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