"La Rochelle -"sugar town"" La Rochelle Off The Beaten Path Tip by frenchderek
La Rochelle Off The Beaten Path: 7 reviews and 5 photos
La Rochelle is a beautiful town, with some wonderful buildings - especially in the area extending from the Old Port to the Market. Many of these date from the 18th Century - and were built by the 40 or more grand families who profited from the slave-trade.
La Rochelle was the second most important slave-trading port in France (behind Nantes). The three-cornered trade sent cheap goods, etc to West Africa where they were exchanged for slaves. The ships then sailed to the Caribbean, where those slaves that survived the voyage were sold. Then, the ships were loaded with sugar and spices for the return trip to La Rochelle. At one time the nickname of La Rochelle was "sugar town".
The building that now houses le Musée du Nouveau Monde, Maison Fleuriau was built for (and named after) one of the most important slave-owners of the town, who owned a huge sugar plantation on the island of St Domingue. In rue Réamur you can still see several fine buildings of the time - Nos 12, 16, 18 and the Préfecture (which was built as the family home of the Poupet family - must have been a large family!).
Although at one time la Rochelle had 16 sugar refineries, by 1801 only one was operational. A couple of ex-refineries are still there, in rue Chef-de-Ville: one opposite No 26, the second between Nos 29 and 37.
The business of slave-trading - and it was, in reality, both a business and profitable - mainly took place in the Exchange (l'hotel de la Bourse), built specially for the purpose, in rue du Palais (No 14). A beautiful courtyard is set off by the richly decorated buildings that form it.
Not everyone in La Rochelle (nor even on the Exchange floor) was a supporter of the slave trade, though. One still famous local - Samuel de Missy - was both a member of the Exchange and of the "Société des Amis des Noirs" (NB a fellow member of this society was Lafayette!). This double membership couldn't last, of course. He was accused of putting the town's economic livelihood at peril. As a result, he chose the honourable route - and resigned from the Exchange.
On Slavery Abolition Day each year (around 15 May, depending on the day of the week), the local "Association Memoria" organises a literary tour (in French, sadly) around the sites linked to the three-cornered slave trade.
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