Bleds de froment or cassave? Bread in the French Tropics during the Seventeenth Century

Today’s post in the Roundtable on Food and Hunger is from Bertie Mandelblatt, who is the George S. Parker II ’51 Curator of Maps and Prints at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island. She is a historical geographer whose research and publications address a number of intersecting questions related to the early Americas, and, in particular, both the early modern Caribbean and French overseas expansion: the geographies of subsistence, plantation slavery, and colonial trade and commodities; and cartography as an imperial practice. Our food roundtable began on Monday. You can read Carla Cevasco’s introduction here, and yesterday’s post, by Zachary Bennett, here.

The economic potential of the trade in foodstuffs destined for France’s colonies in the Lesser Antilles in the eighteenth century—the period of the colonies’ economic pre-eminence—was common knowledge on both sides of the Atlantic. Metropolitan and colonial administrators, merchants and their lobby groups, all understood the profits to be made from the subsistence crises endemic to plantation slavery. This knowledge decisively shaped France’s restrictive trade policies in the decades before and after their formal articulation in law in 1717 and 1727.[1]

But what of earlier periods? How was colonial subsistence both imagined and daily enacted when colonial populations themselves were much less dense and characterized by a kind of demographic diversity and parity in which indigenous Kalinago outnumbered the newcomers (French, other Europeans, and Africans), a diversity which simply didn’t exist in the eighteenth century? Continue reading