Introduction and Sources


This site contains translations of letters written by French Jesuit missionaries, working in the French slave colonies of the Caribbean in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The letters were found in various sources, listed below. The translation work took place in the Fall of 2018.

Please note that, after these translations had been completed, it came to my attention that Michael Harrigan, of the University of Warwick (UK), would be publishing a volume of his own translations of several of these letters (i.e., those written by Mongin and Bréban), along with extensive scholarly commentary on them: Life and Death in the Early Plantations: The Letters of Jean Mongin and Claude Bréban, edited and translated by Michael Harrigan, Critical Texts, 68 (Cambridge: MHRA, forthcoming 2019). At the time of this writing (14 January 2019), this volume has not yet been published and I have not seen Prof. Harrigan’s translations nor read his commentary.

I urge any scholar engaged in any in-depth work in which these letters play a significant role to seek out Prof. Harrigan’s forthcoming book, which is no doubt excellent and of great value, rather than merely consulting this website. Prof. Harrigan’s expertise in the field far exceeds mine and his work will provide a much broader, more detailed, and more sophisticated context than will my few, modest “translator’s notes” (although some of them may also contain information of interest). Those interested in translation per se, or in conducting genuinely close readings of the Mongin and/or Bréban letters, or specific passages thereof, might find it useful to consult both his translation and mine.

Scholars should also consult the following, closely related, work: Michael Harrigan, Frontiers of Servitude : Slavery in Narratives of the Early French Atlantic (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018).


Sources of the letters on this site, published in French and translated by me into English, are as follows:

Anonymous, Unsigned Letter from Cayenne, 1718.  From Lettres édifiantes et curieuses (Lyon, 1819): pp. 411-415.     [PDF of this 1819 edition available on Google Books.]

Bréban, Claude, S. J. (1695-1735), Letter, January 19, 1732.  From Bulletin du Centre d’histoire des espaces atlantiques, 1997, with a introduction by Nicole Dyonnet (Université d’Orléans).     [Archival source, as cited by Dyonnet: Les Archives départementales du Cher, cote 2F 788.]

Margat de Tilly, Jean-Baptiste, S. J. (1689-1747), Letters from Saint-Domingue, February 27, 1725; February 2, 1729; July 20, 1743.  From Lettres édifiantes et curieuses (Lyon, 1819): pp. 321-334 and 368-379.     [PDF of this 1819 edition available on Google Books.]

Mongin, Jean, S. J. Letter from Saint-Christopher (Saint Kitts), May 1682.  From Bulletin de la société d’histoire de la Guadeloupe, vol. 60-62 (1984).     [This reproduction includes neither the name of an editor/scholar nor any information about an archival source or sources. However, Michael Harrigan, in Frontiers of Servitude (2018), p. 41, note 101, provides very detailed information about the archival sources of various versions of Mongin’s letter (the Bibliothèque Mazarine; the Jesuit archives in Vanves; the Médiathèque de Carcassonne).]

Christopher Rivers

Granby, Massachusetts

14 January 2019