The Code Noir (Black Code), signed by King Louis XIV in 1685, was a set of laws that governed the practice of slavery in the French colonies, around the time when many European governments in North America were defining the legal status of enslaved Black people. The Code Noir was written to specifically address slavery on the sugar plantations of the French Caribbean, but the laws were adjusted and applied throughout the French Empire.
These three sections of the Code Noir show how enslaved Black women occupied an uncomfortable place in French colonial society. Law IX calls for the punishment of white men who impregnate enslaved women, unless they marry them, in which case the wife and children are granted freedom. This seems like major protection for enslaved women, but laws are only protective if they are enforced by colonial governments. While there are some examples of Black women being freed by white men who chose to marry them, it is unclear from the records whether any men were actually punished for sexually exploiting their enslaved women.
Meanwhile, laws XII and XIII make it clear that enslaved status was inherited through the mother, leaving enslaved women with the burden of birthing new generations of enslaved people. These laws reflect the French government’s interest in continuing the practice of slavery for the profit of the empire. In the next century, these economic interests would win out, and the laws governing free Blacks and interracial relationships would become more restrictive.