Intimate Bonds: Family and Slavery in the French Atlantic by Jennifer L. Palmer
Jennifer Palmer’s Intimate Bonds: Family and Slavery in the French Atlantic offers a new perspective on slavery and gender in the 18th century by including La Rochelle and the west province of Saint-Domingue into an integrative analysis. Palmer’s main contention is a focus on the different forms of intimacy existing between white men and white women as well as free people of color and slaves to illustrate how these ties could be used to push against or strengthen ruling practices, particularly those that monitored racial categorization. Using examples of Rochelais families, often of Protestant extraction, and how their own gender, racial, and economic interests fluctuated in response to slavery and the hardening of racial boundaries, Palmer’s compels the reader to include gender in understanding the shifting views on race, slavery, and family in France and Saint-Domingue. Furthermore, her investigation of slavery in France provides a novel approach.
A particular weakness of Palmer’s analysis, however, lies in the lack of detail pertaining to creole slaves and bossales in terms of plantations and urban slavery in Saint-Domingue. Palmer successfully contextualizes white women as economic agents and slaveholders in colonial society and analyzes their relationships with their slaves and free people of color, but not enough attention is paid to how slaves of African origin and those born in Saint-Domingue related to each other via gender relations, hierarchies, and other bonds of intimacy. A similarly rich examination of intra-slave gender nuances would have made this a fuller text while showing how African influences shaped social formations and structures within the colonial society, not to mention any possible areas of convergence between French Protestant or Roman Catholic social forms.