Men of Color

From the 16th through the 18th century, Europeans located sodomy not only in ancient Greece and Rome but also throughout the early modern world, among civilized and primitive peoples in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Their exclamations and explanations about same-sex relations around the globe displayed older conceptions of human depravity and newer conceptions of human diversity, shaped by climate and culture. Their debates spawned demands for the abolition of slavery as well as doctrines of racial inferiority. While moralists and scientists debated race in the press, the most visible men of color in the streets of Paris were enslaved or employed servants. According to French tradition, “there are no slaves in France,” so slaves imported from the Caribbean could and did claim their freedom through the courts. The Parlement of Paris freed slaves until it registered the royal edict of 9 August 1777, which banned people with black skin from France, except for domestics under specific conditions.

Parisian and provincial museums contain more than a few portraits of aristocratic women with fashionable and conspicuous blackamoors at their sides.[1] The police archives, which no one has explored systematically for this purpose, include many references to “Negroes” who attracted official attention for some reason, such as robbery, desertion, or suicide. They include at least one case of a black man arrested for sodomy: André Lucidor, identified as a “native of Radas in Africa” and “of the Negro nation,” fifteen years old, five feet tall, servant to the marquis de Courcy (AB 11231, ff. 173-79).

On the Half-Moon around 9 pm on 10 August 1733, Lucidor accosted a decoy by asking him what time it was. He noted that there were not many women about, confessed (unlike other sodomites) that he liked women as much as men, declared that he had experienced pleasure with both sexes, and boasted (because of his age and size?) that he had “consummated the act” twelve times in six hours. Given the hour, he did not propose that they go to a tavern that he and his friends, as many as thirty of them, frequented. Instead he suggested that they walk off into some trees, which the decoy declined to do. As they talked Lucidor had his hand in his breeches and touched himself “indecently.”

Around 8 pm on the 15th they encountered each other again on the Half-Moon. This time Lucidor led the decoy off in search of a convenient location in which to satisfy his “infamous desires.” Agent Delajanière arrested him and conducted him to the Petit Châtelet. The marquis de Courcy abandoned him and proposed several months in Bicêtre. While he was in custody there, lieutenant general Hérault’s head clerk Rossignol received a letter from a man who signed himself de Salins Blancheton and suggested deportation of Lucidor, whom Rossignol identified as “his Negro,” to the colonies “to avoid the punishment to which his licentiousness and destitution will inevitably lead him.” Hérault endorsed the suggestion.



Lucidor’s arrest

We do not know what happened to Lucidor. With any luck, other cases involving men of color will emerge from the archives.

 

[1] Jean Baptiste André Gautier Dagoty painted Louis XV’s mistress Madame Du Barry receiving a cup of coffee or chocolate from her Bengali page Zamor. A critic of royal despotism and debauchery characterized him as “the bardache of Negroes.” Mathieu François Pidansat de Mairobert, Ancedotes sur Mme la comtesse du Barry (London, 1775), 264.

 

Author: Jeffrey Merrick