James Armistead 

A Wild Scheme

La Belle Gabrielle

A Lifetime Passion

Farewell Tour

Frances Wright
and Nashoba

Skillman Library
Lafayette College

Web exhibit drawn from
the Spring 2001 
Special Collections &
College Archives exhibit
"Lafayette and Slavery"

Curated by 
Diane Windham Shaw

Web design by 
Emelie M. George

  La Belle Gabrielle

In 1785 Lafayette acquired land along the Oyapok River in the French colony of Cayenne (present day French Guiana) on the coast of South America.  Here, on a plantation called “La Belle Gabrielle,” where clove and cinnamon trees flourished, Lafayette set up his experiment for the gradual emancipation of a group of nearly seventy slaves, which he had purchased with the property.  The slaves were paid for their labor; the sale of any slave was expressly forbidden; schooling was provided; and punishment for the blacks was no more severe than that for whites.  Lafayette hoped to show that the birth rate would rise and infant mortality would decrease under these more favorable conditions, thus undercutting the need for the slave trade.  As Lafayette’s attentions were increasingly drawn to the unfolding revolutionary drama in France of 1789, the running of the Cayenne estates fell to his wife Adrienne.  She relished the role and corresponded frequently with the estate managers as well as with the priests at a nearby seminary whom she asked to look after the religious welfare of the slaves.  When Lafayette was imprisoned in 1792, his properties were confiscated and the Cayenne blacks were resold as slaves.  However, Lafayette later took heart from the fact that when the French National Convention freed all slaves in 1794, Cayenne was the only French colony that did not experience great social upheaval. 

Adrienne de Noailles,
 Marquise de Lafayette

1757 Map of Guiana by 
Jacques Nicholas Bellin

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Skillman & Kirby Libraries · Lafayette College · Easton, PA 18042
Last updated 9 August 2002