June 10, 2012 - Abolition of Slavery Day in French Guiana

On April 27, 1848, the Second French Republic abolished slavery in France and all of its colonies and protectorates. This certainly included Martinique and Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean, and it also included French Guiana, a small French outpost perched on the “top” of South America.

So...if slavery was abolished on April 27, why did slaves revolt in Martinique almost a month later? And why wasn't slavery ended in French Guiana until June 10?

Remember—communications between France and her New World territories, back then, were only as fast as a ship traveling all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.

A man named Francois Perrinon was a member of the Commission for the abolition of slavery in Martinique, and he went to Europe to try to get a ruling that would abolish slavery. He obtained the decree and set off to abolish slavery in Martinique.

This slavery memorial is on
the island of Martinique.
However, in the meantime, a slave had been imprisoned on Martinique, and other slaves revolted on May 20. Slaves had revolted before, and French soldiers had squashed the rebellions, killing many “valuable” slaves. By this time, most people realized that slavery would soon be abolished, so the governor of Martinique—in order to restore calm—quickly outlawed slavery himself.

The governor ended the rebellion by ending slavery, on May 22. Then on June 3, Perrinon arrived, ready to end slavery on Martinique—and it had already happened!

Rulers of the nearby island of Guadeloupe took the hint from events on Martinique and abolished slavery on May 28; and news of the decree from France finally reached Guadeloupe on June 5.

Finally, news of the decree reached farawy French Guiana on June 10!

And then there was one...

It used to be, in colonial times, that there were five Guianas all in a row at the northern end of South America. From west to east, they were:

Spanish Guiana (now the Guayana Region of Venezuela)
British Guiana (now the independent nation of Guyana)
Dutch Guiana (now the independent nation of Suriname)
French Guiana (still an overseas region of France)
Portuguese Guiana (now Amapa, one of the states in Brazil)

Now only French Guiana is still tied to its European colonizer, and still has Guiana in its name. A huge part of the economy of French Guiana derives from the fact that the Guiana Space Centre is now the European Space Agency's primary launch site. It'a good launch site because it is near the equator, and the water lies in a convenient direction for splashdown of rocket stages (the portions of a rocket used to hold fuel—which are jettisoned when the fuel is used up).

Also on this date:

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