana: Embracing Translations of Many Rare and Valuable Documents Relating to the Natural, Civil, and Political History of that State (New York: D. Appleton, 1851)