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French sources: Africa and the Caribbean

France was at the forefront of the "Scramble for Africa" and accounts of the exploration and colonisation by France can be found in the Library's collections.

The first French flag raised at Loango, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville)

The first French flag raised at Loango, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) Congo français. Loango. Cahiers d'enseignement no. 71. Colonies françaises.(Shelfmark: 12204.h.2.). Copyright © The British Library Board


An early voyage around Africa is described by Jean Alfonce, the pseudonym of Jean Fonteneau, from Saintonge, who died fighting the Spanish in 1544. His Les voyages avantureux de capitaine Ian Alfonce, was published by les De Marnef & Bouchetz frères in 1559 (shelfmark: 1045.b.7(2)). He traded beads and red cloth for ivory and gold, monkeys and parrots, and noted that the people filed their teeth into points.

Jean Baptiste Léonard Durand (1742-1812) became a director of the Compagnie de Sénégal, and held a monopoly of the rubber trade. He published his Voyage au Sénégal in 1802 (shelfmark: 982.h.13). The Library also holds a translation into English. Gaspard Théodore Mollien ventured further and wrote Voyage dans l'intérieur de l'Afrique aux sources du Sénégal et de la Gambie fait en 1818. Paris: Courcier, 1820 (shelfmark: 979.g.24). Louis Gustave Binger explored and mapped huge areas of French West Africa in the 1880s, and defined the boundaries of the Côte d'Ivoire, becoming its first governor. Du Niger au golfe de Guinée published in 1892 by Hachette (shelfmark: 10096.i.8) describes his most adventurous journey.

Books from Africa are still collected. Bibliographical guides to Francophone African countries can be found in the World bibliographical series, published by Clio Press, and in the Historical dictionary of.. series from Scarecrow Press, both to be found on open access in the Humanities Reading Room.


Haiti was the first French colony to gain its independence, in 1804 after a slave revolt. A run of 33 issues of the Gazette officielle de l'Etat d'Hayti from 1807, can be consulted at OGH 10/2 in the Social Science Reading Room.

Four issues of the Gazette royale d'Hayti (1816 - 1818) issued by Henri Christophe, who founded a republic in the north of the island and declared himself its king in 1811, are at shelfmark C.186.f.18, and can be consulted in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room.


There are a number of tracts from the series of French Revolutionary tracts reflecting the political struggles when the planters seized power in Martinique in 1790 and 1791. Récit des derniers événemens arrivés à la Martinique. (shelfmark: 936.f.3 (31) and Révolution de la Martinique at shelfmark F.719 (8), are two examples. A.M.T. Savarésy published De la fièvre jaune en général; et particulièrement de celle qui a régné à la Martinique.en 1803 et 1804 in Naples in 1809 (shelfmark: 958.e.27). The law code for Martinique published between 1807 and 1814 can be found at shelfmark 6606.aa.6. The disastrous eruption of Mt Pelée, in which 30,000 died is described in several publications in French and English. Firmin de Croze published Le désastre de la Martinique, Limoges, 1903, (shelfmark: 7109.dd.22) and George Kennan published two accounts of his visit (shelfmarks: 07107.g.16 and 07107.f.6).

 Guadeloupe (or Guadaloupe)

Several tracts from the French Revolutionary collections refer to the struggle between slaves and planters in Guadeloupe. Jean Adrien Queslin made a Rapport fait à l'Assemblée Nationale au nom du Comité des Colonies, concernant les troubles arrivés à la Guadeloupe, 1792 (shelfmark: F.706.(8)). The English occupied Guadeloupe in 1794 and Cooper Willyams gives An Account of the campaign in the West Indies, in the year 1794. London: G. Nicol, 1796. (shelfmark: 9771.g.6).

Books from the Caribbean are still collected. Bibliographical guides can be found in the World bibliographical series, published by Clio Press, and in the Historical dictionary of.. series from Scarecrow Press, both to be found on open access in the Humanities Reading Room.

A useful guide to the French Caribbean is the Dictionnaire encyclopédique Désormeaux: Dictionnaire encyclopédique des Antilles et de la Guyane. Fort-de-France: Désormeaux, 1992-1999. Shelfmark: YA.2001.b.1214.

 Related Internet resources

African material in the British Library
Voyages en Afrique
A section within Gallica, the digitised collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France which includes full texts, periodicals, maps, photographs and sound recordings searchable by title, theme or from maps.
LLACAN - UMR 7594: Langage, Langues et Cultures d'Afrique Noire
Afrique francophone
A site from the Department of Languages and Literatures, Lehman College, CUNY (City University of New York)
A catalogue and numerous links
Départements et territoires d'Outre Mer
A site for overseas departments in the Pacific and Caribbean with some English.
Lameca Documentation on the Caribbean from the Médiathèque Caraibe, Guadeloupe


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