• Saint-Domingue, je repars sans regret | Appraisal of a plantation, 1776

Saint-Domingue, je repars sans regret | Appraisal of a plantation, 1776


Manuscript. Appraisal of Maillard Plantation. Torbeck, Saint-Domingue: March 1776.

Folio; one bifoliate leaf; iron gall ink; mostly clean; tear along top and tail of interior fold; soiled along top and right edges; all edges frayed and torn; top right of leaf has been torn off; rectos and interior verso.

This document is the appraisal of an estate founded by Simon Pierre Maillart Berron (1690–1758), who served as Intendant of the Leeward Islands of Saint-Domingue from 1739–53. Born in the Côte d’Or department of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté where his father Pierre was Commissioner-controller in charge of the Marine Woods, Maillart held a succession of civil positions with the Navy, including an appointment in 1728 as first secretary to the infamous Jean Frédéric Phélypeaux, Count of Maurepas. He survived his patron’s downfall in 1749 and retired to his plantation in 1753 with a pension of 12,000 livres [$200,000 in 2024 USD] from the colony and the Invalides [veteran’s fund].

It is unclear when in his fifteen-year tenure as Intendant Maillart started construction on Maillard Plantation, roughly 450 acres situated in the southwestern portion of the Tiburon Peninsula between the Torbeck and Nèfle rivers. It was complete by the time he retired, and he stayed there until his death in 1758, at which time a first appraisal of the estate was made: the value was estimated in excess of 300,000 livres [most of the number has been torn from the leaf, so we don’t have an exact value]. By the time this document was drafted in 1776, that estimate had shot up to 1,069,300 livres, mostly due to material improvements on the farm and the value of some 178 slaves and 230 livestock, although there was some critical disagreement between the appraiser and later commentators, who registered their objections in the margins. The final line of the appraisal asserts that, annually, “one could expect 600,000 pounds of raw sugar or 400,000 pounds of white sugar, and that is a lot.”

In August, 1791, after two years of the French Revolution and its repercussions in San-Domingue, the slaves revolted. The struggle lasted for 12 years. The slaves defeated in turn the local whites and the soldiers of the French monarchy, a Spanish invasion, a British expedition of some 60,000 men, and a French expedition of similar size under Napoleon’s brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc. The defeat of Bonaparte’s expedition in 1803 resulted in the establishment of the Negro state of Haiti which has lasted to this day. It is the only successful slave revolt in history. The plantations and slave pens of the colony were more or less destroyed, leaving us only with scattered historical records of Saint-Domingue such as this one.